Sphere of Freedom

Posted in Audio by - May 15, 2021
Sphere of Freedom

Released May 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The addition of a new Doctor to the Big Finish full-cast catalogue is always a cause for celebration, allowing for the greater exploration of beloved- or in some cases relatively unknown- incarnations of the Time Lord who have already made such an indelible mark on fans and the franchise’s universe as a whole. For years, the possibility of ever experiencing new adventures with Christopher Eccleston who became the face for the launch of the modern relaunch of the series in 2005 seemed all but impossible, but the time has finally come for the assumed sole survivor of the Time Lord to find voice once more in Ravagers, a three-story set penned and directed by Big Finish stalwart Nicholas Briggs.

‘Sphere of Freedom’ wastes little time thrusting listeners straight into the emotional highs and lows of the Ninth Doctor, presenting him at the moment of total triumph just before everything goes wrong and the woman he promised to save is taken from him. It would be impossible for any opening to this reintroduction to top the iconic ‘Run!’ that brought forth the Ninth Doctor in ‘Rose,’ but there is no doubting just how powerful this sequence is as it highlights the Doctor’s self-assuredness, compassion, and optimism before setting the scene for the grim determination that so often fuels this hurt and scarred incarnation. Ultimately, the plot itself is a fairly traditional one despite the temporal component of individuals being taken from and arriving out of their normal times as headlined by Marcus Aurelius and his Romans causing havoc in 1959 London. There certainly is much more time for this aspect to pay greater dividends in the remaining two stories, but the Romans have become a shortcut that is all too familiar visual for time travel aspects, and not enough is done with them here to warrant their inclusion except as an extended springboard to bring the Doctor into the adventure proper. Accordingly, when only Audrey remains following a moment of utter chaos as the Doctor investigates an Immersive Games empire and the destructive Time Eddies, there is little doubt that she is someone far more prominent that she lets on initially. While she proves to be a suitable soundboard for the Doctor to frame his story about what brought him to this moment, and although Jayne McKenna gives a great performance as this woman who seems to be pleasantly empathetic, she is little more than an exposition device here who at the last moment turns on the Doctor with an unimpactful act that only raises further questions about why she waited so long to enact her plan.

While the end result of ‘Sphere of Freedom’ is perhaps not as clever as it might have been, it is supremely confident and allows Christopher Eccleston a brilliant opportunity to delve back into the complicated psyche of the Ninth Doctor who was seen all too briefly on screens during his one and only series. Eccleston has by all accounts had something of a difficult relationship with the franchise since accepting the role, but he has always spoken about the character of the Doctor with extreme pride and reverence, and he imbues an incredible amount of energy into his performance to wonderfully recapture the spirit of the Time Lord who was so integral to reaching old and new audiences alike for a franchise looking to make the biggest of footprints. And while there was an assumption that the Ninth Doctor had a comparatively short lifespan before sacrificing his life for Rose, ‘Sphere of Freedom’ makes clear that this version of the hero has plenty of stories to lead from before his time with Rose as well, potentially clearing the way for an immense amount of character development given how fresh the aftermath of the Time War remains at this time. The ever-present optimism of the Ninth Doctor is abundant throughout no matter the hurdles thrown before him, and Camilla Beeput makes an instant impact as de facto companion Nova whom the Doctor is able to teach and to learn from in equal measure. Nova is another incredibly strong-willed and intelligent woman looking for adventure, and her background as something of an indentured servant provides a fitting contrast to the enticing freedom that the Doctor holds. This pairing had already shown an immense potential and a sterling chemistry through this relatively brief affair, and the dynamic charisma and energy that is accentuated by an incredible sound design expertly captures the feel of the earliest days of the modern iteration of Doctor Who.

‘Sphere of Freedom’ hardly sets out to revolutionize the genre or the franchise, but it capably provides a suitable vehicle for its main characters to flourish. It’s neither complex nor challenging, but the core idea at its heart is one brimming with potential for the remainder of this set. Ultimately, however, it’s the long-awaited return of Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor that rightfully proves to be this story’s biggest draw, and fans can rest assured that the Ninth Doctor with all of his emotional complexities is back in full and as engaging as ever.

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