The Tenth Doctor has returned in another new audio set from Big Finish! After the success of “The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 1” that gave us three new stories featuring Ten and Donna Noble (played by Catherine Tate), it was only natural that Big Finish would once again bring David Tennant back in the role. However this time, they’ve decided to take us even further back to the era of Series 2 and the first days and adventures of Ten. Thus for Volume 2, we sees the return of not only David Tennant but also Billie Piper reprising her role as Rose Tyler and Camille Corduri as her mother Jackie Tyler fresh off her success with “The Ninth Doctor Chronicles” and “The Lives of Captain Jack”. As I’ve mentioned before, this is probably my least favorite TARDIS team in the history of New Who but it still remains a fan favorite for a lot of New Who fans and it’s still very exciting to see some new adventures with the Tenth Doctor. But does it hold up as strongly as Volume 1? Let’s take a dive in to ‘Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 2″:
STORY 1: “Infamy of the Zaross” by John Dorney – When an alien invasion interrupts Jackie Tyler’s vacation to visit an old friend, she summons her daughter and her friend the Doctor out of time and space to try and resolve the situation. But this is no ordinary invasion and interestingly enough not even the TARDIS has heard of this particular menace. There are darker plans and motivations at work here than what’s apparent on the surface and many innocent people are going to die if the Doctor and Rose can’t stop the somewhat unconventional Zaross and their plans. It’s an interesting start to the set with a surprisingly meta before titles introduction that sets the tone for the whole story in a way I really wasn’t expecting. That’s more or less this story in a nutshell actually: not what I anticipated in the best possible way. It starts off as a very standard invasion setup but the longer it goes the more peculiar things get and it all leads to a brilliant twist with the foe that I honestly didn’t see coming. To talk more about it would constitute major spoilers (though I swear ‘South Park’ has done a similar premise like this in the past) but needless to say it’s unusual, comedic and harsh all at the same time, and perfectly in keeping with the light-hearted tone of Series 2 which seems to have been kept for better or for worse. There’s even an end reference to a certain organization at the end which puts these stories firmly in that era and it all really works and flows well together. All three of the main cast reprise their roles as if they never left. Tennant remains as great as ever as the Tenth Doctor with a surprising amount of frustration and anger behind this performance that really surprised me considering his character at this point in his life. It’s really fantastic (no pun intended) and he continues to be on top form. Camille Corduri also returns from previous Big Finish audios as Jackie and she gives us some major moments of heart especially when she gets her first real excursion in space a la Wilfred Mott in “End of Time”. The big cast member I was nervous about was Billie Piper returning for the first time as Rose but thankfully I need not have worried. Billie Piper gels back in to her role beautifully and thankfully she tones down the annoyance of her character from Series 2 a lot. It’s no secret that I love her with the Ninth Doctor but despise her with the Tenth Doctor as a companion but I actually found myself enjoying her performance and interactions with Ten a lot more than normal as opposed to simply tolerating her like usual minus one or two moments. It simply could be that I have had enough time and distance away from her and her character by now as well as Piper’s character and performance but either way she’s a success here and I hope that continues in the other two stories. The audio landscape is great for an Earth story, the rest of the side voices and cast work fine especially the Zaross themselves when their true personalities are revealed, and while it does end somewhat fast squandering a little bit of what was built up I did find myself interested and enjoying it all the way through. All in all as a starting point for new Big Finish stories set in Series 2, ‘Zaross’ works exceedingly well if not perfectly and with not too much real peril behind it. The tone, plot, character, and humor however all feel authentic and true to form with a great cast behind it and it’s another feather in Big Finish’s cap for the Tenth Doctor.
