After having spent a whole set on Earth it’s a refreshing change to allow this Doctor to go into space, something he rarely does on audio or TV. Coupled with that, the first meeting of the Ninth Doctor and the Sontarans, plus a chilling encounter with Jack Frost and this set has a lot going for it. With Christopher Eccleston in full stride at this point, we’re always guaranteed a fantastic performance so let’s see what we’ve got…
Sontaran stories often retain a formula. Waging war, invading planets, mention the Rutans… So it’s lovely to see a completely new take on them even if it’s somewhat reminiscent of 2020’s The Moonrakers in parts. The Sontarans are one of the best villains of the show but reputation fails them in recent years and as such, to see them in this scenario is a relief.
Eccleston gets to do that rare story where the Doctor is genuinely surprised at events and as such we get a stellar performance. We always do but by this point he’s so easily refined it once more that it’s hard to imagine he ever left were it not for the slight change in vocals. Dan Starkey gets to shine as both the good and the bad versions, while Josie Lawrence’s Gaznak is a proper highlight.
The episode never lets up and keeps changing the direction as to keep the listener on their toes and allows for good Sontarans in a regular Sontaran situation, leading to tense moments and the perfect amount of comedy. It’s not often a resolution feels as triumphant and satisfying as this but Timothy X Atack has once again crafted one of the best offerings of the range…
LAST OF THE ZETACENE
Every set is guaranteed to have at least one story that’s not as up to scratch and unfortunately Zetacene falls into that category. The environment is rich and very Star Wars esque while hints of Casino Royale litter proceedings which plays to the story’s benefit and you can tell Eccleston is having fun but that’s almost where it stops…
Midway through, the episode changes from a high-stakes gamble to save the last of a race to your typical base-under-siege adventure and begins to lose steam. The side cast are serviceable while Alice Feetham’s Nel who is yet another could-have-been companion and proves herself throughout the story. There’s even a fun little reference acknowledging this at the story’s conclusion, but otherwise it leads to nothing.
The Zetacene-Swine is practically non-existent and the Doctor doesn’t feel as insistent or urgent as he perhaps should have been about saving the creature, and the Gyra have zero bearing on the plot whatsoever, but Maureen O’Brien is clearly enjoying playing opposite another Doctor, if in the villain role this time. It’s lovely to start to see some of those elements of Nine from the TV show finally begin to rear their head such as the sarcasm dripping from the Doctor throughout, something these audio adventures have sorely lacked.
Overall however, there’s not much to the episode and is very much filler for the series.
BREAK THE ICE
After the brilliance of Salvation Nine, Break the Ice fights for the throne of the set with an absolutely fantastic story. The simplest and most traditional offering in the box set, Ice is proof of why the Doctor Who formula works so well.
The Christmas special that Eccleston never got, here we’re treated to a frosty, tense time with the best villain of the entire range as of yet and Simon Sheperd oozes with menace and self-importance that really makes you believe he’s a threat. He’s the Ninth Doctor’s equivalent of Sutekh or the Gods of Ragnarok, just without the phenomenal power they possessed, and his bouncing of Eccleston is a delight. His defeat may be a little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (or the audio equivalent) but that doesn’t detract.
Eccleston is once again on fine form and his dynamic with Thalissa Teixeira’s Lenni Fisk is probably one of the best yet. The whole Ninth Doctor Adventures range is full of characters who work so, so well with the Ninth Doctor and it’s a huge shame we’ll only ever see them once due to the nature of when these stories are set. Teixeira is a wonderfully layered character and just feels human in the way characters sometimes don’t achieve. From her worries about her son, to her determination throughout she’s utterly believable.
As with Zetacene, another aspect of this Doctor finally is allowed to come out and play, after it’s tiny debut in Planet of the End last year. This story really allows for the Doctor’s disgust at corporate greed and self-absorbed delusions of power to take a place on the stage, something that the Ninth Doctor in particular was always against and was vocal about on screen. Here he gets to rip into Pip Torrens’ Kenton and you really get to see the internal annoyance of this incarnation.
In and amongst all the action, though, there’s times for conversation about mental health and the struggles people go through which really adds another layer to the episode and continues to elevate it. The last scene in particular is really lovely, properly Christmas (in… August.) with the Doctor once again taking on a kind of Santa Claus role for young children and who could ask for anything more?
There’s a whole host of interviews on this set, covering each episode and they’re a delight. For Salvation Nine Eccleston is full of praise, calling it his favourite script, while writer Timothy X Atack discusses the script’s origins as an episode set in Feudal Japan while Dan Starkey discusses his return to Doctor Who playing the Sontarans once again in Flux.
In the behind the scenes interviews for Last of the Zetacene, Maureen O’Brien’s talks her return to the worlds of Doctor Who, while James Kettle discusses the evolution of the script and the Doctor’s character. Finally, those involved in Break the Ice are full of praise for the character of Jack Frost, while Eccleston commends the script for the discussions of mental health it raises and how it can relate to fans and their experiences at cons.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
The Ninth Doctor Adventures range is not Big Finish‘s best by any means. Mostly they’re average to good stories with a couple of duds but rarely ever have a truly great episode. Thankfully though, recently that’s been starting to change. Perhaps partly due to the amount of stories Eccleston has now done, perhaps due to the writers honing on the best aspects of his character, even if we still lack the distinct Time War angst that was his core.
Luckily for us, this set in particular stands with the previous August box set for the range, Respond to All Calls, as one of the finest offerings yet. While Zetacene may be a little lacklustre, the other two episodes are some of the best Ninth Doctor we’ve gotten on audio and stand tall with last November’s Monsters in Metropolis, May’s Auld Lang Syne (written by Tim Foley who also wrote Break the Ice) and last August’s Planet of the End as the best yet. The future looks bright.
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – Into the Stars is available to purchase from the Big Finish site here and goes on general sale on October 31st 2022
Distant worlds, alien cultures, vessels of exploration – the Doctor is never more at home than when he’s out among the stars.
But that’s where travellers face the greatest dangers, and where the Doctor’s help is needed most…
2.1 Salvation Nine by Timothy X Atack
The Doctor happens upon an unusual outpost – and discovers it is about to be annihilated.
To save Salvation Nine, he must rally a people for whom war is an alien concept and protect the future of the Sontaran race!
2.2 Last of the Zetacene by James Kettle
The rich and the criminal rub shoulders on Stage Three spaceport – and play high-stakes games for valuable prizes.
The Doctor is always interested in endangered species, and the Zetacene is more endangered than most…
2.3 Break the Ice by Tim Foley
On a chilly space station, the Doctor meets a group of scientists experimenting with cryogenics.
But when one subject returns from extreme sub-zero temperatures, he does not return alone. A creature awakens that can freeze the soul with icy fingers – Jack Frost
Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor)
Lily Bevan (Antinav Floris)
Nicolas Colicos (Succeeding / Robot)
Martyn Ellis (The Rotter / Delius)
Alice Feetham (Nel)
Josie Lawrence (Gaznak)
Amy Manson (Jeanie / System)
Maureen O’Brien (Selo / First Gyra)
Joanne Pearce (Luton / Second Gyra)
Pooja Shah (Navarch Al-Hanin)
Simon Shepherd (Pal Andrews)
Dan Starkey (Sontaran)
Thalissa Teixeira (Dr Lenni Fisk)
Pip Torrens (Kenton)
Cover Art by Caroline Tankersley
Director Helen Goldwyn
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music by Howard Carter
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Sound Design by Iain Meadows
Written by Timothy X Atack, James Kettle & Tim Foley