I rarely listen to the Big Finish Productions audios that only feature one voice actor because I tend to prefer the full cast format to the singular narrator format, but The Siege of Big Ben was well worth listening to. Written by Joseph Lidster, Doctor Who: The Siege of Big Ben is the latest installment of Big Finish Production’s monthly Short Trips series, a series of audios featuring a short story related to one of the Doctors Big Finish has the rights to and read by one of the original cast members from the TV series. This story featured Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler in a story featuring the Meta-Crisis Doctor in the parallel Earth seen at the end of Journey’s End. “Jackie Tyler has everything she’s ever wanted: a loving husband and, two children. But a terrible, far-reaching plan is underway, and only Jackie and a single friend stand in the way of it. But the Doctor isn’t the man he was…”
It’s funny. I didn’t realize just how much I wanted a story featuring the Meta-Crisis Doctor and set after the events of Journey’s End (the series 4 finale) until I started listening to this Short Trip. Turns out there’s a lot left to be explored in relation to him and also the parallel Earth in general. I really didn’t expect to like this story as much as I did. I’m not the biggest fan of Jackie Tyler as a character, but gosh does she shine in this story. It mostly comes down to a moving performance from Camille Coduri and the stellar writing from Joseph Lidster. The two of them work together to really ground Jackie and make her far more sympathetic than she often was on screen. She’s very much still the same character she was in the TV series, but it’s clear that the events of Journey’s End and all that’s happened afterward have softened her some and Camille really portrays that beautifully. By the end of the story, she and Lidster actually made me feel bad for Jackie, and that’s some damn good writing and acting.
The story is a pretty simple one: the Meta-Crisis Doctor, Rose, Pete, and Jackie work for the parallel Earth’s version of UNIT, now located inside Big Ben (the Meta-Crisis Doctor acts as UNIT’s scientific advisor, just like the 3rd Doctor). Rose and Pete (and most of the other UNIT soldiers) are sent off on a mission, leaving behind Jackie (who works as a food lady) and the Meta-Crisis Doctor. Naturally, an alien starts to invade Big Ben, looking for the Doctor. What follows is a fun base-under-siege story as Jackie and the Meta-Crisis Doctor work to stop the alien invasion and figure out just what the alien wants and how it knows about the Doctor.
While it’s a bit of a simple story, it’s elevated by the framing device used: Jackie is actually telling this story to her friend, Beryl. It’s such a nice use of the singular narrator format that it actually makes the story a lot more enjoyable for me. I tend not to like these stories where a singular narrator plays all the roles and impersonates various Doctors and whatnot, but none of that really happens in The Siege of Big Ben. It’s just Jackie telling her friend Beryl about this weird day at work. The Meta-Crisis Doctor has almost no dialogue and when he does have dialogue, it’s all paraphrased by Jackie and Camille never performs those lines in a David Tennant impersonation. It’s great. I think this single element of the story is my favorite thing. It just worked so well as a story Jackie was telling her friend. And the way Lidster ties it all together in the end with Jackie reflecting on how she’s changed, too, really hit the mark and drove the story home.
I really like what was done with the Meta-Crisis Doctor here. I like that he’s not just a clone of the 10th Doctor and has his own personality and quirks. I like the parallels between him and the 3rd Doctor (as the Meta-Crisis Doctor is still trying to grow his own TARDIS – which ties in pretty directly with the main alien-invasion plotline – just like the 3rd Doctor was constantly trying to fix his TARDIS during his stint as UNIT’s scientific advisor) and I enjoyed the twist on the base-under-siege formula. Jackie’s characterization was genuinely engaging and moving and Joseph Lidster writes her really well. Camille Coduri is given more grounded material in this story than she was given throughout her run on the TV series, and she excels at this. The Siege of Big Ben is a Short Trip that just really worked. Joseph Lidster’s writing and Camille Coduri’s performance combined to make a memorable, engaging, original, and genuinely moving story. It’s only thirty minutes and absolutely leaves you wanting more from both Jackie and the Meta-Crisis Doctor (and luckily we’re getting another Short Trip featuring the two of them in just a couple of months). I’m surprised at how much I liked this story, and I’m really glad it exists and that I listened to it.
5 out of 5 wands.