Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures OLD FRIENDS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures OLD FRIENDS Review

Matthew Kresal enjoys time spent with old friends.
It wasn't that long ago that the idea of Christopher Eccelston's Ninth Doctor at Big Finish seemed an unlikely one. After all, his was an era that was over almost as soon as it began. Yet over the last nine months, the Ninth Doctor has had a whole series of brand new adventures that's taken him across time and space. And now, with Old Friends, Big Finish brings their first season of Ninth Doctor audios to an end with a bang.

This fourth set opens with David K Barnes' Fond Farewell. Barnes' story of the Doctor visiting an intergalactic funeral parlor to attend the funeral and wake of an old friend, Professor Flynn Beckett, only to find that his old friend is attending through the wonders of technology. Except, of course, things aren't quite what they seem or go according to plan. Of the episodes in the various box-sets, Fond Farewell is perhaps the one that feels the most like it could have come out of the sole Ninth Doctor TV season. There are shades of TV episodes such as The End of the World with the setting and the emotional core of Father's Day, for example. It's something that perfectly suits the story and the box-set, exploring some big ideas and questions about grief, regret, and technology in a genre setting. In short, Doctor Who to its core.

Being the end of the season, as it were, it's perhaps no surprise that Big Finish would choose to end it with a two-parter. Roy Gill's Way of the Burryman and The Forth Generation is a big end-of-season story, taking the Ninth Doctor back to Scotland (a running thread that started in the second set Respond to All Calls). It's a chance to mark a couple of things off fan's Ninth Doctor bucket lists as he quickly meets up with another old friend: the retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, with Jon Culshaw once more reprising the role from the late Nicholas Courtney. "But wait," as the cliche says, "there's more!"

Of course, as Doctor Who fans know, where a Doctor and a Brigadier, there's usually trouble. In the case of Gill's script, that means the Cybermen are back, something Big Finish kept under their hats until right when the box-set came out. Indeed, Way of the Burryman/The Forth Generation is for the Ninth Doctor and these silver terrors what Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways was for him and the Daleks. Having had a script that played on expectations earlier in the season via John Dorney's Monsters in Metropolis in last November's Lost Warriors, Gill's presents a more traditional tale in some ways. Even so, there's an emotional core to this action-packed finale, particularly in giving Warren Brown's Sam Bishop (a stalwart of the company's UNIT audios) a retroactive origin story of sorts. All told, it's a satisfying conclusion with plenty of twists and thrills along the way.

As was the case with the opening Ravagers set and its successors, it's Eccelston's performance that truly anchors the set. It's been clear listening to these sets that Eccelston has been having a whale of a time reprising the role, bringing a lightness of touch to his Doctor that fandom tends to overlook alongside his more serious moments. Hearing him play alongside the Brigadier highlights all of that, bringing in subtle hints of the Time War scared man we saw more of on-screen in 2005. But there's also the friendship between the two characters as if Eccelston and Culshaw are the titular old friends reunited. Dare I say it's a fantastic set of performances that Big Finish has captured here, showcasing the Ninth Doctor and Eccelston alike in all their glory.

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 Juliet Stevenson and Emily Taaffe in the opening episode to Culshaw and Brown in the two-parter, though Culshaw's Brigadier sounds closer to 1980s Nicholas Courtney than the Big Finish performances of things like Spectre of Lanyon Moor or the Unbound release Masters of War. Beyond the performers, composer Howard Carter presents a sweeping, cinematic score influenced by Murray Gold's 2005 stylings that highlight the action set-pieces of the finale with Iain Meadows soundscapes bringing to life both the futuristic world of Fond Farewell and early 2000s Scotland, hauntingly so at times. As was the case with previous sets, they offer able backing for not only the Ninth Doctor's return but present for listeners new and old a chance to hear what Big Finish can do.

Old Friends, with its tales of intergalactic funerals and a Cyberman invasion of Scotland, is a showcase for the Ninth Doctor and Big Finish alike. Not to mention bringing to an end one of their strongest runs of stories, perhaps in their entire two decades of Doctor Who storytelling. Yet, unlike in 2005, this isn't the end, as four further already announced sets will attest.

And long may the Ninth Doctor renaissance continue.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Old Friends is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2022, 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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