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27 August 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Lisa McMullin, Tim Foley & Timothy X Atack

RRP: £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Three brand new adventures featuring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.

2.1 Girl, Deconstructed by Lisa McMullin

Marnie is missing. But she hasn't run away, as her dad fears - Marnie is still very much at home. But not quite as she was.

The Doctor joins forces with Missing Persons detective Jana Lee to help solve the mystery of a girl who's gone to pieces.

2.2 Fright Motif by Tim Foley

In post-War Paris, musician Artie Berger has lost his mojo, but gained a predator - something that seeps through the cracks of dissonance to devour the unwary.

Luckily for Artie, the Doctor is here. Unluckily for everyone, he needs bait to trap a monster...

2.3 Planet Of The End by Timothy X Atack

The Doctor arrives on a mausoleum world for sightseeing and light pedantry, correcting its planetary records. The resident AI has other ideas.

Deep within a tomb, something stirs. Occasus is the last resting place of a species far too dangerous to exist. And the Doctor is its way back."

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

Christopher Eccleston is back again in Respond to All Calls, the second volume in Big Finish’s Ninth Doctor Adventures series. In three more adventures spanning the past, a future world, and Dundee, the Ninth Doctor literally does what the title of the boxset suggests, and responds to all distress calls that come his way.

The boxset gets off to a very strong start with Girl, Deconstructed, which was written by Lisa McMullin. Set in Dundee in 2004, this story follows Missing Persons detective Jana Lee (Pearl Appleby) who is on the hunt for children who have seemingly vanished into thin air. Meanwhile, the Doctor is tracking a distress call from Marnie (Mirren Mack), a young Scottish girl who’s disappeared too…or has she?

In my opinion, this is the strongest story of the set, and easily my favourite so far from both volumes. The story was engaging and kept me hooked right until the very end, the performances from all involved, Eccleston, Appleby, and Mack, in particular, were excellent, and I felt as though I knew the characters inside out by the time the end credits rolled. Unlike the stories from the last volume, this really did feel like it could have easily have slotted into Series One in 2005. That’s not a criticism of the last boxset, by the way, it’s just the down to Earth nature of Girl, Deconstructed was more in keeping with the feel of Series One, that’s all. 

The small cast of characters gave this story a more intimate, contained feel which I really enjoyed, and the dynamic between Doctor and Jana was fun and left me wanting more adventures with them. 

I also got series 1 vibes from the ‘antagonists’ (if you can call them that) of this story too. McMullin’s story features a race called the Serapheem, a species of tiny dust-like aliens that accidentally cause humans some issues without trying to, in a similar vein to what the Nanogenes did in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. Whilst the ‘misunderstood aliens’ theme does feel as though it’s been done a hundred times before now, it really didn’t take away from the story as a whole. 

The second episode, Fright Motif by Tim Foley, is set in Paris, 1946, and features a musician called Artie who’s lost his groove and is currently being stalked by a vicious inter-dimensional monster made of sound. Once again, this tight contained story could just as easily fit into Series One as the previous story, and its down to Earth nature is definitely one of its highlights. 

The limited cast of characters works in this story’s favour too, and once more gives us an opportunity to get to know the Doctor’s new friends over the 45-minute run time. Though Artie (Damian Lynch) is the main focus of this episode, and he does give a great performance where he actually does sound genuinely depressed about the loss of his muse, it’s Maurice Le Bon (Adrian Schiller), the grumpy, snooty hotel manager, who really steals the show. It’s his character who we learn the most about, and it's his character who goes on the biggest emotional journey. The scene where he visits the flat of the man he loved was very touching and extremely well done too. A definite highlight of the episode. 

Gemma Whelan is also in this episode, but not as the Meddling Nun as she was in Dalek Universe 1 (or the upcoming Missy 3). This time around she plays Zazie, Artie’s friend. I do feel as though she was sidelined a little in this story, with Lynch and Schiller getting the biggest chunks of emotion and story, but it’s still a top performance from Whelan. 

This story, again, has some similarities to what’s come before on TV. An artist who’s struggling with his muse being stalked by an invisible creature? Sound familiar? Whilst I do still think Vincent and the Doctor did this kind of story better, Fright Motif is still an entertaining way to pass an hour or so, and features yet another excellent performance from Christopher Eccleston, who, somehow, keeps going from strength to strength. Foley has nailed the Ninth Doctor in this episode, and the Time Lord's constant stream of witty one-liners and sarcastic comments give this episode a huge boost, especially at times when it feels like it’s slowing down. 

If Girl, Deconstructed and Fright Motif are very Series One-esque, then The Planet Of The End by Timothy X Atack is something else entirely. The great thing about Big Finish is that they can explore interesting, complex new worlds and stories that would perhaps be too expensive or complicated to put on tv. In this story, on the deserted cemetery world of Occasus, the Doctor is kept busy for a very long time as his regenerative abilities are exploited by the money-hungry Incorporation.  

The thing with exploring the Ninth Doctor pre-Rose is that he doesn’t have a full-time companion yet. Throughout this boxset, the Doctor has been meeting new temporary companions to help him in his adventures, and I think Fred (Margret Clunie) in this episode is my favourite of the lot. Fred is an AI who’s started to develop a personality and is so endearing, and her chemistry with the Doctor and growth as a character is so much fun to listen to, that I really wish we could have just a few more episodes with her.

This episode is a bit different from the others too in that it takes place over a very long period of time - 90 years in fact. The Doctor is incapacitated for a lot of the story, and parts of it take place inside his mind, which I thought was really interesting and very different from anything we saw on-screen back in 2005. 

I think this is the episode that stretches Eccleston’s acting chops as the Doctor the most (from the audio dramas) too. It gives him so much to do (including having a motivational chat with himself at one point), and I really do like to think that Eccleston was having a great time acting out this episode (and the boxset as a whole). 

The only factor that stops this episode from being my favourite is that it was a little too complex at times. I struggled to keep up in the last few minutes, but maybe that was just me not paying attention properly. I also feel as though the ‘evil businessmen/corporation who only care about money’ trope has been done a million times before too, so I wasn’t too interested in the villains of the piece unfortunately. 

Other than that these minor issues, this is a great end to the second volume of adventures in the Ninth Doctor series! 

The stand-out performance of this boxset is obviously Christopher Eccleston. I was worried that he wouldn’t sound as interested or as ‘into it’ as he did in the first boxset, but I was thankfully proven wrong, yet again. He’s amazing. He’s such a good actor and such a good Doctor, and I’m so, so glad that he decided to come back. He’s been tested in so many different ways already in the 6 episodes Big Finish have already provided us with, and I really can’t wait to see where they (and Eccleston) take his character next. The next boxset features the return of the Cybermen, so I’m really excited to see how the Ninth Doctor deals with them! 

Overall, this is yet another success from Big Finish. This is 3 more strong stories for the Ninth Doctor, written by three excellent writers who have nailed Eccleston’s Time Lord perfectly. Fantastic stuff! 

+ 9DA 1.2: Respond To All Calls is OUT NOW, priced £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (D/L).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

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