British science fiction show Doctor Who has been a staple in pop culture since its debut in November 1963. The series was originally designed to be an educational children’s program and soon became a TV success. It had a novel concept about a humanoid alien called The Doctor and his adventures in a blue police box called the TARDIS. The Doctor’s ability to change his physical appearance to circumvent death helped shape a show with longevity in mind. 54 years later, Doctor Who has produced hundreds of episodes, comics, conventions, and audio adventures. During a lengthy hiatus from 1989 to 2005, the show continued to thrive through the ingenuity of fans who wrote their own stories designed for audio adventures. Big Finish Audios launched in 1999 and brought old versions of The Doctor back to life with new trysts in the TARDIS.
The show’s return in 2005 transformed it from a cult classic to a BBC juggernaut with fans from all over the world. Despite the show’s success, Big Finish continues to be successful with fans of the show’s Classic era. The audios are known for top-notch writing and creative premises that may not be able to be explored on TV due to budget reasons. Big Finish has the time and creative license to bring new villains and characters while diving deeper into existing characters. The audio company finally secured the license to create stories about modern-era characters in 2015. After a successful test run with reoccurring character River Song, they were able to secure an audio series set with the wildly popular Tenth Doctor (David Tennant). In May 2016, Ten returned with companion Donna Noble for a three-part audio adventure that broke the website on its release day due to fan interests.
The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume One’s success left fans wondering when Ten would return for new stories and who he would bring along for the ride. Many fans of the Tenth Doctor era wanted adventures with Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) -- the first companion of the new series -- and Big Finish delivered when they announced Piper and Tennant would reprise their roles for an audio set. The Tenth Doctor and Rose are arguably one of the most recognizable and most polarizing pairings in the show. The modern era of Doctor Who had become more companion-centric, and this version of The Doctor was rather attractive and much more “human.” These changes were no doubt to appeal to a modern audience, which didn’t fare well with some Classic Who and a few newer fans. They didn’t want romantic feels in their show about time traveling, aliens, robots, and lots of running. Others shipped the implied romantic relationship between the good-looking pair and saw them as star-crossed lovers who would spend Rose’s life saving the universe.
In Season 2 of the series, Ten and Rose became extremely attached, to the point of Rose openly displaying jealousy toward anyone she perceived as a threat to their relationship. She was willing to leave her own mother, with whom she had a good relationship, on a parallel Earth to stay with The Doctor. They were separated after only one season together in “Doomsday,” complete with a heart-wrenching goodbye where Rose professes her love for The Doctor. Unlike his previous incarnations, Ten couldn’t get over Rose, which doesn’t allow him to properly appreciate or bond with his next companion, Martha Jones. His Rose love hangover spanned almost two more seasons before they were able to reunite for a controversial final goodbye. He left her on a parallel Earth with a human copy of himself created during a crisis and instructed her to “make him better.”
Negatives aside, the pair’s chemistry and lighthearted approached to traveling across time and space made them fun to watch. Rose grew from an unfulfilled clothing store worker to an alien-fighting badass. She found passion and purpose in her previously boring life. Her impact on the Ninth Doctor shaped his regeneration into Ten, who was undeniably molded to look and sound like someone she would love. He went from a Time Lord suffering with guilt and PTSD to someone who enjoyed his bizarre life again. The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Two was Big Finish’s chance to capture and capitalize on the positive aspects of their relationship, and these stories did not disappoint.
