Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Hidden Depths, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Hidden Depths, Review

Matthew Kresal takes the plunge and encounters some old friends.
If you had told this reviewer a few years ago that he'd be hearing not one but four Big Finish box sets with Christopher Eccelston reprising his Doctor in a calendar year, I'm not sure I'd have believed it. And yet that's what 2022 has brought those who follow the company's audio dramas. From encounters with Cybermen and the Brigadier in the finale of his first run of stories to a second season that's included one of the best Sontaran stories in any medium, it's been a banner year for the Ninth Doctor at Big Finish. Now, in the penultimate month of the year, there's one last treat for fans of Eccelston's Doctor that takes him into literal and proverbial Hidden Depths.

Lizbeth Myles kicks off the set with a dive into the seas of Saturn's moon Titan and an encounter with a familiar species from Doctor Who's history. Given the Sea Devils appeared on screen at Easter, it's surprising to have them appearing with this Doctor on audio so quickly. Doing so, though, is a welcome addition to the Ninth Doctor's canon of tales, thanks to Myles's script. To some extent, it's a traditional tale given that the presence of humans and Sea Devils alike means it's riffing somewhat on the 1970 story that introduced another prehistoric reptile to the series. Myles does manage to avoid some of the traps that the likes of 2010s The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood fell into in revisiting these creatures of the deep thanks to the futuristic setting and the post-Time War optimism of this Doctor. It's a solid story, allowing Eccelston's Doctor to shine as a hopeful peacemaker alongside Nicholas Briggs as the amphibian reptile’s leader..

Matters of war and peace make themselves felt in the middle episode. Lay Down Your Arms fits neatly into the pseudo-historical niche that Doctor Who has created for itself, being set as it is around a spa in the middle of mid-nineteenth-century Europe. One that introduces an all-too-brief companion in the form of Bertha (a delightful Kate Sissons), whose efforts to avoid her mother's matchmaking helps bring her into the Doctor's orbit before all hell breaks loose. Indeed, the chemistry between Sissons and Eccelston is among the best of the range to date, which makes the hour all the more enjoyable. Lisa McMullin presents an intriguing tale of the uncanny and alien amidst historical trappings, but one that offers a neatly done learning experience by the time that iconic Doctor Who arrangement brings it to a close. It's an education in more ways than one, with a message that hits all too close to our point in time and space.

More familiar faces pop up in the set's concluding episode. Or, rather voices, in the form of Nicola Walker and Rebecca Root reprising their roles as Liv and Tania, fresh off the recent Eighth Doctor run of Stranded. Something which makes it appropriate that John Dorney, who wrote some of that run's best entries, is here to give them and us the likes of Flatback. Anyone who dreads shopping and has ever felt they're never going to get out of a store will find plenty to identify with here as the former TARDIS travelers encounter this new to them incarnation of the Doctor in a place that seems endless. Not to mention, in long-standing Doctor Who tradition, offering a bit of commentary on corporations and consumer culture. Even so, Dorney doesn't lose sight of the human dramas here, from Liv and Tania's relationship to the characters reacting to seeing faces new and old. It's something that firmly anchors this episode both for this Doctor and wider BF canon, with Root half-jokingly saying in the extras that this audio might tempt listeners to check out Stranded. Indeed, Flatpack feels like a Ninth Doctor epilogue to a strand from the finale to Stranded (no pun intended) but also a fantastic episode in its own right.

As with previous releases in this range, it's clear that Eccelston is having a whale of a time doing these audios. After seven sets, he has well and truly settled back into the role, with the scripts here giving him plenty of material. 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. Yet when the scripts and direction call for the serious and emotional, Eccelston can turn on a dime for maximum effects, such as with his scenes with Walker's Liv in Flatpack. It's everything you could ask for his Doctor, something that makes listening to it all the more enjoyable.

And, from encounters with familiar faces to an enjoyable pseudo-historical, Hidden Depths is another solid entry in the Ninth Doctor Adventures. With a fourth and final set for this second season of audios arriving in February, now's a perfect time to take the plunge and give them a listen. And you could do a lot worse than explore some Hidden Depths along the way.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Hidden Depths is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 January 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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