While the Ninth Doctor showed Rose ‘The End of the Word’, it was not until the second series of modern Doctor Who that we saw the TARDIS visit a whole new world onscreen, when the Tenth brought Rose to smell the apple grass of ‘New Earth’. Later, he also brought Martha and saved the New Humans from their ‘Gridlock’.
This trio of stories, set some five billion years in the future, have left a legacy of ideas ripe for further exploration; Cat-kind, Tree-people and all manner of human descendants, as well as a political structure containing both Dukedoms and a Senate, and peppered with familiar place names drawn from our own time.
While Big Finish often centres a spin-off around a memorable set of characters, like Jago & Litefoot or the Counter-Measures team, this is different approach – using the wider world around a setting visited multiple times. It is not without a few familiar voices though, Anna Hope reprises her role as Can Nun Novice (now Senator) Hame, while we meet relatives of two other characters as have a few appearances from the Tenth Doctor.
Escape From New New York
After a brief introduction by Senator Hame, we meet to Devon Pryce (Kieran Hodgson), the box set’s lead character. A second-generation New Human, he is an Orphan of Descent; raised by Elevator Guild after the tragic death of his parents in a lift accident.
Through Devon’s eyes, and those of his tree-person boyfriend Thorn, we discover the threat of the robotic Lumen. While appearing to be fussy and administrative, they are distinctly controlling and more than a bit creepy, in service to the mysterious Lux Corporation. Meanwhile, Hame visits the gargantuan Duke of Brooklyn (Dan Blaskey), a colourful character who offers her rumours of disappearances and talk of people “ascending”.
Roy Gill’s story slowly draws us back into the environment of New New York, with its multiple levels and corporate structure, laying the groundwork for the set and introducing the relationship between the serious, thoughtful Hame and the enthusiastic everyman Pryce.
Death in the New Forest
Tragedy brings Devon Pryce out of the city and to the continent of the Tree people. Discovering the scene of a terrible atrocity, he meets Sapling Vale (a cutting of Jabe from ‘The End of the World’), who is in the company of the Doctor.
Intuiting who the next victim might be, we are introduced Xylem Maple Dorm, a senior religious figure whom the Doctor befriended in his youth. The aged tree is brought to life with mellow and fruity notes by children’s television hero Derek Griffiths.
Exploring some of the wider consequences of settling the planet, Roland Moore’s story expands the Tree-people civilisation and introduces their natural enemy. For those seeking to look deeper, there are political parallels surrounding settlement and the dislocation of peoples too.
We liked the notion that the Doctor assists Vale as a way of acknowledging the debt he owes to her forbear, and Yasmin Bannerman plays her as a younger, more hot-headed version of the original.
The Skies of New Earth
The third story in the set is where things take flight, both figuratively and literally; eschewing any returning elements and taking to the skies above New Earth, Paul Morris weaves a tall tale involving a sky continent, ice clouds, bird people and a nest city.
On a mission to find the mysterious ‘Old Man in the Nest’, Devon finds himself embroiled in an adventure with eco-terrorists, including Loba Christata (Nina Toussiant-White) and the nine-foot tall, rocket pack wearing solar bear Oscar McLeod (a heavily accented Toby Hadoke). Together, they endeavour to block the latest plan of the Lux, which involves a play for the future of New Earth’s energy supply.
With nods to fracking and solar panels, this is a great action-adventure tale with a comic book vibe and the highlight of the cast is Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing) who is hilarious as Berkoff, the oily inventor of the Sky Mining process. Unfettered by earthly constraints, the story demonstrates similar levels of imagination and world building as the original episodes the box set draws on and is easily our highlight of the set. Frankly, we are waiting for the Oscar McLeod spin-off – perhaps with a sky penguin sidekick?
The Cats of New Cairo
Finally, Matt Fitton draws the threads together during a visit to New Cairo, home of Cat-kind. With lots of extrapolation from the sisterhood of Cat Nuns we saw onscreen, a whole culture is revealed, with the felines an elite class and a whole species of camel-like Dromedians attending them.
Hame’s mission is to visit the spiritual leader of Cat-kind, the Most Exalted High Persian who is brought to life vividly by James Drefus (also now cast by Big Finish as the Master for their series of The First Doctor Adventures), to discuss the threat posed by the Lux and enlist his help.
Much as Yasmin Bannerman did with Sapling Vale, Adjoa Andoh plays a sister to her character from ‘New Earth’, in this case a senior feline, close to the leader and disapproving of Hame’s close collaboration with the humans of New New York.
Russell T Davies creates whole civilisations in a sentence or two, it is one of the aspects that make his stories so compelling, and his world is enjoyably fleshed out across this box set. There were a few moments where we felt the ideas were pushed an inch too far, such as scorpion-kind, but for the most part this is engaging sci-fi/fantasy, sold with plenty of heart and conviction. Along the way, there are elements of political and social commentary too, from casual to out-and-out racism (well, speciesism) and the dangers of corporate involvement in public affairs.
This is another occasion where Doctor is voiced by someone other than the original actor and, to paraphrase the glorious Jason Watkins from W1A “You’ll know how you want to feel about that”. In this case, Kieron Hodgson makes a good stab at catching David Tennant’s tones as part of Devon’s narration. It is an interesting way of tackling the issue, but we found the impersonation a little over-reliant on the more outlandish mannerisms and less convincing in the quieter moments, where it was too close to his own voice.
There is a bigger issue here though; the Tenth Doctor is clearly not positioned as a lead character here and for most part performs a background role. The finale even deliberately places him outside the action, only able to give aid from a distance, and it is a wonder that they did not go without him entirely; these ideas and characters are strong enough to stand on their own and if this series enjoys a second volume, we hope they get the chance to.
In terms of production, all four stories are well directed and impressively cast by Helen Goldwyn with an immersive audio landscape and score created by Wilfredo Acosta which really help to sell the world. The music also is provided as a twenty-two minute music suite.