Big Finish: Doctor Who - DONNA NOBLE: KIDNAPPED! Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - DONNA NOBLE: KIDNAPPED! Review

Step aside, Tony - Supertemp to the rescue!

Donna Noble had one of the most astonishing on-screen story arcs in Doctor Who history. From a young woman who had perhaps one of the most unseeing sets of eyes and uncaring brains in the show, she became incredible. Her insight grew, her compassion sometimes overwhelmed her, and by facing the challenges the universe threw at her, she became one of the absolute best, a latter-day Jo Grant with a louder voice.

The thing about Donna though is that she had an ending.

In fact, ultimately, she had three endings – all her memories of the Doctor and the wider universe removed, her brief if not entirely logical flash of memory during the Master’s second conquest of Earth, and then, ultimately, her life of lottery-winning partnership, when we leave her, as we found her, on her wedding day.

And now she’s back.

If you’re going to bring Donna Noble back for adventures beyond those we saw on-screen, you have to do one of two things. You either have to fit them into the timeframe we saw on-screen, or you have to invent freely and break the tragedy of her mind being emptied of the universe and its wonders.

Either way is doable, but it’d be a brave writer indeed who broke the emotional weight of Russell T Davies’ writing of her story.

Big Finish is traditionally brave, but it’s rarely foolish. For this hopefully first set of dedicated Donna Noble stories, it weaves its way into her existing timeline. In fact, it does something sensitive and not a little wonderful with it.

The series is set in that moment of emotional bereavement after the events of Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead, where Donna needs a break, a breather and a sense of her real self after having lived a life of love and motherhood in the make-believe world of the library.

It’s a moment which allows for some stories which are Doctor-lite, but which allow Donna to step into his Converse in a range of ways that show us how she’s grown, and how she’s not by any means afraid to put herself between the horrors of the universe and its good people, wherever she find them.

This set is free of Wilf, but does explore the relationship between Donna and her mother, Sylvia (played with pinpoint power by Jacqueline King), but if Donna’s going to step up into the role of the universe’s protector, she needs a companion, and Big Finish have given her one – her old school friend and, in her old life, rival, Natalie Morrison, played by Catherine Tate’s old mucker Niki Wardley.

And so we have our set-up. Donna, Nat, Sylvia, and their adventures in a world at least briefly without the Doctor.

What’s gonna be wrong with that?

Not a whole hell of a lot, as it turns out.

Jacqeline Rayner kicks us off with Out Of This World, in which Sylvia has not only arranged for Nat to pop back into Donna’s life to pick her up, but has signed Donna up for speed dating, to try and break the thrall of the skinny idiot in the suit. Rather than feeling like just an excuse to tip Donna into stories, it’s pointed out that this is the period when Sylvia has just lost her husband of forty years and her grief is still raw, still a touch on the desperate, vicious side, and she’s trying not to lose anything more in her life, not to have her girl fly away into danger with a blithe, chirpy madman in a box, perhaps to get killed in the big black void of it all, perhaps never coming home again.

It would be too soon, in the first story, for there to be anything quite so magnanimous as a meeting of minds between Donna and Sylvia, but Jacqueline Rayner does as much as their timeline will let her to have them acknowledge each other, the reality of their pain, the truth of it – and she does it all while telling a story that will actually make you laugh out loud.

Donna Noble, speed dating. Can you just imagine?

