The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - The Tenth Doctor (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Road To The Thirteenth Doctor #1 (Credit: Titan / Robert Hack)

"The Ghost Ship"
Writer: James Peaty
Artist: Iolanda Zanfardinoy
Colorist: Dijjo Lima

"The Road To..."
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Scott
Colorist: Enrica Angiolini

Published by Titan Comics in July 2018

Titan Comics can't actually show the Thirteenth Doctor before she debuts on TV in the fall, so they have decided to build to her Comic Book Debut with three one-shot comic books that leads into her debut story.  The first of these, in what is being called "The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor," is this story featuring the Tenth Doctor.  It is short and light doesn't really feel like it is building towards anything.  It isn't necessarily bad, but at this point doesn't really feel like it is on the "road" to anything. 

It begins with the Tenth Doctor and his two Titan Companions, Gabby and they land on a space station and face off with some creepy beings that the Doctor defeats easily, and exposes a creepy plot by the "Earth Corps" to create genocidal weapons.  And that is seemingly it. The conclusion feels quick and easy, nothing to write home about. The fact is the main story is just a regular Tenth Doctor story, which may or may not play into future events for either his series or the Thirteenth Doctor...but either way, it seems odd to build up and market this as a build up to her strips and then just give us an average story with an attached four page short story that is meant to sort of build to her. 

The short story that actually is meant to serve as the actual "Road To.." storyline, just goes back into the Tenth Doctor's first season on TV, where we see the Doctor in between scenes in The Girl in the Fireplace in which he finds something even crazier than 18th Century France on a space station, though it is left ambiguous as to what it is, as the Tenth Doctor races off to save Rose and Mickey before exploring anything further.

One can only hope this is actually going somewhere. I felt this story was too light, too easy an enemy to defeat...but I didn't quite know what it was they were setting up for the Thirteenth Doctor. I only discovered later that only the four page mini-comic had anything to do with the Thirteenth Doctor's eventual debut.  And I gotta say it was too short and ambiguous and relied a little too much on past continuity for me to get too interested. 

The art is nice, and as per usual for Titan, they just nail the characterization of the Tenth Doctor, but this ultimately is just a regular issue of the Tenth Doctor ongoing series, and anything that may be setting up the actual road to the Thirteenth Doctor feels like an afterthought...or something that might work better when the whole story is collected together. Right now, it isn't the strongest start for the big build-up to the new Doctor.

The Day of the Doctor (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 11 June 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
The Day of the Doctor (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Steven Moffat
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 232 pages

The 11th Doctor’s entry into the Target books range sees Steven Moffat novelise his 50th-anniversary celebration with two closely intertwined plots in a timey-wimey multi-Doctor tale.  The first plot strand sees the Doctor joining forces with his previous incarnation and the recently introduced War Doctor to thwart the Zygons who, having found themselves in Elizabethan England, hatch a plot to take over the Earth in the future.  However, the second plot strand which sees the Doctor confront his role in ending the Time War is more significant, addressing a major theme running throughout the series since its return in 2005.  This is arguably given even more weight in this novelisation than in the televised version, exploring the pain arising from his actions in a more personal way.  In revisiting the response of his Ninth incarnation at the end of The Parting of the Ways however, this book makes the point that the choice the Doctor faced here is the same impossible choice he has faced on many occasions.

This is the longest of this new batch of novelisations, perhaps understandably given the extended running length of the TV episode and the multiple plot lines, but also given that it covers the brief prequel, ‘the Night of the Doctor’.  Add to these the addition of new material and this feels a more substantial novel than the other recent releases in this range.  It also has a very different feel to it, demonstrating the versatility of earlier entries into the Target range.  Here, each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, often in the first person, making each one feel fresh while challenging the reader to work out the identity of the author.  This story-telling device is put to particularly good effect when recounting the Doctor’s journey to the Tower from the perspective of each of his incarnations in turn – a journey his later incarnations have obviously experienced before.  It also allows for the injection of some humour at the expense of the Doctor and other characters, the former being variously identified as Bow Tie, Daddy’s Suit, Pinstripe, Grumpy, and Neckwear.  (As a side point, reference to the Tenth Doctor’s ‘tight suit’ would surely become a standard Target description of this Doctor should the range be extended, much like the Fifth Doctor’s “pleasant, open face”).  Each chapter is also preceded by a communication to readers from the narrator, an archivist who seems to be piecing together events in the story.  For me, the style of these interludes seemed very similar to those of Moffat’s DWM Production Notes.  I anticipate that this may grate with some readers and might be expected to interrupt the flow of the story, but for me these did make for refreshing breaks and a lightening of the mood in some of the book’s more serious moments.

