Big Finish: Doctor Who - BATTLE SCARS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - BATTLE SCARS Review

Matthew Kresal takes a short trip with the Ninth Doctor.

Of all the Modern Who Doctors, it's hard not to feel at times that Christopher Eccelston's Ninth Doctor gets overlooked. That is particularly true of spin-off media, where he has had a handful of novels and comic appearances. On audio, both from the BBC and Big Finish, the number of stories from him are few. Big Finish, though, having been slowly rectifying that with both The Ninth Doctor Chronicles in 2017 and last year's Short Trips tale Battle Scars.

Coming from the pen of Selim Ulug (whose Landbound made him the winner of the 2017 Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity), this story picks up from one of those references to the Ninth Doctor's adventures before meeting Rose in that first 2005 episodes. With the TARDIS landing in the back garden of the Daniels family home in early April 1912, this likely recently regenerated Doctor isn't the only one dealing with "having been through the wars." The father, Arthur, and his one-time comrade in arms William Spence, both veterans of the Second Boar War, are feuding over business matters, bringing out the worst in both of them. Not everything is as it seems, of course, and with the Daniels family preparing to sail on a certain ill-fated ocean liner, the Doctor finds himself in an odd position, one he'd perhaps rather not be in.

Going into this, one might expect a story on a larger scale, perhaps with the Titanic set more front and center. Ulug, to his credit, doesn't go for that. Instead, this is a story that does what the Short Trips do best: exploring characters. Whether it's the Ninth Doctor, Arthur Daniels, or Spence, this is fundamentally a story about what war does people and the 'battle scars,' particularly mental ones, that it leaves behind. If this story might seem like just an exercise in canon filling, by the end of its 41 minutes running time, it turns out to be something far more.

It's fascinating to see the Ninth Doctor as he is here, already formed to an extent, but not quite the Time Lord we'll know and love in his adventures alongside Rose Tyler. He is a wounded man, unsure of what to do with himself having survived the Time War, and not keen at first to get involved. His interactions with Connie, the eldest of the Daniels' children, are the highlights of this short story, in particular, a scene midway through involving a cat and a mouse that feels like a metaphor for the Doctor, no matter what incarnation. If anything, Ulug writes an origin story of sorts for this Doctor and how he became the man who took Rose Tyler's hands, telling her to "Run!" and not letting go.

It also helps that it's got a solid narrator. Nicholas Briggs, who'd handled such duties for the Ninth Doctor for the Destiny of the Doctor and Ninth Doctor Chronicles releases, once more returns here. His characterization of Eccelston's Doctor, capturing the many facets of his performance while not being an imitation or caricature, proves to be just as much of a highlight here as it has been previously. Beyond that, his vocal talents as the various characters ranging from Connie Daniels and her father Arthur to William Spence allow him a rare chance to show off his abilities without voicing Daleks and Cybermen. It's an opportunity for Briggs, as an actor and narrator, to show off some range.

Running roughly the same length as a Modern Who episode, this is one of the best examples of what the Short Trips range can do. It's a wonderful character piece with a dash of sci-fi thrown in, filling in something of a gap in this Doctor's life along the way. As an example of Whovian prose realized on audio, as well as a rare outing for this Doctor, it's hard to beat and a treat for fans of this Doctor craving something more.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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