For me, Series 4 of the modern era is one of my favourite eras of the show. Not only does it have a largely great set of stories, with not really one weak one in its thirteen-episode run, but it also features one of my favourite companions of all time, Donna Noble. So when Big Finish announced they were going to give Donna her own series I was excited, even if I did wonder why they were doing it. But I shouldn’t have been worried, as Donna is just as brilliant away from the Doctor as she is by his side!
A lot of people were wondering how this series could be pulled off given how Donna departed, but this is set right after the events of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and Donna needs some downtime away from her friend when her seemingly happy life in the Library was ripped away from her. Out of this World, written by Jaqueline Raynor opens the series nicely with Donna firmly back on Earth and trying to live with her mother. Sylvia Noble was never one of the world’s best mums on the series and while this series doesn’t shy away from that, she does prove on a number of occasions that she, in fact, loves and cares for her daughter deeply.
Out of this World gives us a story where she tries to help her daughter by sending Donna and her old school friend, Nat, played by Catherine Tate’s comedy partner, Niky Wardley, to a speed-dating evening. Of course, this is Doctor Who and nothing is ever simple. It transpires that aliens who are trying to harvest organs, in a very Torchwood twist for stories to be told at 6-7pm on a Saturday evening, are kidnapping people close to those at the speed-dating evenings.
Catherine Tate quickly shows us how capable she is of leading a cast and proves to be as great as the Doctor himself, foiling the evil plan of the Collectors and saving the planet. Donna quickly adjusts to the role of ‘The Doctor’ taking her companion in the form of Nat under her wing and accidentally brings her along as she saves the TARDIS from the clutches of the Collectors. Out of this World is a great pilot episode for the set and sets up the characters nicely, leading into the next story, Spinvasion brilliantly.
John Dorney’s story, Spinvasion is gloriously satirical, though a little more serious than the show I learnt about PR from, Absolutely Fabulous! In fact, Spinvasion has a lot to say about the media and the way they spin-stories to either keep people pacified or frightened.
In this case, Donna and Nat find themselves on an alien world which has been conquered and the locals are kept happy as slaves because of the PR they are being given. Being a temp, Donna has some experience in these areas but its Nat who outshines Donna and finds herself in a job in an office, while Donna is sent to work in mines. Given the overall tone of the series, none of these stories is too series, though Spinvasion is perhaps the one that has higher stakes than the others and while it can sometimes veer towards being a little too blunt and satirical, Dorney does a great job at keeping it fresh and fun to listen too.
It’s a great way to showcase the chemistry between real-life friends Tate and Wardley and quickly helps establish Nat as a strong character in her own right, even though we never saw on her screen, she feels like she’s been there all the way through Donna’s journey. You might have guessed that Wardley doesn’t join the TARDIS team at the end of the set but I really wish she had done, she was a great character, hopefully, if Big Finish does more Ten/Donna stories, Wardley will return to the role.
Following on from a fun scene were Donna flies the TARDIS, and no one is more surprised than her that she can do it, the TARDIS brings Donna and Nat to the Middle Ages for James Goss’ story, The Sorcerer of Albion. Right off the bat, we get some Who-references for eagle-eared listeners, with Donna being mistaken for Merlin and someone running around shouting “Grandfather!” It’s not Susan but it was a fun little nod, intentional or not, anyway.
The Sorcerer of Albion, which you think is about Donna being Merlin actually focuses more on Nat and her getting to grips with the life of a time-traveller as she used modern medicine to save another sorcerer, Parval’s life. Donna finds herself locked up for much of the story, really until the final act and, though Spinvasion did much the same thing, this story really lets Nat shine, proving that she might not like travelling through time and is looking forward to going home, she does have what it takes to be a companion to the Doctor and Donna.
This is a quiet little story, which had similar vibes to a previous Tenth Doctor/Donna audio adventure, Death and the Queen. But its a fun little story, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the rest of the series.
The series wraps up with The Chiswick Cuckoos from Matt Fitton. Anyone familiar with the movie, The Stepford Wives will figure out the structure of this story, but that doesn’t make it any less fun, picking up the threads of the Collector storyline from the rest of the series and tying them up nicely. It also features a small appearance at the end from David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, where he apologises to Donna for not realising what had happened to her in the Library.
There was a brilliant scene, which felt like Russell T. Davies had written it with an argument between Donna and the Doctor communicating to her through the Psychic Paper. We learn that the TARDIS is greatly distressed from the way Donna has been piloting her and is almost in a state of shock! Donna’s reaction is comedy-gold and once again not only reinforces the chemistry between Tate and Wardley but also Tate and Tennant, despite him not actually being in the scene.
Fans of the UNIT series will be pleased to note that this story features an appearance from Josh Carter and its a nice way to connect the Davies era with Big Finish and the UNIT from the Moffat era. The Chiswick Cuckoos is much like other earth alien invasion stories from Davies tenure but that isn’t a bad thing because they were some of the best stories ever told in Doctor Who. This is another corker of a story.
It also gives Sylvia some nice touching moments and it’s always nice to hear Jaqueline King in these audios. While Sylvia won’t be winning any mum-of-the-year awards, she does have some touching moments and its nice to hear Big Finish making her a little more sympathetic than she was on the television series. Sylvia gets some nice moments here, much as she did in Out of this World and it proves that like Donna, she is also changing her outlook on things, its a great way to develop her character.
Donna Noble: Kidnapped is a hell of a lot of fun. From four exceptional scripts to the fantastic direction from Barnaby Edwards to the winning pairing of Catherine Tate and Niky Wardley. It also continues the legacy of the Davies era perfectly, proving that ordinary people can be fantastic and they came no more ordinary than Donna. What will win you over with this series is the way it continues to show Donna in a great way, and proves why she was such a good character, to begin with.