Review by Jacob Licklider
If you were to have come to me at the beginning of 2021 and told me that within the next two years Big Finish Productions would have released not one, but seven total box sets with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, I would never have believed you. Yet here we are, over halfway through the second series of Ninth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish Productions and with each passing day I am surprised they keep coming. Hidden Depths is the third set of the second series and like the first two of this series the title is a reference to the major theme of things under the surface both literal and metaphorical that each episode explores in some way. While Back to Earth and Into the Stars were more geographic in their themes, Hidden Depths outside of the first story leans into the lives of their characters which kind of leads to the overarching theme of the set ironically more surface level and not as the previous five sets have felt as sequential adventures under a theme.
Interestingly, part of this may be due to the opening story, The Seas of Titan, being limited by the one-hour format as Lizbeth Myles’ script is almost perfectly suited to a two hour story but compressed down to a single hour. This means that the climax of the story especially feels quite rushed, falling back on classic Doctor Who tropes and story beats that are often found in stories like these that feature the Silurians and the Sea Devils. Myles has come on a brilliant offshoot for a Sea Devil story, setting it on Saturn’s moon Titan where a colony of Sea Devils is being awaken by scientific research into the seas. The story is set far enough in the future that unlike Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Sea Devils, and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood the human/Earth Reptile relations do not need to be reset to the status quo at the end of the story and the Doctor’s involvement in discovering the Sea Devils almost leads to it. Sadly, because of the one hour run time after some time in the Sea Devil colony the story needs to wrap up so Myles builds to a point where the Sea Devils can live peacefully on Titans but still paused. Myles does an excellent job, however, of representing the fear humans would have after coming into contact with aliens, as the Sea Devils here are essentially aliens in terms of plot. Nicholas Briggs and Yasmin Mwanza voice the Sea Devils here and having two distinct vocal performances really helps make them feel like individual characters while maintaining their amphibious nature as Sea Devils, something the New Series has mostly failed to do when bringing back the Silurians. Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor facing Earth Reptiles is also a stroke of genius as you can play through some of the Time War trauma by exploring a scenario where two species who could be at each other’s throats come together to exist peacefully, but again this is rather limited by the single hour. The Seas of Titan is good but really needed a second hour to be great. 7/10.
Lisa McMullin helms the second episode, Lay Down Your Arms, and this one looks at a more intellectual depth. McMullin crafts a story around Bertha Kinzky before she would achieve her depth as the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. Set in 1864, McMullin’s script deals with war as a microcosm at a spa where the Doctor has been investigating an alien presence that causes everyone at this holiday retreat and spa to begin fighting a proxy war in one of many successful attempts to avoid the Shadow Proclamation. They also have impersonated the Tsar of Russia to give themselves a sense of authority and in infiltrating the spa they continue to uphold the culture’s standards. Bertha Kinzky is portrayed as a woman who wants to be more than someone’s husband, someone who wants to marry for love, and someone who will go on to do great things, with the epilogue of the story being devoted to showing her history and evolution to the point where she wins the Nobel Peace Prize. McMullin’s script plays to both the strengths of Kate Sissons and Christopher Eccleston, both characters reflecting on the destruction that war causes and the people caught in the middle instead of the generals and leaders. This is something that The Day of the Doctor felt it was attempting to do with the children on Gallifrey, but McMullin takes that idea and makes it work here by spending time before the alien invasion and war can break out so the regular humans are actual people and not a faceless innocent. Eccleston being able to stop the war and bring in the Shadow Proclamation to stop before any real bloodshed also adds this seed of redemption for the Ninth Doctor who is clearly suffering from the fact that he has recently committed the double genocide of the Time War. 8/10.
Hidden Depths concludes with John Dorney bringing back Liv Chenka and Tania Bell for a one off story in Flatpack. If we’re comparing this story as one in a larger 12 episode series, this is kind of the budget saving episode. There are four cast membersand it’s all set in Flatpack, essentially a riff on IKEA, a shop that sells furniture through a maze of showrooms above a warehouse with its own café. This isn’t an ordinary shop, Liv is certain it wasn’t there a week ago despite Tania saying she’s gone there all the time, plus the employees all wear masks to hide their faces. John Dorney’s script is essentially a takedown of the rampant consumerism present in today’s culture, the employees are faceless and don’t really matter, and the products being sold and marketed to people that don’t actually need them. Dorney takes time to examine the strategies retailers use to keep people in stores, dialing it up to 11 as Flatpack is a store that once you enter you cannot leave as it is stuck in all times and all customers. The customers also get sucked in to become the employees at different points of their timestreams underneath a sinister manager. Eccleston not only has wonderful chemistry with Nicola Walker and Rebecca Root, but all three performers get the chance to play villainous employees for which Eccleston excels. A simple change of accent adds quite a bit of sinister atmosphere to the manager in comparison to the Doctor which while not necessarily explained as to how these versions of the characters came to be, it does allow a genuinely interesting outlook. It doesn’t quite go far enough to outright condemn consumerism, but it’s a wonderful end to the set and the highlight of this one. 9/10.
Overall, Hidden Depths may not be as thematically tied together as other sets in The Ninth Doctor Adventures but it continues the high streak of quality and intrigue with three very different stories with very different atmospheres and plots. While we don’t know where this series is necessarily going, or if it will thematically resemble the first series’ structure, it is an excellent set that could be a gateway to other ranges from Big Finish. 8/10.
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