i have to be honest, when I watched Gridlock and even New Earth, the furthest thought from my mind was I hope we get more of that world. I didn’t see the need to re-explore that particular setting over any other, and I was unsure about this set of stories. Now I’ve (finally) heard Tales from New Earth, my only thought is When’s the next one? I note this isn’t marked as series/volume 1; we shall wait and see.
Tales from New Earth
What we really have is a great piece of audio set on a mysterious and rich world with a whole set of interesting characters. It has some touchpoints to the two TV episodes mentioned, but is almost its own thing entirely. There’s an arc (of course) but only in terms of a consistent foe across the stories.
In the first, Roy Gill begins to paint the life of New Humans in Escape from New New York. Great title aside, we meet Devon Pryce (Kieron Hodgson) whose path intersects that of Senator Hame (Anna Hope) as they independently expose then fight the aliens seeking control of New Earth. Pryce is an elevator mechanic drawn into mystery very much in the reluctant hero mode. There’s a lot of action, vivid imagery and a sense of a world with real depth. By the end I was disappointed only in the use of the Doctor Who theme tune and felt this was very much a creation in its own right. If Jago & Litefoot could be all but independent. why not New Earth?
Of course this all changed in the second story, Roland Moore’s Death in the New Forest. We have a splendid new location, tree people (focussed on Sapling Vale, played by Yasmin Bannerman) and the Doctor in his tenth incarnation, voiced (by Kieron) in the style of a Companion Chronicles. This changes the feel of the set a lot, but is possibly a sacrifice worth making to integrate the Doctor into the set, if that’s a requirement. The story explores more of Pryce’s character, and introduces yet more wonders of New Earth and grows the overarching plot.
Paul Morris is third with The Skies of New Earth, and brings us bird people, including Loba Christata (Nina Toussaint-White) and Solar Bears, and the gruff jetpack wearing hero of that kind, Oscar (Toby Hadoake) and villain of the day, the wonderfully self-serving Berkhoff (Julian Riynd-Tutt). It’s a mad mixture of Philip Pullman, anti-fracking and comic book action, fabulous to listen to with the right mix of characters, most of whom could easily populate further stories. The politics may be a bit thickly spread, but there’s a layered conspiracy going on that thrills the listener, even if the Doctor is once more required.
Matt Fitton manages to not over-need to the Doctor as he wraps events up in New Cairo, with the revelations of The Cats of New Cairo. There’s religion, species to species superiority and the weakness of those in power but also some well realised parts for Pryce, Hame and also Sister Jara (Adjoa Andoh). It ends setting the world of New Earth on a course to a bright, if complicated, future.
Will there be more?
For me this is hampered by the relationship with the Doctor. It cuts across the feel of the four stories, makes him a crutch for the heroes (to some extent) and to my mind could have been dispensed with. Would people then buy and listen to this series? Possibly not. What use is art if nobody appreciates it? A difficult question. This set is more Original Fiction than Doctor Who and as such is an uncomfortable chimera. I would listen to more, and were I producing I’d use just the new pieces Big Finish has put on the playing board. What do I know!