Moffat also takes the chance to add to his original story, the most notable addition being that of a small but not insignificant role for River Song, perhaps understandable as one of his most significant character creations.  There is also an extended description of the Doctor’s integration in the Court of Queen Elizabeth and, of course, reference to Chapter 9 which claims to resolve so many of the show’s big questions and controversies is a typical example of Moffat playfulness.  He has further fun with the first two Doctors here being identified as colour blind and the Doctor also refers to the Peter Cushing Dr Who films and is even reported to be consulting with Cushing on a third film.

As one would expect from an anniversary story there is lots of fan-pleasing continuity with references to the great and the good from the show’s past, including Ian and Barbara, The Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith and Susan.  The grand finale still sees all the Doctor’s incarnations join forces though here it is in a somewhat different manner to the TV episode and a significant addition comes right at the end of the book with a brief postscript featuring the thirteenth Doctor.  And as with many Target novelisations this one also takes the opportunity to extend the roles and significance of supporting characters - here Queen Elizabeth and McGillop are the main beneficiaries.  The absence of the Daleks is though more apparent in this book.  Although they are an important part of the backdrop to the story in terms of the Time War – without the impact of their on-screen cameos they are effectively absent here.

This novel then has more serious undertones than the first two additions to the Target range but is not without its moments of humour, which, as in past multi-Doctor stories are principally in the interactions between the various incarnations of the main character.  It is a book written very much with fans of the series at its heart, but going beyond the continuity this is never clearer than the beautiful moment when the War Doctor promises that whoever hears the wheezing, groaning sound of the TARDIS will know that they are not alone.  While this is of immediate significance to the Doctor in the context of the story, this is surely also speaking to the fans and their relationship with the Doctor.  The Day of the Doctor immediately soared to the top of the DWM poll of TV stories and I’m sure this novelisation will be held in similarly high regard.

The Christmas Invasion (Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 June 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
 The Christmas Invasion  (Credit: BBC Audio)
Adapted by Jenny T Colgan
Based on the original script by Russell T Davies
Read by Camille Coduri
Cover by Anthony Dry
Released May 2018

To begin this review at the end, Jenny Colgan’s Afterword sees her describe her love of the classic Target range. She touches on that old chestnut that in her day it was the only way to relive episodes after their broadcast and, besides, all this t’where fields back then lad, but doesn’t dwell. Rather she weaves a picture of a lovely childhood spent lingering at the desk of her local library. Trying to navigate the torture of rules that meant she could only get out four Targets a month. She concludes with the observation that the first Target she’s ever own all to herself will be one she wrote and notes how mad and wonderful that is.

So, it’s in this context that the novelization of The Christmas Invasion brims with affection and nostalgia for childhood days with your hands propping up your chin and you lost yourself in those curious little tales of Doctor Who. It also means that it’s the most traditional and straightforward adaptation. Russell T Davies uses the Target range’s long-standing custom of inventing entirely new subplots out of nothing but those subplots are very uniquely in his style. The Day of the Doctor, meanwhile, is so gloriously playful in its structure only Steven Moffat could have written it.

But Colgan takes the route of expanding on the script but, nearly always, doing so by giving us more insight into the thoughts and feelings of the various characters as they experience events pretty much identical to those seen on TVs on Christmas Day, 2005. Near the start, there’s a whole set of introductions to the Guinevere One team and their daily routine but once we get going there’s not much deviation from the plot. The Doctor piloting the TARDIS back to Earth from the Sycorax ship, rather than the Sycorax teleporting it down, is about as divergent as it gets.

But honest, believable emotion and character are Colgan’s strong suits, as anyone who’s read her non-Doctor Who books can tell you (yes, boys and girls, you can read novels without spaceships in them from time to time; your hair won’t go on fire, I promise). Her choices here bring the story very much into her wheelhouse and she expands skilfully on Davies’ own ability to make believable a character with only fifteen lines of dialogue. The chief beneficiaries of Colgan’s eye are Guinevere One boss Danny Llewellyn and UNIT operative Sally. On screen they get a brief flirtation – him flustered by a woman so beautiful being nice to him, her endeared by his combination of earnestness and humility. On the page, we lean in to the tragic undertones, as each mentally sizes up the other – imminent death focusing their thoughts on possible futures, possible futures they’ll never have the chance to even dip their toe in together.