The audio set kicks off with “Infamy of the Zaross,” a present-day (read: 2006) Earth adventure in Norwich. It has a Russell T Davies vibe and would have easily found a place in mid-early Season 2, perhaps a few adventures before “Tooth and Claw.” The story brings back yet another character from the Ten/Rose era – Rose’s mom Jackie Tyler. She’s visiting her snobby frenemy Marge when the Zaross decide to stage an invasion. Jackie leaves a hilarious voicemail for Rose, asking her to bring backup. In true Tenth Doctor fashion, he arrives and gives her a boisterous “Hello Jackie.” Ten is back again! He still has the explosive energy, quick speech, and dashing quirkiness that put him at the top of many “favorite Doctor” lists. His pendulum from glee to rage swings with fervor as he encounters injustice and he’s not afraid to boast about his Time Lord status. Tennant’s voice is almost exactly the same, which isn’t surprising since he has revived the character twice in less than two years. However, Piper sounds a bit more posh than she did 11 years ago. In a “Behind the Scenes” Big Finish extra, Piper admitted her voice has matured, forcing her to adapt a higher pitch to play the 19-year-old character. But, she eased back into the role with less pressure this time around because it wasn’t revolved around reviving an iconic show. The slight variation in her voice took a backseat to her ability to revive Rose’s relentless vigor and wit.
Her deductive reasoning and ingenuity plants the seeds toward figuring out the Zaross’s motives. The Doctor trusts her to go her own way to find Jackie in a teleport station while he did some investigating on his own. Rose didn’t waste time and let the villain in charge know Powell Estate women are not passive. She saves The Doctor and other captives, allowing him to make his final move to save Norwich. Her compassionate nature is evident when she defends Marge’s daughter Jess, who often belittles her daughter because she is not as accomplished as her older sister. When Jess is willing to make a fatal choice in exchange for infamy, Rose changes her mind. She verbally obliterates Marge before reminding Jess that she is already a valuable woman. Moments like this are when Rose shines because her humanity allows her to effect change in situations The Doctor may not notice.
The storyline has some deep undertones and lessons of morality hidden under humor – both hallmarks of the Tenth Doctor’s era. It centers on reality TV and the lengths people will go to be seen and heard, even if it is to the detriment of others. Reality TV was in full swing in 2006, making this relevant then and especially now with the constant barrage of social media and false pretenses thrown in everyone’s faces. It’s a juxtaposition to The Doctor, who rarely enjoys the praise of the public and finds being well-known to be a burden. Rose has adopted this same mindset during her travels and finds value in saving others and moving on to the next mission. As they leave in the TARDIS, Rose asks The Doctor if he was tempted by an offer of riches and broadcast fame from the villain, to which he had a cheeky reply: “Fame and fortune…ugh, who wants that?!...It would never have worked anyway. Who wants to watch a TV series about me?”
Ten and Rose still exhibit undeniable chemistry in this story, but their dynamic is different. The love undercurrent pushed by the television series is non-existent throughout the entire audio set, but her importance is still clear when The Doctor tells her all he needs is Rose and The TARDIS for a great life. Their collective confidence and whimsical gallivanting through the universe falls in line with early season two, but “Infamy of the Zaross” is void of the arrogance displayed in “Tooth and Claw.” In the TV series, their encounter with Queen Victoria was filled with inappropriate jokes during a time of fear and mourning and getting giddy over a killer werewolf. Their obnoxious behavior led to the Queen banning them from her country and forming Torchwood – the organization whose decisions would eventually rip the pair apart in “Doomsday.”
The dynamic between Rose and Jackie is another great aspect of the story. In the TV series, they had a close relationship before the Ninth Doctor. Jackie was initially upset and suspicious about The Doctor, but she grew to accept Rose’s decision to travel in space. Jackie still hoped Rose would stay at home and even admitted in “Love and Monsters” that it was hard to be the person who gets left behind. It was interesting to see Doctor Who explore how a companion’s family deals with their absence. Rose would sometimes find herself at odds with her mother, but she was reassuring and told her mom she would understand why being in the TARDIS was great if she ever had the chance to explore the universe. However, Rose’s relationship with her mother began to shift as her time with Ten progressed. She started to become more short-tempered and snappy, even though it was clear she loved her. She was willing to never see her mother again in order to stay with The Doctor, even though she knew it would break her mom’s heart.
