The Hunting Season

Posted in Audio by - November 24, 2021
The Hunting Season

Released November 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Continuing with the notion from Respond to All Calls of three stories linked by a theme rather than by a narrative as in Ravagers, Lost Warriors as the third series in The Ninth Doctor Adventures finds the Doctor crossing paths with individuals who were once warriors and who are now looking to remain hidden from the universe for personal reasons. In James Kettle’s opener, ‘The Hunting Season,’ Duberry Hall is under siege, and the Doctor must convince the household to unite to save itself from the aliens marauding within its boundaries.

Given his limited time on screen, the Ninth Doctor spent relatively little time in Earth’s past, and inserting him into a setting akin to that of Downton Abbey is a strong idea that expertly plays with the ideas and expectations of a class system and a man who simply cannot be bothered with such a social construct.  Naturally, the Doctor finds himself drawn to the more downtrodden of these figures, and that consistent piece of characterization as he tries to allow others to see the best and the potential within themselves is a strong underlying component that speaks to the very human side of this forthright and upfront incarnation. Unfortunately, the members within this household are little more than stock characters filling their allotted roles, and while the running time by itself would have been enough to more robustly explore these individuals, introducing the several members while also delving into the alien Fleshkin threat leaves them all as fairly dimensionless. To be fair, all of the performances are suitably strong to encapsulate the requisite emotion of such roles as a haughty head of household, his daughter who shares his apparent bloodlust, a dominating butler who is clearly above his station, and the kind-hearted and well-intentioned below-stairs serving staff; there simply isn’t enough time to truly learn about the nuances of these individuals. Nonetheless, it’s a particular joy to have Annette Badland feature alongside Christopher Eccleston once again, and their strong chemistry easily transfers across mediums as her Mrs Goose provides the needed emotional core for this home and its most unexpected dangers.

The framing device through the attempted reading lessons is a bit awkward and forced, but it also does serve to present the Ninth Doctor as something of a classic Western hero, an element that Eccleston plays up perfectly as he confronts dangers both known and unknown without support. However, while the attempt to subvert expectations following the Doctor’s communication with the Fleshkin and what the meaning behind their name actually is proves to be a welcome development, it also means that the proper plot does not  begin until well after halfway through the story, leading to a strange sense of a story treading ground and going through the motions until far too little time is left to provide a proper payoff. The Fleshin are a fairly interesting species with motives that certainly warrant their actions and the unintended consequences they cause, and the continuing dichotomy between these two races as well as just where the Doctor fits in between them is an intriguing element upon which this story strangely only superficially touches. Additionally, the climax provides a fairly large info dump, which itself serves as an indication of the relative imbalance of the story’s pacing and revelations and that leaves so many aspects of this story relatively unexplored.

‘The Hunting Season’ unquestionably features strong performances from everyone involved that certainly manage to capture the essence of the class system in place, but the decision to withhold the truth about the Fleshkin and Lord Hawthorn until the end hampers the plot in each aspect except for the Doctor’s superb displays of bravery and fortitude. As it is, this is bog standard Big Finish Doctor Who that takes minimal risks and that ultimately offers little that will be remembered once the end theme plays; it’s clear that there is so much more to the nuanced relationships within this household that so easily could have warranted an alien-free drama or an extended running time to fully explore, but the very basic personalities on display here are hardly a testament to what this range has already proven capable of offering, something that even the immense performance from Eccleston cannot overcome.

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