The audiobook edition is read by the myth and legend that is Jackie Tyler herself. Or rather Camille Coduri, proving herself to be so much more than just Jackie. It’s easy to fall into the trap, when an actor is just so good at portraying one character, to forget that they have a whole acting range to explore. So apologies are due to Coduri in this review for she shifts effortlessly from one character to another throughout. Even her Jackie should be saluted as she recaptures with apparent ease every ounce of energy in her television performance, flicking back forth from that to her narrator’s voice with ease.

But her Rose is also astonishing. Even though Piper and Coduri have similar voices, and played their roles with similar accents, Coduri proves adept at capturing even that subtle difference. In some scenes of the Tyler women bickering back and forth, you could almost believe Piper had popped in for a cheeky cameo.

Her accents for the Welsh characters are almost as impressive. It probably shouldn’t surprise that a couple of years living and working in Cardiff gave our storyteller a good grounding in those Celtic tones, but it’s still striking that there’s nothing broad or comedic about her Llewellyn, but simply an authentic sounding rich tone. And when her Sycorax leader shows up, it almost blows you out of your chair in surprise. It certainly sent this reviewer into a few tracks of distractedly listening while googling who the second performer was. But, nope, 100% Camille Coduri. Treated and artificially deepened though it is, her capturing of the hard biting rage and disdain of the Sycorax is still note perfect and astonishingly good. With other male characters, she plays it safe and, perhaps wisely, simply throws a nod towards their style of speech though it’s still glorious to hear her Doctor and her Jackie’s take on the “I need…” routine.

Sound design wise, there are some clever choices here. Colgan adds the actual TARDIS departure to the ending, and in the audiobook’s take on that coda the full, lengthy version of the dematerialization sound is given a rare outing.  Its fading swoops and burbles and beeps form a subtle soundtrack to Jackie and Mickey’s thoughts on being left behind. Elsewhere, the soundscape wisely keeps out of the listener’s way but adds just enough background to give a nice sense of space and location.

Meanwhile, the handsome cover by Anthony Dry uses the same, striking pointillist style – each dot painstakingly created one at a time in pen and ink -  that’s dominated his Doctor Who work over the past two decades and has made everything from DVD insert booklets to the mural wall of the Doctor Who Experience so striking. It’s a style that, through artists like Ron Turner, Frank Bellamy and Chris Achellios, has long been associated with Doctor Who and makes for a comfortable fit for the next generation of novelizations.

Some may dismiss The Christmas Invasion as the least experimental, and therefore most disposable, of the new range. But that would be a mistake. Because its also the most successful at evoking that undefinable Target feeling. Of sending you back to days on tip-toes, peeping over the librarian’s counter to ask when you’ll next be able to take it out again. Add to that a versatile reader and sympathetic sound design and you’ve a release ready to stand up proud next to any of them in Target’s Golden Age.


The Christmas Invasion (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 20 May 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
The Christmas Invasion (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Jenny T Colgan
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 169 pages

As the second book in the range of new series novelisations (at least in terms of the broadcast chronology) The Christmas Invasion, by Jenny T Colgan, marks the start of the Tenth Doctor’s era.  As such it is a logical choice even though there are arguably many more popular stories from this period, although for me this remained the best Christmas episode for many years until some of the more recent contributions.

This novelisation is a faithful retelling of the broadcast episode with fewer deviations or additional contributions than the novelisation of Rose.  The theme of the story is as much about the Doctor and Rose both coming to terms with the former’s regeneration as it is with battling the Sycorax invasion.  There is a therefore more emphasis on the strength of the relationship that has built up between the Doctor and Rose (and how it is affected by the Doctor’s regeneration) which is explored more explicitly, but there is also a little more background to the Guinevere One team and their relationships.  There’s also rather less continuity here than in the novelisation of Rose although John Lumic, who will crop up in the not too distant future gets a mention, as does the Brigadier.  There are also obvious references to the previous TV episode and with the Doctor’s first encounter with the Slitheen when he last encountered the Member of Parliament for Flydale North, now Prime Minister.

