The Ninth Doctor returns for his third boxset of audio adventures, and this time he’s travelling back in time, where he’ll encounter lost warriors from history, and from far beyond the stars.
1. “The Hunting Season” by James Kettle
The Doctor arrives at Duberry Hall in the 1930s, and finds it under siege from a race of voracious aliens known as the Fleshkin. Joining with the pompous Lord Hawthorn and his household, the Doctor must work out just what the Fleshkin want… and how to stop them.
Right from the off, The Hunting Season is rather a different type of story for the Ninth Doctor, thrusting him into a world of aristocracy and class divides, which seems at odds with his more rebellious persona. Despite that, not very much is done with this juxtaposition in the story; while you might expect this particular Doctor to be more blatantly anti-establishment, in fact, he’s quite flippant throughout, making sly digs at the Hawthorn family, but never properly laying into them. Especially given Christopher Eccleston‘s own political views, I think it would have been better to have the Doctor be far more forthright in his denunciation of the Hawthorns here, rather than the somewhat muted response we get here.
This sadly means the story isn’t quite as powerful as it might otherwise have been. Sure, we feel for the downtrodden servants in this story, and dislike the cruel upper class, but when the Doctor himself doesn’t really seem to care very much, it’s hard for the listener to really care either. Nevertheless, the central plot is at least intriguing, and nothing here is offensively bad in any way.
The guest cast for this story is quite strong, with Alex Jennings and Allegra Marland playing the cruel Hawthorns, and Don Gilet putting in a suitably slimy performance as sinister butler Streatham. Tilly Steele and Annette Badland are the standouts, however, as mistreated maid Alice and cuddly cook Mrs Goose, the only redeemable characters in the piece and, accordingly, the Doctor’s main allies for this adventure.
Overall, this is a fairly strong opener to the set, but one that might have benefited from a little more focus and a weightier central message. I think it also suffers from being the only story in this set which doesn’t revolve around real historical people and events, which gives it less of an impact. Despite all that, though, it’s still an entertaining way to spend an hour.
2. “The Curse of Lady Macbeth” by Lizzie Hopley
The Doctor encounters the real Lady Macbeth in the second story of the boxset: the appropriately-titled Curse of Lady Macbeth. Arriving in the Kingdom of Moray, our favourite Time Lord meets Queen Gruach (the real-life inspiration for Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth), who is in a spot of bother involving a group of hateful spirits known as the Fuath. But the Fuath are just a myth… aren’t they?
What a story! The Curse of Lady Macbeth drips with atmosphere right from the get-go, with writer Lizzie Hopley crafting a spooky, wintry tale perfect for this time of year. While the plot is a little all over the place, the way Hopley enhances the real-life story of Gruach and Macbeth with sci-fi elements is commendable, making this both an exciting and an educational adventure.
Neve McIntosh stars as the titular Lady Macbeth, perfectly portraying both Gruach’s steely, warrior-like attitude, and fierce, maternal compassion. I’ve seen other reviews saying that McIntosh was the perfect choice for this role, and I’d absolutely agree. Her performance is the highlight of this story, and her rapport with Eccleston is second only to the magnificent double act between the Doctor and Fred in Planet of the End. Brilliant stuff.
The rest of the guest cast is strong throughout, but there aren’t really any standout performances. The monsters, played by Maggie Service, are pretty strong, and lead to some great imagery, but, apart from that, this is really the Doctor and Gruach’s story.
Overall, The Curse of Lady Macbeth is an atmospheric and informative historical, whose slightly weaker plot is made up for with some strong characterisation, deft incorporation of historical context and great central performances from Eccleston and McIntosh.
3. “Monsters in Metropolis” by John Dorney
He’s faced Daleks, Autons and the Slitheen, but it’s finally time for the Ninth Doctor to go up against one of the most iconic monsters in the Doctor Who pantheon… the Cybermen! The final story in this collection takes the Doctor to Berlin, 1927, right in the middle of the production of Fritz Lang’s seminal sci-fi film Metropolis and, as the title suggests, not all is as it seems on set. The movie’s famous Machine Man is nowhere to be seen, and its role has been filled by none other than a Cyberman! But when there’s work to be done and a movie to be made, how can the Doctor ever hope to convince Lang to stop the production? And is there something more to the Cyberman than first appears?
First of all, let me say this: Monsters in Metropolis is Christopher Eccleston‘s best performance as the Ninth Doctor since his return in Ravagers earlier this year. Seriously, he’s on fire throughout this story, deftly leaping from excitement of being on the set of Metropolis, to horror at being being faced with a Cyberman, and finally to the cutting pathos of the story’s emotional final act. His final lines in this story quite literally sent chills down my spine; if it was at all in doubt before, Monsters in Metropolis absolutely seals the deal… the Ninth Doctor is well and truly back!
Each and every one of the guest cast is on top form as well, from Nick Wilton‘s spiky Fritz Lang and Helen Goldwyn‘s amiable pseudo-companion Anna Dreyfus, to Raj Ghatak‘s diva-ish Olaf Richter and Peter Bankolé‘s sinister, fascistic Dieter Jovanovic. Sometimes, just one weak or underused character can lose even a perfect story a couple of points, but Dorney ensures that everyone gets something to do here, meaning that Monsters in Metropolis.
The standout, however, has got to be Nicholas Briggs as the Cyberman. Without giving too much away, this is very much a different take on Doctor Who‘s second most iconic enemy, which is perfectly in keeping with the innovative, groundbreaking stories Christopher Eccleston got on TV. While Briggs is perfectly fine at the more customary, menacing parts of this role, he also gets to get his teeth into some more atypical emotional material, which is the highlight of this story. This is definitely one of Briggs’s best Cyberman performances in Who history.
The music and sound design in this story are absolutely excellent, with Iain Meadows crafting a stunning and atmospheric soundscape. His theme for the Cyberman is so effective and so recognisable that characters don’t even have to announce when the enemy is near like in other audio stories; the listener simply knows from the way the music changes. Truly excellent stuff.
Overall, this is definitely the best Ninth Doctor story Big Finish have produced so far, just eclipsing Timothy X Atack‘s superlative Planet of the End from the last boxset. Setting the Cybermen against the backdrop of post WW1 Germany, with the rise of fascism bubbling away in the background, is such an inspired idea, and gives this story such weight. Informative, emotional, well-written and brought to life by some fantastic performances, particularly from Christopher Eccleston and Nicholas Briggs, Monsters in Metropolis gets a very rare full marks from me. Flawless.
With two more traditional opening episodes, and an absolutely outstanding finale, Lost Warriors isn’t quite as consistent as its predecessor, Respond to All Calls, but it’s still a strong collection of stories. Christopher Eccleston‘s performance is, as a certain Time Lord would say, fantastic throughout, but comes to a head in his electrifying first confrontation with the Cybermen in Monsters in Metropolis, which might just be the strongest Big Finish story of the year. Highly recommended.
The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Lost Warriors is available on CD, as a download or on limited-edition vinyl from http://www.bigfinish.com