“Infamy of the Zaross” gave Jackie Tyler the chance to see Earth from space. As she looked out of a window on the teleportation satellite, she realized this is what Rose saw all the time and it was beautiful. Jackie was more on board with The Doctor and Rose’s adventures, operating like a third companion instead of a mom shrieking about her daughter’s safety. She ends up with her own companion Marge, to whom she has to explain all of the alien happenings while trying to keep her ears open for clues. Jackie is still outspoken, but she also listens and stores information for later analysis by The Doctor. She’s confident and asking all the right questions. At one point, she wields a gun, declaring “we save planets, the three of us, and we are here to stop you.” She’s different from the woman who questions if The Doctor can keep her daughter safe and Rose’s ability to survive on her own. This results in a stronger bond between her and Rose.
There are no more Jackie Tyler cameos, but “The Sword of the Chevalier” gives fans a chance to dive into Rose and The Doctor’s relationship. His intentions to take her somewhere spectacular led them to Earth again, specifically Slough in 1791. The episode pairs the TARDIS team up with a real life hero – Chevalier d’Eon (Chevalier). The French diplomat and sword wielding spy for Louis XV was a prominent gender fluid person who was identifying as a woman during this time. As The Doctor explains her history to Rose, she is genuinely confused about her gender. The Doctor tells her to address her as she identifies and dismisses the rigid structure many humans place on gender, calling it an “archaic concept.” It’s an interesting viewpoint from The Doctor, which shows his impending regeneration into a form which presents as female is not a big deal for Gallifreyans.
The adventure with a historical figure is reminiscent of “The Unquiet Dead,” with the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Charles Dickens. The same mutual reverence for brilliance resonated between The Doctor and Chevalier. The trio is packed with humor as the Chevalier’s constant bragging about her superior skills and infamy brings eye rolls from The Doctor and amusement from Rose, who saw the same traits in Ten. Rose shines again as she faced Hempel/Joxer, the multi faced slave traders who kidnapped her along with a select group of people due to her intelligence. It was ironic to see the same qualities which got her an offer as a companion put her in a precarious situation. She’s her own Doctor in this story, but not in a way where she is trying to emulate him or take his place like she did in the “Christmas Invasion.”
She wields The Doctor’s screwdriver and her sharp tongue, delivering a monologue with the same fervor as her mentor. The Doctor would’ve been proud if he wasn’t stuck in a humorous predicament caused by his psychic paper. Rose saves the day again, freeing her fellow captives and taking a step back to allow The Doctor and Chevalier to go in and confront the enemy. It’s a different move and a sign of maturation for Rose, who usually wants to be by The Doctor’s side in crucial moments. Rose Tyler is no damsel in distress and reminds fans why The Doctor chose her as a companion.
“The Sword of the Chevalier” has a sprightly pace due to the energy Chevalier brings to the table with Rose/Ten individually and together. When Rose breaks down the truth about their alien hunting mission, Chevalier barely flinches at the revelation. Like The Doctor, Chevalier feels responsible for Rose, even though she is the more “experienced” one in this situation. Later, The Doctor and Chevalier get stuck behind a wood door – which is not good because he couldn’t get out easily even if he had his screwdriver. It is as close to having two Doctors in the same story as Big Finish can get. The Doctor showcases his fencing skills alongside the Chevalier in an epic battle which translates well in audio format. The only downside of the story is the hasty ending, which allowed The Doctor to clean up the mess too easily and made the villain weaker because of their loophole laden moral code. The villain had the menacing, pure evil shtick down but the explanation of their motivations fell short.
Despite the humor and action, there were deeper themes in the story. The use of humans as a commodities infuriated The Doctor, who noted the irony of alien slave traders during this era when it was prominent. The end of the episode explores The Doctor’s thoughts on resistance to change: “Rigid thinking and rigid self-identity – that is no way to get ahead of the universe. Embrace change, it’s the only way.”