Jenny T Colgan clearly relishes the chance to highlight the threat in this story - the horror of the population literally standing on a precipice around the world is darker here and the shock of those watching their loved ones on the brink is more apparent.  Meanwhile, although he features comparatively little in this story, the energy and enthusiasm of the Tenth Doctor is captured on the page and by the end of the story when he finally “arrives”, that spirit of excitement and the feeling that the show was on the verge of something great really leaps form the page.  She also has fun with the idea that the world of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide could be part of the Doctor Who canon (not for the first time in the show’s history).  The book also features some nice attention to the detail of the era here that serves to date the episode but also frighteningly to remind us of the passing of time since the episode aired - see Mickey connect to the internet using a dial-up connection on a laptop with 512Mb of RAM!

Overall this story is written with a light touch that perfectly evokes the episode and its central characters and won’t leave you feeling as if you’ve overindulged on Christmas pudding.  To top it off, some wonderful chapter titles themed around Christmas songs, a rather touching author’s afterword and another excellent cover by Anthony Dry are the icing on this particular Christmas cake!

Free Comic Book Day 2018 - Doctor Who Special (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 May 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Free Comic Book Day 2018 (Credit: Titan)
Writers: Nick Abadzis, John Freeman, George Mann and Jody Houser
Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Arianna Florean, Christopher Jones, Mariano Laclustra and Rachael Stott
Colorists: Marco Lesko and Carlos Cabrera
Publisher: Titan Comics

FC, 30pp, $0.00
On sale: May 5, 2018

With Titan Comics' regular Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor strips each having reached the natural conclusions of their Year Three runs, and their recently-announced The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor mini-series still two months away from its launch, now seems as opportune a time as any for the publisher to take stock and prepare its readers for the adventures ahead. Enter their contribution to this year's Free Comic Book Day line-up, a 25-page one-off Special containing four bite-sized primers for the future of their regular Doctor Who strips, the Road saga and the Seventh Doctor's Titan debut alike.

There's every chance, of course, that the aforementioned annual event - held at comic-book retailers the world over to promote the industry and its physical purveyors - will be over by the time that you're reading this review, yet that doesn't mean you won't find some stores such as Forbidden Planet still housing the odd copy of this much-anticipated strip here and there. Should Titan's most dedicated followers and / or newcomers to the worlds of Who comics make the trip, however, or are they best off waiting for the Doctor's printed exploits to kick off again this Summer and beyond? Let's find out...

"Catch a Falling Star":

For any readers like this reviewer who've yet to finish reading the latest string of Titan storylines based in the David Tennant era, Special's opening tale might well prove rather disorientating at first, though that's rather the point; seemingly deceased companion Gabby Gonzalez seems just as perplexed as she's flung through outer space after the Year Three finale presumably detached her from the TARDIS with considerable force. How better to spend the time, then, than by taking a metaphorical trip down memory line, simultaneously bringing newcomers up to speed on her recent voyages across the Time Vortex?

From Sontarans to Sutekh in his reincarnated form, from Cybermen to Gabby's best friend Cindy Wu stepping aboard the Doctor's iconic Type 40 capsule, it's been one heck of an eventful ride for the despondent waitress-turned-pro artist over the last 36 months. True to form, Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean's dazzlingly whimsical artwork splendidly reminds us - alongside the awe-inspired sense of wonder and fantasy coming via the dialogue which writer Nick Abadzis affords Gabby - of the eclectic and unashamedly outrageous tone which made this particular TARDIS team's travels such an instant hit with fans of Titan's licensed Who output.

Naturally, though, few could blame Ms. Gonzalez for questioning her life decisions given her present near-fatal predicament, so that Abadzis briefly explores her justifiable doubts as well comes as a welcome surprise, in many ways enabling us to draw parallels between the character and past companions such as Martha Jones for whom the Doctor's entrance signalled virtually the destruction of their personal lives and family ties. Who wouldn't reconsider the same dilemma as that which was posed to Donna in "Turn Left", namely whether life would've turned out better had their path never crossed with "the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not out of shame"? As such, it would seem that Gabby needs affirmation that her story doesn't end on such a somber note, and while we'll refrain from revealing her just how "Catch a Falling Star" concludes, we can say that she might just get her wish and transform the Doctor's future in the process...

“The Armageddon Gambit”:

The best way to summarize the second narrative barrage in Special’s artillery is as an audition piece for Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch’s impending Seventh Doctor mini-series, “Operation Volcano”. Unlike that five-part saga, John Freeman takes on writing duties for “The Armageddon Gambit”, but if his remarkably authentic rendition of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s wit-laden, mentor-student-esque banter from their 1980s run as the Doctor and Ace serves as any indication of what to expect from “Volcano” upon its launch next month, then experiencing each issue over the coming weeks should seem remarkably akin to watching a McCoy serial on TV / home video / streaming platforms for the first time.

