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It’s finally time. Sixteen years after his final appearance in The Parting of the Ways, the one and only Christopher Eccleston returns to his role as the Ninth Doctor! This new boxset, Ravagers, is the first of four releasing over the next year, and consists of three linked episodes written by Nicholas Briggs. But has it been worth the wait? Read on to find out!
1. “Sphere of Freedom”
A futuristic gaming complex. A Roman legion thrust into the 20th century. Mysterious tears in space-time. What could link these strange occurrences? That’s what the Doctor wants to find out. Sphere of Freedom starts in full-swing, with our favourite Time Lord already on the case, hopping through history to uncover just what’s going on. It’s a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute story that perfectly reintroduces Doctor number nine and sets up the overarching plot for the rest of the set.
Christopher Eccleston slips back into the role as if no time has passed, effortlessly recreating the cheeky irreverence of his character right from his very first line. This is, of course, in no small part due to Nicholas Briggs‘ script, which is full of dialogue that is totally authentic to this particular incarnation of the Doctor, aiding in Eccleston’s wonderful reprisal of the character. Seriously, it’s just so great to hear the Ninth Doctor back after so long, and such a novelty is definitely the biggest strength of this boxset.
While these stories are set long before Rose joins him on his travels, the Doctor is by no means alone on this adventure. Throughout this story, we encounter feisty galley chef Nova (Camilla Beeput), the wizened and secretive Audrey (Jane McKenna) and the officious British army Captain Halloran (Jamie Parker), all of whom aid the Doctor on his quest to solve the mystery of the time eddies. The former two characters are probably the most interesting, with both uncovering different sides of the Doctor’s personality with their respective relationships to him.
From rioting Roman soldiers to the high-tech Sphere of Freedom, Iain Meadows‘ sound design brings the world of the story to life perfectly, while Howard Carter supplies a suitably bombastic store that apes Murray Gold‘s orchestral style effectively. All of this adds to the excitement of the return of the Ninth Doctor, giving it the gravitas such an important occasion deserves.
Overall, this is a strong reintroduction to the Ninth Doctor, starting off in the thickness of the action and, as Briggs says in the Behind the Scenes feature, showing the Time Lord at his heroic best. Good stuff.
With Nova fighting for her life on an alien planet, and the villainous Audrey concocting a dastardly plan, the Doctor must race forwards and backwards in time to save the universe from certain doom. Cataclysm, as its name suggests, is a suitably apocalyptic story, with a strong and palpable sense of urgency as our favourite Time Lord valliantly fights back at the impossible situation he’s found himself in. There’s more than a flavour of Steven Moffat in this script, what with all the timey-wimey shenanigans and the Doctor visiting a certain chararacter far in the past, which means that it’s full of spectacle, but equally that it’s a little muddled at points.
This is the first time we really get to see the Doctor and Nova together… and what a pairing they make! Christopher Eccleston and Camilla Beeput have undeniably strong chemistry even before you take into account Nicholas Briggs‘ script, which plays their characters off of one another perfectly, really putting this Doctor/companion-esque pairing at the heart of the story. Meanwhile, Jayne McKenna continues to impress as Audrey, showing off lots of different sides to her character as the Doctor jumps back and forth through her timeline in an effort to suss her out.
Overall, while the plot of this middle instalment is a little hard to follow, and at times rather clichéd, the strong performances and character moments, as well as a well-executed cliffhanger, help to push it above average.
3. “Food Fight”
Everything comes together in Food Fight, the final instalment of the boxset, which sees the Doctor and Nova finally take on the villainous Audrey… and come face-to-face with the terrifying, voracious Ravagers in the process! While, as with the previous story, things do get a little complicated and confusing plot-wise, it’s remarkable how Nicholas Briggs ties up all of the loose ends from earlier on in the boxset, even if some ideas are a little underdeveloped.
The Doctor and Nova once again shine here, with Briggs giving their characters the bulk of the action, though some of the lesser-seen characters from earlier in the set, like Captain Halloran, Lieutenant Farraday and Marcus Aurelius Gallius also get their moments in the spotlight. There are also some other callbacks to the earlier episodes, with Briggs ensuring that even the smallest things from Sphere of Freedom and Cataclysm have a chance to add to the story, like the drones from episode 2 or the VR games from episode 1.
Sadly, where this episode stumbles a little is with the titular Ravagers, who appear only very briefly (brought to life by Clare Corbett) and, as such, feel a little underdeveloped. It puts me in mind of the Ravenous, from the titular Eighth Doctor series, who were similarly one-note despite the whole thing being named after them. It’s a shame, because from what little we see of them, I felt there was potential for the Ravagers to have had a lot more time to shine.
Overall, this is a strong conclusion to the boxset which, once again, succeeds foremost due to the performances, and then due to the script.
This is a brilliant way to bring the Ninth Doctor back into the fold, thrusting him into a three-hour epic full of twists and turns, new friends and terrifying enemies. The story isn’t necessarily the most gripping, and sometimes gets a little confusing, but the characters and performances are all on point. Special praise should definitely go to Camilla Beeput and Jayne McKenna as Nova and Audrey, who put in strong performances throughout, but the star of the show is undeniably Christopher Eccleston, who slips back into the role after sixteen years as if no time has passed, aided by writer Nicholas Briggs‘ strong handle on his character. Add to that some gorgeous cover art by Tom Webster and post-production from Iain Meadows and Howard Carter, and, well, there’s only one word to talk about this release… Fantastic!
The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Ravagers is available now on CD, as a download or on limited-edition vinyl from http://www.bigfinish.com