— 8 / 10
STORY 2: “Sword of the Chevalier” by Guy Adams – The second story in this set takes us backwards in time to the English town of Slough in 1791. The Doctor and Rose in their travels meet the famous Chevalier d’Eon, a uniquely androgynous French diplomat, ex-spy, and soldier who fought in the Seven Years War. An enigma of sorts that even gives the Doctor a run for his money, she fascinates everyone around her and as the Doctor and Rose interact and are somewhat forced upon her, a mysterious spaceship lands nearby with a dark purpose for the people of the area. The Consortium of the Obsidian Asp have arrived and they have plans to kill…..Honestly I had never really heard of the Chevalier before now and so didn’t really have any idea on what to expect going into this story and it’s premise / characters. Thankfully, the story and the Doctor himself gives us some very nice exposition at the beginning of the audio which I normally disapprove but here felt it to be necessary and extremely interesting. It’s a figure that I think deserves more attention especially in our modern times and changing attitude and I’m glad to have been introduced to her through this audio. The Chevalier herself is played by Nickolas Grace in a civilized and yet powerfully electric performance with subtle nuances here and there that surprised me for a story such as this. Her chemistry with Ten and Rose is wonderful and brings me back to earlier stories and their interactions with other figures such as Queen Victoria. Speaking of which, Tennant and Piper remain good although their attitudes in this one did start to bring back memories of annoyance at times reminiscent of their earlier stories. Piper in particular becomes a tour de force against the aliens in a scene and it really sells her place as a companion and where she’s comes from her store days with Nine. The plot to this story however has problems and feels a little bit less tangible and strong than ‘Infamy’. The connection between the historical figure / time period and the villain is somewhat tenuous at best and the Consortium aren’t very memorable either falling more into the standard alien mafia menace compared to the rather more interesting Zaross from the previous story. The side cast and voices also really grated on me at times and the aristocratic nonsense that takes up a good chunk of the middle of the story didn’t work as well as it should’ve. What really sells this one and keeps it good is thankfully the Chevalier herself who proves to be a fighter and essential to the climax in a fencing match that is one of the most action-packed I’ve heard from Big Finish in a long while. There are also a ton of references all around that made me giggle especially the specific mention of Blackadder that gave my ears a little jolt that I loved. In short, I did enjoy this story especially on how it touches and commentates on a historical figure that has an immense amount of levity and significance today. But it definitely feels like the middle child of this second set and a step down from ‘Zaross’ in terms of quality.
— 7 / 10
STORY 3: “Cold Vengeance” by Matt Fitton – The TARDIS lands on the Coldstar satellite orbiting a colony world in the distant fringes of space. Used as a storage facility of supplies for settlement of a new world, it’s packed to the brim with robots, pirates, and collectors of all kinds. But the satellite is beginning to melt and something reptilian is stirring beneath the ice. An old enemy is reviving itself and setting its green and red sights on the Doctor and Rose for vengeance of the chilliest kind. This story sees the much anticipated return of the Ice Warriors and their first (and to date only true) encounter with the Tenth Doctor and while I’m not a huge Ice Warriors fan personally, most of their stories have worked fine for me in the past especially in their most recent Twelfth Doctor. Needless to say, this story had me curious and very excited when I first began listening and for the most part I came out of it extremely satisfied with what I got. It fits exactly what you would expect with an Ice Warriors story done in the Tenth Doctor era and and feels like it should belong on TV. There are lots of side plots going on onboard the satellite that range from interesting to completely dull and thankfully it doesn’t take long at all for the Ice Warriors themselves (played by Nicholas Briggs) to unfreeze and begin to play havoc with the inhabitants. I really love that they prove to be powerful foes this time around unhampered by what the plot needs them to be and they don’t hesitate in pushing Ten and Rose to the ultimate limit. The plot gets frighteningly dark and extremely cold very fast which needless to say fits the title of the audio beautifully and make it in my opinion the best of this trilogy. It’s something that Rose and Ten don’t get to play with too often and thus it also brings out the best acting from our two leads in this set. Tennant’s limits and acting chops are truly being used to the fullest here with even a glimpse of his future darkness and Time War anxieties being hinted at at times and Billie Piper even manages to give her best performance of all three stories especially in the dramatic moments as things grow more and more dire. It’s undoubtedly the darkest of the three as well with dark themes played around with and the atmosphere, soundscape, and music all playing it up to the nth degree. Minus a few pacing problems, a somewhat basic plot that ends up being another ‘base under siege’ story of sorts, and some side issues here and there with a boring side cast, “Vengeance” is the best story of this new set by far and shows (to me) that a strong variety of stories can be told with this TARDIS duo and that there is still potential that can be gained from them.
— 8 / 10
FINAL VERDICT: Volume 2 of “The Tenth Doctor Adventures” works very well though I don’t feel it quite matches the quality of its’ previous installment with Donna Noble. A little bit of this comes down to preference as I honestly the dynamic between Ten and Donna much more than Ten and Rose but I also don’t feel like the scripts are quite as strong this time around as much as it tries and it doesn’t bring anything as new to the table as stories like “Death and the Queen” or “Time Reaver” did. However Tennant and Piper remain as good as they ever were in their respective roles and it’s light-hearted tone is very much intact and so it’s still a great set and a must listen for fans of Ten and Rose and Series 2. More than anything, this one gives me hope that we will eventually get a set with Ten and Martha or even Ten on his own with a new companion or something else along those lines for Volume 3.
— 8 / 10
The next Big Finish review coming will see the return of UNIT against a whole new series of foes in UNIT Series 5 “Encounters”. So until next time my Whovian brethren, ~Geronimo!!