While Freeman’s relatively standalone narrative – which sees the ever-courageous time travellers chirpily interrupt a band of galactic tyrants standing on the brink of galactic conquest, having bested the Draconians, Chimerions and Voord alike – probably won’t win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for literary ingenuity, his script does at least enable the mini-series’ artistic / colour tag team of Christopher Jones and Marco Lesko to amply strut their stuff. Their bold style, in marked contrast to Sposito and Florean’s tonally befitting impressionistic imagery, does a splendid job of bringing the tale’s characters to vivid life, with Lesko’s choice to embroid the chief Kla-shi-kel clansman with striking golden armour for example visibly setting him apart in military stature and greed-driven ambitions. Look out in particular for their pitch-perfect depiction of the Doctor and Ace’s grand entrance, an instantly iconic raison d'etre for “Armageddon” which easily stands among Titan’s most memorable panels to date.

“Midnight Feast”:

Whereas Abadzis and Freeman both had their fair share of legwork in terms of painting a roadmap for the future flights of the Seventh and one other Doctor here, one can almost hear George Mann’s relief at finding no such pressure exerted upon his Eleventh Doctor contribution by Titan’s head honchos. “Midnight Feast” makes no apologies for its lighthearted tone or completely standalone storyline, then, with Mann instead affirming to newcomers his ability to capture Matt Smith’s zany eccentricity and energetic zest for life, all while re-introducing his ex-librarian companion Alice Obiefune along the way. Yet it’s fair to say that Alice rather laments her inclusion here, finding her travelling companion ransacking the TARDIS kitchen for edible delights before he zips off to the nearest alien restaurant to find alternative inspiration.

Laying many criticisms at the feet of a self-proclaimed “culinary adventure” such as “Feast” would seem rather harsh, especially with Mariano Laclaustra’s diverse menagerie of stunningly-rendered alien patrons calling to mind Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina in its aesthetic inventiveness. The only warning that we’d give, however, is that those unfamiliar with Alice won’t find the same level of introductory exposition here as that which Gabby provided regarding her past in “Falling Star”, largely since the latter’s existential plight gave Abadzis the ideal plot device to justify such nostalgic reminiscing. Since Alice only features for but a few panels here, this reviewer would instead advise anyone wanting to catch up on her entry into the Doctor’s life – between Amy and Rory’s turbulent honeymoon and reunion for the Time Lord’s death in “The Impossible Astronaut” – to check out the first volume of Year One, After Life, ahead of Year Four’s presumed launch later this year.

"And Introducing..."

What of Doctor Who’s fast-approaching return to BBC One with a new face, though? Does Jodie Whittaker’s absence from Special’s multi-Doctor front cover mean that we shouldn’t expect to see her incarnation feature in Titan’s licensed roster for the time being? Not at all – browse past the insightful Reader’s Guide at the end of the strip, which details the various regular strips, crossovers and classic Doctor mini-series currently available, and you’ll find three panels featuring a strange new world, strange new fauna and feathered onlookers, a strange new TARDIS and its strange new occupant embarking on her first ‘canon’ journey, her face brimming with visible passion and already infectious joy at discovering the unknown.

Much as every fan relishes jumping to far-fetched conclusions from even Who’s most basic marketing materials, the rousing thrill that comes with turning the page and witnessing the Thirteenth Doctor in action for the first time can’t possibly be denied. That her increasingly coveted costume and intriguing extraterrestrial surroundings are drawn in such a majestic light by Rachael Stott, the upcoming Thirteenth Doctor regular strip’s resident artist, just goes to show that she’s fully aware of the significance of this watershed moment for the show. The same can be said of Jody Houser’s daringly dialogue-devoid script, aping Whittaker’s reveal video last year in building its structure entirely around the new incarnation’s gravitas-laden arrival.

A tremendous end, then, to a tremendous Free Comic Book Day special, one which accomplishes the remarkable joint feats of setting past Doctors on unexpected new trajectories for the coming months and making the Thirteenth’s debut – both on-screen and the printed page – that much more of an exciting proposition.

