In the wake of the whole COVID-19 pandemic, Big Finish–most famous for their original and licensed Doctor Who audios–began to release a variety of projects for free on a weekly basis. On top of that, they’ve also had other bits and pieces from their catalog available to sample. Some of these are “proper” Doctor Who adventures, some are licensed from other sources, and others are completely original. This time around we’re looking at a bunch that are Doctor Who-related, but all featuring side-characters from the series. Spin-offs, basically.
Big Finish has been pretty generous with all this free product, but each one also serves as a sampler to tempt me to buy other material. Do they work?
Jenny, the Doctor’s Daughter – Stolen Goods
Line: Jenny, the Doctor’s Daughter (1.1)
Length: 62 minutes
Buying Price: A bit unclear. This first episode is listed on the Big Finish website, but without a price attached to it. The whole series (four episodes) is available for $29.99 AUD.
Comments: Jenny is a character from Season Four of the revival series of Doctor Who, entitled The Doctor’s Daughter, who was played by Georgia Tennant, back when she was Georgia Moffett (the actress is the real life daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, and the real life wife of Tenth Doctor David Tennant, who she appeared on Doctor Who opposite of, as his daughter). She’s a soldier created from the Doctor’s genetic material, whose life direction is powerfully impacted by meeting her “father.” At the end of that story, she appears to have died–but at the last minute, unbeknownst to the Doctor, she revives, steals a space ship and sets out to explore the galaxy. This audio series picks up from that premise, and catches up with Jenny a ways into her travels. It focuses on a seeming space-accident Jenny has with traveling salesman that turns out to be an elaborate con. When she is not fooled, the con-man attempts to kill her. Into all of this comes a murderous cyborg who has been chasing Jenny for some time. The cyborg and the con-man team up, and Jenny is forced to escape through time in the company of young man who was being preserved in the latest space ship Jenny has stolen.
Stolen Goods feels like it’s setting up things which will be more consequential than anything that is actually happening here, but it’s still a fun story full of lots of energy and lively charm. Georgia Tennant occasionally threatens to be a bit over-the-top in her performance, but generally makes Jenny an extremely likable heroine and cheerful anchor to the story. And even though there are lots of elements in the story which are laying the ground work for whatever happens in episode 2-4 of this series, the script by Matt Fitton still delivers a full and satisfying storyline.
Does it tempt me to get more? Yes, for sure! Georgia Tennant is as charming here as she was on TV. It’s only the price point I find a bit off-putting, so I won’t be getting it right away.
UNIT: Silenced – House of Silents
Line: UNIT (3.1)
Length: 58 minutes
Buying Price: Again, this first episode is listed on the Big Finish website, but without a price attached to it. The whole series (four episodes) is available for $24.99 AUD.
Comments: UNIT is a concept that has been around in Doctor Who since the late 1960’s–it’s an international military organization specially tasked with protecting the earth from alien-based threat. In the modern day series, it’s normally been run by scientist Kate Stewart (played by Jemma Redgrave), and assisted by the brilliant Osgood (played by Ingrid Oliver). These two star in this series of audio dramas accompanied by a number of other military characters.
House of Silents by Matt Fitton is the beginning of a four part drama featuring UNIT coming into conflict with the Silence (or Silents, it’s hard to say). These are aliens infiltrators from Season Six of Doctor Who, who have the unique property of being immediately forgotten by anyone who has encountered them, once they are out of sight. Most of them on earth were killed off in their TV appearance, but House of Silents reveals that a small population has survived and have been seeking assistance from a kindly blind lady who believes them to be “ordinary” refugees. UNIT comes to slowly realize that there is a menace threatening the world that they are unable to remember. The Silence are one of my favorite antagonists from the TV show (even if they were a bit undermined by eventual revelations in their backstory), so having a fully developed sequel, even in this format, is something of a treat. I don’t find the UNIT characters terribly interesting, and at times Jemma Redgrave’s performance is a bit stilted. But still they are serviceable enough as the heroes of this story and provide the listener enough of a foundation to make the plot work. The story doesn’t actually end, continuing as it does into the next three episodes, but the cliffhanger is a good one, showing the Silents’ brutally murder the blind lady as their plans shift gear.
Does it tempt me to get more? Yes. While the appeal of Jenny is the character, the appeal of UNIT is the plot. I’d enjoy hearing where all this goes, though again, the money involved makes it not something I can just jump into.
