While the Tenth Doctor has adventured with Big Finish before, paired with the glorious Donna Noble, bringing back Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler demands a different feel; 2006 was the second series of a big hit, the much anticipated return of a show which had surprised everyone and needed to prove that their new star, David Tennant, could follow in the footsteps of Christopher Eccleston.
He did, of course, but the stories of that era were so special;fast moving, funny and occasionally political (with a small p), reflecting currents events and keeping one foot in the present day though Rose’s family connections.
In bringing them back to life on audio, this box set demonstrates the breadth of the show, containing a modern day alien invasion, a historical with a famous figure and some space station action with one of the Doctor’s classic foes.
2.1 Infamy of the Zaross
First up is that alien invasion, complete with animal-headed aliens and a return for Camille Coduri as the indomitable Jackie Tyler. Visiting her friend in Norwich, Jackie calls for help when an alien army takes over the city. It is a bit of a head-scratcher though, as neither the Doctor or the TARDIS can place the invading Zaross.
John Dorney’s story contains a wonderfully knowing meta twist, which seems like a natural evolution for the show after events in Series 1, and it offers a pacey tale with a nice message about fame and self-worth. With plenty of one-liners for Rose and the Doctor, the dialogue is spot on, chirpy and enthusiastic, and it is easy to see why this was chosen to open the set.
Rosie Caveliero (Prey) guests as Marge, Jackie’s pretty unpleasant friend who is obsessed with one-upmanship, and Guy Henry (who provided the Peter Cushing motion-capture performance in Rogue One) is a riot as Ikron, at times seeming to channel Stephen Fry’s Melchett in Blackadder. There is also a lovely performance from Beth Lilly who plays Marge’s daughter and shares heartfelt scenes with Billie Piper.
2.2 The Sword of the Chevalier
Writer Guy Adams’ takes us back to the Regency era to introduce the Chevalier D’Eon – a fascinating gender-fluid enigma who assists the pair in tackling an alien plot.
Nickolas Grace (Robin of Sherwood) plays the Chevalier, who bests the Doctor at fencing and then goes on to aid him, all the while being an inveterate name-dropper, party-crasher and unbelievable storyteller, putting the Time Lord himself to shame. The interactions between Tennant and Grace, both swashbuckling and comic, had us grinning from ear to ear.
Combining to make a thoroughly unsettling and rather grotesque alien threat, Lucy Briggs-Owen and Mark Elstob are well cast as the villains and we would have loved to have found out more about the culture they came from.
Turning the tables on this period in history brought a wry smile, but the slavery theme is well judged and not hammered home – and importantly the Chevalier’s mystery nature is perfectly handled.
2.3 Cold Vengeance
Finally, script editor Matt Fitton brings us a story which feels the most traditional of the three. Set aboard Coldstar, a space station storage facility, the Doctor faces off against the threat of some recently defrosted Ice Warriors who are keen to settle the score of a long finished conflict.
With some tense action sequences, the situation is complicated by a mother and son duo of space pirates and a pair of innocents who come to collect the station’s recycling. Of the guest cast we adored Maureen Beattie’s gruff Brona Volta and Keziah Joseph’s ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances, Lorna.
As one of the big-name classic monsters that RTD did not revive, though the series got to them with ‘Cold War’ some years later, it is great to set the Ice Warriors against the Tenth Doctor. Making a credible threat here, the Martians are all voiced as ever by the reliable Nicholas Briggs (who also directs all three stories). Their warlike but honourable nature is nicely dealt with offset by the mundanity of the location, fundamentally a freezer shop in orbit, which is simultaneously futuristic and utterly relatable.
More than a decade on, this volume recaptures the wit and the pace of the Tennant/Piper pairing and both seem to slot happily back in their roles. While the Doctor gets plenty of time to shine, to be slightly rude and also “sorry, so sorry”, Rose also has plenty of agency. In all three stories she is independent and feisty, taking the lead with her own proto-companions and even gaining custody of the sonic screwdriver on one occasion.
There are plenty of little nods to the show old and new to listen out for, from a namecheck for the Sensorites to the Doctor showing a preference for a Harlequin costume, like in ‘Black Orchid’. Naturally, given its setting, there’s a Torchwood reference too.
As ever, high standards of sound design are maintained across the set and Howard Carter provides a score which evokes Murray Gold’s music for the show, full of drama and emotion. Pleasingly, each story’s music is also provided as an isolated suite.
This second volume will be an undoubted success, and rightly so, but we cannot help but think of what we would like to hear next. In lieu of coaxing Freema Ageyman back as Martha – a character who surely deserves some Big Finish love and development – it would be great to hear Mickey Smith with the Tenth Doctor and Rose again, slotting in some stories after ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and before he left to fight Cybermen.