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14 May 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Three brand new adventures featuring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, written by Nicholas Briggs.

1.1 Sphere of Freedom

On the Sphere of Freedom, the Doctor is about to shut down an evil Immersive Games business empire. He’s assisted by a valiant galley chef called Nova. But his plan spectacularly fails... And who exactly is Audrey?

1.2 Cataclysm

Nova is dislocated in time while the Time Eddies are out of control. Meanwhile, the Doctor is about to face the end of the universe. Or is that just the Battle of Waterloo?

1.3 Food Fight 

The TARDIS is starting to get a little crowded! Audrey finds herself haunted by a ghostly Doctor."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

This isn’t a sentence I ever thought I’d get the opportunity to write, but after 16 years away, Christopher Eccleston is finally back as the Ninth Doctor in Ravagers, a boxset of three brand new episodes courtesy of Big Finish Productions

I’m cutting to the chase here, but it’s absolutely incredible to hear Christopher Eccleston back in the role. I never thought it would happen, but he’s back, and it doesn’t sound like he’s ever been away. Within seconds of the first episode starting, he is, without a doubt, the Doctor again. There’s no adjustment period, no shaky moments, or times where you’re not sure whether he’s fully in the role yet — he’s just the Ninth Doctor, from minute one all the way through to the end. I was instantly transported back to 2005 listening to these adventures, back to being 8 years old curled up on the sofa, watching this mad, mysterious, brilliant man save the universe. It was, in short, an amazing experience listening to this boxset. 

Ravagers, the first of four (and hopefully more) volumes starring the Ninth Doctor, is a series of three inter-connected episodes. Set Pre-Rose, these stories see the Doctor go up against an enormous gaming business empire that is using time itself to provide its rich clients with incredible, yet stupidly dangerous, immersive video game experiences. The Doctor, teaming up with Nova, his companion-of-sorts, must stop the game business empire’s plans, or risk the end of the universe itself.

The first episode, Sphere of Freedom, throws us straight into the action, mid-adventure, with the Doctor and Nova (Camilla Beeput) defeating the games corporation’s plans, until everything goes wrong and Nova is taken by a time-eddy. The Doctor then meets the mysterious Audrey and fills her in on everything that’s happened, giving us an opportunity to see what led to him attempting to stopping the gaming empire in the first place. 

This episode is a hell of a lot of fun, mostly in part to the fantastic chemistry between the Doctor and Audrey (Jayne McKenna), as they banter, snark, and flirt with each other as the Doctor tells her his story. But it’s also fun because we get to listen to him travel to London in 1959 and stop a battle between a Roman legion and British soldiers from breaking out, track time eddy’s, and team up with galley chef Nova in an attempt to bring down the gaming empire on the Sphere of Freedom. It’s a really strong start to the set, provides us with a compelling mystery, and leaves us with a gripping cliffhanger that ensures that you’ll be desperate to listen to more.

The second episode, Cataclysm, is a bit slower than the first episode, but just as entertaining. It’s a lot more timey-wimey than any of the Ninth Doctor’s adventures on television, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. It follows the Doctor as he tries to escape Audrey’s traps, find Nova, and stop the universe from imploding, which has already happened. Sort of. It’s definitely an episode that you’re going to have to pay full attention to, that’s for sure. 

The Doctor and Nova’s dynamic is great, and they bounce off of each other really well throughout the boxset. Nova is very different from Rose, and so is her relationship with the Doctor. Whilst both characters’ main reason for accompanying the Doctor on his travels is to experience a better life, Nova is tougher, snarkier, and far less trusting of the Doctor than Rose is, which is a lot of fun. It’s great that we’ve got a completely different companion for the Doctor in this boxset too, rather than just a simple carbon copy of Rose, which I admit I was worried would be the case when this boxset was first announced. I’m glad to see that I was proven wrong. 

The final episode, Food Fight, is also the episode that wraps up the whole Ravagers arc. The Doctor and Nova, along with all the characters we’ve met along the way unite to launch one final attack on the gaming empire in an attempt to save the universe. If you thought the last episode was a bit timey-wimey, wait until you listen to this one. 

Whilst Food Fight does get a bit complicated at times and does take a lot of concentration to fully keep up with, it wraps up the Ravagers storyline well, and leaves us counting down the days until the next volume of the Ninth Doctor’s adventures is released! 

The monsters of the plays, the titular Ravagers, don’t really make much of an appearance in these episodes. Though they are largely absent from proceedings, their presence is still felt very strongly throughout. 

Whilst the cast are all excellent and give great performances throughout, Eccleston, McKenna, and Beeput in particular, praise must also be given to the team who made all of this happen, in particular scriptwriter and executive producer, Nicholas Briggs. I was so impressed with the three scripts he’s written for this boxset, and he absolutely nails the Ninth Doctor here. This isn’t a Doctor who’s moping about the Time War or upset about being the last of the Time Lords, this is a version of the Ninth Doctor who’s having the time of his life, who’s full of energy, and who’s full of hope. Briggs captures all of that and more in the three brilliant scripts he’s penned for this boxset. A huge round of applause for all involved, both behind the scenes and in front of the microphones.

If I have any criticisms at all, it’s that the timey-wimey does become a bit too much and a bit too confusing to keep up with at times, but that could just be a personal thing. Other than that incredibly minor issue, this is a well-written, brilliantly performed boxset featuring a Christopher Eccleston who you can just tell is having a whale of a time back in the role, and that’s the best thing about it. It’s also so refreshing that the boxset is sort of disconnected from the 2005 series too. It’s set before the events of Rose, before Nine burst back onto our screen, and so the story possibilities are almost endless. 

I can’t quite believe that this boxset is a real thing. I never, ever thought Eccleston would come back to the worlds of Doctor Who, but I am so, so glad that he is. If Ravagers is anything to go by, I really can’t wait to see what Big Finish have up their sleeves next. I know that there are adventures with the Cybermen and the Brigadier yet to come for the Ninth Doctor, and if I wasn’t excited before, I definitely am now. August can’t come soon enough.

There’s only one word to describe this boxset really, isn’t there... and I think everyone knows what it is. You guessed it. Fantastic! 

+ The 9th Doc. Adventures: Ravagers is OUT NOW, priced £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (D/L).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

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