Doctor Who: The Eleven (Big Finish Review)

Of all the original Doctor Who characters created for Big Finish, The Eleven might be the most fascinating. A Timelord suffering with regenerative dissonance, the Eleven is a character that has the personalities of all eleven regenerations playing around in his head at once. First introduced in the Eighth Doctor story of the same name, Mark Bonnar’s character has become a firm favourite, in no small part to his ability to play all eleven roles at once.

The Eleven was a recurring presence in the Doom Coalition and Ravenous Eighth Doctor sets and has even popped up to face the Seventh Doctor in Dark Universe. In a new set of stories that puts Bonnar’s Timeland at the heart of the story, The Eleven sees him battle Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. Another firm favourite Big Finish original character Constance, played by the superb Miranda Raison, is also along for the ride as the Sixth Doctor’s companion, while Bonnar’s wife Lucy Gaskell completes the core cast as Miskavel, the new wife of The Eleven, who may be almost as insane as he is.

The Eleven is a loose trilogy of stories, set on the planet Molaruss. The population are almost as fascinating as the title character – people living with dual personalities. Throwing in a Timelord that battles with eleven personalities at once makes for a hugely entertaining, twisted concept, one that allows several members of the cast to have fun playing more than one characters at once. Bonnar, Baker, Raison and Gaskell are all superb and more than live up to the challenge these stories provide.

Joining me on the deep dive into each story is my regular Big Finish co-reviewer, co-host of The TARDIS Crew and the world’s biggest Doctor Who fan, my 15-year old son Ben. A warning of minor spoilers as we delve into each story…

 

One for All

 

Baz Greenland

A mad scientist with eleven personalities experimenting on people with dual personalities? The core concept of One For All is a deliciously entertaining hook and one that doesn’t disappoint. Lizzie Hopley’s script could easily have coasted off that premise alone. The Eleven is extremely entertaining as he switches from one personality to another and Mark Bonnar has been playing the character(s?) long enough that he can effortlessly switch from one to another, keeping the listener on their toes. However, One for All – and indeed all of The Eleven – is not content to rest on its laurels and there several narrative layers  taking place.

Lucy Gaskell is terrific as Miskavel, the ‘single-personality’ wife of The Eleven and the real life chemistry of Gaskell and Bonnar shines through into their performances too. It’s clear the actors are having as much fun as the listener. There’s a wonderful sub plot based on the idea of a wife trying to change her husband; in this case, it is removing his boring / troublesome personalities. Of course, it’s more than simply removing them entirely and fans of Bonnar’s psychotic ‘Six’ will not be disappointed. All of the different personalities are around.

The Sixth Doctor and Constance are one of Big Finish‘s best TARDIS duos and it’s great to see them square off against The Eleven for the first time. Baker and Bonnar bounce off each other superbly and there’s a great interplay between Miskavel and Constance too, who quickly develop an antagonistic relationship that will play through into the third story. There’s plenty of mystery too; a TARDIS within a TARDIS, displaced clones and plenty of deception and intrigue taking place on Molaruss as the Doctor seeks to thwart the Eleven’s schemes.

There is a lot packed into Hopley’s script and it never feels rushed or convoluted. Admittedly, some of the supporting Molaruss characters get a bit lost in the mix, but when you have two TARDIS teams battling each other, it’s easy to be overshadowed. One For All kicks off The Eleven in style and is easily one of the most entertaining stories we’ve had this year.

Ben Greenland

The Eleven was a set that intrigued me, a seemingly fun one-off oddity in the grander schemes of releases. And it truly surprised me. The combination of cast alone was enough to hook me in, but then with a plot like this it becomes a cherry on a cake.

As mentioned in previous reviews, I am a huge fan of the TARDIS team of the Sixth Doctor, Flip and Constance, so while the absence of Flip here is a tad saddening, just the Doctor and Constance together are more than enough. Indeed, the Sixth Doctor is perfect foil against the Eleven (perhaps even more so than the Seventh or the Eighth), so it’s a delight to see them verbally spar together. As always, Colin Baker is on fine form proving once again he is one of the best Doctors we have, while Mark Bonnar obviously relishes the opportunity to do something slightly different with his character.

Miskavel is a brilliant character and her scenes with the Doctor are a highlight, slowly building up to her eventual reveal as one of the villains, while Constance gets to spend some time unknowingly with The Eleven; a threat of constant danger looming for us as we know that he’ll eventually turn on her. In fact, pretty much every character combination in this story is perfection, from the Doctor and Constance exploring the derelict TARDIS, to the One, the Doctor and the Nine all trapped together in space.

The plot is certainly a unique one for this villain, splitting his minds off into different bodies causing clones of himself with different aspects of his past selves running amok, leading to an escalation of threat as more personalities are shaved off than intended – causing chaos. The idea of having the Doctor briefly host some of the minds is fabulous, and slightly reminiscent of Stop the Clock from Doom Coalition 4. Overall, this is a very fun time and well worth a listen if you’re a fan of any of the three returning castmembers.

