This time a year ago, Christopher Eccleston‘s Ninth Doctor had one of the shortest tenures of any Time Lord, with just a single televised series of thirteen episodes. Jump forward, and, thanks to Big Finish, we now have twelve more audio adventures for Doctor number nine, with twelve more on their way over the next year too! From the hard sci-fi of Ravagers and the quieter, more contemplative Respond to All Calls, to the grittier historical tales in Lost Warriors, this first run of Ninth Doctor stories has been, by and large, very successful… but will the team at Big Finish stick the landing with this final boxset? Read on to find out…
1. “Fond Farewell” by David K Barnes
The Doctor arrives at Fond Farewell: an intergalactic funeral parlour where the dead attend their own funerals! He’s come here to say goodbye to his old friend, naturalist Flynn Beckett, but is shocked to discover that he has no memory of who he is. Who has stolen Flynn’s memories? And who is slowly killing off the guests at his funeral?
Fond Farewell definitely has one of the most interesting premises of any Doctor Who story, posing the question as to what would happen if you could go to your own funeral. Writer David K Barnes answers this question in a contemplative, profound script about memory, loss and bereavement which, while a little light on incident at times, is consistently thought-provoking.
The guest characters here are particularly strong, each one operating in a moral grey area, which adds some arresting nuance to this tale. From the resurrected Flynn Beckett (James Doherty) and his faithful assistant Sasha (Emily Taafe) to the officious Winifred Whitby (Juliet Stevenson) and her haunted AI Thomas (Charlie Hamblett), every member of the cast is on top form. The standout, however, has to be Sienna Guillory as grieving widow Idara, who gets some glorious emotional scenes towards the end of the story in which she really tugs at the listener’s heartstrings, ensuring that we completely empathise with her plight.
Overall, Fond Farewell is a highly creative story with some lovely character moments, though these are undercut somewhat by a slightly less interesting second act. A strong opener to the boxset, and a nice thematic segue into the finale.
2/3. “Way of the Burryman”/”The Forth Generation” by Roy Gill
The first series of Ninth Doctor Adventures comes to a close with this two-parter by Roy Gill, which sees our favourite Time Lord encounter some old friends, and some old enemies. Arriving in South Queensferry in the middle of the Burryman’s Parade, the Doctor encounters Sam Bishop and his girlfriend Fiona, who are taking part in the festivities. Before too long, the three find themselves investigating reports of hauntings at the Forth Bridge, and bump into the Brigadier, who is doing the same. What are the mysterious voices coming from inside the bridge? Who is the mysterious Kreel? And what does the Burryman have to do with all this?
Way of the Burryman/The Forth Generation is a gripping story from start to finish, and for many reasons. Firstly, we have the long-awaited meeting of the Ninth Doctor and the Brigadier (played here by Jon Culshaw), which is just fantastic. Hearing the straight-laced Brig meet up with this more rebellious Doctor is as delightful as you’d expect, and both Culshaw and Eccleston clearly relish bringing such an important moment to life. The scenes between the Brig and the Doctor here are some of the best parts of this story, tackling for the first time in this series the topic of how the Doctor has changed after the Time War, and why this means he no has a travelling companion.
Another highlight is the way in which Gill’s script delves into the history of the Forth Bridge and its surrounding areas. I knew next to nothing about the Burryman’s Parade or the bridge before listening to this story, so it was really interesting to learn all about this important part of Scottish cultural heritage. Gill’s script revolves around some gorgeous ideas about memory and history, and using the Forth Bridge to explore these ideas is both an inspired and successful move.
As previously mentioned, Warren Brown‘s Sam Bishop returns here, with Gill taking a look at his life before joining UNIT. Delving into this through his girlfriend Fiona, played wonderfully by Elinor Lawless, Gill’s scripts are some the best exploration of Sam’s character yet, drawing on what we already know about him and adding to it in ways that shed light on his appearances in other ranges. Lawless’s performance perfectly complements that of Brown, and serves as the emotional core of these two episodes; without a doubt, she’s the standout guest actor for this entire boxset.
Iain Meadows and Howard Carter do a great job with their post-production duties here, supplying evocative sound design and music throughout. Carter’s spooky Cyberman theme from previous stories returns here and is just as effective as ever, while Meadows expertly brings the script’s action sequences to life, with particular highlights being the attack on the train, and the emergence of the Cybermen from the Forth Bridge.
Overall, Way of the Burryman/The Forth Generation is an excellent finale to this series of adventures, giving us a long overdue meeting between the Ninth Doctor and the Brigadier, some great backstory for Sam Bishop, a gripping look at the history of the Forth Bridge and the Burryman’s Parade and, of course, a rematch with the sinister Cybermen! The second part is a little stronger than the first, kicking things up a notch, but as a complete story, this is a fantastic script.
Old Friends is the strongest release of 2022 so far, mixing epic and intimate, adventure and introspection to create a boxset that stick with the listener for a while after they’ve finished listening. Christopher Eccleston impresses throughout, his performance complemented by the likes of Jon Culshaw, Warren Brown, Sienna Guillory, Elinor Lawless and Nicholas Briggs. Complete with excellent music and sound design by Howard Carter and Iain Meadows, this set comes highly recommended. Bring on Series Two of the Ninth Doctor Adventures in May!
The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Old Friends is available on CD, as a download or as a limited-edition vinyl from http://www.bigfinish.com