The Diary of River Song: Five Twenty-Nine
Line: The Diary of River Song (2.1)
Length: 61 minutes
Buying Price: Again, it doesn’t seem like something you can just download from the website, even though it is listed. The whole second series of River Song episodes costs $30.00 AUD
Comments: River Song is a character created by Steven Moffat for the Tenth Doctor TV story, Silence in the Library, basically as a plot expedient. He needed a way to make the guest characters and the Doctor trust each other quicker, so he took the novel approach of having one of the guest stars recognize the Doctor, but from later in his own life so he didn’t recognize her. Later, when Steven Moffat became the series’ showrunner, he brought River back (again played by Alex Kingston) extensively with the Eleventh Doctor (and even the Twelfth Doctor). She proved very popular and has now got her own ongoing audio dramas.
Five Twenty-Nine by John Dorney is taken from her second series, and has River arriving on an isolated island sometime in the unspecified future, and befriending a kindly elderly couple who there look after a synthetic daughter. River is aware of an impending global disaster (thanks to the events of the previous episode, I’ve realized by looking online) but not its nature, and is hoping to be able to mitigate its effects. The disaster is never revealed, but is somehow killing all life on earth, one time zone at a time). River has no way of stopping it, but leads her friends onto a desperate boat journey to stay ahead of the inevitable. It becomes clear that this is a hopeless effort, and in the end she is only able to fulfill the couple’s wishes by making sure that their daughter’s systems are strengthened so that she can survive the disaster.
Five Twenty-Nine is a gripping but melancholy story full of good performances and a somber mood. Robert Pugh and Ann Bell play Emmett and Lisa Burrows, and bring a lot of emotional authenticity to the situation. River Song herself is not always a greatly heroic character, but the premise of Five Twenty-Nine brings out the best in her–her desperation to somehow help in the situation, and her ultimate inability to do much, gives the story the solid emotional foundation that it needs.
Does it tempt me to get more? Again, yes. And again, the price makes it difficult. It’s not that I think it’s overpriced or anything, it’s just that I can’t just flippantly spend $30 on things like this. Oh well.
Line: Counter-Measures (1.1)
Length: 69 minutes
Buying Price: Free! If you want the whole first series, though, it’s $30.00 AUD.
Comments: Out of all the audios mentioned in this post, this is the only one based specifically on something from the original Doctor Who series, in particularly from an episode I recently re-watched, Remembrance of the Daleks. That story introduced three characters who are native to the 1960’s who help the Doctor fighting against the Daleks. They are scientists Rachel Jensen and Allison Williams, and military man Group Captain Ian Gilmore. In the TV episode, their collaboration is informal, but in audio it’s revealed that they later stayed together as the Incursion Counter-Measures Group, a pre-cursor to UNIT in terms of being an earth-based response force in the wake of alien attack.
Threshhold by Paul Finch (the only episode reviewed here which tells a complete story from start to end with no cliffhanger) is the first episode of their series, and helps to bridge the gap from their TV appearance (although they’d showed up in another audio before this one), as we see that Gilmore and Allison are already working together, while Rachel (the bigger of the group’s big brains) has opted to do her own thing. In this story, though, Rachel ends up drawn in on an investigation they are conducting into a scientist who has gone mad after conducting a teleportation experiment. It’s a solid plot held up with good character work–the dynamics between Gilmore, Jensen, Williams, and their overall government contact, Sir Toby, have go enough color in them to give hope that they can sustain an ongoing series.
However, while I like the performances, both Simon Williams (Gilmore) and Pamela Salem (Rachel Jensen) both sound significantly older than their characters are supposed to be–only Karen Gledhill as Allison really sounds age-appropriate. The story is also supposed to be steeped in the sensibilities of the 60’s, but as are as I can tell this just means there is some groovy jazz music in the soundtrack sometimes, and occasionally characters make slightly inappropriate comments about Allison’s looks.
The story also begins with an extended audio-scape of voices and sound effects before the plot commences, the point of which escapes me. Supposedly, stuff is happening here, and when I eventually find out what the plot of the story is, I can retroactively imagine what I’m supposed to be hearing. But really, audio is not TV, and so I think something like this doesn’t make much sense.
Does it tempt me to get more? In spite of the problems mentioned, I like the characters and would be glad to listen to more. However, it’s the last of the ones listed here I’d be likely to actually buy.
It’s not that these dramas are overpriced or anything–they are just more than I can flippantly spend.