After box sets for both the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, the latest Chronicles release features stories from the Eleventh Doctor’s era. Narrated by Jacob Dudman, with his uncanny take on Matt Smith’s incarnation, the set also includes a couple of other familiar voices; Danny Horn returns to his role as the teenage Kazran Sardick and Simon Fisher-Becker recreates Dorium Maldovar for the first time on audio.
The Calendar Man
First up, AK Benedict brings us a story from the early days of the Doctor and Amy, presumably set either before Rory came on board or after one of the many occasions when he was “dead”.
A distress call draws the TARDIS to a colony world where people are dying, one every thirty days, but when they arrive the colonists deny it is happening. Digging deeper, the Doctor and Amy locate Olivia (Eleanor Crooks), the only one who remembers the dead and has a growing reputation as a trouble-maker.
Directly embracing the fairy tale feel and focusing on the theme of memory, some great sound design helps to sell the notion of a mythical villain and this is an enjoyably creepy tale.
The Top Of The Tree
Set on another of those festive trips from A Christmas Carol, Simon Guerrier spins us a terrifically high-concept tale which finds the TARDIS landing in the eco-system of a tree teeming with life, after responding to a literal cry for help.
With a tribe of humans who have minimal language skills and a plethora of alien insects, there are escalating levels of peril as we climb the tree, and yet the story finds time to provide some character work for Kazran on his daddy issues – as well as dropping in a pleasing nod to Jurassic Park along the way.
With terrific imagination, which made us think of a modern take on the The Web Planet, Guerrier’s story has the feel of a glorious comic strip adventure and it is all the more enjoyable for it.
The Light Keepers
Pulling on one of the dangling threads of the era, Roy Gill brings us the first meeting proper for the Doctor and Dorium Maldovar, the rotund, blue-skinned bar owner and dealer in alien trinkets whose debt to the Time Lord was called in for the battle of Demon’s Run.
With a companionless Doctor literally crashing into “Maldovarium”, the pair become an entertaining odd couple as they investigate the so-called Beacon People who are relentlessly mining the planetoid and disrupting Dorium’s business (and his customers’ parking arrangements). With the core of the tale revolving around mirrors and light, it throws a pleasing link to the stories from March’s Tales From New Earth as well as working happily as a stand-alone adventure.
Simon Fisher-Becker returns easily to the pomposity of Dorium and Gill has caught the character’s mix of humour and self-interest, although by the end Dorium has become an uneasy ally and even developed a little benevolence in his outlook.
As ever, Jacob Dudman provides all the other voices, but his gruff Captain Tallis made up prick up our ears – might we have heard an in-story audition for the Ninth Doctor too?
Finally, writer Alice Cavender ties down an onscreen name drop as Clara Oswald meets her literary hero, Jane Austen.
After a shocking visit to an altered timeline which sees Miss Austen (Nathalie Buscome) facing the chop as a defiant Royalist, the Doctor and Clara are flung into a period adventure to understand how history has been changed.
In a frenetic tale, with plenty of dressing up for Clara, Jane easily lives up to the hero worship and the Doctor pursues the mystery through some 19th century republican agitators. If Top Of The Tree felt beyond the reach of a television episode, this feels spot-on and just the sort of celebrity historical the show was fond of, with shades of Vincent And The Doctor as Jane is promised that her work will endure.
In both his narrator’s role and as the Doctor, Jacob Dudman delivers in spades – doubtless thanks to the guiding hand of director Helen Goldwyn – if his Tennant is good, then his Smith is eerily spot-on, and he gives life to a host of diverse ancillary characters as well.
As these stories illustrate, there is ample scope for storytelling in this era of the show and we can see the sense in bringing back a couple of familiar voices, as per the other Chronicles releases to bring listeners in. That said, after two adventures (the other being in the first volume of The Churchill Years) we are not honestly sure how many more young Kazran adventures there are to be told.
If the Chronicles series does go again, we would love to hear more tales with the ambition and imagination of Guerrier’s Top Of The Tree, taking the Doctor to places where Steven Moffat and the television budget feared to tread as all the modern incarnations have lead vibrant lives off screen too.