Review: Tenth Doctor – Classic Companions

Review by Cavan Gilbey

Companions become just as much of a friend to the audience as they do to the Doctor, so seeing them return by having them reunited with Doctor after ages can be really refreshing and rewarding. However this concept is only going to really work if we have actually spent some time away from those characters, which with Big Finish is nigh on impossible because every companion is omnipresent there and you can find a new Peri audio just as much as you can a new Jamie story. Tegan and Ace returning to TV feels significant since they’ve not been seen for ages, but we have heard so many extended adventures with them so having them meet a later Doctor on audio doesn’t hit that spot. This is where we come to the main issue with Tenth Doctor, Classic Companions; it’s too much of a gimmick. Sure Classic Doctors, New Monsters is a gimmick but you can understand it more with the monsters than you can with the companions. This set feels like it exists solely to give Ten some stories with older companions as opposed to crafting interesting stories based around the way their relationships have changed, which doesn’t exactly make this an enticing listen.

First in the set is Splinters by John Dorney which sees the Doctor reunited with K-9 and setting off an a mission to help clear up fallout from the Time War; the first stop is a seemingly average village in Cornwall that is under siege from a folklore boogeyman. Meeting with Leela, who has seemingly found a new life in the village, they seek out to fend off the Spriggan.

I feel this could be the main issue running throughout these episodes but I don’t really have much of note to talk about; this feels entirely like a writer going through the motions which is such a depressing thing to say about someone as talented as Dorney (who wrote my favorite 10th Doctor audio entry Infamy of the Zaross). The base-under-siege style is something that can bring a welcome addition of paranoia and tension when done well, but when done poorly it just feels limiting and too much like an endless ‘run away from the monsters’ story. Splinters unfortunately suffers from this, even when the interesting Land of Fiction-styled reveal occurs near the end occurs and you get some interesting TARDIS imagery it just doesn’t feel well earned since the vast majority of this story running away from a monster.

Ten and Leela don’t have much going on in terms of chemistry, I don’t feel like the enthusiastic friendship from Four and Leela’s dynamic is built upon well and it just sort of devolves into The Doctor saying references to the Time War to a Leela who is missing some memories. The Doctor works a lot better with K-9 weirdly, I really liked their chemistry as the Doctor almost teasingly treats K-9 like a proper dog but still respects its intelligence and ingenuity. Tennant also gets to pull double duty and puts in an excellently chilling performance as the Spriggan. Even with the modulation on his voice, you tell that Tennant is channeling something very impish and charming with this voice that is almost sing-song at points. It really is the selling point of this story, Tennant’s villain performance is brilliant enough to carry the more lacking sections of the script.

It is unfortunate that this first story really didn’t do much for me since Leela is a personal favourite companion of mine but her inclusion this already barebones story does point towards this being more of a way of capitalising on nostalgia rather than wanting to explore this Doctor/companion pairing. Aside from the Spriggan himself, I struggle to pick out any other notable details from the narrative. Everything kind of blurs together which does not set a strong impression going forward through the set.


The Stuntman by Lizzie Hopley is next and sees the Doctor arrive on a movie set to find his friends have become figures in this false reality conquered by a mad scientist using stolen Time Lord technology for profit by trapping minds in a virtual reality.

This is one of Hopley’s stronger scripts, although her Dark Shadows script The Carrion Queen remains her strongest work. The virtual reality settings feel really nicely realised and have a bit more depth to them when compared to the false world of Splinters, the population of stereotypes and vague conceptual understandings conquered by K-9 becoming lost in the machine feel just uncanny enough to add a level of creepiness. The ties back to the Gallifrey Matrix are a nice touch, however I would have liked to have the whole story play more into the experiment tone that could come with this setting. We do get that for a bit where K-9 believes he is a human stuntman, but I wish that these ideas stuck around for a lot longer than they did. Eventually the story does devolve into something of a basic damsel in distress narrative where The Doctor and K-9 have to find Nyssa, who is in a come somewhere on this space-station she was investigating with her crew from the Traken. 

Nyssa feels somewhat underused, only really getting to be a major player when she is in her virtual avatar. The moments she does share with Tennant’s Doctor are a lot more touching and written with greater heart then the Ten and Leela dynamic however, there is a great moment near the end where they share a solemn moment as the last of their respective species and lamenting their dead worlds that really shows how deep the bond between the two does run. One thing I do want to commend Hopley for here is that she written my favourite Doctor and K-9 dialogue, this story really helps to show the friendship between the two effectively. Hopley’s script has some great moments of humanisation for K-9, especially near the end where the Doctor tries to get the robot to admit he though being a stuntman was cool. 

Hopeley’s Wizard of Oz inspired tale of virtual reality exploitation is a refreshing one and offers a pretty pulpy take on the subject matter that, while not ground breaking, offers the kind of tone I’m looking for in these Tenth Doctor audios. Probably my favourite of the set, even despite the issues with Nyssa being extremely underused for the majority of the story.


The final story of the set, The Quantum of Axos by Roy Gill sees an older Ace reunite with the Doctor as they investigate an up and coming tech company with outreach that seems to good to be true. Turns out it’s an Axox ploy to invade Earth and it is up to the duo to put a stop to it.

By far the simplest story of the three, essentially serving a slightly elevated retreading of Claws of Axos (a Pertwee story I never really cared for) as well as being as bob standard an invasion story as you can get. Gill’s skill as a writer often comes with his ability to take relatively played out Who-concepts and at least put a new breath of life into them; much like how he breathed new life into the base-under-siege narrative with Together in Eclectic Dreams by recontextualising what the ‘base’ was and the nature of the siege. But Quantum doesn’t really have that flair, the Axos could be any race really here as the invasion aspect is so widely applicable. There is some slight menace and attempts to win the Doctor over to the dark side but naturally he resists, we’ve heard this all too often at this point.

The highlights of the story are often when Ace and the Doctor share scenes, Gill gives us the strongest companion/Doctor dynamic of the set as there is a pleasing warmth to the pair’s chemistry. The reversal of having Ace as the older and less brash of the pair while the Doctor has a more youthful energy does a lot to help endear them to you. John Leeson once again does a great job as K-9, also pulling double duty as the voice of the Axos which he brings suitable menace too.

On the whole, this is the most basic of the stories and as a result the one that goes by the quickest. I can’t really recommend it outside of if you want a relatively light invasion story with an excellent central pair of leads.


In summary, I can’t help but think this boxset is something of a missed opportunity, while the stories aren’t bad they don’t do much to set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd. Of all of the Tenth Doctor releases from Big Finish, this one feels the most catered to new listeners in a bad way; juxtaposing the Out of Time trilogy which offered stories with unique plotting and concepts, Classic Companions feels like it is a box-ticking exercise in just filling gaps for the Tenth Doctor. Entertaining in a empty headed kind of way but not much else. 


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Review: Classic Doctors New Monsters 3: The Stuff of Nightmares

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