The Murder of Oliver Akkron

 

Baz Greenland

The Murder of Oliver Akkron is an altogether different beast to the other two stories and my personal favourite of the set. It is largely a two-hander between Mark Bonnar’s ‘Father Octavian’ and Simon Slater’s President Oliver Akkron. Nigel Fair’s script is superb, with manipulation and machination all part of the course as they seek to out-scheme each other. More theatrical in tone, it is far more reserved than the stories surrounding it, focusing almost exclusively on the power play happening at the dinner table.

These dinner conversations are framed around the murder investigation of Akkron, with The Eleven – naturally – the prime suspect as he faces interrogation at the hands of ruthless scientists, seeking to determine which of his many personalities was responsible. It’s a solid narrative device, one unique to the story; which personality committed the murder? It gives the listener just enough of a hint about what is happening, as the ‘flashbacks’ build to the murder of Oliver Akkron. It’s a slow build masterclass in building suspense and mystery.

Bonnar and Slater are so good, each word carefully executed, you could listen to them for hours. It is also nice to see The Eleven in something of a less manic role, while still keeping true to his character. The final twists are well deserved, making this a unique murder mystery that could only work on something like Doctor Who.

Ben Greenland

Is this one just me? I’ve been seeing a lot of love for this episode but I couldn’t get into it. Sure it’s interesting to have The Eleven on his own (Well there was Miskavel there) without the Doctor but for me it just didn’t gel.

The Positives:
I haven’t been able to really ever speak about The Eleven as a character in other reviews I’ve done as he hasn’t been in most of those stories. I really like this guy. Like, a LOT. The idea of him is just so unique and done brilliantly and honestly he may be my favourite villain of Doctor Who as a whole (Even though I do prefer The Nine as his incarnations go). Mark Bonnar brings an amazing performance each and every time, to each and every voice in his head and I hope we haven’t seen the last of him. Miskavel also is a brilliant character, even though she doesn’t do anywhere near as much as The Eleven does here, while also being a central part of the resolution and cementing herself.

The Negatives:
I feel the fact that most of this was The Eleven (Or possibly the Eight?) just chatting to Oliver Akkron before murdering him just didn’t hold with me as much as it might with other people. I understand what it was going for, but to me it just wasn’t as entertaining. Add this to a confusing resolution I still don’t quite understand and it makes for a sadly weaker story than what I expected. But other than all that, it is a good story, just not to my personal taste.

 

Elevation

 

Baz Greenland

Elevation brings The Eleven to a bombastic climax as the Eleven enacts his plan; and what a plan it is. Distilling all the voices in your head into separate, distinct personalities is a delightfully bonkers idea and it absolutely works because of how insane the Eleven is as a character himself.

Miranda Raison delivers a stunning performance, as Constance is confronted with all the facets of her character. Her ability to meet the demands of Chris Chapman’s script means that the listener is always able to keep up with the different personalities, each subtly different to the last. While Bonnar is the absolute star of the set, Raison comes close here and it’s clear she relishes the opportunity to let loose with her usually reserved character. It’s also a great opportunity to delve into her psyche, particularly when confronted by one particular dangerous fact of her personality.

Once again, Lucy Gaskell shines as as Miskavel; her own insanity is unleashed as she serves her husband’s maniacal plan and she acts as a great foil to Constance before going through something of a redemptive arc. And at its heart, Colin Baker and Mark Bonnar take centre stage; while it’s great to see the Doctor outwit the Eleven at the story’s climax, much of the joy of Elevation is seeing the Eleven unleashed upon the planet, delivering on a plan that would put the Master to shame.

And yet, despite the OTT nature of the tale, Chris Chapman’s script grounds Elevation in very relatable ideas. There is a moment in the story where the Eleven’s decisions as president are questioned that feels very much like a satire of the Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic. This may not have been intentional, unlike say, this year’s Torchwood: The Five People You Kill In Middlesbrough, but it adds another interesting dynamic to the story. Chapman also roots the extreme ideas in its characters; as crazy as their actions might be, you have a great understanding of what the Eleven and Miskavel are trying to achieve. It’s a brilliant script for the Sixth Doctor and Constance, who prove themselves as the heroes they are, despite the Eleven’s attempts to destroy them. Elevation ends The Eleven on a high – pun intended – in what is one of the most entertaining Big Finish releases this year.

Ben Greenland

Chris Chapman is the best writer for the Sixth Doctor that there is. He’s written some of the greats of the last few years (Plight of the Pimpernel, Scorched Earth, Iron Bright and my favourite, The Middle), so Elevation was bound to be great!

As a loose trilogy, this set balances each segment wonderfully, from the clone mishap, to the taking over, to the ruling of Molaruss and this finale culminates spectacularly. It’s such a perfect place for The Eleven, a man of multiple minds, to put him on a world of duo-minds and then take over, allowing him to have power over a species that is closer to him than many. And for the first part of the episode, it does genuinely seem like he’s just ruling over them, they like it, and the Doctor begins to consider if the Eleven may have actually changed.

