Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures RESPOND TO ALL CALLS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures RESPOND TO ALL CALLS Review

Matthew Kresal answers the call.
Even as Big Finish has gone from strength to strength in recent times, there's no doubt that one of their most exciting developments has been securing Christopher Eccelston to return to the role of the Ninth Doctor. Their first set, Ravagers, firmly re-established his Doctor sixteen years after Eccelston departed the TARDIS, and with three more box-sets announced, it's time to move into new territory. With Respond To All Calls, Big Finish sets the Ninth Doctor loose across time and space.

Whereas Ravagers was a serialized story told across three episodes, this sophomore outing presents three episodes connected by its titular theme. Lisa McMullin pens the opening episode Girl, Deconstructed, which has a distinct 2005 feel with its story of missing teenagers, focusing on Marnie (Mirren Mack). Just as Doctor Who has channeled numerous genres into its universe, McMullin puts a twist on crime procedurals familiar to TV viewers the world over. But just as DC Jana Lee (Pearl Appleby) thinks she's got a missing person case, she's thrust into an adventure alongside the Doctor. The all Scottish supporting cast lends a further sense of place, as does McMullin channeling the uniquely British SF mix of the ordinary alongside the extraordinary. Like the best RTD scripts, it's a compelling mix of heart and the brain, albeit with perhaps a tad more plot logic. It's an opening episode that is nothing short of, if you'll pardon the expression, fantastic.

The set moves from strength to strength with Tim Foley's middle episode, Fright Motif. Moving the Ninth Doctor to post-war Paris, Foley presents his take on this set's theme as the Time Lord comes into contact with struggling jazz musician Artie Berger (Damian Lynch). Though not a celebrity historical by any means, there are thematic connections with the much-loved Eleventh Doctor TV episode Vincent and the Doctor as Fright Motif dips into mental illness and its effect on creativity. Yet as is often the case with Big Finish, while the ideas might be similar, the choice of audio drama as the story's medium makes the story its own creature. Quite literally, in this case, with a very audio-centric beast lurking around Berger and the streets of the city. Foley's script, and Eccelston's lightness of touch, keep things from getting too dark, as does the chemistry between the entire cast, including Lynch and Gemma Whelan's Zazie. It's a ride of an episode, to say the very least.

Timothy X Atack brings the set to a close with Planet of the End. If the previous episodes channeled the more emotional and historicals of the RTD era, then Atack's script takes on the finales. The ideas are large, set on the backdrop of a mausoleum world the Doctor arrives upon, which would break the budget on-screen. Its villains are an intriguing choice by Atack, a wonderfully done piece of satire on his part that explores not just the post-Time War universe but also in how they deal with the Doctor. The cast is surprisingly small, given the finale scale, but that works in its favor as it focuses the episode rather strongly on Eccelston and Margaret Clunie as Fred, as the Doctor dubs the AI intelligence overseeing this mausoleum world. It's a fitting and enthralling finale for the set and one that wouldn't have been out of place at all on TV (if the budget could have stretched to do it, anyway).

What's also clear listening to Respond To All Calls is that Eccelston is having a whale of a time. While fandom likes to remember his Doctor as moody and depressed, the truth is that there was a lot of humor and life to Eccelston's performance. All of those qualities, the light and the dark, are apparent in the three episodes here, with Eccelston effortlessly shifting between them even within individual scenes. Clearly, he's relishing a chance to bring out those lighter touches, as his one-liners and moments of humor show. It's that genuine sense of Eccelston embracing the role once more over a decade and a half since the last time he put on the leather jacket that helps make this set worth a listen.

Surrounding Eccelston is everything that makes Big Finish's work as strong as it is. Director Helen Goldwyn brings out not only the best in her Doctor but from her various supporting casts ranging from Mirren Mack and Pearl Appleby in the opening installment to Damian Lynch, Gemma Whelan, and Margaret Clunie in the episodes that follow. Beyond the performers, composer Howard Carter presents a sweeping, cinematic score influenced but not enslaved to Murray Gold's 2005 stylings, as Iain Meadows offers soundscapes from 2004 Scotland to 1940s Paris and a planet straight out of a big-budget movie. Between cast and soundscapes, the results are nothing short of well-done.

Respond To All Calls is every bit a worthy successor to its predecessor. Indeed, the makers of this second Ninth Doctor release take the success of Ravagers and ramp it up to eleven, offering up three new exciting episodes. Stories that showcase, across time and space, the range not only of Doctor Who itself but of this actor in the role.

Answer the call and give this set a listen. You won't regret it.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Respond to All Calls is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 October 2021, and on general sale after this date.

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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