Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - INTO THE STARS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - INTO THE STARS Review

Matthew Kresal blasts off.
When Russell T Davies brought Doctor Who back to our screens in 2005, he did so by grounding it in one particular idea. Every episode of the series in its opening season would be set on or about the Earth. It helped to re-launch the show successfully with Christopher Eccelston's year as the Ninth Doctor, but it also left his incarnation with an entire era of Earthbound or centric tales. It's perhaps no surprise then that Big Finish, having re-launched this Doctor on audio, have taken him quite literally Into the Stars with their latest offering.

Opening the set is another of those bucket list stories: an encounter between this Doctor and the Sontarans. Having faced the Cybermen not once but twice in the first run of stories, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Eccelston's Time Lord encountered another monster from the pantheon. What most certainly was not inevitable was that the encounter would take place in Salvation Nine. Timothy X Atack's script takes the audience's expectations of a Ninth Doctor Sontaran story and turns them on their head. Atack's handle on the Ninth Doctor is solid, too, and it's something that shines throughout as he crafts a tailor-made Sontaran story for this incarnation. To say how Atack does so would ruin the listening experience, but it's a heck of a twist with offers plenty of dramatic and comedic moments, something that brings out the best from not just Eccelston but Sontaran regular Dan Starkey and a welcome turn from Josie Lawrence. Put it all together, and Salvation Nine might be the best Sontaran story ever told.

The sense of this box-set being tailor-made for Eccelston's Doctor is apparent in the set's middle story. James Kettle's Last of the Zetacene is a sort of SF thriller seeing the Doctor getting mixed up with a group of ultra-wealthy types gambling for a grand prize. A prize that the Doctor, alongside Alice Feetham's Nel, gets involved in trying to win for their own sake: the titular swine. To say that Kettle's script feels as though it could have come for the screen in 2005 is to pay it a compliment, though it gives it a sense of familiarity that rather undermines some of its tension in its second half. Indeed, Kettle plays into tropes from several RTD-era episodes, including one from Eccelston's sole TV season. Eccelston's chemistry with Feetham and the appearance of Maureen O'Brien playing a villain makes it a fun listen, even if it feels a little too reminiscent in places.

Then there's Tim Foley's Break the Ice. Having written a Doctor Who Christmas special in the form of the previous set's Auld Lang Syne, Foley takes another crack at the format here. Like its predecessor in this set, Break the Ice leans into the RTD era by channeling a mix of horror and spectacle with its Christmas-set tale on a space station orbiting Venus. Foley avoids overly using exisiting tropes, partly through virtue of having Eccelston's Doctor to play with, but also its foe. Pip Torrens brings Foley's villain to life in all of his villainous glory, a genuine threat for this Doctor to face in dire circumstances. The real star of this episode might be Thalissa Teixeira as Dr. Lenni Fisk, the temporary companion for this episode, a scientist who finds herself spending Christmas away from their family and in a crisis in more ways than one. Listening to her interacting with Eccelston brings out the emotional beats of Foley's writing, including a brilliant speech from the Doctor at the end that left this reviewer wiping away tears. With a mix of Christmas special, horror, and emotional moments, Break the Ice brings the set to a close in style.

As with previous releases in this range, everyone is firing on all cylinders. Eccelston has well and truly settled back into the role, with the scripts here giving him plenty of material to play with, from the delightfully comedic to the emotionally powerful. Director Helen Goldwyn brings out not only the best in her Doctor but from her various supporting casts, as mentioned throughout this review. On the production side, composer Howard Carter offers a trio of cinematic scores influenced but not enslaved to Murray Gold's 2005 musical stylings. Meanwhile, Iain Meadows offers sweeping soundscapes that bring these three different tales to life.

From a top-class Sontaran story to a summertime release Christmas special, Into the Stars has plenty to offer for listeners. Indeed, it's worth purchasing on the back of those two episodes alone. Not to mention it lives up to its title, taking the Ninth Doctor beyond Earth and where he belongs:

Into the Stars.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Into the Stars is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 October 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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