Ten and Rose may spend more time apart than together in this Slough adventure, but they don’t have to be attached at the hip to make a fantastic duo. The separation makes for epic moments when they are together. And, bringing the vibrant Chevalier d’Eon to the forefront not only gave listeners a history lesson, but depicted a complicated person in a positive manner. It could have been a major misstep for Big Finish, but they handled the gender conversation brilliantly.
The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Two ends with “Cold Vengeance.” This story brought another blast from the past and placed Ten/Rose in yet another seemingly unimpressive location. It fits later in Rose’s time with The Doctor based on how they interact with others. The villain of choice is the Ice Warriors, a Classic era creation recently seen in the Twelve/Bill Potts adventure “Empress of Mars.” They are by far one of the most interesting villains on Doctor Who with their own strict moral code, strict hierarchy, and thoughts on honor/loyalty, yet they are open to negotiations from those who respect them. The story features a woman name Lorna, who collects recycling on the satellite location Cold Star where the Ice Warriors have been sleeping under ice for years. It’s only a matter of time before The Doctor discovers the temperature is up and Rose realizes something “broke out” of the ice walls.
The room quickly gets crowded with a management robot, Lorna, and Brona, who is a part of a space pirate duo with her son. Brona’s idea to take a valuable resource is the catalyst of the Ice Warriors escape, who are already profusely pissed about a past war with a planet named Enyo. The Doctor has one mission – to swiftly get as far away from Ice Warriors as possible.
"Cold Vengeance" lives up to its name by pushing the stakes higher than the previous adventures. The TARDIS is barely out of the Doctor’s reach, Rose is hurtling toward a scorching death, and The Doctor is desperately seeking a solution. Rose hopes The Doctor will appear but she is determined to not give up, declaring a Tyler never lies down when they are beaten. The Ice Warriors honcho has no interest in listening to reason due to blind fury, which The Doctor reacts to by begging for a chance for everyone to walk away from this situation. He begins to rethink the rules of time, a nod to his impending “victorious Time Lord of all” downfall he began in “Waters of Mars.”
The key to securing their freedom comes via Lorna, whom The Doctor and Brona frequently refer to as the recycling girl because they never took time to learn her name. It shows how Ten and Rose are starting to get more inflated egos, thinking they know more about the situation as outsiders than Lorna as a native. During a showdown with the Ice Warrior leader, Lorna tries to interject with new information, but she keeps getting cut off by The Doctor. He calls the Ice Warrior a coward, and stands up for Enyo. It turns out she knew the history behind the war and as well as the results. When Ten asks her why she didn’t say anything earlier, she told him it was because no one gave her a chance to speak. Ten and Rose were too busy bragging about them having true honor and how they have met “a lot of bullies". “You people come along believing you know best. Going on about aliens, wars, and all the things you THINK you know. I just know what I’ve seen in the ghettos, hidden away."
It was interesting to see Lorna bring up an element of classism and the social inequities the Ice Warriors faced in their asylum because Rose is from a lower class London neighborhood (Powell Estates). Rose had quickly forgotten her roots and started to become smug because she was The Doctor’s companion. Even with this knowledge, Rose stubbornly defended the people on Enyo until she saw video proof of their bloody history. The Tenth Doctor has a known affinity for humans, but he changed his tune this time. He acknowledged humans being petty, vengeful and cruel but also intelligent and sometimes honorable. He compared them to Ice Warriors, noting how their origins on neighboring planets makes them similar.
“Cold Vengeance” capped off an overall solid set of audios, even though it showed more of the flaws in Ten/Rose’s relationship. Lorna brought a balance to the audio when she served Rose some humble pie and made her think twice before assuming she is the smartest human in the room. The Doctor also learns his lesson about the power of listening and gives Lorna life-changing piece of technology. The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Two shows the level of trust they have built, Rose’s confidence and competency as a companion, and how this team works in tandem, even when they are in different places. It may not get a full stamp of approval from shippers who want more of their love story, but it’s hard to be disappointed with Big Finish’s take on this TARDIS team.