After three Earth-based adventures in Back to Earth (review here), the Ninth Doctor heads Into the Stars, where he’ll encounter a troupe of very strange Sontarans, a group of rich criminals endangering the last of the Zetacene and Jack Frost himself! Read on for my thoughts!
1. “Salvation Nine” by Timothy X Atack
The planet Salvation Nine is home to a very peculiar group of Sontarans, for whom war is an alien concept. Arriving there, the Doctor falls in with these Sontarans, who call themselves the Niners, and discovers the truth of how they came to shed their warlike ways. But the Niners’ peaceful existence is about to be shattered as the Navarch Al-Hannin and her fleet move in to destroy Salvation Nine. Can the Doctor prove to the Navarch that the Niners aren’t a threat? Or will the story of the only good Sontarans in history come to a tragic end?
Ever since the tantalising mention in Planet of the End that the Ninth Doctor had faced the Sontarans, I’ve been looking forward to the day Big Finish would show us their encounter. Thankfully, I can report that Timothy X Atack‘s script was no disappointment, not only doing something new by showing the Doctor encountering peaceful Sontarans, but also incorporating more traditional Sontarans too, making this the best of both worlds. There are also some intriguing expansions to Sontaran lore throughout the story which are pretty wacky, but make perfect sense.
Dan Starkey reprises his role as the Sontarans, playing both the affable Lobbs and the more malevolent Henx. He’s joined by Josie Lawrence as Gaznak, the first female Sontaran we’ve seen. Both do a great job at some of the more comedic material in Atack’s script, while also adeptly handling the story’s darker elements. Their strong performances bring out the best in Christopher Eccleston, who taps into the more brooding side of the Ninth Doctor from the TV series to great effect here.
Overall, this is the strongest story in the boxset, mixing comedy and emotion to great effect. Once again Timothy X Atack proves himself one of the best writers working with Big Finish at the moment. Good stuff.
2. “Last of the Zetacene” by James Kettle
On spaceport Stage Three, a group of rich criminals play a high-stakes game for the rarest prizes. The Doctor stumbles onto the scene and, along with recently-unemployed Nel, attempts to hoodwink the crooked Selo and her gang in order to save the last of the Zetacene swine. It soon transpires, however, that the Zetacene may be more than just an animal, and that it has its own plans for its captors…
Last of the Zetacene is a fast-paced, exciting story full of strange concepts and weird-and-wonderful characters. It’s not quite like a Russell T Davies future-set story, eschewing the focus on humanity in favour of building a new society, but it has the same spark and sense of fun, meaning this feels like the kind of story that could definitely have been broadcast as part of the 2005 series of Doctor Who.
The guest cast is led by Alice Feetham as the plucky Nel, who fills the companion role for this story. While her character isn’t hugely well-developed, she’s well-performed and works well alongside the Ninth Doctor. Maureen O’Brien also appears here as the villainous Selo, and gives an impressively different performance to her usual turn as First Doctor companion Vicki, while Martyn Ellis gives a wonderful scenery-chewing performance as self-described scent collector the Rotter.
Overall, Last of the Zetacene is a fun and sometimes thought-provoking story, though it’s one that could definitely have done with another draft. It doesn’t really feel like it’s about anything, which is odd considering the comparison between the last of the Zetacene and the Doctor, the last of the Time Lords, is ripe for exploration. For what it is, though, this is a strong story.
3. “Break the Ice” by Tim Foley
On a chilly space station whose scientists are experimenting with cryogenics, an ancient and powerful force awakens. Joining with scientist Lennie Fisk, the Doctor must do battle with Jack Frost, the last of the Winter Gods. Can the Doctor defeat this frigid foe and save Lennie in time for Christmas Day?
Break the Ice is a fairly traditional base-under-siege story elevated by a strong villain and a great companion figure in Lennie. The plot and its structure is pretty standard, with nothing hugely groundbreaking taking place, but Tim Foley‘s worldbuilding, both with regard to the villainous Jack Frost and the time and place in which the story take place, is well-done and creative.
Christopher Eccleston is joined here by Thalissa Teixeira, who gives a pleasingly understated performance as Lennie Fisk. She shares some great chemistry with Eccleston, while Foley gives her the kind of subtle but highly effective character arc that consistently makes his scripts so good. Meanwhile, Pip Torrens is chilling (pun intended) as villain Jack Frost, an interesting new creation who doesn’t get quite as much air time as I’d like, but who I would definitely love to hear more from in the future. And, judging by the post-credits sequence, it seems that wish may well come true…
Overall, Break the Ice is probably the least effective story in Into the Stars, but it’s still a strong script, which is a testament to Foley’s writing and the efforts of the cast. An effective conclusion to the set.
Into the Stars continues the successful trend set by previous Ninth Doctor Adventures boxsets, consisting of three strong stories teeming with great ideas and effective side characters. None of the stories here are particularly high-concept, but they have some excellent worldbuilding and the entire cast is on top form throughout. Add to that Howard Carter and Iain Meadows‘ impressive sound design and music, and Into the Stars is one of the highlights of Big Finish‘s output so far this year. Highly recommended.
Into the Stars is available on CD, as a download or on limited-edition vinyl from http://www.bigfinish.com