With Big Finish now incorporating elements of modern Doctor Who into the classic series, the line between the eras in the show are blurred more than ever.
However there remains one chapter in the show’s timeline that continues to divide them – the Time War. The recent War Doctor series only scratched the surface of this momentous conflict. With the sad passing of John Hurt in January, some of these stories will now likely never be told. Regardless, Big Finish is diving head-first into the Time War and exploring the Eighth Doctor’s role in the event that shook the Whoniverse.
The Eighth Doctor
But as we learned from ‘The Night of the Doctor‘, the Eighth Doctor wasn’t quite the active participant his successor was. This is the Doctor that ran from the Time War. Unwilling to fight for a cause that threatened to rip the very fabric of time apart. ‘The Eighth Doctor: The Time War’ series one heralds a very different kind of ‘Doctor Who’ story. One where the Doctor doesn’t stumble upon trouble and then save the day. Instead, we see the Doctor powerless to escape the conflict or stop the death and destruction raining down on him.
The Starship of Theseus by John Dorney
Given the structure of the Time War, it seems odd this set should begin with what feels like a run-of-the-mill adventure. But it doesn’t take long for The Starship of Theseus to reveal that something is very wrong. Not only does the Doctor seem completely unaware of the Time War, but he and his new companion Sheena (or is it Emma? Or maybe Louise?) are having trouble remembering just how they met or even how they came to be aboard the Theseus. The story initially revels in being as confusing as possible, with tiny details constantly changing to keep the listener on their toes. It’s only when the penny drops that the true horrors of the Time War become clear, introducing the temporo-spatial distortion that forms the crux of this set. It also quickly establishes that this really is war, and even those closest to the Doctor aren’t necessarily safe from it.
The core concept of a space-bridge troll is undeniably campy, but serves its purpose well to illustrate how even the silliest of plot lines can be ravaged by an event like this. The story also begins this set’s masterful use of the Daleks, whose appearances feel rather limited despite how prevalent they should be. Even when they don’t feel actively involved, their threat is ever-looming and anytime they do appear it signals the point where the story and action kick into overdrive.
Echoes of War by Matt Fitton
The Theseus’ explosive end immediately gives way to the next instalment. the Doctor and a ragtag group of refugees crash land on a jungle planet and find help from the most unlikely of places. Echoes of War also serves as a proper introduction for the true companion for this set. Rakhee Thakrar as Bliss, a kind but capable figure holding her own on a world corrupted by the Time War. Rounding off the Doctor’s war-torn crew are married couple Quarren and Rupor. More innocent bystanders to whom the Time Lords seem just as bad as the Daleks.
Ever since Jubilee, humanised Dalek stories have become a regular trope in Doctor Who fiction with varying degrees of success. Echoes of War is among the more stronger offerings, with the Eighth Doctor cleverly manipulating the malfunctioned ‘Dal’ into becoming more than it could ever expect to be. Of course, allying with a Dalek always ends up in tears. But here the listener’s sympathy is directed at the Dalek when the bond it shared with ‘John Smith’ and the refugees begins to dissolve. With the Doctor branded as a traitor, the Time Lords prove just how cold they are.
The Conscript by Matt Fitton
The third part of this set is where things begin to take a particularly dark turn. The Daleks take a backseat so the Time Lords can take the stage and show how ruthless they have become. After reappearing at the end of previous story The Conscript marks the proper return of Cardinal Ollistra – brilliantly played by Jacqueline Pearce and an essential component of any Time War audio story. Ollistra has always been a morally grey character. But at least with the War Doctor there was a sense that they were united by a common enemy. Her contact with the Eighth Doctor is far more strained. With Ollistra gaining full-fledged villain status holding refugees at ransom to get the Doctor into Time Lord boot camp.
Though the Doctor tries to get through it with his usual rebelliousness, the Daleks close in. Karina Fernandez and Nick Brimble also put in excellent performances as Captain Tamasan and Commander Harlan. Their hardened Time Lord soldiers are good foils to both the Doctor and young Galifreyan cadets.
One Life by John Dorney
The story threads spread come together in the aptly-titled One Life. This time the spotlight is on Quarren and Rupor as the Time War rages on. The ending truly emphasises the Doctor’s utter helplessness and frustration in the whole situation. One Life beautifully highlights everything bad about war. Morality, loss, sacrifice and, in this case, the notion that both the Time Lords and the Daleks are just as dangerous as the other. It is clear that the Doctor cannot escape the Time War that continues to ravage the cosmos.
Since its announcement back in 2015, the Eighth Doctor’s Time War series has been among Big Finish’s most anticipated releases. Series one certainly doesn’t disappoint. The writing team of Dorney and Fitton lay out a series that takes Doctor Who far outside its comfort zone. His people and his greatest enemies out to get him; an inability to stop the ever-growing conflict and the listener’s knowledge that this incarnation is doomed to fail. This set features the Doctor at his very weakest. With strong performances all around, ‘The Eighth Doctor: The Time War’ is an essential piece of listening for any Doctor Who fan and the beginning of something that sounds to be truly unmissable.
Blogtor Rating – 10/10
This title was released in October 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until December 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.
The Eighth Doctor battles for survival in the Time War:
1. The Starship of Theseus by John Dorney
The Doctor and his companion, Sheena, land the TARDIS on the glamorous luxury space-liner Theseus just as it’s about to leave the Jupiter space-port. An opportunity for a holiday presents itself – and it’s one they’re very glad to take.
But when a disturbance catches their attention, they realise sinister events are taking place on board. Passengers are vanishing on every trip. And unless they’re careful they may be next.
Can the Doctor and Emma solve the mystery? Or is there something else they should be worrying about?
2. Echoes of War by Matt Fitton
Colliding with the full force of the Time War, the Doctor crash-lands on a jungle world with a ragtag band of refugees.
To stay alive, they must cross a landscape where time itself is corrupted. A forest which cycles through growth and decay, where sounds of battle are never far away, and where strange creatures lurk all around.
Luckily, the Doctor has friends: not only plucky scientist Bliss, but another, much more unlikely ally. Its name is ‘Dal’…
3. The Conscript by Matt Fitton
Cardinal Ollistra has a new tactic to persuade the Doctor to join his people’s fight. With his friends locked away, he has been conscripted alongside fellow Gallifreyans to train for the front lines of battle.
Commandant Harlan has a reputation – his camp’s regime is harsh. He believes the Time Lords must adapt to win this war, but the Doctor is not easily intimidated.
Can there be any place for dissent when the Time War looms so close?
4. One Life by John Dorney
As the full force of the Time War crashes down around the Doctor and his friends, a desperate battle for survival ensues.
But not everyone is playing the same game. Ollistra is after a weapon that could end the war in a stroke and she’ll sacrifice anyone or anything to take it back to Gallifrey. Even the Doctor.
Surrounded by Daleks, and on a tortured planet, only one man can save the day. But he doesn’t want to fight.
A special run of prequels to Doctor Who: The War Doctor.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Ken Bentley
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Paul McGann (The Doctor), Olivia Vinall (Sheena), Nimmy March (Rupa Maguire), David Ganly (Quarren Maguire), Sean Murray (Captain Darvor), Hywel Morgan (Koloth / Jefferson), Laurence Kennedy (Purser Lunney / Aymor / Chancellor), Rakhee Thakrar (Bliss), Karina Fernandez (Captain Tamasan), Jacqueline Pearce (Ollistra), Nick Brimble (Commander Harlan), Katy Sobey (Veeda), Okezie Morro (Norvid), and Nicholas Briggs (Dal / Dalek Commander / Dalek Drone / Daleks). Other parts played by members of the cast.