Travel in Hope sees the Ninth Doctor in self aware mode, with three stories inspired by classic sources, mixing chills and laughs
“Travel in Hope” is one of those titles that could apply to almost any of Big Finish’s Doctor Who boxsets. Well, maybe not Stranded. But as a general rule travelling is one of the format’s few constants. The Doctor’s not typically short of optimism either. Not that this latest set of Ninth Doctor Adventures doesn’t have some linking themes. For one, they all represent good old fashioned Who pastiches of classic fiction – but with a self-aware twist.
This time the Doctor himself seems in on the homage. He quotes the source inspiration for Below There, noting the similarities to Dickens’ The Signalman, while The Butler Did It apparently sees him fresh from a Murder She Wrote binge watch, determined to bend his latest adventures into a Jessica Fletcher shaped plot. Meanwhile, final story Run shakes and stirs The Manchurian Candidate and the Star Wars prequels together. At least until Christopher Eccleston’s Time Lord decides the solution lies in the plot of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
There’s also a linking theme of the Doctor showing up in unusually manipulative mood. In two of these three stories he seems to know more than he’s letting on before he even arrives. Those overlap with another circle in Travel in Hope’s Venn diagram. This one contains two stories of the Doctor making everyone else play to his tune from start to finish. It’s not the sort of thing we’ve heard from Eccleston before, so it’s refreshingly different for this incarnation. In fact, at times it feels like if you listen hard enough you might hear the sound of a question mark umbrella being broken out of the TARDIS wardrobe.
The Doctor heads Down Below in an atmospheric chiller where premonitions threaten death and destruction in a futuristic travel system
We open with Down Below and a lovely slice of the humdrum everyday monotony of life on space’s distant edge. Vyx (Kelly Adams) is the sole crew of a far flung space station monitoring part of the LeapCorp teleportation network. Making all other forms of travel redundant leaping allows instantaneous travel across the span of entire galaxies. But a single shift lasts years, the coffee machine doesn’t work, and… oh, yes, there’s the horrific visions apparently predicting death and disaster. In the plus column, Vyx does have a kind of subspace pen pal. He’s a mysterious stranger with a Northern accent whose calls gently probe at what’s really gone on.
This atmospheric haunted house story in deep space channels Event Horizon as much as it does Charles Dickens
Why has the Ninth Doctor has invested so much time laying the groundwork for inviting himself aboard? Once he ‘pops around’ for a cup of tea at the end of the universe, there also seems to be more then 900 years of experience behind his suspicion that something is rotten in the state of LeapCorp. We never get a satisfactory answer. But with the story told mainly through Vyx’s eyes, it adds to the spooky atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia. And Down Below is, more than anything, driven by atmosphere. The crux of the plot stand out a mile to anyone familiar with the short stories of Stephen King, but it’s that Signalman style sense of impending dread that makes Down Below such a compelling listen.
The ending adds to the small collection of Who stories determined to have something to say about capitalism. But while it seeks to be as strident as Oxygen, in its own ways it’s as muddled as Kerblam! But it’s not the ending that will stay with you, but rather the disturbing imagery and horrific premise at Down Below’s icy core.
The Doctor plays daytime TV detective as he gathers his suspects for The Butler Did It
The Butler Did It begins with an almost copy of the first story’s opening. Another woman grapples with the grungy practicalities and isolation of a sole deep space mission. And again the bright spot of her day is a regular comms call with a man she’s never actually met. But as we head into the cliffhanger scream and electronica rattlesnake of the 2005 vintage Doctor Who theme, it’s clear we’re in for something very different indeed.
The Doctor himself crashes into the story in more traditional style. The junkyard chic of the coral desktop theme is literally falling to bit under the Time Lord’s hands. It necessitates an emergency landing at a rundown starship repair shop. We’ve soon met the eccentric mix of characters who either work there, or are there as customers. But almost immediately, one of them falls deathly ill, hanging between life and death. In less time than it takes to post a gif of Jessica Fletcher eating popcorn, the Doctor declares it attempted murder via poisoning and puts himself in charge of cracking the case.
