The War to End All WarsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 6 July 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The War To End All Wars (Credit: Big Finish)The War To End All Wars
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Simon Guerrier
Directed By Lisa Bowerman
Released April 2014
Doctor Who has traditionally been about the female companions and their combination of helping the Doctor and being protected by him over the course of their adventures. There have been a good number of male companions as well but they are clearly in the minority. The most number in a decade of the classic series were the four who featured in black and white. Steven Taylor was particularly badly affected by the video junking but there is enough material remaining (such as audio and telesnaps) for me to conclude that he was a decent character. Perhaps in comparison to pioneering companion Ian, Steven was a little less nuanced but he still could be well-written, and would always be played with skill by Peter Purves.

Purves' attitude to Doctor Who is interesting - he ended up having a wonderful career as a presenter and could easily have disregarded what was arguably still a children's show when he was involved. Instead he has been frequently involved with the DVD range, and he has also moderated/participated with audio narration for missing stories. The most notable missing story is arguably 'The Massacre' which had Steven front and centre in the action - much like 'The War to End All Wars'. This two part adventure heralds the end - for now anyway - of the Companion Chronicles that feature the original compelling version of the Doctor. It is a tour de force of strong themes, plot and dialogue, with two voice artists showing flair and commitment.

Steven Taylor played off well opposite the moody mentor figure of Hartnell's Doctor, but this particular story only chooses to employ the Doctor at the very beginning and very end only. Nonetheless the dynamic of the Tardis crew makes its presence felt and the listener wonders how the team of three will make their way back together when circumstances conspire to separate all of them. As many Doctor Who followers know, Purves' finale was in 'The Savages' which saw him go from plucky time-traveller to the leader of an alien civilization which had erred in segregating the intellectual from the 'primitive'. Guerrier has free reign to take the building blocks of this lost story and portray a reign of peaks and troughs for the proactive Steven Taylor. He thus add some more details to Ian Stuart Black's original conception and also uses continuity so as not to alienate those unfamiliar with this part of the Hartnell era or indeed monochrome Doctor Who in general.

When we join this audio adventure we are transported to a time when Steven has been deposed from his regal position of power. Languishing in a cell he is visited by a girl called Sida (voiced by Alice Haig) and conveys his story to the pleasant and open-minded visitor. The actual story which the play's title refers to is set on a world torn apart by conflict and political unrest which our heroes find themselves confined to, and for a potentially considerable length of time. Steven tells Sida with great gusto his reactions to a spiral of events where he is arrested and then separated from both the Doctor and Dodo, before becoming a solider in an army - fighting a war that seems to have no hope of resolution. As Steven tries to become proactive, the plot develops in a number of surprising ways..

This is a two episode yarn which is very deliberately formed as set-up and pay-off although the very end does leave open deliberately a lot of new questions. Having a first person narration is simple but effective in nature. with Steven realising just how much events are manipulated. Soon into the latter episode there is a clever change of direction in the plot with Steven suddenly becoming a figure right in the heart of the troubled political system - and he seemingly has little chance of escaping the confines of manipulation. The basic presentation of an older Steven relating the main plot of 'War' to a visitor in his cell is emotional and yet also elegant. There is enough world building both for the un-named planet of the Savages and its history in the wake of the Doctor's visit, as well as the planet that features the ceaseless war(s). There is not all that much time for Dodo to make her mark in the story and even less for the Doctor but this almost does not matter as Steven Taylor's regard for both shine through all the same - even one of his three daughters in the royal court was named after the curious Ms Chaplet.

The themes of this story are intriguing and rich enough that repeat playing of this story is certainly worthwhile. The futility of war, the downsides of so called democracy and the loss of independence and identity all feature. In some ways this two-parter could be adapted into a modern day TV story with minor change and comfortably fit the Saturday evening slot of 45 minutes. No doubt if Guerrier was a writer under Innes Lloyd or John Wiles he would have arranged his story outline for the-then-standard four episodes. Instead we have a medium which can allow for more flexibility and the brevity of the story is by no means a problem, although perhaps the role of the Doctor in events is a little too quickly covered in exposition after the fact and would have been a worthwhile subplot that could have added a few minutes of more time to either episode.

Purves puts in as good a performance of Steven as any that followed his very first in 1965. He knows this time travelling character like the back of his hand and he relishes being able to fill in some gaps given how often Doctor Who could be rudimentary in its characterisation of the companions. Haig has considerably less to do, but her inclusion prevents Purves from delivering a monologue, albeit a very lively and fascinating one. Also, the character of Sida is such an open canvas that she could potentially be given a lot of development should there be a follow-up story which the ending strongly calls out for. There are few flaws with the production as all concerned seem to know that Mr Guerrier has proven himself time and again and is not one to rest on his laurels, and thus requires the best possible realisation of his work. Very much recommended.