The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) returns in three stories with very different trajectories. He’s a great big bundle of optimism and joy and just what the Doctor ordered if that’s not too self-reflexive.
2.1 Station To Station by Robert Valentine
‘Hope’s always there even if you can’t see it – lemon drizzle?’
The Doctor arrives on a station platform as he’s investigating a time anomaly. He meets up with Saffron (Indigo Griffiths), who’s managed to get off at this very wrong station. This is Underbridge and there is something lurking in the shadows. They are somewhere in between the worlds, a Harry Potter jump onto platform 9 and 3/4 that’s gone wide of the mark.
The Doctor finds an ally in Saffron. They bond over cake and analyse why they are trapped. Together they are stronger (I’ve heard that before somewhere). He needs her to solve the problem and she is at least temporarily his companion and friend. As they explore, it is Saffron that pushes through the barriers and moves them forward but the Doctor is worried they have a limited time before being trapped forever.
Classic ghost stories like a railway station. It’s a place of transit and change but if the trains stop running the passengers become prisoners.
Ostensibly, a ghost story it covers the human condition as each person has a reason to be trapped. I shed a tear at the rawness of emotion it evoked, not something I was expecting from this at all.
2.2 The False Dimitry by Sarah Grochala
‘Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the Poles turn up.’
Boris the Tsar is dead. The Doctor has arrived just after his massive heart attack. It probably isn’t natural causes. There is a claimant to the throne in the person of Dimitry (Alex Arnold) but that’s not right as he was murdered fourteen years before. His nurse mother to Sasha.
This is the whirling melting pot of Russia in 1605, a time when heirs often got bumped off rather unceremoniously. It becomes a story of our times as the threat emanating from Dimitry is not only to Russia but the whole world.
Another story that takes an unexpected turn using familiar tropes to emotionally engage the listener. It’s amazing that so much is covered in a relatively short play. I loved the mother character, Oskana (Katie Brittain), who laments all the time about the state of Russia.
2.2 Auld Lang Syne by Tim Foley
Mandy Litherland loves her family so, when she wins on the pools, she takes them to celebrate New Year in a big posh house where her mother used to visit years ago. Mandy is keen to meet the caretaker but doesn’t realise that this is going to be a new year like no other and that’s even before the fireworks at midnight.
This is a creepy ghost story with a rather squashy centre and, once again, I was welling up towards the end. Wendy Craig plays great Aunt Bette, a matriarch who grudgingly goes along with her niece Mandy’s (Leah Brotherhead) plans. The small cast is joined by Hayley Tamaddon as Aunty Sue, a counterpoint to Mandy. There’s also Sue’s boyfriend Frank (Greig Johnson), too, who seems to be two watts short in the lightbulb department. There’s a big family but we only here about them not from them. Oh and there’s a little light flirting for the Doctor, too.
Altogether a smashing set of stories that highlight just how good Christopher Eccleston was and is as the Doctor. He simply slides right back into his role and, with the excellent supporting cast, he makes each one an event. I’m on about my third listen right now. I think I might be addicted to those feel good vibes. Fantastic work by the whole team, too.
(pub: Big Finish, 2022. 4CDs 4 stories 225 minutes. CD Price: £24.99 (UK) ISBN: 978-1-83868-756-4. Download Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-83868-757-1)
cast: Christopher Eccleston, Alexander Arnold, Sean Baker, John Banks, Ian Bartholomew, Katy Brittain, Leah Brotherhead, Wendy Craig, Patricia England, Indigo Griffiths, Greig Johnson, Jack Myers, Shazia Nicholls and Hayley Tamaddon