Big Finish: Doctor Who THE NINTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: BACK TO EARTH Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal returns to earth.
After four box sets, it seems safe to safe that Christopher Eccelston's Ninth Doctor has settled in at Big Finish. Indeed, the actor many thought would never return to the role he vacated in 2005 has never sounded more at home. As Back to Earth, the opening salvo in the Ninth Doctor's second season at Big Finish, shows that's likely to continue for a while yet.

Back to Earth kicks off a trilogy of earthbound tales with Station to Station by Robert Valentine. The era in which Eccelston, and later David Tennant, played the Doctor under showrunner Russell T Davies brought a dramatic sensibility into Doctor Who's more science fiction outings. Valentine's script pastiches that nicely, having the Doctor encounter Indigo Griffiths' Saffron Windrose, a lost soul at a railway station hunted by a seemingly supernatural threat. Station to Station is an atmospheric, claustrophobic piece of work firmly rooted in human dramas as Saffron and others face dilemmas and the thing pursuing them. It's an immensely satisfying episode, as Valentine's script brings together disparate elements that likewise bring out the best in Eccelston and Griffiths for perhaps the most satisfying Ninth Doctor audios to date.

The Ninth Doctor's adventures take him to the other end of Europe more than four centuries ago with Sarah Grochala's The False Dimitry. Set in Moscow in 1605, during a turbulent moment in the transition of power between generations of czars, Grochala crafts a story firmly rooted in the pseudo-historical subgenre with the Doctor and Jack Myers as Sasha Kuznetsov discovering something rotten and unearthly at the heart of this succession. Under Grochala's pen and the direction of Helen Raynor, The False Dimitry is a 21st-century take on stories such as The Time Warrior and Masque of Mandragora, where the historical and the futuristic clash with history, and the Doctor, are caught in the crossfire. Plus, as often happens with historically set stories, an unintended air of topicality raises its head at a few moments, thanks to recent events.

Back to Earth concludes with Auld Lang Syne by Tim Foley, which, like Valentine's Station to Station that opened the set, could give Russell T Davies a run for his money in combining drama with science fiction. Set as the Litherland family comes together at Foulds House across multiple New Year's Eves, Foley brings an air of the domestic to this episode. Of course, this being a Doctor Who episode set in a labyrinthine country house, things quickly take on not only a fantastical edge but a timey wimey one with Leah Brotherhead's Mandy becoming an acting companion to the Doctor as events unfold. It's a delicate balancing act, particularly with temporal hijinks involved, which Foley beautifully handles, dropping in clues for Mandy and the listener alike that give some scenes an added poignancy. It's a beautifully done story with a fantastic cast, including Brotherhead and Wendy Craig as Great Aunt Bette, closing the set on a high note.

As with previous releases in this range, it's clear that Eccelston is having a whale of a time doing these audios. Perhaps more so here since, as he mentions on the extra's disc, Eccelston had the chance to be in the studio with his fellow actors and establish a company feels for each episode. There's a lightness of touch, often overlooked in fandom's memory of his Doctor, that's on display throughout, with Eccelston relishing the one-liners and moments of humor show. Yet when the scripts and direction call for the serious and emotional, Eccelston can turn on a dime for maximum effect. The result could well be Eccelston's best performances with Big Finish to date, no mean feat considering the strengths of earlier releases.

Surrounding Eccelston is everything that makes Big Finish's work so consistently strong. Director Helen Goldwyn brings out not only the best in her Doctor but from her various supporting casts, including each episode's acting companions with Indigo Griffiths' Saffron and Leah Brotherhead's Mandy seemingly begging for more adventures with the Doctor. Beyond the performers, composer Howard Carter offers a trio of cinematic scores influenced but not enslaved to Murray Gold's 2005 musical stylings. Meanwhile, Iain Meadows offers soundscapes from a lonely railway station to seventeenth-century Moscow to an old country house visited by one family.

Whether you're a longtime fan, someone who missed out on the Ninth Doctor audios to date, or new to Big Finish, Back to Earth has something to offer. For some, it's a perfect jumping-on point or a chance to say hello again to a favorite Doctor gone too soon. More than that, for a range that's gone from strength to strength, it's Big Finish's best Ninth Doctor release to date. With three more releases already announced, there's every chance it won't hold that title for long.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Back to Earth is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 July 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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