While Big Finish still don’t have Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in their ranks, they’re making do with a range of impressionists fulfilling the roles of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors. The most prolific among them is Jacob Dudman who’s been playing these Doctors for a few years now. But all good things must come to an end and Dudman has recently announced his decision to leave Big Finish to focus on his rising acting career.
But before he goes, why not give him a big goodbye? And so, this series of The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles was born, a story arc spanning twelve episodes over four box sets, which gives the Eleventh Doctor a brand-new companion in the form of Valarie Lockwood during his search for the mysterious Clara Oswald. Set between The Snowmen and The Bells of Saint John, the series begins in the form of Geronimo! So, let’s see how it faired…
The series begins with a bang (almost literally as it turns up), with the Doctor showing up on Valarie’s doorstep with a bomb, in a way that fits this incarnation to a tee and launches us straight into the action. The episode descriptions gave very little detail on the plots of these episodes; I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here but it wasn’t anything this good…
The Inheritance is full of commentary on capitalist societies and the ways that Governments view healthcare, which feels very relevant to the issues of life today, while also being enveloped in a rollicking Doctor Who adventure that never lets up. It manages to capture the vein of an Eleventh Doctor series opener while also being its own thing and it should be commended for it. Dudman once again proves just how phenomenal he is, not just in his impression of Matt Smith but as an actor in his own right, going through a range of emotions from silly to anger to sorrow within this one hour. It’s always a joy to hear my favourite Doctor, and I can quite comfortably listen to these stories and truly believe it is Smith back once again as the Doctor going on adventures. That’s no mean feat.
Safiyya Ingar provides an utterly brilliant debut for Valarie and is the true heart and soul of the story – and indeed the set as a whole. It’s so lovely to hear a new series Doctor with a companion who isn’t from contemporary Earth, so this is a huge sigh of relief (as was the Tenth Doctor reuniting with Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven in last years’ Dalek Universe saga) and allows for some worldbuilding of the environment we’re in. Ingar flawlessly keeps pace with Dudman’s breathless Doctor and by the episode’s end you already believe they have a true bond built up that you’re eager to see more of.
Lara Lemon’s Arabella Hendricks is probably the weakest element of the story, but that’s not to say she detracts from proceedings. She’s just the type of villain we’re all familiar with even if she gives it a very good go and still holds her presence, while also managing to kickstart hints at the overarching series arc. Her confrontations with the Doctor and Valarie end up as some of the highlights, however, especially during the climax where the Doctor is talking about the weight of his conscience and what he’s lived through; that scene in particular being one of the absolute highlights.
The character work is very strong here. Mandi Symonds’ Patricia Lockwood already being hugely loveable in what little she has, and is able to provide some strong emotional responses from characters and audience alike. The final scene is honestly one of the best ‘come with me’ scenes we’ve had in recent times, with the Doctor trying to comfort Valarie and inviting her onboard the TARDIS. It ends on an exciting cliff-hanger that propels us into the next episode, quite literally. It’s not the best story we’ve ever had, but it’s a damn good time and one that all fans of the Smith years are sure to love!
THE HOUSE OF MASKS
The middle episode ends up being the weakest overall in my eyes, but that’s not to call it bad. There’s a lot to love here, from the vibrant setting to the moral dilemmas and interplay between the Doctor and Valarie.
The story starts off with a lovely scene of Valarie seeing her first new place and the Doctor’s wonderful enthusiasm for Venice, along with a nice touch of slightly sombre tone when he mentions the last time he was there in 2010’s The Vampires of Venice. Soon enough, however, we’re off to the main plot as the duo split off into the two different sections of the story. There’s the slight predictability of having both characters told different sides of events and believing that the other participant is the villain, but that’s soon sorted as the tension escalates.
There’s a nice sense of time running out in this episode as the Doctor and Valarie are working against the clock to save lives and unravel the mystery before it’s too late, and allows for some lovely moments of them slowly working out what’s gone on. The story does perhaps drag slightly in places, but never for long enough that you lose attention or get bored. By the episode’s climax, you’re inevitably drawn into the resolution and the conflict between Lady Sicura and Captain Tomasi, both played to great effect by Genevieve Gaunt and Fode Simbo.
Undeniably, however, the highlight of the episode is the final scene between our two leads. Big Finish tend to chicken out of addressing Time War fallout to heavily in most cases (notably in the Ninth Doctor Adventures range although it does seem like that’s soon to rectified), so the extent we get here is honestly a sigh of relief. The Doctor’s speech about his actions really resonate and allow for Valarie to also prove herself as companion material through her reactions to the revelations, in a way that will really stick with listeners in no small part due to Georgia Cook’s writing.
