Big Finish stories come in many shapes and sizes – which is only to be expected from a company that’s been bringing out Doctor Who material for almost 20 years now. There are tales which really take advantage of the medium (Whispers of Terror; The Chimes of Midnight); audios on epic scales (basically any Eighth Doctor boxset); and the pieces that are just plain fun and emulate a certain era. I personally love the adventures that could only work on audio, but if they become the norm, there’s nothing special about them anymore. Equally, you can go bigger and bigger in scale but the heart of a tale is always the small details. But for stories that are, through and through, fun, the sky’s the limit.
That seems to be the tac here, with Big Finish’s latest helping of Tenth Doctor Adventures: they’re designed to send you back to 2008, when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) were dotting around time and space having a right old laugh. And heck, it works really well.
Because The Creeping Death by Roy Gill immediately plunges you back over a decade, with Tennant and Tate sparking off each other like the intervening years never happened. That’s really what you want, isn’t it? You want something wonderful. That’s what The Creeping Death is all about.
Okay, it’s not entirely fair: there’s some very dark stuff here. It’s 5th December 1952, and London is engulfed in the worst smog it’ll ever endure. At least 12,000 people died, though actual figures were kept quiet. Indeed, at the mid-point of this play, there’s a particularly grisly death that leaves you reeling. It’s coupled with beautiful sound design for the monster – genuinely creepy, evoking a lot of Series 4-era antagonists.
The Creeping Death does this especially well, actually. It slots into Series 4 like a dream, and no, it’s not simply because Donna has something on her back. There are nice parallels with The Fires of Pompeii and Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead in having a dust-based enemy, plus allusions to other serials from 2008 (as well as foreshadowing Planet of the Dead as Donna incredulously asks the Doctor, “You can drive a bus?!”). Donna displays the same confidence and enthusiasm shown in The Unicorn and the Wasp, making it evident that she now fits into the Doctor’s universe far better than her Runaway Bride persona. Tennant’s Time Lord swings between annoyance and admiration for the human race, recalling his general attitude in Planet of the Ood. The Doctor even gives us a Midnight-esque “wagons roll”.
It’s so pitch-perfect. Gill’s dialogue is very naturalistic, even in the exposition-heavy scenes. I particularly liked Ivy Clark (Lauren Cornelius), who comes across like a female version of Ben Jackson (albeit getting more poetic lines like, “Just making my way through the dark, like everyone else” – great for an usherette). But the supporting cast are all strong, and listeners easily grow attached, just as the Doctor and Donna do.
The Creeping Death moves at a great rate too. The story bristles with lovely ideas, with an ideal location for the climax; Gill takes a very “TV” notion, i.e. something that would look amazing on screen (cheekily name-checking a film it emulates) and translates it to audio fittingly.
However, what’s so pleasing about The Creeping Death is how it nails the TARDIS team. This Doctor’s persona is picked apart without it being a deliberate character assassin – in fact, the opposite is true. It adds to the character. Donna acknowledges that the Doctor’s “like Tigger when he’s got an idea”, but a statement made by Alice Aiken (Helen Goldwyn) also rings in your ears: “Darling, everyone’s performing – some of us just have better material.”
If I’ve a complaint, it’s that the monster’s name, the Fumifugium, is a bit pants. It’s forgettable and the cast struggle to consistently pronounce it properly. They could also have been replaced by the Vashta Nerada, but these are small niggles.
This final story from Big Finish’s latest batch of Tenth Doctor Adventures is an absolute joy, sending you right back to a time when two best friends were exploring all time and space and embracing everything it threw at them. Forget about the smog: the sky’s the limit.
The Creeping Death is available from the Big Finish website, both as a separate release and as part of the latest Tenth Doctor boxset from £24.99. It’s also due to be released on vinyl, exclusively through ASDA from this Friday 24th May 2019.