Everybody has the right to free speech, as it says on the tin. And so does the intriguing premise surrounding Aymius Todd, with consequences that would inevitably take away his freedom for good. Those grab the listener’s attention: original storytelling with a unique concept about limiting individual rights to have a voice, which is why words always matter. Literally.
During a police interrogation, Aymius tells the story about his ties to the Garrulous Liberation (aka GLIB), a proscribed organisation, and how he met the Tenth Doctor. But all he can do is just summarise with key words, rather than full sentences, because every inhabitant on the planet Skaz has a tongue chip implanted which charges one Drooble per word. I love the use of ‘talking’ terminologies as a recurring theme for the plot, along with the excellent name for a currency.
The idea of having to pay to utter words is not only clever and distinctive, it’s also nightmarish when you even try to think about it (such as linking your tongue chip directly to your bank account). Sort of like having a Pay As You Go SIM card, which also requires topping up credit from personal savings. This all reminds me of the “One Word Test” from the 2012 Christmas special, The Snowmen, along with the Smartsuits from the Series 10 episode, Oxygen – without being derivative, of course (I would say more of an homage). Nobody would want to endure such a painful experience of being charged to talk, right until running out of Droobles.
Despite the Doctor not being the lead protagonist, he is quick to identify that something isn’t right on Skaz. As a lifelong fan of the tenth incarnation, his involvement with Aymius’ life has a number of positive outcomes and twists along the way. That’s who the Doctor is: a time traveller who helps people to make them, and others, better. It truly captures the spirit of the RTD Series 4/Specials era!
I love how Eugenie Pusenjak’s winning Short Trip is told in first-person; a first for the Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity. Her script clearly illustrates Aymius’ perspective, by letting him express freely in his mind for the audience to comprehensively understand his thoughts. The same goes for the narrative structure; it also provides some smooth transitions between the interrogation and flashbacks. Perfectly paced in 44 minutes, which also happens to be the average length of a New Series episode; similarly having pre-titles to introduce Aymius and Inspector Lockett, whilst keeping listeners in suspense.
Jacob Dudman has nailed his Tenth Doctor impression, once again, by faithfully capturing the vocal essences of David Tennant. He has truly come into the role of narrating official Doctor Who audios, such as Time Lord Victorious: The Minds of Magnox, The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, and also several New Series Short Trips (Her Own Bootstraps, Regeneration Impossible, Dead Media, and the 2019 winning entry The Best-Laid Plans). This is more in the style of the Companion Chronicles, I would say, but with brilliant results.
It also happens to be a coincidence that Big Finish released two Tenth Doctor Short Trips in the exact same month – Free Speech and The Shattered Hourglass. I call it an unintended 15th anniversary celebration of David Tennant’s full-length debut in The Christmas Invasion. As a fellow contender who also submitted a Tenth Doctor entry in 2020, I want to personally thank the competition judges Nicholas Briggs, Alfie Shaw, Robert Shearman, and Emily Cook for giving this (10/10) winning entry a voice for everyone to enjoy.
Free Speech is available to download for free from Big Finish.
(And once you unlock the Short Trip, you’ll also be able to download both the studio script and the original submission in PDF.)