The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Old Friends – audio boxset review

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Old Friends is the last in the first batch of Big Finish’s adventures for Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. 

As the cover makes clear, and indeed they concealed until release, it features a further encounter with the Cybermen. Not only that, but this incarnation of the Doctor enjoys a first encounter with his stalwart ally Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

Fond Farewell

What if the dead could return, mayfly like, to attend their own funeral and make their goodbyes in person? That’s the provocative premise of David K. Barnes’s opener.

It begins with the Doctor arriving to pay his respects to a friend. Professor Flynn Beckett was a famed naturalist and quite the memorable character. Beckett’s assistant Sasha Yan is present too, but the reanimated Professor seemingly has no knowledge of them. Or indeed their last expedition together. As robotic servitors turn killer, the pair must content with Beckett’s grieving wife Idara, the AI system in charge and its human operator.

Barnes’ story makes thought-provoking points about the potential for such a technology; it is perhaps not so far far-fetched when you consider current advances in hologram and AI. For us, there were shades of Steven Moffat in the premise, albeit with a more emotional treatment. The tale also asks for whom a funeral service really held.

In the flashbacks to the Doctor and Flynn Beckett’s adventure together, there is plenty of high-octane action and banter too – enough that we would love to have heard the whole adventure. As the companion du jour Emily Taaffe sparkles as Sasha and you could almost hear her eye rolls at the Doctor’s jokes. James Doherty entertains as the flamboyant Beckett too, with Sienna Guillory believable as his grieving widow, outraged at the destruction of their long-planned special day.

Way of the Burryman and The Forth Generation

Ticking an enormous fan wish list box, Roy Gill’s ‘season finale’ reunites the Doctor with the redoubtable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (retired). Set around the turn of the century, it also serves as an origin story for UNIT’s Sam Bishop; he’s the globetrotting troubleshooter from several of the Kate Stewart era boxsets.

Events begin with the Brigadier visiting historic Inchcolm Island, home to the ancient ruins of an abbey. It also houses a covert military base, home to a new submarine project. Consulting for UNIT, the Brig is lending his expertise as the base is plagued by reports of ghosts. Meanwhile, the Doctor arrives nearby, keen to catch up with his old friend.

With the first part leaning into myths and legends, the second amps up the horror. It’s great when Doctor Who puts a spin on the familiar, be it an underhenge or the Tower of London. Here the Forth Bridge is not only a location but its very construction forms an integral part of the narrative. There is comedy too, the first meeting between Sam Bishop and the Doctor, sees the former mistaking the TARDIS for a coffee stand; a number in Edinburgh have converted in recent years and it was a nice touch.

Continuity nods

As the story developed, there were plenty of pleasing references. One to Gill’s own UNIT tale, as well as a great line about Marinus and Planet 14. We even caught an allusion to Mawdryn Undead when the Brigadier spoke of issues with memory. We’re sure there were more, but none of them overwhelm, they just trigger a smile. Of course, it is perfectly natural that precautions would have been taken against further Cyber-invasions, and we loved how that played into the tale.

With Jon Culshaw’s sprightly Brigadier and Warren Brown’s Sam in the story, you might imagine there’s not much room to make an impact. However as Fiona, a champion of local history however, Elinor Lawless is terrific and memorable. Nicholas Briggs once again provides the Cyber-voices, reviving those chilling Mondasian sing-song tones.

Ultimately, like Fond Farewell before it, this story looks at the power and importance of memory. It is also rich in historical detail and makes you consider the terrible human cost of our great industrial achievements.

In summary

Across four boxsets, Christopher Eccleston’s return to the role has been nothing less than triumphant. With some excellent scripts, boundless imagination paired with audio’s limitless ability to roam, it has been great to hear the Ninth Doctor really get about. His tough, lively take on the Doctor remains just as fantastic as it was back in 2005.

4.5 stars out of 5

Big Finish have really embraced video promos of late. The Cyber-salute which heralds Old Friends, complete with narration by Christopher Eccleston, is quite superb:

A second series!

We’re thrilled to see that the first quartet of boxsets is being promptly followed by another run. While this series has featured Cybermen – and we presume the Daleks are off-limits if it remains pre-Rose – it would be great to hear him handle some of the other big foes. The next volume is due in May 2022.

Doctor Who – The Ninth Doctor Adventures Volume 4: Old Friends is available on CD, download and vinyl from Big Finish.