Then we get into the good stuff. With Miskavel and Constance off on a side plot, it allows for the Eleven’s true plan to come into action and it’s quite possibly the biggest thing he’s done. Forcing everyone into 11 minds is yet another unique idea from this set which allows for the character to play to another strength than his usual nature. The Doctor’s anger against him and his concern for Constance and the Molarussians allows for some great drama for Colin Baker to play off, made more prominent by the undertone of screaming running throughout the duration of the episode

But the real star of the episode is Miranda Raison. Her skill at balancing the multiple aspects of her personalities that are born due to the Eleven’s scheme allows for a new direction to go in for a companion, and adds a whole new layer to the episode. So much so that you genuinely feel distressed like Constance when her other selves begin to die, ending the story on a very sombre note (along with a very high death toll). It’s interesting to note how Miskavel gets a redemption here, considering we learn in the first episode that she committed genocide, but does allow for a return appearance for her, which I would not be opposed to.

 

Doctor Who: The Eleven is available at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st October 2021.

 

The Extras

 

Sadly, there is no musical score to accompany this release, but we do get some great behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew at the end of each disk. The extras for One for All include Lizzie Hopley expressing all our joy at the genius of the Eleven as a concept, producer David Richardson discussing how Miskavel brings a new dynamic to the Eleven, Miranda Raison delving into the dynamic between Constance and the Doctor and Colin Baker sharing his insights into recording remotely one year on.

On the extras for The Murder of Oliver Akkron, Richardson talks brining in murder mystery writer Nigel Fairs for episode two, Anjella MacKintosh delves into the different personalities of Dr Amiella Sheppon and Enza, while Simon Slater enjoys playing the lengthy scenes alongside Bonnar. Lucy Gaskell and Mark Bonnar share the joys of recording together at home and the logistics of performing with kids in the house! Finally, Colin Baker is full of praise for the scripts for The Eleven in the extras for Elevation, Gaskell talks the ruthless ambition of Miskavel and Raison calls the script a gift as an actor, playing all the different personalities to Contsance. Richardson wraps things up by calling it a happy recording experience and promises more to come with the Eleven.

 

Some Final Thoughts

 

The Eleven is one of the most entertaining releases of the year. Mark Bonnar is given the centre stage he deserves, delivering a multiple of brilliant performances, supported by a brilliantly ruthless performance by wife Lucy Gaskell as Miskavel. Colin Baker and Miranda Raison continue to deliver one of the best Doctor-companion relationships in Big Finish, with the latter certainly proving her acting chops in the final story. The Eleven is big, bombastic, clever and funny and an absolute treat for Doctor Who and Big Finish fans. (Baz)

This whole set is a hidden masterpiece, buried within the shenanigans of Dalek Universe and the The Ninth Doctor Adventures and such of the year. It’s well worth a purchase if you love these characters or even if it’s your first time with some of them. It truly is amazing. (Ben)

Synopsis

 

The Eleven – a Time Lord criminal, whose past selves all live on inside his head. Chaotic, yet brilliant, he has long been one of the Doctor’s most persistent and dangerous foes. Now, with a companion of his own and a world on his wavelength, he is making his greatest play for power. Can the Doctor and Constance stop him, or will they be caught inside his web?

One for All by Lizzie Hopley

The people of Molaruss are in two minds – quite literally! A world of duo-minds inside single bodies offers a unique opportunity to the Eleven, and his new wife, the mutant alien Miskavel. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Constance discover a derelict TARDIS, but are they walking into a trap?

The Murder of Oliver Akkron by Nigel Fairs

The Global President of Molaruss has been assassinated. The authorities believe they have the killer in custody – but which of his personalities did the deed? The truth will emerge in the recollections of a madman – but there is more than one side to every story…

Elevation by Chris Chapman

Molaruss has a new ruler: the wise and benevolent Eleven – alongside his loving consort Miskavel – his many minds guiding every aspect of successful government. But the Eleven has a plan to elevate his people to a new level of consciousness. And he cannot resist inviting the Doctor and Constance to witness his ultimate triumph…

 

Cast

 

Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Mark Bonnar (The Eleven)
Miranda Raison (Constance Clarke)
Lucy Gaskell (Miskavel)
Luke Barton (Tulun)
Annabelle Dowler (Burr)
Anjella MacKintosh (Dr Amiella Sheppon / Enza)
Glen McCready (Dr Varma)
Eva Savage (Miss Daxel)
Simon Slater (Oliver Akkron)

 

Production Credits

 

Written by Nigel Fairs, Chris Chapman & Lizzie Hopley
Cover Art by Ryan Aplin
Director Ken Bentley
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs& Jason Haigh-Ellery
Music by Andy Hardwick
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Sound Design by Andy Hardwick

 

Recommended Listening

Doctor Who: Doom Coalition 1

Doctor Who: The Middle

Doctor Who: Dark Universe

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