Doctor Who – “Free Speech”

Doctor Who: Short Trips
Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity 2020
Written by: Eugenie Pusenjak
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Performed by: Jacob Dudman
Duration: 44 mins approx.
ISBN: 978-1-83868-377-1
Chronology Placement: Set before “Planet of the Dead

Synopsis: On Skaz, speaking costs money. Aymius Todd is trapped in a police interrogation. They want to know about his links to the Garrulous Liberation, and his encounter with a man called the Doctor. But, Aymius is running out of words, and if he can’t afford to finish his story, then he’ll never be able to speak again.

Aside from Christmas and New Year’s Eve, one of my favourite end-of-year traditions is the release of Big Finish’s annual Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips adventure. Originally launched in 2016, this open submission writing contest pays tribute to the late Big Finish employee Paul Spragg who passed away suddenly in 2014, and invites unpublished writers to send in ideas for short Doctor Who stories with the aim to create an audio drama monologue. The competition has produced some excellent adventures that I have reviewed in past years, such as: ”Landbound”, “The Last Day at Work” and “The Best-Laid Plans”, and the quality of the writing and ingenuity of the stories have been absolutely amazing every single year. Best of all, it is a free download!

Free Speech” continues the trend with a narrative hook so good, I’m shocked it hasn’t been used on Doctor Who before. On a planet where you can only speak if you have money, a young man must attempt to use his words economically in an interrogation room to avoid imprisonment. The idea on its own is amazing and would work perfectly well in any medium such as print or TV, but to be bold enough to use it in audio is a masterstroke. That added level of tension as we listen to Aymius attempt to tell his story to his accuser without wasting a valuable word is extremely effective. Writer Eugenie Pusenjak displays a surprising level of confidence in her debut work for Big Finish and does a brilliant job at world-building around her curious concept of tongue-chips and currency-fuelled conversations. For all the light-hearted whimsy of “Free Speech”, Pusenjak manages to use her story to hint at our own societies and how the voice of the rich often talks over that of the poor.

Jacob Dudman does a tremendous job with the various voices in this audio drama, turning what is essentially a monologue into a multi-character adventure. His impersonation of the Tenth Doctor is particularly good, bringing many of David Tennant’s vocal mannerisms to life with ease. Travelling on his own, it seems as this is the Tenth Doctor towards the end of his life, bouncing from planet to planet without purpose or companions. With the focus on Aymius Todd and the Doctor positioned in a supporting role, “Free Speech” feels reminiscent of those Doctor-lite episodes from Tennant’s era such as “Love and Monsters” and “Blink”, although in terms of narrative structure, I’d say it is closer to the former than the latter. By following a different protagonist, the listener is given some distance from the Doctor and gets to experience him through the eyes of others. It’s a narrative technique that is often used in Doctor Who, and one I enjoy a lot.

The Tenth Doctor is the ideal choice for a story like this as his motormouth juxtaposes against the rules of Skaz. In fact, the moment he is introduced into the story proper is like a tidal wave of dialogue in contrast to the minimalist approach seen by Aymius. Dudman absolutely nails the performance, capturing the Doctor’s love for language, anecdotes and long-running sentences. As with most episodes of Doctor Who, the Doctor generates a real sense of presence when he is “on-screen” and the same is true when he is “on-air” here. Mysterious, all-knowing and extremely charming with it, the Tenth Doctor is absolutely pivotal to the success of this story as it wouldn’t have had the same impact with any other incarnation.

Free Speech” is a brilliant example of a genius idea fabulously realised in all its glory. It also demonstrates the wealth of unpublished talent that is waiting out there for the right opportunity to come, and I’m very grateful to Big Finish for making this competition into an annual event. Maybe one year, I’ll actually get around to entering in my own ideas! A stunning debut, forged from strong writing and its killer concept, “Free Speech” is an essential listen for all Doctor Who fans, and best of all, it is completely free!

Score – ★★★★ ½

Doctor Who: Free Speech is available from Big Finish as a free digital download.

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