Released on Doctor Who‘s 59th anniversary is Hidden Depths: the latest collection of Ninth Doctor audio adventures from Big Finish! This time, the Doctor will explore hidden depths and face unseen dangers as he does battle with the villainous Sea Devils, visits a German health spa in the 1860s, and encounters old friends Liv Chenka and Tania Bell once more.
1. “The Seas of Titan” by Lizbeth Myles
The Doctor arrives on Titan, Saturn’s moon, and joins an expedition exploring its icy oceans. It soon transpires that humanity is not the only race on Titan, however; the Sea Devils came here millennia ago and have set up a civilisation at the bottom of the sea. With the humans planning to seize Titan’s natural resources, what might this mean for the Sea Devils?
Aside from being set on Titan, The Seas of Titan is very much like any other Sea Devil or Silurian story we’ve all heard dozens of times before. Humans discover Sea Devils? Check. Humans and Sea Devils declare war on one another? Check. Sigh. All of the returning monsters in the Ninth Doctor Adventures series so far have been used in new and creative ways (i.e.: Timothy X Atack‘s use of the Sontarans in the last boxset), but nothing here is really new or exciting at all, which is a real shame.
Sadly, the guest characters, while well-performed, aren’t very well developed either, another oddity compared to the other stories in this range. Sasha Behar is at least entertaining as scientist Diana Hendry, while Nicholas Briggs and Yasmin Mwanza put in reliable performances as the Sea Devils.
All in all, this is the prime example of a bread-and-butter Doctor Who story. It’s well told and performed, but the story and characters are unoriginal and, frankly, uninspired.
2. “Lay Down Your Arms” by Lisa McMullin
1864. At the Bad Homburg thermal spa, future housekeeper to Alfred Nobel, Bertha Kinzky, meets the mysterious Herr Schmidt, who shows her a world beyond her wildest dreams. As tensions rise between visitors of the spa, and something terrible rises up from beneath the ground, Bertha finds herself contending with something far worse than her mother’s incessant matchmaking… aliens!
Lay Down Your Arms is one of those stories you know will be good right from the very first scene. Lisa McMullin writes a funny, action-packed and thought-provoking script full of quirky, likable characters and with a really creative new villain at its heart. The plot does reach its resolution quite abruptly, but there’s a lovely coda where we catch up with Bertha and learn more about her life after her adventure with the Doctor.
The highlight of this tale is the interplay between Christopher Eccleston and Kate Sissons, who plays Bertha. She makes an excellent pseudo-companion here, and is an interesting real-life historical figure to use in a Doctor Who story. She’s not someone I had heard of before, but after listening to Lay Down Your Arms, I’m definitely interested in learning more about who she was.
The rest of the cast are on similarly sparkling form. Diana Quick is highly entertaining as Bertha’s overbearing, highly spiritual mother Sophie (whose spirit guide Dolores is a hilarious idea), while Joseph Kloska puts in a strong performance as hapless spa owner Husseldorf. Meanwhile, Jamie Parker makes for a memorable villain in his role as Trinity, who I’d definitely be interested in hearing from again in the future.
Overall, this is a strong story: one with some gloriously creative ideas at its heart, and one that manages to do an impressive amount with just an hour of runtime. Great stuff.
3. “Flatpack” by John Dorney
Liv Chenka and Tania Bell are spending their day like any normal couple might: going shopping for furniture. But their normal Sunday is about to be turned upside down as they visit Flatpack, a labyrinthine DIY store, where they bump into an old friend with a new face. Trapped within the store and hounded by mysterious figures in masks, the Doctor, Liv and Tania must face off against a very familiar set of foes, or risk being lost in Flatpack forever!
Flatpack, which definitely isn’t based on a certain chain of Scandinavian furniture shops, was the story that I, and I’m sure a lot of people, were most anticipating in this boxset. The Ninth Doctor, who famously had very few ties to his past during his run on TV, meeting not one but two old companions… and written by John Dorney no less? Surely this was the recipe for a classic?
Well, sadly that’s not quite the case. While Flatpack has an interesting central concept, and it’s nice to hear Christopher Eccleston interacting with Nicola Walker and Rebecca Root, I didn’t think the script went far enough with the implications of the Ninth Doctor reuniting with his old friends. We recently had a whole boxset of the Tenth Doctor meeting classic companions and, while there are some nice scenes in this story, nothing even comes close to come of the great interactions and character moments in that release.
The best part of this tale is Christopher Eccleston, who gets to put in a very different performance to usual, as the Doctor is placed in a very unusual predicament. It’s quite noticeable how much more invigorated he sounds playing this version of the Doctor compared to his performance as the regular Ninth Doctor… so maybe Eccleston needs to be challenged a bit more in future stories so that his performance remains dynamic and interesting?
Overall, this is an entertaining story to be sure, with some strong performances from the cast, but it really doesn’t do enough with the reunion between the Doctor, Liv and Tania, and this drags it down a fair amount.
Unfortunately, Hidden Depths is probably the weakest Ninth Doctor Adventures boxset so far. Though Lay Down Your Arms and Flatpack were by no means bad stories, neither hit the heights of some of the previous boxsets’ standout episodes, and this, coupled with the fact that The Seas of Titan was decidedly average, really dragged the overall score of this set down. The fact that this is still getting such a high score, though, just goes to show that even the least good Ninth Doctor Adventures are still of great merit and so, even though Hidden Depths isn’t quite as good as other instalments in this series, it still comes recommended.
The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Hidden Depths is available on CD, as a download or as a limited-edition vinyl from http://www.bigfinish.com