The Ninth Doctor has joined Big Finish! Well… kind of. Christopher Eccleston hasn’t joined (yet (we can pray)) but Big Finish are giving us four new stories set within the Ninth Doctor’s era. The closest thing we’ve had so far was The Oncoming Storm from The Churchill Years box set last year, but now Nine has a box set of his own. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story in The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, The Bleeding Heart.
Galen is a place where people come to heal. The renowned ‘planet of peace’ seems the ideal venue for talks between two warring races. But when death disrupts the diplomacy, Cosmic Nine news reporter Adriana Jarsdel uncovers a different story. Luckily, someone is there to help. A battle-weary veteran from another war. The Doctor has come to Galen – but is he looking for peace, or something else entirely?
For those of you who aren’t aware, these Chronicle box sets (a Tenth and Eleventh Doctor box set are both set to release in the future too) aren’t really like anything Big Finish have produced before. They’re a bit like a hybrid of the Companion Chronicles range, with some Short Trips style narration thrown in. I know that some people are unhappy that these aren’t fully fleshed audio dramas, but to those people, I say read my reviews. I’ll tell you if it works, don’t worry.
Within the first two lines, we’re introduced to Adriana Jarsdel, and Nicholas Briggs’ narration. This, to me, is exactly how you should establish this new format, right from the off. Eight seconds in and us as listeners already know what we’re getting in terms of format and content.
I know that one of the main concerns in these stories is going to be how well Nicholas Briggs manages to encapsulate the Ninth Doctor, seen as he in fact isn’t the actor that played the Ninth Doctor. Personally, I think that Briggs manages to capture enough of Eccleston’s accent and mannerisms for you to believe that the Ninth Doctor could, in fact, be uttering these lines. It’s by no means a truly accurate impersonation, but I don’t think that an impersonation is what Big Finish were looking for. As long as you’re willing to let your imagination work (which, let’s be honest, is when Big Finish is the most entertaining) then you shouldn’t have too much of a problem imagining Christopher Eccleston in your mind’s eye.
The idea of having a planet that is meant to calm anyone seems like the perfect place for the Ninth Doctor to visit, especially considering his torment after leaving the Time War in his previous incarnation. This could also be the first planet that the Ninth Doctor has ever visited too, as The Bleeding Heart is set before Rose, which would make sense. If I’d just come out of the worst war throughout all of time and space, I wouldn’t mind a bit of tranquility.
I have to admit that I didn’t expect any story from The Ninth Doctor Chronicles to be quite so CSI, but here we have what would have been CSI: Galen. It seems that a fair part of The Bleeding Heart is a cross between a traditional whodunnit and an episode of a crime drama, and personally I have no problem with that at all.
Cavan Scott should be praised for peppering in lots of New-Who references into his story, some are more subtle than others, which inevitably means you’ll want to listen more than once, to ensure you’ve found them all. There’s also references to the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, and it ties even more with just how young the Ninth Doctor is in this story.
In the latter half of this story, the Doctor gives Adrianna a rousing speech that is beautifully written, I think it might be on par with the Doctor’s speech to Rose about feeling the turn of the Earth. My only criticism of it is that it feels way too short. The Ninth Doctor was one of the Doctor’s who could pull off these mini-monologues, and I feel like Cavan Scott held back on what could have been a defining moment for the Ninth Doctor, which is a shame.
The conclusion to The Bleeding Heart is utterly heartbreaking and reminded me just how tormented and tortured the Ninth Doctor is at the beginning of his incarnation. This story perfectly shows the remnants of the War Doctor as the Ninth Doctor we know from 2005 slowly comes into the light. Personally, I feel as if this could easily have been a War Doctor story at the end of the Time War, but having the Ninth Doctor go through all this torment really takes you back to the time of that leather coated Time Lord who introduced the show to a whole new generation.
Overall, The Bleeding Heart is a story that feels like a hybrid of The Empty Child and Smile; emotions are very much at the heart of this story, which is extremely fitting for the Ninth Doctor. Having a brief glimpse of the Time Lord pre-Rose is really interesting too, as we get to know a much more raw and battle scarred version of the Ninth Doctor so many of us fell in love with. If The Bleeding Heart is anything to go by, this box set could be a very good character study for one of the most allusive incarnations of the Doctor yet.
Should you want to purchase The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £23 on CD, or £20 for a digital download for a limited time.