Duberry Hall is under siege, as aliens maraud through the estate. It’s a frightful business, and as Lord Hawthorn battles the Fleshkin, the Doctor finds new friends below stairs. Can he convince the household to unite to save itself?
The Hunting Season opens the third Big Finish boxset, Lost Warriors starring Christopher Eccleston as the titular Time Lord. The writer and production team cite television shows such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs as inspirations for this tale, which are two shows that highlight the day to day life in this era, but they have never really appealed to me.
Ultimately, you can’t help but feel that James Kettle has bitten off more than he can chew, which leads to The Hunting Season feeling deeply uneven. The main structure of the story establishes a divide between the aristocracy and the servants but the story never really feels like it has any bite in condemning the attitudes and in Streatham’s case actions towards them. The furthest it will go is by giving the Doctor a scathing quip, then the story quickly feels as though it wants to move on. With no real bite to it, the story ultimately feels like it has nothing to say and ultimately feels generic. It would perhaps be generous to suggest that the guest characters are all one-dimensional, with the aristocracy being posh and evil and the servants being good-hearted. Whilst the Ninth Doctor comes in and is a go-between for the two social stratas, it almost feels like he has no real impact on the plot until the reveal of the alien imposter. The story is framed by a tale being told by Mrs Goose to Alice about a wandering man who turns up and saves the day, which is a nice touch, but does feel a bit clunky at times.
You have the eyes of someone who has fought a war. In more than one, if I’m not mistaken.
Yeah, well, my eyes. Can’t do much about that.Lord Hawthorn and the Ninth Doctor
Where this story really succeeds is with its guest cast. Alex Jennings is really good as Lord Hawthorn and seeds the eventual reveal that he is a General of the Tyrannic Cluster cleverly through the story, something that becomes more evidence on relistening to this story. Jennings is perfect as a member of the snooty aristocracy, and even on my second listen, had me doubting the twist I vaguely recalled from listening to this story on its initial release. Meanwhile, Allegra Marland and Don Gilet perfectly encapture the horrible nature of Isabel Hawthorn and Streatham. Marland’s character isn’t entirely one note, however, and she does manage to make you feel her reaction to finding out that her father is not only an alien but an intergalactic warlord. Despite this, the beating heart of this story is the staff, Mrs. Goose and Alice, played by Annette Badland and Tilly Steele respectively, and they certainly feel much more fleshed out than the majority of the guest cast. Alice is really the main focus, the one that the Doctor feels the sorriest for, and when he gives her the pathway out of servitude and into a path that she is really truly passionate about, it is a nice moment.
The story is essentially a base under siege story, with DuberryThe Fleshkin are a bit of an underwhelming alien race, although I would say that I did not recognise the voices as being those of the supporting cast, so a certain degree of kudos needs to be given to the production team and the actors for their performances in that respect. The snarling can get a bit much at times, though. Whilst presented as a carnivorous foe, the reality is that they are vegetarians seeking revenge for war crimes, and in the manner of many horror movies, the true monster is actually inside the house with the Doctor and the servants.
You call yourself a soldier. You’re not like any soldier I’ve met. More like an ingenious coward.Streatham
Christopher Eccleston continues to shine as the Ninth Doctor, even if the script isn’t the most demanding or necessarily the best. He is suitably commanding, but there are moments of fun in this story, like the psychic paper making him a Brigadier. The story is concerned with the impact of war on people, especially considering how bloodthirsty the Hawthorns and Streatham are in this story, which allows the Doctor to confront some of his angst about the Time War. As mentioned above, the attitude of the story towards social class would be at odds with Eccleston’s own left-wing leanings. I feel that more could have been done to highlight the fact that this Doctor more than any of his predecessors wouldn’t fit in in this environment. After all, Eccleston was the first Doctor not to speak in his own accent, rather than received pronunciation, and being Northern means that he sticks out amongst the landed gentry like a sore thumb. The Third Doctor would make himself at home here, the Fifth equally so, but the Ninth should be far more uncomfortable.
Verdict: The Hunting Season is a bit of a disappointment, saved by some good guest performances from a strong guest cast. 6/10.
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Alex Jennings (Lord Hawthorn), Allegra Marland (Isabel Hawthorn), Don Gilet (Streatham/Fleshkin 2), Annette Badland (Mrs Goose/Fleshkin 3) & Tilly Steele (Alice/Fleshkin 1).
Writer: James Kettle
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Producer: David Richardson
Composer: Howard Carter
Release Date: 23rd November 2021
Behind the Scenes
- The working title for this story was Before and After the War.
- The story alludes to Norman Hartnell, dressmaker for the Queen. Norman Hartnell was the second cousin to William Hartnell, who, of course played the First Doctor.
- Don Gilet previously played Lance in The Runaway Bride.
- Annette Badland previously played Margaret Blaine in Aliens of London/World War Three. He has also appeared in Blood of the Time Lords, Equilibrium and Suburban Hell.
- Tilly Steele previously appeared in the Thirteenth Doctor television episode The Witchfinders as Willa Twiston.
Anywhere to wipe my feet? I assume you lot do it on the servants.The Ninth Doctor
Previous Ninth Doctor review: Planet of the End
The Hunting Season is available to purchase from the Big Finish website as part of the box set The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Lost Warriors.
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