What’s it about: Responding to multiple maydays, the TARDIS lands on the planet of Death’s Deal, but the distress calls are old, the final echoes of terrified lost souls. This is an exotic world of lethal creatures, nicknamed ‘The Deadliest Planet in the Galaxy’, and only the brave, foolhardy or greedy would ever dare to visit. Finding themselves stranded among a motley bunch of space-tourists, the Doctor and Donna must lead a struggle for survival against the frenzied wildlife, as they slowly realise that other members of the group have very different agendas. And soon the Doctor learns of an even bigger threat hiding on Death’s Deal. Somewhere deep below the surface, is something that must never be unearthed. Time is running out, and only an impossible survivor holds the key…
Mockney Dude: A madman in a brown pinstripe suit, a lanky streak of madness. The Doctor leaping about the TARDIS, yanking on levers and dancing instantly takes me back to the tenth Doctor’s period (can you be nostalgic about an era of the show that is only five years ago?). He’s always ready to shake a tentacle. There is always one with a gun, the Doctor notes, disappointed. The eleventh Doctor knows the tenth Doctor best of all and recognises that he is so good with danger (‘After me, you’re the greatest!’). All of the tenth Doctor’s famed trademarks are present; the righteous anger, his absolute faith in his companions, lust for adventure and his way of explaining the situation at such a speed that it doesn’t really matter why something is going on because he makes it sound so dangerous. If he doesn’t protect the cosmos, who else will?
A group of aliens that remind Donna of a Saturday night hen party? That’s the sort of mad observation she was always making. When she spots the next Doctor she declares that he has had more than a little nip and tuck to transform to such an extent. She’s seen ‘that Tom Hanks movie’ and recognises narrative conventions in disaster movies, enough to know that the survivor is the safest person to hang with. At one point Donna genuinely thinks that she is going to die and her trademark fire deserts her for a moment. The Doctor has complete faith in Donna, knowing that she will always make herself useful. When she learns of aliens that use tentacles to attract the light she isn’t having any of that malarkey, even though they do make a useful torch. Until very recently, Donna had never seen a corpse but since travelling with the Doctor she has seen many. Donna had hated zorbing on holiday but tried to bring the experience to mind when she was locked inside an alien shell. Donna’s heart leaps for joy when she finally catches up with the TARDIS. More than any other companion from the new series I got the sense that that crazy old time ship was more than just a trip around the universe but a chance at a second life.
Standout Performance: Hearing Catherine Tate bringing Donna back to life gives me chills, simply because she is the character I would most like to see resurrected (and yet paradoxically not because she was left in such a satisfying place). Her interpretation of the tenth Doctor is excellent, still fresh in Tate’s mind and Tennant’s mannerisms and tics have been embedded into the public consciousness so it is easy for Darren Jones to give her lots of pointers in the script.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who’s leaving me messages on a random derelict spaceship? Any ideas?’ ‘Dunno, intergalactic call centres trying to spam you for space insurance?’
‘Are you a shapeshifter?’ ‘No, not really. Although I had a friend who was.’
‘I promise I’m never eating scallops again!’
Audio Landscape: Jamie Robertson is one of Big Finish’s leading lights when it comes to sound design and music so I am surprised it has taken him this long to turn up in the Destiny of the Doctor series. Then I guess it has been about showing of the talent that the company has overall rather than simply selecting a few individuals for promotion. A babble of mayday voices, a transport freighter touching down, the ground springing to life as crab like legs emerge, the carnivorous maw of an underground beast, cones exploding, sucking, digesting noises, Donna struggling across the coral landscape, hard shelled crustaceans scuttling about, a heartbeat, tinkling slaughter crystals, rushing water, walking on gravel.
Isn’t it Odd: Aside from the delightful alien mollusc that Donna hangs out with underground (‘you get your barnacled backside into that box!’), I didn’t find any of the rest of the guest cast particularly memorable. This might be a problem in other stories but with so much excitement inherent in the location and the leading lights that are the Doctor and Donna more than compensate.
Standout Scene: Like a Russian Doll effect, Donna can only escape the fate of being pulped by a living excavating creature underground by being consumed by the carapace of her alien companion. Donna within an alien with an alien. That’s the kind of glorious monstrousness that Death’s Door flaunts.
Result: A trip to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy lives up to it’s name and the latest installment in the Destiny of the Doctor series throws so many terrifying and memorably disgusting obstacles at the Doctor and Donna that it is a miracle that they make it out alive. Yes, I did say the Doctor and Donna! My favourite new series combo are back for a one-off story and Catherine Tate is in the driving seat. Has someone been reading my Christmas wish list? Many of the devices from the tenth Doctor’s era are present in Death’s Deal (‘Allons-y!’) but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a story that is trying to skilfully recreate the era (it is what the Destiny series has all been about, nostalgic for the past leading to the present). Darren Jones is the only new writer to Big Finish to contribute to the series (he cut his teeth on the AudioGo stories The Eye of the Jungle and Sleepers in the Dust but is still a relative newbie) and he brings all the strengths and weaknesses to his writing that you might expect from a newcomer. On the plus side there is an energy and fervour to the writing that comes from a fresh set of hands dancing at the keyboard, he is clearly excited at the opportunity and his enthusiasm and dynamism infects into the script at every turn (and helps to capture the furious pace of the era). However he can be a little too stimulated at times and over describe events to the point where it skips from vivid to painstaking detail. What he gets absolutely spot on is the characterisation of both the Doctor and Donna, a sparkling team that race through Death’s Deal with charisma and good humour. With Catherine Tate reading the story feels utterly authentic and her reading is superlative and with John Ainsworth bringing the appropriately named planet to life on audio you can be sure of some memorable set pieces. It was during Death’s Deal that I realised I am really going to miss this series when it is over. Engaging stories like this are reason why. For anybody who has been fatigued with Big Finish’s main range of late then the Destiny of the Doctor series has proven there is still plenty of life in audio Who yet: 8/10