The fourth volume of The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles resumes its 12-part story arc in three experimental, timey-wimey stories, directly continuing from a crashing cliffhanger in Geronimo! It’s a boxset like no other, with the Eleventh Doctor (voiced by Jacob Dudman) and his cyberneticist companion Valarie Lockwood (Safiyya Ingar) travelling across All of Time and Space, as it says on the tin.
As a matter of fact, the title itself is directly quoted from The Eleventh Hour, when Amy enters the TARDIS for the first time, as spoken by the Doctor:
So… all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?
And that leads to the titular first episode (which also shares the boxset’s title), written by Tim Foley, where Ellery Quest* (Leroy Bonsu) pitches a stage play to Mr Darling (Richard Hope) about a certain time traveller and his new companion. It’s all metatextual, as Quest reads portions of the script and hilariously hums the theme music, only to be on the run from the multiplying Mr Darlings with help from the Doctor and Valarie.
(* Ellery Quest is also the writer’s pseudonym.)
If the distinctive storytelling weren’t enough, there are also plenty of hilarious moments throughout, with the Doctor and Valarie in the form of Punch and Judy style puppets (a direct callback to The Snowmen) being the absolute highlight. I couldn’t stop laughing my head off whenever they spoke with high pitched voices (done in post-production, according to sound designer Lee Adams), as they were found by Quest in Covent Garden – one of my favourite places to visit in London. Very much a Moffatian homage of sorts to the best scene in Blink, where the Tenth Doctor communicates with Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale via DVD Easter eggs. Fits perfectly on audio, right?
As a fan of Foley’s writing, his script goes far beyond the universe with the cleverly comical concepts in the boxset’s titular opener. On that note, let’s just say that the metatextual plot and themes are significantly different to The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot and the Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers film (yes, the one with Ugly Sonic), in the funniest way possible.
The second episode, written by Angus Dunican, takes the Doctor and Valarie to a literal nightmare scenario on Medrüth, where citizens Roanna (Mia Tomlinson), Hoster (David Dobson), and Wyler (Mark Rowley) are sheltered inside an underground bunker against The Yearn (voiced by Sam Clemens). A “base under siege” horror with the titular panther-like creatures made from gestalt energy, it thrillingly establishes a claustrophobic atmosphere with fascinating results. Kind of reminds me of The Web of Fear with the Great Intelligence taking control of the Yeti… plus a few human allies. (The Intelligence isn’t involved, despite its recurring appearances in Series 7.)
Originally planned as the second story for the previous boxset, I’m glad it didn’t end up being Valarie’s first trip in the TARDIS. But more to the point, the romantic relationship between Valarie and Roanna provided some strong LGBTQ+ representation; something I hope we’ll get more of in the forthcoming volumes.
The third episode, Curiosity Shop, written by James Goss, sees Valarie making regular visits to “Mr Foreman” in his junkyard and telling him stories about her adventures with the Doctor in the TARDIS (known to him as “Barbara”, after his former companion Barbara Wright) to help him regain his memories. (No, this isn’t 76 Totter’s Lane. It’s a junkyard on an unnamed planet, in the midst of an intergalactic war.) But at a cost: she exchanges her cybernetic body enhancements for money to buy food from Golas, played by none other than TV legend Derek Griffiths who many would remember from their childhoods.
Goss’ script takes the overarching narrative to a whole new level with its non-linear structure. Extraordinary character-driven storytelling with emotional depth and nostalgic tributes to multiple eras, right from the start to a whopping (big) finish. In addition to the writing, there’s also Jacob Dudman’s sublime impressions of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors. I love how he faithfully captures the nuances and mannerisms of each incarnation, in character as Mr Foreman, whilst sliding back and forth between the Eleventh.
And let’s not forget about Safiyya Ingar, who delivered such an emotional and motivational performance throughout the episode, by resonating with Dudman and Griffiths to keep the script flowing. I’m amazed with how they made extensive progress to Valarie’s character development across the entire boxset, thanks to the power of storytelling and its positive outcomes.
Overall, this is not only, by far, the best Eleventh Doctor Chronicles volume in the range, but I also consider it one of Big Finish’s greatest releases of 2023. Perfectly timed for the 60th anniversary celebrations, as well as acting as a proper prelude to Series 7B and The Day of the Doctor (10 years approaching!), hence why Dudman described the whole serialised arc as “Series 7a.ii”. All thanks to director Nicholas Briggs and script editor/producer Alfie Shaw for bringing this outstanding boxset to life!
As we’re already halfway through, I wonder if the final two boxsets will feature some familiar faces, such as the Daleks or Cybermen? Well, good thing that the fifth volume has been moved forward to this coming December, with the sixth and final due to be out in February 2024.
Furthermore, you might also want to check out The Galois Group (from Short Trips Volume 12), brilliantly narrated by Ingar, since it directly ties in with this boxset. And you’d also be interested to check out the interviews with Caroline Tankersley, in the behind-the-scenes of both this boxset and its predecessor, where she discusses her inspirations for the amazing cover artworks. Magnificent stuff!
All of Time and Space is available now from Big Finish.