Be sure to follow our reviews of Titan’s The Thirteenth Doctor series as it kicks off in tandem with Season Eleven this Autumn…

The Tenth Doctor ChroniclesBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 25 April 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
The Tenth Doctor Chronicles (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Matthew J Elliot, James Goss, Helen Goldwyn, Guy Adams
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Featuring: Jacob Dudman, Jacqueline King, Michelle Ryan, Jon CulshawArinzé Kene
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running time - 4 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2018
Order from Amazon UK

A decade on from his third televised season of interplanetary, inter-temporal and inter-dimensional exploits, David Tennant's Tenth Doctor continues to enjoy one hell of an afterlife between his Titan Comics adventures alongside Gabby and Cindy as well as his mandatory Big Finish tenure. While the latter studio hasn't managed to book Tennant in for another appearance in his role since last year's The Tenth Doctor Adventures Series 2, his iconic wise-cracking incarnation lives on in aural form this month thanks to a familiar voice to Doctor Who fans the universe over - one Jacob Dudman.

Just as Nicholas Briggs bore the mighty responsibility of paying homage to Christopher Eccleston in The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, so too is Dudman faced with the unenviable task not only of following in Tennant's footsteps here, but additionally narrating a quartet of hour-long storylines with the help of only a single guest star in each instance. But, as anyone who's remotely aware of this remarkably accomplished voice artist's work mimicking the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors will attest, the task couldn't find itself placed in more capable hands; Dudman positively exudes Tennant's instantaneous, infectious charisma, boundless energy and sizzlingly rapid repartee with just about any human, alien or Cyberman whom he encountered between 2005-2010. Indeed, anyone new to the man's work could easily mistake him for the genuine article, barring those oh-so-fleeting moments when his voice hits a slightly higher pitch than that of his inspiration.

What of the four episodes themselves, though? The play's the thing, after all, so let's dive straight into The Tenth Doctor Chronicles and discover whether Big Finish's latest foray into the voyages of perhaps the TARDIS' most beloved modern captain warrants a victorious "allons-y" cheer, or whether it's best left to the clutches to the Abzorbaloff...

"The Taste of Death":

"Not only is MXQ1 one of the most luxurious alien-made environments, it also houses - wait for it - the best restaurant in the galaxy. There was you saying I never take you anywhere posh..."

If only the latest series of Eighth Doctor Adventures hadn't stolen this epithet already, then 'Ravenous' could've served as an ideal alternative title for Helen Goldwyn's rambunctiously entertaining opener. "The Taste of Death" more than suffices in the meantime, though, the story in question following the Doctor and Rose as their respite on the intergalactic resort of MXQ1 gets swiftly interrupted by a sinister cullianry scheme to overfeed its - hilariously willing - guests for nefarious purposes. It's essentially a frothy blend of "School Reunion" - an inspiration which Goldwyn thankfully sees fit to reference directly at one point rather than courting repetition - with an early Ninth Doctor two-parter, the title of which just might become apparent if you gaze at the boxset's cover art above.

That's right: the Slitheen, everyone's favourite - or least favourite, depending where your "Aliens in London / World War Three" stance lies - gaseous monstrosities, are back for their first proper dust-off with the Tenth Doctor after only garnering the briefest of cameos at the last moment in "The End of Time". At first re-introducing one of Russell T Davies' more divisive contributions to Doctor Who's Hall of Foes might justifiably sound like a recipe for disaster, but the script's rollercoaster pace barely affords them any time to let out so much as a gurgle from their sizable stomachs, let alone any of the full-blown gusts of bodily wind for which they attracted such notoriety on both Who and its CBBC spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. That approach allows the mystery of MXQ1 patrons disappearing by the dozen to take centre-stage - probably a wise move on Goldwyn's part in hindsight, even if our familiarity with the aforementioned Raxacoricofallapatorian family's illicit commercial dealings at this point means that most listeners will ascertain the truth of the matter long before our heroes crack the case.

Joining Dudman for the sumptuous ride - and making his Big Finish debut in the process - is Arinzé Kene, the role of inquisitive chef Orentino affording him no shortage of opportunities to showcase his performing talents as he joins the TARDIS crew in discovering what's become of his abruptly absent brother since the hotel's enigmatic owners recruited him onto their dining team. Holding your own opposite someone with Dudman's seemingly effortless abilitiies, not to mention in an episode as packed with extraterrestrial sci-fi technobable as this one, takes some doing, so it's to Kene's full credit that he pulls off the job with flying colours. He not only endows Oriento with the personal angst that you'd expect amidst a family crisis, but also striking a refreshing note of levity, such as when regailing the Doctor with darkly comedic stories of how rapidly mealtimes at the MXQ1 buffet transform from all-you-can-eat experiences into explosive free-for-alls thanks to their dangerously addictive offerings.


