The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Ravagers
Directed and Written by Nicholas Briggs
Starring Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Camilla Beeput (Nova), and Jayne McKenna (Audrey)
As the actor who launched the show’s revival in 2005 and ushered in a whole new era of fans, Doctor Who will always be indebted to Christopher Eccleston. His career, post-Doctor Who, has been prolific as well, from playing John Lennon in Lennon Naked to a series regular role on HBO’s The Leftovers. Unlike other Doctors, though, Eccleston has never expressed much interest in returning to the show and, most notably, was absent from the series’ 50th anniversary special.
Eccleston’s return to Doctor Who via Big Finish, then, is a big deal, with the company having already announced four volumes of The Ninth Doctor Adventures. Volume 1, Ravagers, is divided into three chapters, but it’s really a three-part, continuous story. Since each section has a different name that might not be obvious (Briggs is the writer on all three). The older serials used to use the same name for every installment so that might’ve been useful.
As explained by producer, David Richardson, in a bonus interview, Ravagers is meant to take place before the Doctor met Rose. Logically, this makes sense. The Doctor regenerated at the end of season one and while it would be possible for Big Finish to do a series featuring Rose and the Doctor someday – Billie Piper has worked with Big Finish before – that’s not what this is. If the idea is to show how different the Doctor was before he met Rose, though, it might’ve helped to start at the beginning for a sharper contrast (plus, how cool would it be to have a regeneration scene for Paul McGann’s Doctor?). Maybe that could still happen, too, but who knows what’s in store for the Ninth Doctor.
Briggs’ Ravagers doesn’t start at the beginning anyway. Instead, ‘Sphere of Freedom’ opens at the tail end of an adventure. The Doctor and his potential new companion, Nova, have just enacted a plan to save the universe, except it goes wrong, leaving the Doctor to fill-in a total stranger about what he’s been up to recently.
The very first thing you hear at the top of the episode is the Doctor’s voice, and it’s such a smart move on Briggs’ part because as soon as you hear Eccleston’s voice it’s like he never left. Briggs could’ve kept fans waiting with bated breath, but it’s much more enjoyable this way.
Plot-wise, while Doctor Who is a series that can accommodate nonlinear storylines, that doesn’t mean they’re always necessary. Here the idea that the Doctor would spend so much time recapping what he’s been up to feels forced, especially when there are more pressing issues to attend to, like saving Nova from a time eddy.
Episode two, ‘Cataclysm,’ is better and offers a chance to get to know Nova separate from the Doctor (her backstory is an interesting one, too, because, unlike Rose, who might’ve been ok if the Doctor never came into her life, her options are much more unbalanced – either stay enslaved or help a man she doesn’t trust save the world), but then episode three, ‘Food Fight,’ gets convoluted and hard to follow. The strongest character in this series isn’t the Doctor, actually, but Audrey, who the Doctor thinks is responsible for putting the universe in peril. She’s one of those great characters who teeters the line between good and evil and sees things scientifically. The Doctor’s unwillingness to accede that he may have gotten things wrong about her, though, keeps the character from getting the sendoff she deserves.
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Ravagers is available to purchase from Big Finish.