The underlying premise of Donna Noble: Kidnapped! is that the Tenth Doctor companion takes on the Doctor role within her own show, without the brain-melting side effects of absorbing a bit of Time Lord. Which is good, because Donna needs to last four episodes in this Big Finish boxset…
It’s a premise that goes far beyond the famed mouthiness of Donna, and begins shortly after her traumatic trip to The Library. She wants to recover from her perfect virtual family life proving to be non-existent by returning home to Chiswick, but that obviously involves staying at home with her not-perfect real-family life and ‘loving’ mother Sylvia.
Thankfully for the listener (and Donna), it’s Sylvia who gets the plot rolling and gives Donna a reason to leave the house via a speed dating event. It’s here she reunites with her best friend Nat Morrison, who plays the companion role to Donna. And who better to play opposite Catherine Tate than long-term collaborator Niky Wardley?
The chemistry between the two is evident from the off, and they definitely work better as equals rather than with Donna as the lead.
While the first episode also introduces the alien threat that forms a loose storyline over the boxset, the story is really about the presumption of an alien threat after life with the Doctor. Donna may claim she’s seeking a break, free of her time-travelling pal, but at every turn she’s treating each situation she’s in with suspicion (unsurprising given she’s just had a fictional reality torn away from her to heartbreaking effect) and is convinced of either a conspiracy or aliens.
Nat doesn’t have the same nose for detective work as Donna, but a dashing male interest gives them both cause to chase a trail in a story that adds small but enjoyable twists all the way through to its Out of this World conclusion.
The follow-up episode, Spinvasion is angled around PR for a global invasion, and, while from experience that is genuinely how far some press relations people would go to please a client, it’s not a massively engaging story.
Donna and Nat are split up for much of this episode, enabling both to be effective leads but robbing the listener of the brilliant dialogue previously laid on when they’re together. Going it alone is a way of proving Donna’s Doctor-y credentials though, which she does by helping the exploited working class of the planet, Valdacki.
Oddly, the pair are apart again in The Sorcerer of Albion, in which Donna ‘successfully’ takes them back to Earth. Wound up in her own success, Donna starts the episode with a brilliant sequence of blagging her way into a position that will be difficult to get out of alive, and plays on one of her catchphrases.
After very much evoking the Tenth Doctor, she’s then locked away for some time and the layers of mystery are handed to Nat to solve. An unusual decision to take when this is a Donna-centric boxset. While she’s still very new to the high-stakes life that usually arises from travelling with the Doctor (or Donna), Nat blossoms in the extra “screen time” she’s given and Wardley is sublime in the role.
Despite there really only being an episode-and-a-half gap from when they left Earth, the character development and storytelling really makes it feel like the first episode was a long time ago, and that’s meant in a good way.
The twist in this tale harks all the way back to a First Doctor television story in a way that doesn’t require Classic Who knowledge, and culminates in a TARDIS-based standoff and a quieter coda that both work really well. One thing that stood out from these scenes, after listening to hundreds of Big Finish audios and watching hundreds of TV episodes, was that the soundscape of the TARDIS is probably the best this reviewer has ever heard besides those in the Rachel Talalay-directed season finales of the Peter Capaldi era. It really felt like a huge and impossible time machine, which can easily be taken for granted in a science fiction show.
The Chiswick Cuckoos concludes the boxset and brings the Doctor back into play. At first, it’s through teases, which enable Tate and Wardley to shine, and it’s only at the end that David Tennant bounds in like it’s 2008 – but not to save the day. This story belongs to Donna and her (other) best mate, and they pack in their fair share of danger, flirting and fury against injustice before letting the Doctor get his face in.
There’s not a blockbuster ending, but fans are rewarded with hearing the Doctor and Donna find closure over the events of The Library, and look forward to an actual relaxing break for Donna at a later date. I hear the planet Midnight has a good spa that may do the trick.
Big Finish’s Donna Noble: Kidnapped is out now, priced £19.99 as a download and £24.99 on CD.