Emma Swan provides a virtual audition piece as the Doctor’s most engaging pseudo-companion yet
What follows is a fun romp. Delightfully, much of the humour flows from the fact the Doctor really isn’t very good at this. There’s a lot of yelling at suspects in the hopes they’ll spontaneously confess, and gathering everyone together to unveil the would be killer in the hopes that if he talks long enough the answer will present itself. Eccleston also receives one of his most winning pseudo-companions yet in the form of Emma Swan’s Myra. She’s huge fun, both as a character and as a performer. In particular a Flatline style sequence of her having to be the Doctor, alongside her ‘big hearted but dimwitted companion Jamie Sullivan,’ feels like an audition piece. Let’s hope so and that we get more Swan in the future.
The ending may hang on a groan-worthy pun you’ll see coming from space, but once more airtight plotting isn’t really the name of the game here. Instead, it’s a chance to unleash the more comical side of both the Ninth Doctor and Eccleston. And that’s always worth signing up for.
“Run!” takes on a whole new meaning as the Doctor steers Alpha Centuri’s political fortunes in a plan to save galactic democracy
Travel in Hope finishes out with what, even by Big Finish standards, feels like a brilliantly random collision of elements. The Ninth Doctor in a prequel to The Curse of Peladon revealing the secret origin of Alpha Centuri? It’s a wonderfully daft idea, but just the starting point for the silliness ahead.
The Doctor’s again acting against type, having apparently come from a future where the democracy of the Galactic Federation has already fallen and become an authoritarian dystopia. For whatever reason he’s decided to travel back and undo that future. Though it’s never entirely clear why he’s adopted such Time Lord Victorious tactics this one time out of so many others. Nevertheless he has a master plan to prevent the election of Bellatrix Vega, the billionaire businesswoman turned populist politician.
Acting legend Jane Asher plays Vega with gusto, chewing up ever piece of scenery that comes within reach. A mixture of blackmail and murder has her on the cusp of becoming the most powerful sentient being in the galaxy. She’ll be elected unopposed unless some brave, incorruptible, member of the Galactic Senate runs against her.
Enter Alpha Centuri.
Everyone involved in Run seems to be having just the best time in a witty satire with shades of RTD
Once the Doctor has insinuated himself into position as the freshman senator’s personal aide, he first sets about encouraging them to run against Vega and then does everything he possibly can to keep them alive. This really is the Ninth Doctor at his most hopeful. He waxes lyrical about how there will always be more good people than bad, if only they can be motivated to make a stand. And there’s also something charming about his deep affection and respect for “AC’s” honesty and timid bravery. The smile in Eccleston’s voice in all their interactions is a joy to hear, in a story that leans in to all the actor’s favourite aspects of his character.
It’s also an impressively balanced episode. There are preposterous death traps, over the top villain monologues, and gags like a Galactic Speaker who sounds distinctly like John Bercow. But for all that, there are also some serious points about the fragility of democracy here too. Yet it’s all so well judged that neither aspect detracts from the other. In fact, the only shame is a missed opportunity for an obvious gag involving Nicholas Briggs’ ‘Deep Throat’ style character aiding the pair from the shadows.
That niggle aside, it’s probably one of the most shamelessly fun hours you’ll spend in the Ninth Doctor’s company. It’s certainly more hilarious and exciting that some other plots built around galactic senate procedures we could mention.
Travel in Hope provides three helpings of the Ninth Doctor at his both best and silliest
There’s no one sentence that can sum up all three of the diverse stories here. But perhaps, once you’ve moved past the spine-tingling thrills of Below There, the impression that will stay with you the longest is just what a breezy good time it all is. Big Finish probably don’t spend enough time with the Ninth Doctor who bopped along to Soft Cell or cheerily pose for the cameras outside No. 10. But Travel in Hope lets that toothy grin loose in all its madcap glory.
Doctor Who: Travel in Hope
The Doctor crosses paths with many travellers – some at the start of their journey, some well on their way.
From the remote nodes of a transmat network, to solving crimes at a spaceship service station, or helping a friend climb the political ladder – sometimes the journey is more interesting, and more dangerous, than the destination…
Doctor Who – The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Travel in Hope is now available to own as a collector’s edition 4-disc CD box set (+ download for just £29.99.) You can also get it as a digital download only (for just £22.99), exclusively here.