Written by Jenny T. Colgan
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Starring David Tennant & Catherine Tate
Review by Billy Seguire
With a brilliant return for the Tenth Doctor and Donna already established in the first episode of The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Jenny T. Colgan’s middle chapter sets out to take a risk in bringing the Doctor somewhere new. In Time Reaver, the TARDIS undergoes repairs on Calibris, a backwater spaceport somewhere in the universe’s seedy underbelly. When a time-distorting weapon is discovered, the Doctor is forced to intervene, unravelling a planetwide conspiracy that may lead to interstellar jeopardy. What starts out as a simple side-step quickly becomes an engaging story with high stakes, engrossing alien lore, and an incredible sacrifice. It’s an episode that finds the Doctor embracing his inner space buccaneer and Donna having none of it.
Unlike the earthbound Technophobia, Time Reaver takes place in a truly alien environment. Here, the lore of alien worlds and cultures are at the forefront of the title, keeping listeners in-the-loop enough to understand the story but always making them feel like the breadth of the universe is just around the corner. Calibris feels grimy, dangerous, alive with its eclectic range of criminals. The Doctor is at home among these scoundrels, even stumbling across an old friend while taking the TARDIS to a garage. It definitely shows a more swashbuckling side of the Tenth Doctor, and it gets played up especially well in barroom brawls and scrapes with seedy gangsters on the wrong side of town.
By contrast, Calibris’ new management, the Vacintians, are as clean cut and law-abiding as they come. They have an affection for paperwork that rivals the Vogons, turning the taverns of Calibris into coffee shops in their wake. The Vacintians give this whole setting a Douglas Adams quality that sees Colgan writing David Tennant by way Tom Baker in a tone that genuinely works to prove the lasting versatility of Doctor Who. Small touches like the psychic earplugs make it feel appropriately fun without ever coming across half-baked, and the setting provides a unique story opportunity for a Doctor who often stuck close to home.
David Tennant devours his dialogue, chewing on words and growling in satisfaction as he delivers the lines Colgan gives him with a delicious relish that really paints a portrait of a man enjoying his time in the recording studio. It’s a performance that reminds us why he owns the role, and in truly enjoying being the Doctor again Tennant gifts us with a Doctor who’s equal parts charming and funny, yet full of all those bubbling darker emotions hidden just beneath the surface. There’s a joyfully indulgent spirit throughout, with both the Doctor and Donna taking great delight in exploring the spaceport’s dark corners . Donna harkening back to owning the Doctor at backgammon is a genuine moment between the friends, reminding us just how well the “just a mate” dynamic defined their pairing when you compare it to the Tenth Doctor’s time spent either with Martha or Rose.
In scenes apart from the Doctor, Donna’s main concerns lie in helping Cora, a young Vacintian girl who sits at the centre of the drama at the heart of Time Reaver. Colgan’s writing dominantly enforces Donna’s empathy and affection for the young girl, allowing Catherine Tate to bring out the nurturing side to her character that’s irresistibly endearing without becoming sanguine. In an episode that begins with Donna clamouring for the Doctor to take her to the Planet of the Boys, her emotional connection to the young woman is the most touching parts of the episode as a whole. With the Doctor focussed on the big picture, you could always count on Donna to look at the people at the centre of it all, with the Doctor and Donna working side by side rather than one leading the other. You constantly feel the pair are on equal footing in progressing the story forward.
While the tentacled crime boss Gully pictured on the cover of Time Reaver is certainly interesting, within the episode itself he is undoubtedly a secondary villain at best. Although his octopuslike physiology makes for some interesting visuals for the mind to ponder, other dangers in this episode far outweigh him. The Time Reaver is a weapon of awesome power, capable of slowing down the victim’s objective experience of time. Once shot, the victim is frozen in an instant that lasts for hours. It’s dramatised incredibly well, with audio tricks being used to really make you feel the dilation of time from the victim’s perspective and panicked, anxiety-filled thoughts selling the horror of such a weapon easily. It’s so dangerous you see the Doctor playing the Time Lord card right off the bat, taking charge over the investigation almost immediately. Without being spoken, it’s heavily implied that this is a weapon of the Time War. As you can imagine, it brings out all the gravity and personal stakes for the Doctor that set his hearts on fire.
Time Reaver ends with a touching and satisfying conclusion of self sacrifice that paints the characters of this story in an optimistic light. Colgan maniacally twists the knife on Donna’s fate. The line “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, everything we’ve seen” hits home in a painful way when you remember she won’t remember any of it in the end. An ending for a character I’m still not entirely over. For the Doctor himself, the final moments become a bitter struggle, with motives and actions that echo the anti-war sentiments of last season’s The Zygon Inversion. His quiet inner soliloquy before the roar of the end credits leave things on a poignant note of reflection before the TARDIS flies off for an adventure listeners are already quite familiar with.
Buy It. In an episode that focuses on what Big Finish does best, Time Reaver crafts a story that feels true to the era while adding something back in that was sorely missing. In this case, the alien world gives a whole new playground for the Tenth Doctor and Donna to explore and enjoy. Equal parts playful space buccaneering and tender compassionate moments prove not only that this equally matched pair should continue to have stories together for years to come, but that Jenny T. Colgan understands what sits at the core of these characters that made us fall in love the first time round.
Remember Time Reaver is only the second of three new stories in the new Tenth Doctor Adventures range. Check out our earlier review of Technophobia and Death and the Queen coming up soon. Already heard the whole set? Tweet to @RoguesPortal and let us know your thoughts!