Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 6/10/17 7:25 pm
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In Wednesday for Beginners, the second part of The Lives of Captain Jack box set stars Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, mother to Rose Tyler. Jackie finds that she has a stalker on the Powell Estate; a mysterious man with "trousers tight as you like, and a chest you can chop onions on". The one day, Jackie is walking around the Powell Estate, looking to show off her stalker to her friends. Only no one's around; everyone has mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Except for her stalker, a man called Jack. Jackie and Jack will have to team up to survive, but will Jackie be able to trust this man, who's so close to the Doctor? Wednesday for Beginners is a delightful story. Any story with Jackie Tyler is going to be a load of fun (Jackie's previous appearance in the Ninth Doctor Chronicles was the highlight of that set), but this story ups the ante with an emotional story that examines Jackie's relationship with the Doctor and her daughter. Both Camille Coduri and John Barrowman shine in this story, with an excellent chemistry and some truly excellent dialogue together. Mixed with a surprisingly poignant story from James Goss, this stands as the highlight of the set so far, and one of the finest New Who based stories Big Finish has done yet.
Camille Coduri is the real star of this story. Big Finish nabbing Coduri to reprise her role as Jackie Tyler has been one of the best bits of casting so far, and here adds further justification to that, as Coduri gives one of her finest performances as the character. What I love most about Coduri's performance is that she's able to change gears, and imply so much with her performance. I loved the opening bits, where she's calling Rose and telling her about her life, because you can sense that Jackie is simultaneously happy to be talking to Rose and missing her deeply, and that she's sad about her lot in life, in some ways. There's a moment in The End of Time that I love, because it shows Jackie switching gears very quickly from happy to downcast, and it's one of my favorite moments for the character. Jackie is a character who feels like a real person, and that's because Coduri is able to breathe so much life into her, and make her a truly special character.
James Goss' script is another highlight of this set. Goss already proved that he's able to capture the character of Jackie well in Retail Therapy, but here, he's able to prove that he's able to capture a different side to Jackie, one that's more implicit. He's able to capture the more tormented side of Jackie extremely well, which I really appreciated. Beyond that, his script was just dead clever. I'm guessing it's fairly easy to write a story when one of the characters is a saucy cougar-like character, and another is an insatiable flirt, but damn, does Goss make it look easy and great. His writing for this story is great; I particularly loved the humour of the story, with Jackie getting several hilarious lines to say about Jack and vice-versa (I particularly liked "Ms. Tyler, the link to our universe is diminishing with every second and you're... staring at my chest... you are a woman after my own heart."). But more than that, Goss excelled at the more emotional bits of the story, such as when Jackie asks Jack how her daughter is, and Jack replies simply with "fantastic". It's a poignant moment, especially given her earlier misgivings about the Doctor. But the best scene comes at the end, when Jackie calls Rose to tell her not to come to Earth, and tells the Doctor exactly what she thinks of him, and for him to stay away unless the universe is ending. It's a fantastic scene, with Jackie really just laying into the Doctor, and explaining exactly what she thinks of him.
Goss' story is also a strong story here. While the performances and the character work take the spotlight of this story, Goss still managed to write an interesting, temporally complex story about bubble dimensions. What I liked most about the story itself was how it worked as a two-hander, with just Jack and Jackie. The villains of the story are mostly silent, apart from random screams and screeches, and it really let the character work shine. Still, the actual story itself was very interesting. I quite liked the idea that the Powell Estate was taken out of reality in an attempt to capture someone, and I liked the idea even more that the Harvesters were looking, essentially, for Jackie, not Jack. It shifts the focus of the story and makes for some of the fine character moments I mentioned above. But certainly one of the highlights of the story has to be the silliest bit of the story: where Jack and Jackie duet to try and bring the world back into phase. It's an absurd moment, but one that works so well because of Barrowman's naturally excellent singing voice, and Coduri's surprisingly fun, enjoyable harmony vocals on the song. It stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the story, but it's nonetheless an enjoyable part of the story.
I'd also like to mention the sound design work, done by Martin Montague, which is on full display here. It'd be easy to take a frozen world and simply not do any sound design, but there's always noise, from an otherworldly breeze on an empty world, to small little noises throughout signalling the arrival of the Wraiths or the actions of Jack and Jackie. Big Finish's sound design work is always top notch, but I think that Montague does a good job here with it, making a frozen, empty world feel alive and well.
Overall, Wednesday for Beginners is an excellent story. Featuring two strong performances by the cast, but an especially strong performance by Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, this story is a well-acted entry into this box set. James Goss' writing too was superb; the story itself was fun and interesting, while the character work and dialogue he wrote for Jackie and Jack was absolutely superb. Mixed with some excellent sound design, the story comes together as one of the best things to come out of Big Finish's New Who license, and one of my favorite stories of the year so far.