“I’m back! I’m really back in the TARDIS!“
Or, to put it another way: he’s back, and its about time! Signing on to play TV’s Doctor Who is a lifelong commitment (or for even longer than that in some cases – death is not the career setback which it used to be, all thanks to the wonders of modern technology) for that actor to portray our favourite Time Lord.
READ MORE: Psycho Goreman – Film Review
Most of the Doctors have fully embraced the madness which comes as just part and parcel of taking on the role, including signings and convention appearances, as well as continuing to be associated with the character for a long time after you have handed over the TARDIS key to your successor. Even in the case of Paul McGann, initially reluctant to partake of the extracurricular activities, but who has since thrown himself into things wholeheartedly.
Of course, there was a famous example, in the form of Tom Baker, who for a long time was exceptionally reluctant to be associated with the Doctor after hanging up his scarf, doing his utmost to try and distance himself from the show. Fans can be very persistent, however, and after Baker had made a fleeting in-character cameo in the 30th anniversary special, ‘Dimensions In Time’, he came under pressure to come back into the fold and do even more.
After a few approaches, Baker eventually agreed to return as the Doctor on audio for Big Finish, and has now spent longer reprising the part for them than he spent first time round in his record-breaking seven-year stint on telly. It remains the wish and dream of many fans that, eventually, every Doctor still with us will make their triumphant return for Big Finish, and with David Tennant now in the fold, all eyes have turned to Smith and Capaldi. Oh, and one other as well, more out of hope than expectation in his case.
Christopher Eccleston. He spearheaded the show’s revival in 2005 to great acclaim and success, but bowed out after just one series, for reasons which have become only slightly less opaque over time. Eccleston was seen as a serious actor, and as an intensely private individual he seemed even more of a long shot to reprise the part. In fact, it appeared more likely we would see the return of William Hartnell first, and he died in 1975. Necromancy seemed a doddle in comparison.
Yet, miracles can still happen, and after Eccleston dipped his toe into the waters at a couple of events and saw how much genuine love there is out there for his turn as the Doctor, he gradually began to warm to the idea. Big Finish had already made some tentative advances, but the time had not been quite right. Well, in 2020, the stars aligned, with Eccleston making positive noises about possibly coming to audio. He thankfully liked Big Finish’s take on the character, as well as the mooted storylines they had in mind.
So, having already done five other impossible things before breakfast, Big Finish got Eccleston to sign on the dotted line. If they want to turn their hands to solving world hunger and ending war, then that would be great, as they seem to be on a roll at the moment in terms of achieving the unachievable. In the meantime, however, we should be grateful that they have been able to secure the services of the once-and-future Ninth Doctor for an initial run of three sets, each containing a trio of stories.
Eccleston was always the absolutely perfect choice to bring the show back with a bang in 2005. For far too long, Doctor Who had been regarded as a joke, with all manner of unlikely names being thrown around every single time a revival was mentioned, like Paul Daniels or David Hasselhoff. Here was a name in Eccleston which brought real weight and gravitas to the series and the character, making people sit up and take real notice, treating the show with some respect for perhaps the first time in some cases.
Here, we had a Doctor shorn of all the cliches and trappings of earlier incarnations. This was no Received Pronunciation, frock coated boffin type; instead, he spoke proudly with a Northern accent, and wore everyday clothes rather than a costume. For a show which had most of its complicated 40+ year continuity pared right down to its basics, we also had a similarly stripped-down Doctor, relatable to modern telly viewers, and with a far greater emotional complexity than we were used to.
The storytelling also reflected the character, with Russell T. Davies going for a more straightforward approach, leaving aside most of the technobabble which traditionally plagued sci-fi, focusing instead upon building a genuine connection with the audience. With Big Finish knowing its target market is largely fan-based, they can look to take a rather different approach, and here writer Nicholas Briggs delivers the sort of timey-wimey shenanigans which are rather tricky to follow without a flow chart. And a headache.
READ MORE: I Am Big Bird – Documentary Review
Briggs gets us straight into the thick of things from the very first second, dropping us smack bang into the middle of an adventure, leaving us breathless and caught right up in the frenetic pace, as we try to piece together just what is going on. In a conventional linear storyline this would certainly be demanding enough, but in a setup where cause and effect do not necessarily happen in that order this gives an additional challenge for the listener, and demands a second go-around, just to make sure you catch everything.
Eccleston effortlessly steps back into the Ninth Doctor, and gives no indication that it has been over 15 years since he last donned the battered leather jacket. It is a thrill and genuine joy to hear him giving his all, and shows his real dedication to giving us his absolute best performance, instead of phoning it in just because it happens to be a pay cheque; anybody who has seen Eccleston in Gone In 60 Seconds or Thor: The Dark World will know what the latter feels like.
Big Finish has chosen to show us the Ninth Doctor during the period before he first met Rose Tyler, offering Eccleston the chance to give us a slightly different portrayal. Not only did Rose tend to pull focus away from the Doctor, she managed to expose a chink in his armour, showing us his vulnerability at feeling responsible for apparently killing the Time Lords. Here, we see a Ninth Doctor not so much running away from his past, as running towards the future, and Eccleston has a lightness in his approach, due to his character not having the Time War dominate the conversation.
READ MORE: State of Modern Love – Film Review
It feels rather odd, but also quite refreshing, to see the Ninth Doctor without Rose, as we never had the chance to have him playing against another companion without her. Big Finish manages to deliver us the perfect foil for him, in the form of Nova (Camilla Beeput), a feisty, sparky chef who grows over the course of the three linked stories making up this set, and by the end has become someone who you could scarcely not envision being part of the range moving forward. With Nova, we also have somebody who is just a mate, rather than being a love interest like Rose.
Overall, this is a promising beginning to the Ninth Doctor’s aural exploits, although the constant time hopping makes you feel rather giddy at points, and the whole thing tends to veer towards being too busy; perhaps having a simpler story might have served as a somewhat better introduction to the Ninth Doctor’s tenure at Big Finish, but any such qualms are quickly overridden with the sheer, unalloyed thrill of having Christopher Eccleston back at the helm of the TARDIS, after being away so long.
In fact, the biggest disappointment comes at not being able to time travel ahead to August this year, and hear right now what Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures will bring us next.
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – Ravagers is out now from Big Finish.