Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 5/17/17 5:44 pm
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In the opening story of Big Finish's first Ninth Doctor story, Adriana Jardsel (Clair Wyatt) has come to the peaceful planet Galen, to cover the diplomatic talks between two warring races. But a chance encounter with a stranger known as 'The Doctor' marks the start of a series of strange, tragic events on Galen. Adriana and this mysterious Doctor must work to save the planet, and maybe even the universe as well. The Bleeding Heart starts off the Ninth Doctor Chronicles with a decidedly average. The story features a good performance by Clair Wyatt, and a varied performance by Nicholas Briggs, while the script by Cavan Scott isn't the most inspired Ninth Doctor story on the planet. Rather similar to Rose, but with obvious changes, it serves as a solid, though unadventurous opening story to the Ninth Doctor's tenure at Big Finish.
Clair Wyatt takes the lead in this story, playing Adriana Jarsdel, a news reporter sent to cover the peace talks on Galen, who quickly finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure with the Doctor. Wyatt takes on the role of "companion du jour" well, giving an enjoyable, strong performance throughout the release. Her scene where she first meets the Doctor stands out to me as my favorite scene, as she comes across as very confident in her acting alongside Briggs. She handles the more emotional moments well enough, such as finding out her companion has died, driven insane, or her sacrifice at the end of the story, but they come across as a little too forced for my liking. The man of the hour, Big Finish executive producer Nicholas Briggs takes on a wider role here, playing narrator and voice of a variety of bit characters, as well as taking on the role of the Ninth Doctor at times. Briggs is best when he's not portraying the Ninth Doctor in this story; he has a very sure and steady narration style, and the wide variety of semi-nameless characters he plays in this story come alive very well throughout the story. But his impression of the Ninth Doctor sticks out like a sore thumb throughout the story. Briggs, who did a decent impression in Night of the Whisper, seems to have exaggerated his performance too much; the end result comes off as less Christopher Eccleston, and more Goofy with a Northern accent.
Cavan Scott's script is a bit too similar to Rose at times, but that serves it well usually, giving new listeners a rather familiar story to start off, even if it is a bit unadventurous. The biggest strength of Scott's script is the rather interesting gimmick of the planet Galen. It's been done a few times before, a peaceful place not being all that it seems, but Scott makes it his own by introducing elements of the Time War into his story. I really liked how Scott built up the eventual revelation at the end of the story, with various characters seemingly driven insane by grief, attacking other characters. It felt a little obvious what was coming, though I enjoyed the explanation more than I thought I would. I also really liked the characterization of the Ninth Doctor in here, as a man overcompensating for the horrific tragedy he thinks he just delivered to his own people. His care for Adriana at times, both in making sure she's okay following the death of Stan, and after he forces her to stop taking her psychic dampening pills, is very much in line with a lot of the Ninth Doctor's era. Scott did a wonderful job bringing that aspect to audio, and it's something I hope we see in the other stories. While these aspects of the script were positives overall, I found the script's derivative nature much more mixed, personally. While I think it was a smart move to open the set with a story very similar to Rose, I think it made of a disappointing opening story. There are several similarities (companion meeting the Doctor through a chance encounter and slowly being swept up in the adventure), though it's also very similar to many other companion introduction stories. Yet, I couldn't help but feel that the story just didn't really have anything going for it most of the time. The ending was strong, even if the death of Adriana felt shoehorned in to give a reason why the Ninth Doctor didn't have a companion to start, but other than that, it felt like a decidedly average story, start to finish.
Tom Webster provided the cover art for this release. It's a fairly simple cover, featuring the Ninth Doctor with Camille Coduri and Bruno Langley in character, with various effects. It's not the most inspired cover on the planet, but it has bits I find interesting overall, like the "previews" of the story on the Ninth Doctor's jacket, and the background with a dying planet. I'm not complaining about it, but I'm curious why Big Finish didn't put Eccleston's face in shadow, like they do for the Third Doctor Adventures; at some point, they said that for Doctors where they have someone else taking on the role of that Doctor, they want to obscure the face a bit, to make it distinct from that body of work. I think Big Finish gets away with it because they make it very clear it doesn't feature Eccleston at all, but I find it an interesting choice nonetheless.
Overall, The Bleeding Heart is an average story through and through. Featuring an enjoyable enough performance by Clair Wyatt, and, when he's not portraying the Ninth Doctor, a solid, varied performance by Nicholas Briggs; Briggs' impression of the Ninth Doctor leaves something to be desired, especially considering the strong work he did for Night of the Whisper. Cavan Scott's script is a relatively solid affair, though it never rises beyond playing it safe. It's derivative of Rose and other companion introduction stories, and while it captures the character of the Ninth Doctor well, it failed to really grip me as I was listening to it. Overall, it's a thoroughly average start to the set, though there's nothing wrong with playing it safe to start.