SPHERE OF FREEDOM
It's still hard to believe that Big Finish have secured Christopher Eccleston for their Doctor Who audios. We probably have the pandemic to thank for that, since, as Eccleston said, it's a paying gig, and the sort that can be done remotely while screen and stage work is in a major lull. Still, I don't think anyone ever seriously expected him to return to the role, and while he's never likely to work for the BBC again, it's great to have him back in any capacity.
What's interesting about this set, which is made up of a single three-part story even though it's presented as three individual adventures, is that the Doctor isn't the brooding character we thought we might get. Given that Eccleston cited the quality of the scripts as a major reason for his taking the gig, it was safe to assume we'd be getting some of the heavier weight stuff he's best known for, all the more since these sets seemed to be set before the beginning of the 2005 TV series. Many of us expected a Doctor still weighed down by the guilt of the Time War, the broken character we glimpsed in "Dalek" and "The Parting of the Ways."
What we get, though, is the grinning, goofy Ninth Doctor that it's easy to forget was actually the majority of Eccleston's performance in the role. This is the Doctor who has a powerful lust for life. Yes, this is his way of avoiding facing his past, and there are elements of the damaged Doctor there - a reluctance to trust, a reactive attitude when things go wrong. Overall, though, this a Doctor who's a pleasure to be with, and hearing Eccleston bring him back to life is a joy.
For better or worse, Ravagers is very much a standard Big Finish release. It's easy to imagine any of the Doctors from Fourth to Tenth arriving and having this same adventure. This is hardly surprising, since it's Nick Briggs writing and directing again, so a certain stylistic sameyness is inevitable. Maybe this is better, though, than some epic designed to showcase how different the Ninth Doctor is to the others. The difference comes from Eccleston's performance, not something forced into the story. In time, of course, we're going to be subjected to the rollcall: we've already had meetings with the Cybermen and the Brigadier confirmed, and Eccleston has expressed interest in doing stories with River Song and the Master. We'll get a multi-Doctor story somewhere along the way, and it'll be great to hear this Doctor interact with his fellows (in fact the only TV Doctor we haen't seen or heard meet another incarnation). For now though, this is just a fun adventure, not an exercise in ticking off a list of Doctor Who-must haves, or an event release. Just having Eccleston back is event enough.
Indeed, had this not been Eccleston's big return, it's easy to see this release being overlooked. A timey-wimey tale that utilises alinear storytelling and the characters experiencing events in different sequence, it's sometimes hard to follow due to the lack of any visual or prose clue to tell the times apart. The eponymous Ravagers are an interesting idea but fail to make an impact as monsters. Camilla Beeput is great as Nova, the one-off companion for the story, the sort of gobby young woman the Doctor immediately takes a like to, even if she is a bit of a generic assistant sometimes. Jayne McKenna is solid as Audrey, the sympathetic villain with a very un-villainous name, but she's never going to jump to the top of the memorable villains rundown.
No, this isn't groundbreaking new Who. It's a solid adventure that features Christopher Eccleston jumping back into the role, a return for one of the greatest Doctors ever, and for now, that'll do nicely.