"What is that? Sort of a TARDIS car alarm?"
"Bit like that, yeah, only a billion times worse."

Whether knowingly or otherwise, violent vacations of this ilk form something of a connective narrative strand across the latest Chronicles collection, with the Doctor's next such jaunt coming unexpectedly as he and Martha find the Time Vortex in disarray, largely thanks to a pesky era-hopping tour guide transporting holiday-makers to their chosen historical destinations via some decidedly tempermental temporal technology. If that seems somewhat akin to the Earth-bound scenes in "Voyage of the Damned" as loose premises go, then rest assured that scribe Matthew J Elliot avoids any risks of retreading well-worn ground here, instead almost gifting the Tenth Doctor with his first 'pure' historical outing.

Admittedly "Backtrack" does distance itself from the likes of "An Unearthly Child" or "The Romans" by including a minor sci-fi threat and of course the "Time Meddler"-esque inciting incident which kicks off its action, but much of the entertainment - and indeed dramatic - value here comes from the crews of the TARDIS and its malfunctioning counterpart The Outcome interacting with the time zones that they visit, not least as the stakes are raised monumentally by a last-minute detour to one of the most horrific events in recent human history. This reviewer will steer clear of spoilers for now, but suffice to say that whereas TV Who only tends to dip its feet in atrocities such as Pompeii or the First World War without fully exploring the devastating pain suffered by their victims, Elliot goes one step further come Act 3, raising the harrowing possibility of the Time Lord and his unrequited courter's respective existences reaching their premature denouements in a provocative way that's sure to unsettle even the most apathetic of listeners.

Better yet, portraying the foolhardy entrepeneur responsible for tearing holes in the Web of Time is none other than Jon Culshaw, the Dead Ringers impressionist perhaps best known for his uncanny renditions of both the Third and Fourth Doctors. Fans of Dudman's work will no doubt recall Culshaw's appearance in the former's "The Day of the Doctor" tribute sketch "The Great Curator" last year; clearly the past 12 months have done little to distill their exuberant chemistry either, since Culshaw's unapologetically self-righteous Nathan Hobb's verbal sparring matches with Dudman's soon-to-be self-proclaimed Time Lord Victorious make for the highlights of the hour by far, constantly ensuring that we're never certain as to where their conflicting efforts to preserve or exploit the past, present and future will leave anyone in the vicinity - or indeed the final state of the universe full stop.

"Wild Pastures":

"I'm just offering my sensible opinion; I'm used to having that ignored. You should meet my daughter, Donna - she's never listened to me and look how she turned out!"

Most fans would probably assume that Goldwyn's ambition to resurrect the Slitheen while retaining her credibility as a Big Finish veteran would represent the biggest challenge for anyone involved with Chronicles, yet that's far from the case; enter James Goss, taking time out from his doubtless intense stewardship of the studio's Torchwood range to attempt the Herculean feat of giving Jacqueline King's Sylvia Noble an entire hour in the spotlight. It's probably safe to say that few fans would've begged Russell T. Davies or his Season Four peers to centre their next Doctor-lite story around a comic relief character such as Sylvia, especially given the rich esteem in which her father Wilf was instaneously held by fans in comparison. By now, though, it's a truth similarly universally acknowledged that Big Finish can utilise just about any divisive player from the show's past to their advantage - after all, who else could've transformed the Kandyman into the stuff of genuine nightmares earlier this month?

Judging by her revelatory interview with Goss and producer Scott Handcock shortly after the credits roll here, King harbours little doubt as to her character's Marmite personality, so it speaks volumes for her talents that she's able to carry much of proceedings. "Wild Pastures" centres on the Doctor's investigation into a seemingly innocuous care homes where residents aren't going quite so gentle into that good night, leading him to sign Sylvia up for a room while he chases answers behind the scenes. With the Doctor consequently sidelined for much of the hour, Sylvia wastes no time in living up her newfound domestic bliss, gossiping to no end with staff and residents alike while eventually taking on a surprisingly pivotal role in deciphering the secret at the titular rest home's heart. It's hardly difficult to imagine King lapping her character's constantly argumentative dialogue and razor-sharp cynical wit up as she initially read Goss' script, at least based on how much she embraces transporting Sylvia through such delightfully absurd events as these, and indeed that same zestful enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on this reviewer in spite of his qualms when hitting Play on this instalment.

