❉ Christopher Eccleston’s on top form, in a set that may be one of the best jumping-on points in Big Finish’s catalogue, writes Ezekiel Thorp.
Christopher Eccleston made no secret of the fact he thought Doctor Who was behind him for so many years, so it’s hard to believe he’s now recorded an entire new series of audio adventures. Big Finish released fourth box set Old Friends last month, featuring two stories which make a fitting finale to this landmark in Doctor Who audio.
The set opens with Fond Farewell, an excellent story by David K Barnes where the Doctor visits a planet with the custom of the dead attending their own funerals! It’s an idea with lots of potential, and one which is pleasingly explored to its full extent, with lots of confusion from the Doctor as he tries to work our how such a thing is possible, and the morality of the practice is discussed with thought-provoking sensitivity.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn Christopher Eccleston’s on top form, as he’s been in all his audio stories so far. He re-captures his Doctor of 2005 perfectly and adds to the portrayal on top of that, especially in a scene calling out class disparity which of course connects to Eccleston himself on a real-life level.
With the fast-paced energy of the best new series stories, and a talented supporting cast who help bring the world alive, Fond Farewell is a delight to listen to. You may be tempted to skip ahead to the finale itself, but you’d be robbing yourself of an engaging and very meaningful hour of Doctor Who.
That finale is composed of two episodes, Way of the Burryman and The Forth Generation, both by Roy Gill. Suitably mimicking the re-introduction of the Daleks in the Ninth Doctor’s TV era, the Cybermen return en masse this time round, following a solo appearance in last box set Lost Warriors, and you can rest assured they’re definitely as scary as ever.
Of course, the Cybermen aren’t the only familiar faces in the finale. The eponymous Old Friends are provided by the iconic Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, once again voiced by Jon Culshaw, and Sam Bishop, the UNIT operative from Big Finish’s spin-off played by much-underappreciated actor Warren Brown.
Given that the Ninth Doctor versus the Cybermen is already enough of a draw, you’d be forgiven for thinking their inclusion one fan indulgence too many, even sheer marketing ploy for other ranges if you were cynical enough. Thankfully, things are far from that simple.
Both characters are genuinely deserving of their places here, with the Brigadier ticking another Doctor off his list and giving the Ninth Doctor a way to connect with the classic series he never could on TV. Jon Culshaw characterises the Brig with a warm evocation of Nick Courtney’s voice which serves as a fitting tribute for the late actor, and it’s pleasing to explore the Brig’s life after UNIT which was only very briefly touched on in TV Doctor Who.
Meanwhile, Warren Brown is on top form as always, as he tells us the story of how Sam actually came to be involved in UNIT, and Casualty’s Elinor Lawless gives beautiful voice to Sam’s girlfriend Fiona, rising to the difficult task of being a Doctor Who newcomer in a story that’s a prequel and sequel to about five different things at once. You can tell in the behind-the-scenes extras she had a blast playing the story, and she’s an actor with hopefully more than one Who credit on the CV.
With a distinctly Scottish flavour, a nautical theme that’ll go down well with fans of Vigil and probably some of the rawest scenes ever committed to audio, this is Big Finish’s Doctor Who at its very best. Performances are beautiful, and it’s a sheer joy to spend two hours in its company.
New listeners can rest assured any connections to other ranges are loose at best, this is a finale that stands on its own two feet and it’s not essential to be an expert on Doctor Who audio before you start. Ironically enough, this may be one of the best jumping-on points in Big Finish’s catalogue.
Christopher Eccleston’s known for appreciating good writing, and it’s not hard to see why he came back to Doctor Who if these were the scripts he was shown. Series two’s got a very hard job if it wants to top either of these stories.
DOCTOR WHO – THE NINTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: OLD FRIENDS
Written by: David K Barnes, Roy Gill
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: Matt Fitton
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery
Duration: 244 minutes
Released: 16 February 2022, exclusively from the Big Finish website.
❉ Doctor Who – The Ninth Doctor Adventures:Old Friends is now available to own as a download (for just £19.99), a collector’s edition CD (+ download for £24.99), or a limited-edition triple LP vinyl (+ download £35.99) exclusively from www.bigfinish.com. Big Finish listeners can save by ordering a bundle of the entire series for just £88 (as a collector’s edition box set) or £78 (as a download).
❉ This is Ezekiel’s third article for We Are Cult, having previously reviewed box sets for The Diary of River Song and Peladon in-between watching too much Casualty and tweeting old DWA covers on his Twitter @Praxeus_stan.