Big Finish made headlines when they finally convinced Christopher Eccleston that returning to his role as the ninth Doctor was something that could and should happen. The result is a couple of box-sets of stories with Eccleston in the role — which is probably as close to him playing the Doctor again as we’ll ever get.
The first box-set is out now and I finally got around to listening to it. I reviewed each installment after listening. So, if you notice some kind of horrible error or oversight in my thoughts on part one or two, please know I had no idea what was coming….
1. Sphere of Freedom
Christopher Eccleston effortlessly steps back into his role as the ninth Doctor in this introduction to the series. The first installment is all about setting up things for what’s to come, including establishing a new character called Nova, who serves as a de-facto companion. Give the drama a bit of credit for having Nova call out the Doctor for issuing forth technobabble for his own sake and not because she understands a word of it.
As a story, it works well enough, giving us a look at Nova and the potential main adversary for this set of stories. I went in knowing next to nothing about this beyond the fact that Eccleston is part of it and was pleasantly surprised. So much so, that I find myself wanting to hear part two sooner rather than later.
Thankfully, “Cataclysm” doesn’t suffer from middle-leg-of-a-trilogy syndrome — lots of treading water and bridging from part one to part three. The Doctor attempts to track down the source of the time eddies and possibly save the entire universe as we know it. The story is deeply steeped in the implications of time travel and could be seen as “wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey” in nature.
The dynamic between the Doctor and Nova is well done and deepened a bit here. Audrey’s exact identity is still being kept secret and I hope the final reveal isn’t disappointing. Her meeting the Doctor in a different order in her life feels like it’s borrowing a bit from River Soong, but we’ll see where all this leads. Here’s hoping part three can stick that landing.
3. Food Fight
Well, that was…hectic. Briggs puts a lot of balls into the air in the first two installments, leading to a lot of jumping from point to point as the story attempts to wrap itself up in the fifty minutes or so it has available to it. I did find myself wishing it had a bit more time to breathe here, especially to let the implications that time travel and various characters experiencing things in a different order created some of the issues.
I suppose I should give Big Finish credit here. After multiple box sets or seasons in the past, they finally have given me what I wanted — a box set in which the stories connect in a meaningful way. That said, I can’t help but come away from Christopher Eccleston’s return to Doctor Who and not feel a bit disappointed.
A lot of this comes down to pacing. Part one has to create the situation and establish the characters. Part two has to move them into place for the finale and part three has to wrap it all up in a neat bow. For the most part, Briggs does this, but it feels like the pacing is a bit off. I appreciate that we build up to a cliffhanger in each installment. I still can’t help but think that “Food Fight” needed a better pace or that some of Audrey’s scenes could have been edited into part two.
Listening to this over the course of three runs, I was struck by how easily Eccleston slips back into the role and how interesting a companion Nova could be. I was disappointed that I built up Audrey as being something more of a threat or returning threat than she turned out to be — but that is probably more on me than anything else.
Overall, this is good and it starts the ninth Doctor range well.