The banter between Donna and Sylvia is screen-accurate and then some, the relationship between Donna and Nat is essentially the friendship that exists between Catherine Tate and Niky Wardley, who’ve known each other for 20 years and change, so it bristles with inviting warmth and banter, and the speed dating night from hell is peppered with spectacular, explosive, funny lines as Donna introduces herself to her would-be suitors. That at least one of them is probably an alien bodysnatcher in the most literal sense is just additional fun (though when you bring in Dan Starkey as an unpleasant vivisectionist and Anthony Howell as the smoothest hunk on the planet, you’re going to have audio fun anyway). Adding the fabulous Isla Blair as Marge, the organiser of date night, means you get a cast rich in vocal talent, and Rayner’s script hits all the right notes, and then gives you lots of fun gracenotes into the bargain. For all she needs a break from the weirdness and potential pain of the wider universe, the awakened Donna Noble can’t stop sniffing out trouble – especially trouble with an alien tang about it. While Nat’s a new addition, Niky Wardley of course is no stranger to Big Finish, having played Eighth Doctor companion Tamsin Drew, and here she throws herself into the role of the companion’s companion, balancing Donna’s changed nature with her own brand of what-the-hell-is-this-now? gobsmackery at the weirdness of Donna’s life and the pace and the power at which she lives it.

Aliens on speed dating. Donna Noble, Sylvia Noble, Natalie Morrison and aliens on speed dating, written by Jacqueline Rayner, balanced like Sylvia’s perfect golf swing on the arc of fabulous bantering humour and soft, sad, human, recovering pain, with a whacking great sniff of adventure along the way? Oh hell to the yes and twice on Sundays. The first story out of the box here is a symphony of pleasure for Donna-fans, but more than that, it offers the potential of some serious character and relationship development between Donna and Sylvia – it won’t go beyond the on-screen spikiness they had, but it might do something to add notes to Sylvia’s eventual semi-roar at the Doctor about the wonder that was Donna.

We won’t spoil the transition for you from home with Sylvia in Out Of This World to Spinvasion, by John Dorney, but suffice it to say it follows a tried and tested Doctor Who format – Nat’s first brush with aliens was on Earth, and for her second she goes into space for an alien invasion that’s quickly superceded by an alien invasion. In Dorney’s joyously satirical story, rather than face the hardcore resistance of invaded life-forms, an alien species has invaded Valdacki by hiring the best PR firm on the planet, and having the invasion spun for them as a series of relentlessly positive newscasts, media releases and guided, planted stories – hoorah, we’ve been invaded, more time in the factory working like slaves. Hoorah, production targets have been increased, a greater chance to prove we’re not slackers like some people. Hoorah, there are rockets of death falling on the slackers, the scroungers and those who take bread out of our hard-working mouths…

You get the picture? In fact, Spinvasion probably started out as a sharper and more pointed satire than it’s ended up as, because now it more or less sounds like…well, any random Tuesday, to be fair. The ability of spin to take you beyond accepted concepts of decency, community, common endeavour or common sense and into division, self-interest and ultimate self-deception is a thing with which we’ve been living for years now, so to hear it taken to perhaps the next-but-one degree as a tool of alien oppression, rather than the domestic variety, is a strangely close-to-home sensation. Nevertheless, it’s a story that’s enjoyably told, with Nat (inherently less rebellious than Donna), working her way into the alien spin machine, while Donna herself joins the fairly lacklustre resistance and tries to out-spin the spinners.

It’s enormous fun with a dark pulse of realism to it, and it features Tim Bentinck as alien warlord Ganthak and Phil Cornwell (last seen in Who selling the Tardis to Peter Capaldi on the streets of Pompeii) as spinmaster Mr Parsnip, which guarantees good slickness and slime to be opposed by the Chiswick girls. Fun fun fun, and yet, a little stab in the heart every time Donna asks ‘Is everyone on this planet thick?’ Because the Valdacki are very, very close to being human. They’re very very close to being us. And yes. Yes, we really are this thick.

The Sorceror Of Albion, by James Goss is more or less a joyful, screamingly inaccurate historical story in the William Hartnell style, and it hangs more or less entirely on an incident in The Crusaders. For the sake of argument, imagine there’s a rangy old wizard stomping about the land of Albion, in need of help to defeat some shiny blazing warriors who keep trying to get at him and his granddaughter. And the only person who can help him is the redheaded Merlin who steps out of the magic box.

Yep. You read that right. Donna Noble, supertemp from Chiswick – is Merlin. And yes, Merlin finally gets to be piggin’ ginger!

