“Do you wanna come with me?” asked the Ninth Doctor in the official trailer for Doctor Who’s TV relaunch back in 2005. It was a call to adventure, prefaced with a question that ended up essentially being rhetorical in nature – who could resist a trip in the TARDIS with this thrilling new version of the Time Lord?
Big Finish have managed to recapture and rekindle all of the palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in The Ninth Doctor Adventures, giving Christopher Eccleston a chance to reprise the role, scratching that huge fan itch by bringing him back, and dealing with a lingering feeling of unfinished business which was left from his untimely departure after a single series. And what a ride it has been so far, with the first two sets exploding with energy and inventiveness.
This third set in the run – ‘Lost Warriors’ – brings us a trio of stories featuring different combatants who each happen to find themselves out of place (or time), or faced with a rather more personal, profound, deeper sense of loss: ‘The Hunting Season’, by James Kettle; ‘The Curse Of Lady Macbeth’, from Lizzie Hopley; and John Dorney’s ‘Monsters In Metropolis’. In the first two sets, the Ninth Doctor travelled across time and space; these three tales are Earthbound, and with historical settings, but are none the worse for it.
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In ‘The Hunting Season’, the Doctor finds himself happening upon a stately pile which is under constant siege from some unlikely marauders. Joining the fray, the Doctor soon learns that things are not all that they seem, and has to decide just whose side he is actually on in the conflict. What is the secret of Duberry Hall, and who can the Doctor call friend or foe? As battle lines are being drawn, it may be that the real monsters are a lot closer to home than first thought…
Given that our hero does hail from a race of aristocratic folk – they even have ‘Lord’ forming part of their name – the Ninth Doctor is an interesting contrast to the landed gentry in a far more marked way than most of his other incarnations: with his pronounced northern twang, leather jacket, and a down-to-earth manner, he could scarcely be less lordly in his ways, so setting this cat amongst the pigeons is a master stroke by Kettle, as you can see plainly why the Doctor ran away from all of this kind of pomp and stuffiness.
With shows like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, viewers have seen the class divide between the well-to-dos and the servants; here, we get to experience what life would be like if those in charge were a bunch of sociopaths who had a strong sadistic bent. The Doctor lives to fight injustice and tyranny, so the bond he forms with the downtrodden ‘below stairs’ staff truly is joyous to behold, and it gives Eccleston a chance to shine with some righteous indignation against the ones who have wronged his new friends.
The TARDIS heads a good deal further back in ‘The Curse Of Lady Macbeth’, where the Doctor runs into the inspiration for ‘the Scottish play’. The Kingdom of Moray has befallen a cruel twist of fate, and Queen Gruach (Neve McIntosh) feels that her people’s woes are all her fault; some of them share the same view, holding her to blame for their strife. It falls to the Doctor to try and show Queen Gruach – or, as he knows her better, Lady Macbeth – that she may yet be their saviour, and certainly not Shakespeare’s villainess.
Doctor Who is sometimes at its best when it follows the kind of Reithian ideals – namely to inform, educate and entertain – which were intended to underpin the BBC itself. Although the show has drifted away from pure historical adventures, it has instead incorporated various SF elements as a part of its forays into Earth‘s past, sugaring the pill of education for its younger audience members by including spaceships or bug-eyed monsters (BEMs), with ‘The Curse Of Lady Macbeth’ no exception, merging the genres together masterfully.
Hopley’s script makes use of Scottish mythology, blending it with the sci-fi parts of the story in a way which feels organic and unforced, as well as highly imaginative. One true sign of a good Doctor Who story is that it introduces the audience to something that catches their attention, making them want to find out more about the characters or events featured; in making use of the real people who inspired Macbeth, Hopley truly engages the listener, inviting them to further research the backstory, which further enhances the experience.
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Closing out the set is ‘Monsters In Metropolis’, which takes place in Germany’s Babelsberg Film Studio during the late 1920s, as production is underway on Fritz Lang’s seminal science fiction classic film. Beset by problems, Lang (Nick Wilton) has been persuaded to make a change which could have some grave consequences. Making a pilgrimage to the set, the Doctor realises something is seriously wrong when he sees that the robot Maria has been replaced by a machine man – one that is very familiar to him…
The second ‘celebrity historical’ story of this set, ‘Monsters In Metropolis’ uses Lang’s movie as its backdrop, but is not actually about Metropolis per se. The glorious Nick Wilton gives his all as Lang, portraying a temperamental, difficult artist, frustrated with progress on his magnum opus; Lang is not the focus of the story, however, so anyone hoping to get an insight into the man behind the lens may be disappointed not to learn more about him here.
However, as with ‘The Curse Of Lady Macbeth’, the listener is given just enough to tantalise them about Lang, and also the setting of Weimar Germany, which feeds into the story in an unexpected and intriguing manner. The real star of the piece is Nicholas Briggs, who gives a tour de force performance as the ‘monster’ of the title, truly tugging at the heartstrings in a manner reminiscent of Frankenstein’s creation, which is an apt analogy given the part that he plays here. Briggs really is the MVP, giving Dorney’s script extra depth and pathos.
‘Lost Warriors’ is yet another soaring success from Big Finish, and shows The Ninth Doctor Adventures still on an upward trajectory. You can tell Eccleston is genuinely engaged with the material, and his passion and enthusiasm simply shines through, taking the audience right along with him. So, yeah, we definitely wanna come with him, especially if we can get more stories of this calibre.
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – ‘Lost Warriors’ is out now from Big Finish.