Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – ‘Back to Earth’ celebrates the Doctor’s love of this floating rock we call home. Three self-contained stories from Big Finish, whose only link is that they are all set on Earth, make this an easy to binge collection.
‘Station to Station’, written by Robert Valentine, plays with ideas of how alien beings may have fed into fairy-story lore. Starting off with the classic Doctor Who cold open of a hapless victim being chased, and the always popular trope of nursery-style rhyming couplets, it sadly peters out fairly quickly. A group of strangers who amount to little more than obvious stereotypes are captured and brought together by an evil being. It feels like a mishmash of other stories, from the power of names in ‘The Shakespeare Code’ to the thrust together nature of ‘The God Complex’; it’s a tick box of things we expect from a Doctor Who story.
At one point, and despite us having no real idea who these characters are, the Doctor gives a wildly impassioned speech telling them that they are amazing and can do anything if they work together. He then heads off and solves things on his own because he just knew something for no obvious reason. The whole affair feels sadly rather predictable, cliche riddled, and a bit of a let down. On the other hand, this might well appeal to a particular type of Doctor Who fan, so who knows?
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A far more enjoyable romp is Sarah Grochala’s ‘The False Dimitry’. Set in Russia during a time of intense political intrigue, we find the Doctor dealing with pretenders to the throne, a fleet of invading robots, the fate of nations, and all manner of other things. It’s gloriously ludicrous, but written and presented with a joyful, frenetic energy that carries us past any confusion, and at the same time manages to introduce us to an exotic and alien culture, despite it still being set on Earth.
Then there is ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by Tim Foley. A much more intimate affair as we join a family meeting up over a series of New Year parties in the same, unusual house. In the special features Foley rightly points out that the Ninth Doctor – perhaps more than any other – has a particular warmth when dealing with the intimacy of families. From indulging in some pop culture nostalgia to the familiar and wonderfully maternal voice of Wendy Craig, everything about this story is designed to make us feel involved with and caring about the characters. It works.
The production on each of these is wonderful, merging excellent sound effects and incidental music. Occasionally the crowd scenes are a little ropey, and the voice effect for the big bad monster in ‘Station to Station’ has a whiff of the overly electronic about it, but all in all these are wonderfully produced stories.
The cast for each story are also on form, with special mentions going out to Katy Brittain for having an absolute ball in ‘The False Dimitry’ as a wonderfully feisty old nurse maid, and Hayley Tamaddon who, in ‘Auld Lang Syne’, shows a huge amount of bravery in bringing an understated performance, which is something that can be so often missing in these kind of audio dramas. Her choice pays off, and she ends up not just being utterly believable, but also breaking our hearts. Just a little bit.
Christopher Eccleston continues to deliver his Doctor with a bubbling energetic directness that reminds us why he was the perfect choice to relaunch the franchise. His performance remains utterly compelling, and it’s interesting to see how he manages to bring together three such disparate stories. As a complete aside, we get that the Ninth Doctor has big ears; perhaps writers could get together and decide to make that joke only once per release?
In summary this is a mixed bag, and it’s unlikely that you’ll want to revisit each story multiple times. It’s also fair to say that Big Finish is the gold standard when it comes to this kind of audio drama, making smaller mistakes more noticeable and less forgivable. However, though the crown may slip ever so slightly with Back to Earth, on balance this is a purchase well worth making, with all of the positives far outweighing the negatives.
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – Back to Earth is out now from Big Finish.