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Review: Big Finish’s ‘Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1’

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When it comes to Doctor Who, every fan has their favorite Doctor. For some, it’s their first Doctor, the one that brought them to the series. For others, it’s the one that they connected to the most. For me, it was the Eleventh Doctor. Matt Smith brought an energy to the show that captured me the moment I saw him on screen and kept a firm grip on me until his end. So continuing his adventures in Big Finish’s The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 was at the top of my list. 

One of the things I have always loved about Big Finish is how it allows fans to revisit their favorite Doctor on new adventures. Their stories fill in the gaps left open by the BBC series, bringing with them old companions and new friends. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 does just that, with direction from Helen Goldwyn and narration from Jacob Dudman. The latter also brings the Doctor to life with a near-impeccable impersonation of Matt Smith. So what adventures is the Doctor up to in this collection? Let’s find out together. 

[Warning: Spoilers from Big Finish’s Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 are below!]

“The Calendar Man”

Writer AK Benedict begins the collection with a classic Amy Pond and the Doctor adventure, which seems like the perfect place to start with Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1. Having just survived a giant cephalopod attack, the Doctor receives a message from a stranger on the planet Ryklan. The girl is begging for help, as she’s the only one in her town that seems to notice people are disappearing. 

The Doctor is never one to turn away from those seeking help, especially if they’re children or young adults. So he sets off to get to the bottom of the mystery. The city’s problem involves a sinister fog, which might just be at the center of why these individuals are missing. The Doctor, Amy, and young Olivia (Eleanor Crooks) observe the fog descending on different people, turning them to ash, and essentially erasing their existence from everyone’s minds.

Paired with the disappearances and deadly fog is an everpresent ticking, like seconds on a clock. Can the Doctor stop the Calendar Man before all hope is lost?

“The Top of the Tree”

Simon Guerrier wrote one of my favorite stories from the set, because of the companion he brought back to the world of Doctor Who. One of my favorite NuWho Christmas specials has always been “A Christmas Carol”, which starred Danny Horn as Kazran Sardick, who returns to voice his character. The fun thing about Kazran is that he has plenty of adventures with The Doctor hinted at or glimpsed in the Christmas special, and now we finally get to join in on one.

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol. Eleventh Doctor Chronicles
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Kazran (Danny Horn) in “A Christmas Carol”. Doctor Who (BBC).

The Top of the Tree takes The Doctor and Kazran to a world overgrown by large trees. The world’s population and ecosystem exist among the branches, though the balance is delicate. The individuals who live among the trees wear pieces from space suits and bits of technology, however, speak and act like Neanderthals. The people survive on primal needs of survival and a fear of what lies below in the dark.

What the people fear turns out to be none other than tree sap, which burns and irritates their skin. Balance that with the horrid insects all around, and the situation is dire. The only thing they can do is continue to climb, hoping for salvation when they reach the top. Instead, they find only space, with a large star heating the planet, which causes the sap to rise.

What’s The Doctor to do? Clever as he always is, there’s a plan up his sleeve. The Top of the Tree spins a story that is tied deeply to Kazran’s history, which was a nice spin I wasn’t expecting. However, it gives a depth to the story that enriched Kazran even more from his appearance in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

“The Light Keepers”

Roy Gill brings another familiar face from the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure on Doctor Who, Dorium (Simon Fisher-Becker). I’m sure every fan of Doctor Who remembers the large blue man, who sometimes helps the Doctor, though only if he gets what he wants in the process. However, in “The Light Keepers”, Dorium holds all the power, a fact he enjoys a bit more than the Doctor does.

This adventure in The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 begins with the Doctor crashing the TARDIS into Dorium’s beloved trading post/bar, the Maldovarium. Enraged, Dorium demands restitution for the damage to his property, a whopping 260,000 credits. A debit the Doctor can’t afford, although he can’t get his TARDIS back until it’s paid, thanks to a force field erected around it.

Dorium- Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles
Dorium (Simon-Fisher Becker). Doctor Who (BBC).

However, Dorium has another idea for repayment, solving the problem of the Beacon People and the tremors they’re causing. They are the only other permanent residents and they have been mining the planet for resources. Together, the two set off to the Beacon and infiltrate the facility.

What are these people doing inside the Beacon? And what exactly is the purpose of the Beacon? To help, or to warn against danger? All these questions and more float through the Doctor’s mind as he comes face to face with the alien that resides inside.

“False Coronets”

Bringing up the rear of the four stories is one written by Alice Cavender, which features one of my favorite companions, Clara Oswald. This adventure takes The Doctor and Clara to 1815 England, however, something is seriously wrong. The U.K. is now a republic and they have a functioning railway that runs through the metropolitan area. The dup also meets an imprisoned Jane Austen (Nathalie Buscombe), who is to be executed in the coming days.

Wait, that’s not supposed to happen! So the Doctor and Clara take a ride in the TARDIS back to 1800 to determine when time began to deviate. It’s here that the two split up, with the Doctor stopping an assassination attempt on King George III and getting embroiled in the drama of that situation, and Clara tagging along with the younger Jane Austen. Jane and Clara end up at Lord Rutland’s masquerade ball, which serves as the catalyst for the main mystery and the forces behind the time shift, and save the day once again.

The good and the bad of The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1

One of the things I loved most about this collection, with the exception of featuring my favorite Doctor, is that many of the stories don’t feature villains in the traditional sense. To me, they felt more like they featured lost souls, people trying to make the best of a bad situation, or trying to get home after being gone for so long. Sure, “The Calendar Man” heavily featured an alien of the week doing villainous stuff, but that was the only one of the bunch that struck me that way.

It felt like a slight change of pace from many of the episodes from Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor. The Eleventh Doctor’s episodes were action-heavy, with scenes and battles in which he can showcase how brilliant he is. In this collection from Big Finish, you still get the sense that The Doctor is clever, but it’s seen in a different way. 

Matt Smith Doctor Who
Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor. (BBC).

Jacob Dudman deserves an incredible amount of praise for his work as both the narrator and voice of The Doctor. Dudman does a spot-on imitation of Smith’s voice, matching him almost perfectly in every single scene. However it isn’t just the voice, he captures the spirit and energy that the Eleventh Doctor has. Kinda like a young child on Christmas and an excited puppy. Dudman also does a great job bouncing between voices, as he covers all the other characters in the set, with the exception of the single get star in each audio drama.

The one downside with all of these audio dramas is that if you’re not an auditory learner, you may struggle following some of them. The style present in The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 is more of a narration of a novel, with Dudman describing everything. This is unlike most of the audio dramas I’ve listened to from Big Finish, which are more like a play without visuals. It was similar to Doctor Who: Emancipation of the Daleks, which has been one of my favorites from Big Finish.

There are still plenty of ambient noises that help to bring the story alive. However, with the amount of information being read to the listeners, if you tune out for a second you might just miss something.

Overall, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 is a fantastic collection, especially if you’re a fan of Smith’s Doctor. It’s exciting to see these adventures set between the stories we know from television. It fills in gaps, enriching the story of characters we’ve met just a few times. This is definitely a collection you don’t want to miss.

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Vol. 1 is available now! Will you be checking it out? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

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