As we keep the Doctor Who 60th-anniversary celebration rolling, we wanted to look at some other adventures of the Doctor, outside the main series. The world of Doctor Who has become so expansive through the extended universe of novels and audio dramas. Big Finish has a wide array of stories and audio dramas, featuring nearly every incarnation of the Doctor. Today’s selection, Doctor Who: Free Speech is one of their free stories, featuring the 10th Doctor and an interesting philosophical question: what would you do in a world where you had to pay to talk?
Written by Eugenie Pusenjak, directed by Nicolas Briggs, known for voicing the Daleks, and narrated by Jacob Dudman, the story follows Aymius, a man born into a broken society not that different from our own. Though with the help of the Doctor, Aymius moves to break the chains in which he and society are shackled.
So is Doctor Who: Free Speech worth your time, or are there other options on Big Finish that you should spend your time on instead? Let’s explore what Doctor Who: Free Speech has to offer.
[Warning: Spoilers from Doctor Who: Free Speech are below!]
A world where words cost money
When Doctor Who: Free Speech opens up, we find Aymius in a police station, being interrogated by an officer. From the beginning, listeners can tell that someone is off about the planet Skaz. Throughout the narration, we can hear the lengthy and descriptive thoughts of Aymius, but when he speaks with the cop his answers are short, one word if he can swing it. Aymius is a victim of a broken system, living in a world where every word costs money.
On Skaz, only the rich are able to speak their minds, with the poor remaining silent cogs of the always ticking clock. It’s reminiscent of the system in play on Earth but exaggerated to an extreme. Many times during Doctor Who: Free Speech, I could see that with time and advancements in science, our society could become that of Skaz.
Sitting in front of the officer, Aymius is instructed to tell his story, failure to do so will result in incarceration. Aymius has to choose his words wisely, saying the most with the fewest words possible. Running out of money is not an acceptable excuse to those in power. Resigned to his current situation, Aymius begins recounting his story, both verbally and more descriptive with the thoughts in his head.
Doctor Who: Free Speech has a love story at its core
Aymius’ time with the Doctor begins long before the two actually meet, with a love story for the ages. Working as a gardener at a wealthy family’s estate, he falls in love with Helena, the daughter of his boss. The two hit it off right away, mostly because Aymius can’t speak and Helena fills the silence with her seemingly unlimited words. It isn’t long before he decides that he wishes to marry Helena, but needs money to buy the ring.
At this point, Aymius’ friend Marley Evans mentions a high-stakes game where both of them could make some serious cash quickly. It’s at this game that the friends meet the Doctor, who changes their lives forever. Winning most of the hands, the Doctor finds himself at gunpoint by an unhappy player who accuses the Doctor of cheating. Marley and Aymius help the Doctor to escape. In return, the Doctor gives the duo all his winnings and promises to deactivate their tongue chips.
The Doctor manages to turn off Marley’s chip, who no longer has to pay to speak but is unable to switch off Aymius’ before the angry player finds them. However, this doesn’t stop Aymius from moving on in his life with the winnings received from the Doctor. Something Aymius learns the hard way though is that not everything is fixed by money, especially when the system is so broken for everyone else.
Eventually, Aymius’ story brings him back to the present, sitting across from the officer, however, the Doctor returns to show him his story is far from over. A story that is vastly different and even more beautiful than the one Aymius saw for himself.
The positives and negatives of this Tenth Doctor story
Doctor Who: Free Speech is one of my favorites so far from Big Finish. When I picked this short trip from among the free episodes on their website, I was expecting an episode focusing on the Tenth Doctor. Instead, the Doctor was almost a side character in his own story. Free Speech is Aymius’ story through and through, however, features the Doctor in a major way. His life and circumstances would never have changed if not for the kindness of the Doctor.
I thought the twist to focus the story on another and feature the Doctor in a companion-esque role was brilliant. It reminded me of episodes “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” that changed the formula of Doctor Who in a big way, which to me had a significant payoff.
I can also appreciate that such a focal change may not be for everyone. Some fans who are searching through Big Finish might be looking for specific adventures with their favorite Doctors front and center. If that’s the case, Doctor Who: Free Speech isn’t for you.
I also enjoyed the level of social commentary that this short trip brought to Doctor Who. The sci-fi series has never been shy from tough topics and issues among the human race. That being said, the parallels between the society of Skaz and that of Earth were uncanny. As stated above, it didn’t seem far-fetched for Earth to one-day exhibit monetizing speech, which caused a rise in anxiety just ever so slightly.
Being a short trip, which is around a standard episode length of time, there isn’t the level of depth you get from other Big Finish adventures. It’s difficult to have such a short adventure, especially when you can’t see visuals to back up the voices. Sets and images have to be described and built up in your mind’s eye. That being said, Doctor Who: Free Speech does a good job of telling a story that is straightforward in its structure, without being too bogged down with details. The images I painted in my head came easily enough, allowing me to follow Aymius as he recanted his story.
It’s also stunning now close Dudman’s Tennant impression is to the real deal. I was shocked to find out that it wasn’t Tennant returning to the role, as the impression is nearly identical to the original. Dudman is a talent with his vocal abilities, as he is able to mimic Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor perfectly as well. It was a pleasant surprise when listening to Doctor Who: Free Speech, one that elevates it to a whole new level.
Final thoughts on Doctor Who: Free Speech
Overall, Doctor Who: Free Speech is a standout among some of the other audio dramas I’ve listened to from Big Finish. Long after the episode ends, I was thinking about the implications of Skaz society and how those who have a platform need to use it for the betterment of all mankind.
If you’re looking for a fantastic adventure, that perhaps features the Doctor a bit less than usual, check out this one from Big Finish. You won’t be disappointed.
Doctor Who: Free Speech from Big Finish is available now! Are you interested in checking it out? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out another Big Finish review, The War Master: Self-Defence, which also features the tenth Doctor!
Review: The War Master: Self-Defence from Big Finish