Are ya happy now, Battlefield fans? Good – moving on.

As with many a Hartnell historical, there are great swathes of this story where the hero (Donna in this case) is locked up in a dungeon, her power emanating mostly from her reputation, her swagger and her stubborn refusal to help until she’s a) released, and b) asked nicely. Meanwhile Parval the wizard (David Schofield, no less) and his granddaughter Vivien (Lydia West) are stand-ins for Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford, but also bring their Lear and Cordelia to bear on the ancient British environment, because while Donna’s trapped in a dungeon refusing to share her obviously humungous power, companion Natalie discovers that there’s more to both their relationship and the situation than meets at least the contemporary eye.

We genuinely don’t want to spoil the plot of this one for you, but it’s dramatic, a little heartbreaking, a little inspiring and above all, it’s a gorgeous listen as you try and work things out with Nat, and absolutely appreciate Donna’s joyfully stroppy non-compliance. Of all the stories in this set, it’s The Sorceror Of Albion that most channels its Classic Who, and while it’s a slightly odd thing to do in a box set slotting into a New Who chronology, it’s nevertheless right on the money in terms of satisfying Big Finish fans, New Who fans and Classic fans alike.

The set comes full circle with The Chiswick Cuckoos, by Matt Fitton.

If you’re a higher-level sci-fi fan, which is quite likely if you’re giving your money to Big Finish, the reference in the title will be obvious to you. We’re in doppelganger territory here, replacement people doing nefarious things, and that always-present fear that they’re actually doing them better and more effectively than you, genuine human being as you think you are, could ever do.

In Fitton’s script, there’s a rather fun double through-line, with the ‘Cuckoos’ provoking responses on the personal level for Donna, Sylvia, and Nat, while also…y’know…trying to take over the world. As you probably must if you’re an alien doppelganger. It’s probably written into the contract.

There are strong performances all down the line in this episode, which also sees the return of Isla Blair’s Marge character from episode 1. Perhaps most joyfully, Catherine Tate, Jacqueline King and Niky Wardley all get strong things to do, and some solidly impressive words to say. There’s a revisiting of the relationship between Donna and Sylvia, and there’s also some unpicking and unpacking of the relationship between Donna and Nat which is especially relevant after the first three episodes – it feels like by the end of this episode, Donna is stronger, able to face her reactions and her past in a more objective way than she was at the start of the set, meaning Kidnapped! achieves that most dangerous things for a retrospective add-in to an existing chronology: it develops its central character. It allows Donna to grow between the horrendous shock of her life as she knew it being whisked away from her in Forest Of The Dead and the seemingly more relaxed Donna of Midnight, but it does it in a way which feels true to the character in both those stories. Oh, and it will, almost casually, break your tiny human heart right at the end, with a line that could have been written by Russell T Davies himself, and probably scored by an ominous Murray Gold plunge-note.

For fans of the character and of Catherine Tate’s performance, Donna Noble’s fate is one of the great tragedies of Doctor Who history – up there with Katarina’s death, probably up there higher than Adric’s. It’s such a seemingly final full-stop in her life that any more adventures for the supertemp always felt like they’d be relatively inconsequential add-ins to the existing timeline.

What Big Finish has done here is find a viable window in her life with the Doctor in which to give Donna not only a set of enjoyable, engaging, funny, moving adventures, but to give her some personal growth into the bargain.

If you’re a fan of Donna’s, you’re absolutely going to need this – but then, you didn’t need me to tell you that.

If you’re not a fan of Donna’s, you probably still need this, because it’s a window into her world that will make you think of the character in a whole new way, while showing the effect that the Doctor has on people who travel with him, how it broadens up their viewpoints and their lives and their confidence in ways they never knew they needed. It’s a set of adventures that shows how Donna has grown since she began travelling with the Doctor, yes, but also how good a human being she always had the potential to be, before, after, and even instead of him.

Donna Noble: Kidnapped! is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until May 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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