Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Shades Of Fear by Lizzie Hopley, Roy Gill and James Kettle (CD review).

The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) returns in a series of three adventures.

The Colour Of Terror by Lizzie Hopley 

Robbie (George Naylor) has a new job in a charity shop in West Morebry. He’s on his own and the manager Mrs Bevell has specially told him not to touch the red dresses. An insistent customer wants to try one on but disaster strikes. The colour red it appears really doesn’t suit her. You may never feel the same about trying on a second-hand dress in a charity shop again. There’s been a spate of missing animals and people in the last few weeks and the charity shop seems to be the focus. Pete has lost his Kitty and now Cath (Laura Rollins) adds a lost fiancée to the list.

A glorious cast of characters pitch up in this drama as the community bands together against the aliens. Mrs Bevell is played by Susan Penhaligon and Pete, the lonely pensioner, by Frank Skinner. Sahdna Chand (Dinita Gohil) is the owner of the cafe next door that has a mysterious epidemic of exploding sauce bottles. The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) can help but he can’t stop the addition of several temporary helpers who want to get to the bottom of the mystery. If the end of this episode doesn’t make you well up then who are you and are you human?

The Blooming Menace by James Kettle 

The Fellows Club only admits gentlemen and ‘Phil’ (Milanka Brooks) is keen to keep it so. That’s a deep voice you’ve got there Phil.

This story that owes a lot to the Bertie Wooster adventures but this one has an added horticultural menace. It seems it’s all the rage for the young bloods to woo a little wallflower except these really are plants. Toby Entwhistle (Dave Hearn) slightly oblivious to the impending doom of the flower of male youth in London is simply trying to recruit a valet. As Jeeves doesn’t appear to be available it is down to the Ninth Doctor to iron those newspapers and provide the perfect boiled egg. That definitely isn’t going to happen but he might just save Toby’s life. We get bit of light relief in this second episode as the Doctor gets to wordplay and tease. ‘Toby Entwhistle meet your new valet. You are both over and under qualified for the job’.

Meanwhile, Toby’s friend ‘Phil’ is not likely to fall in love with a plant because he’s already smitten. Dave Hearn as Toby has plenty of experience playing idiots as he’s a founder member of the Mischief Theatre, famous for the ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ and James Kettle has taken this inspiration and run with it with fabulous word play and ridiculous notions.

Red Darkness by Roy Gill 

Things get dark in every sense in this final story with the return of the Vashta Nerada and some new allies. The Ninth meets Cullen (Adam Martyn) with his assistance dog Doyle (Harka Bambra) that not only sees but can also talk in this off-Earth adventure. Callen’s mother Doctor Iona Lennox (Leah Whitaker) is deep into research of a new energy source that could help make a success of their colony farms. But the colony is dying and there is something wicked in the darkness.

This episode makes thoughtful use of man’s best friend and humanity’s best friend to create a suspenseful adventure with a bit of a surprise ending. It’s a good use of a previously known monster and adds a twist with consummate skill.

The production, script editing and sound design are always of the highest quality and the tone is carefully moved from high drama to comedy to pant-wetting as each story moves along. The voice of Christopher Eccleston is particularly suited to audio adventures. It has a clarity and richness and is immediately recognisable. There’s something very comforting about his presence. His unrelenting, cheerful optimism lifts each story to another level. As ever, the background interviews are revealing and shed light on the creative process.

These three very different stories with the connecting thread of the menace offer lots of scope for the range of acting talent that has been poured into them. Each story has its own charm and it’s pulled together at the end in satisfying and complete way. What I particularly like is there is no easy ‘let’s uses the sonic’ to get out of gaol. Each solution is thought out not a flashy ‘look what we did here’ cheat, mentioning no names.

Sue Davies

March 2023

(pub: Big Finish. 4 CDs 225 minutes. Price: £24.99 (UK). ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-83868-762-5. Download: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-83868-763-2)

cast: Christopher Eccleston, Moyo Akandé, Harki Bhambra, Milanka Brooks, Dinita Gohil, Clive Hayward, Dave Hearn, Luke Kempner, Adam Martyn, George Naylor, Susan Penhaligon, Laura Rollins, Michael Shelford, Frank Skinner, Rachel Stanley and Leah Whitaker

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