"Pastures" does, however, raise the question of whether each instalment in this boxset fully warranted between 50-60 minutes of airtime. Naturally the Chronicles range aims to ape the Ninth-Eleventh Doctors' 45-minute on-screen escapades, but after Eddie Robson's inspired The Thick of It pastiche Time in Office showcased the benefits of the anthology format for Doctor Who's future flirtations with the sitcom genre, the slow-burn nature of this instalment's first half as Sylvia mainly gets to grip with life in care suggests Goss might've been better served without having to match his peers' word counts. Perhaps it's worth Big Finish dabbling further with lighter fare along these lines in their Short Trips range; indeed, their upcoming Jackie Tyler-centred Trips outings could serve as the perfect testing ground on this front come their eventual TBA release dates.

"Last Chance":

"It was an ending."

Au contraire, Lady Christina - for you it's just the beginning. As well as wrapping up The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, Guy Adams' quasi-season finale simultaneously acts as a backdoor pilot of sorts for Big Finish's upcoming spin-off saga focused on the feisty jewel thief first glimpsed in "Planet of the Dead", reuniting her with the Tenth Doctor for one final mission before her solo adventures kick off this September. Once again, few would envy Adams' efforts to resurrect the one-off companion from arguably Tennant's most maligned 2008-2010 Special and prove the need for her own dedicated series to boot, but if you're still under the delusion that such fears would daunt any of the studio's writing team in the slightest, then you've not been reading this review anywhere near closely enough. Quite to the contrary, Adams knows all too well how to wrap up an audio boxset of this ilk in style, as demonstrated by his incredible "The Heavenly Paradigm" in The War Master: Only the Good just four months ago, and he remains totally true to Christina's line of work with an action-packed hour that tests her Mission Impossible-style criminal skillset of cliff-scaling, vent-crawling and treasure-stealing to the nth degree across hostile environments galore.

Indeed, Adams zips us from African deserts to snow-swept mountains to alien spaceships with the speed of a rampaging rhino, his whirlwind script gleefully taking advantage of the TARDIS' rich potential as a boundless sci-fi plot device capable of transporting its occupants - and viewers / listeners - anywhere in time and space, all without any of the budgetary constraints imposed on his televised counterparts. One could easily imagine TV Who spending one or more full episodes in any of these fascinating worlds, but the script's reluctance to remain in one place for any longer than the plot - an unashamedly family-friendly caper which would go down a riot on long car journeys - dictates actually works in its favour, perfectly embodying the Tenth Doctor's desire to flee his impending demise by any route available to him and at the same time providing us with promising insight into the wild variety that Christina's solo jaunts across the globe will offer us later in the year.

That would all mean little if Michelle Ryan didn't enough enthusiasm back to her role in order to inspire confidence in what's next for Lady de Souza, of course. Even the most vocal "Planet of the Dead" detractors will struggle to find much to complain about in that area, though - in fact, Ryan and Dudman make for arguably an even better pairing than Culshaw's return did in "Backtrack", recapturing much of the refreshing tension that sprang from the Doctor and Christina heralding from such different professions back in 2009, not to mention the oft-cynical latter's bemused wonder at her unlikely companion's ability to hope against all the odds. Credit also must go to Dudman in particular for narrating Christina's internal thought process with such nuance, his voice at times delicately betraying an increasing vulnerability to her musings on how the Doctor's rejection influenced her post-"Planet" worldview, before reverting back to her amazement at the Time Lords antics, then ultimately demonstrating powerfully her fear at the uncertain prospect of her old friend's ambiguous fate.

The Verdict:

Whereas some of Big Finish's boxsets veer dramatically in quality from instalment to instalment, The Tenth Doctor Chronicles without question stands as one of their most consistently engrossing multi-part productions to date. Any fan of Tennant's tenure on Doctor Who who's keen to sink their teeth into the Tenth Doctor's audio adventures can't therefore go wrong with this collection, its incredibly faithful lead performance - and accomplished narration - from Dudman, consistently passionate supporting turns from his co-stars and eclectic array of storylines combining to provide four hours packed with the same thrills, emotional beats and well-timed comedy for which this era of the show is still held in such reverence today. Oh, and the best part? If you ultimately "don't want to go" come the closing credits, then you've only got to wait seven months until another Chronicles boxset arrives this November. Next up: geronimo...