Overall, a decent episode but not the best one we’ve ever had but I wouldn’t expect god-tier from the writer’s first full cast script and second overall. That being said, I look forward to future stories from Cook.
Out of all the episodes, this is the one that generated the most intrigue. The episode description offers up a very experimental story which I always like Big Finish doing, but did it live up to that hype? Not quite, but it’s still very good.
The script requires quite a bit of attention as we flit between two different versions of the same events, one with the Doctor dying, and the other with Valarie. This framing device cleverly allows both Dudman and Ingar to shine in their respective roles and take charge when the other is laid up. In only her third story, Valarie is already proving to be an utter delight and one of the best companions from Big Finish in years, in no small part to the performance attributed to her. Multiple times in this story she gets to take centre stage and attempt to save everyone’s lives and work out what’s going on delivering her the agency she deserves, while also keeping her usual nature and dynamic with the Doctor intact.
Dudman, meanwhile, gets to have heaps of fun, playing the Doctor trying to save his companion and a Doctor unable to help as much as he wants. Two specific times in the story he gets to absolutely shine in the quieter moments, over the intercom with Valarie and later in the TARDIS. The side cast are serviceable but absolutely not the main focus nor do they need to be, while the threat isn’t the most unique we’ve ever had, but works for their purposes and provides a satisfying explanation for the time shenanigans going on.
The end of The End also furthers the series arc providing a few more hints and while there’s possibly a very obvious answer to it, it would still be a delight to see (hear). And in true multiple-boxset fashion, the episode ends on a huge cliffhanger sure to whet listener’s appetites for the next instalment in February, something I’m very much looking forward to. All in all, a very good story that furthers Valarie’s character and allows a focus on the main duo’s dynamic and some excellent material for Dudman.
There’s a lovely wealth of interviews attached to this release, including Alfie Shaw detailing how the series came about, while also revealing how The House of Masks was the last episode to actually be written overall and Ingar talks about her delight at being a Doctor Who companion.
There’s also a music suite and while I don’t often mention the music on releases, I have to give a special mention to this as it’s such a beautiful music score, that really furthers the stories and especially the big emotional moments to a higher plain.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS:
While some people will understandably be upset these stories don’t actually have Matt Smith, Dudman is as best a substitute as we’re gonna get. Not everyone will think he sounds like Smith but personally he almost sounds more like him than Smith does! Safiyya Ingar provides an absolutely wonderful debut while her chemistry with Dudman translates super well to the ear.
Each episode also has a particular standout moment for the Doctor’s character and Dudman absolutely sells it and the accompanying music is peak. Overall a genuinely fantastic boxset, fitting for the start of Dudman’s last hurrah and the finest offering from the Chronicles range yet, in no small part to Alfie Shaw’s direction for the series and quality opening script. Here’s to the next one…
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles- Geronimo! is available to purchase from the Big Finish site here and goes on general sale on December 31st 2022
Out of retirement, and back traversing time and space, the Doctor has a new goal. Find the woman twice dead and save her from dying again. It’s a monumental task, with all of history to search. He’s going to need some help…
3.1 The Inheritance by Alfie Shaw
For Patricia and Valarie Lockwood, it was to be an evening like any other. Dinner with a few friends, a chance to unwind and forget the horrors of the world. However, their plans are disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious stranger. A man who brings tragedy in his wake.
3.2 The House of Masks by Georgia Cook
For Valarie’s first trip through time and space, the TARDIS takes them to one of the Doctor’s favourite places: Venice, during Carnivale.
Unfortunately, not everyone is there to enjoy the party. Captain Tomasi has a murder to commit, and he needs Valarie’s help to do it…
3.3 The End by Rochana Patel
Valarie/The Doctor is dying. Only the Doctor/Valarie can save Valarie/the Doctor, but for her/him to survive, the Doctor/Valarie will have to die in her/his place.
For the Doctor/Valarie, this is journey’s end.
Jacob Dudman (The Doctor)
Safiyya Ingar (Valarie Lockwood)
Jo Castleton (Delphine / Computer)
Wayne Forester (Daniel Simpson / Security)
Genevieve Gaunt (Sicura)
Jasmin Hinds (Simone Simpson / Receptionist)
Richard James (Riley)
Lara Lemon (Arabella Hendricks)
Pepter Lunkuse (Luna)
Paul Panting (Vega)
Fode Simbo (Tomasi)
Mandi Symonds (Patricia Lockwood)
Music by Jamie Robertson
Script Editor Matt Fitton & Alfie Shaw
Written by Alfie Shaw, Georgia Cook & Rochana Patel
Senior Producer David Richardson
Cover Art by Caroline Tankersley
Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Producer Alfie Shaw
Sound Design by Lee Adams