Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Starring David Tennant & Catherine Tate
Review by Billy Seguire
The Tenth Doctor and Donna are back!
Less than three minutes into this episode and you’ll be brought back in time with the voices of David Tennant and Catherine Tate playing their original characters again. It’s more than enough to overwhelm a devoted fan by the time the era’s theme tune starts to play. Big Finish is responsible for this reunion. That means that while you won’t be able to see Tennant’s flop of hair or the gorgeous face for which his Doctor in particular is known, I guarantee you can hear his smile. In many ways, it makes it easier to recreate an era that might be difficult to reproduce in a visual medium, whether because of the age of the actors or the cost of production, the use of audio smooths over the gaps and allows for some truly innovative storytelling. In Technophobia, the first of three new stories, the Tenth Doctor and Donna face a foe that is a match for even the Doctor’s intelligence, turning humanity’s own technology against them and allowing Donna the chance to shine in saving the day in this remarkable return to one of our favourite eras.
One of the greatest elements of Technophobia is the slow turn of the story’s reveal. While the title may give away some clue as to the actual plot of this episode, the audio plays out in a deliciously slow build as we see characters struggling more and more against technology that seems determined to turn against them. People are being attacked by simple robots and the most brilliant mind of her age can’t work a computer she designed. At first, it’s presented as a technological uprising, with technology rebelling against humanity and all that entails in a story we’ve all seen done before. Yet as we follow the story deeper, we find it’s not actually the technology that’s been affected, it’s the people. The inventive reversal of our expectations creates real joy in how Matt Fitton tells the story, with common technology being interpreted by characters in strange and horrifying ways. The true revelation that people are merely forgetting how technology works, set against a backdrop of swipy screens and modern convenience, is a perfect fit for the character this story reintroduces. Matt Fitton has provided an episode I can absolutely see working in the Tenth Doctor era, with a Doctor who is particularly gadget oriented and clever having that entire element of his character put at risk.
The characterization of the Tenth Doctor and Donna are equally on point, with Tennant and Tate revelling in the return to characters that many claim to have been the best pairing of Doctor and companion to date. The chemistry between the two actors is definitely still there, coming through clearly in dialogue that has both characters bickering and bantering back and forth throughout. It’s easy to get the “Donnaaaaa” and “Allons-y” of the Tenth Doctor’s voice down, but Matt Fitton’s script nails those subtle moments where the charm melts away and the emotional core of the character is revealed. For me, it was the “I’m sorry” that really sells it, though I won’t be so callous as to tell you what he’s apologizing for. The noises David Tennant makes with his mouth will take you back. Donna meanwhile constantly reminds male characters in the script that she and the Doctor are not an item, and the way she makes sure to say “he rescued me… with his muscles” when describing Kevin brought a smile to my face remembering the man-hungry facets of Donna’s character I had entirely forgotten. Her fierce loyalty to Bex shows off the empathetic heart of her character. She constantly comes off as someone human, reaching out to fellow office underlings with kindness and a genuine spirit. Temps united, the story goes out of its way to highlight the strengths of Donna as a companion as well as her comical leanings.
As villains, the Koggnossenti are perfect for this opening story. Working behind the shadows for a good portion of Technophobia before being properly revealed, they feel original and unique within the pantheon of Who monsters. While not up to the level of Daleks, Zygons, or Weeping Angels in terms of reusability, they’re a quintessential Tenth Doctor villain, testing the TARDIS team exclusively on their intelligence rather than posing a physical threat. The conclusion of the story also reminds you of how often the Tenth Doctor could descend into ruthlessness. This is the “no second chances” Doctor we know from The Christmas Invasion and Human Nature, a man who pulls no punches in the name of righteous justice and hides his anger under a veneer of breezy charm. Big Finish shows real bravery in not shying away from those elements and allowing the Tenth Doctor to come through as complete as he left us.
The villain’s use of a “stupid machine” also has the dual benefit of putting Donna in a position of power over the Doctor for a large chunk of this story, as the Time Lord’s overdeveloped mind is even more susceptible to the intelligence-removing frequency than the temp’s. While I was initially wary about Donna’s lower initial intelligence being a defining factor of her character, the story makes it clear that it’s more about her level of contempt for technology rather than her ability to grasp it that makes her temporarily immune. One sequence with Donna driving a bulldozer in particular makes her out as a quintessential action heroine, and the plan that ultimately bests the Koggnossenti is one of her own devising. It’s great to see Donna enjoying herself and taking the lead. By comparison, watching the Doctor slowly lose his intelligence and legendary grasp of language is painful. The sheer joy Tennant gives to the Doctor’s voice when he’s able to comprehend and express himself again is brilliant.
Buy It. For those worried about the reunion of David Tennant and Catherine Tate not living up to their expectations for the beloved TARDIS team, fear not. Technophobia captures their voices perfectly, giving the Doctor all the charm, intelligence, and wit befitting the character while also ensuring Donna remains the woman who can take him down a peg. The accessible story makes it a good jumping on point for those unfamiliar with the audio medium, presenting thrilling action and plentiful character moments that come together to create a final product that is pure Tenth Doctor. It takes very little brainpower to imagine how this story might look on screen, and the modern earthbound setting reminds you just how fresh and relevant the starring pair can be. It genuinely feels like the Tenth Doctor and Donna are alive again here in 2016. If nothing else, Technophobia is the story that indulgently offers us David Tennant giving his best oral impression of the TARDIS take-off noise, and if that isn’t worth the price of admission, I’m not sure what else you could possibly want.
Remember Technophobia is only the first of three new stories in the new Tenth Doctor Adventures range. Look for our reviews of Time Reaver and Death and the Queen from the Volume One box set coming soon! Already heard them? Tweet to @RoguesPortal and let us know your thoughts!