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Monday, 17 November 2014 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Gallifrey VI
Written by Scott Handcock, James Goss and Justin Richards
Produced and directed by Gary Russell
Big Finish Productions, 2013
“The Daleks are now the masters of Gallifrey! The Daleks are the masters of all Gallifreys!”
Cliffhanger to Gallifrey V: Arbitration

In October 2013, just over a month before they blazed their way through Gallifrey’s second capital city Arcadia in Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor (the first time they were seen invading Gallifrey on-screen), the Daleks attempted an earlier conquest of the Time Lord home world – in the sixth and final season of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio spin-off saga Gallifrey. Indeed, it isn’t just control of Gallifrey Prime that the Daleks in Gallifrey VI are after but, as we discover early in the boxset, the ambition to invade up to 1000 parallel Gallifreys through the Axis, the interdimensional hub that controls truncated, damaged timelines.

Although the metal meanies (voiced effortlessly as ever by Nicholas Briggs) can be pretty much visualised in any of their past forms by the listener, the intention of Gallifrey VI – comprising the chapters Extermination, Renaissance and Ascension – is that they are the modern, Time War-style Daleks that have (with the exception of the candy-coloured monstrosities in Victory of the Daleks) been a mainstay of the modern TV series of Doctor Who. Indeed, this is not only confirmed by director and producer Gary Russell in the CD extras but is plainly evident in the packaging for the boxset and the internal CD sleeves.

As Russell also acknowledges in the CD extras, Gallifrey VI effectively hails the first shots of the Great Time War. The saga is accordingly retconned to fit the hypothesis mooted by former TV producer Russell T Davies about how the conflict originated.1 The boxset also represents another effort by Big Finish to align itself closer to the modern TV series without explicitly using the modern era Doctors and companions (Big Finish is only contracted to use the first eight Doctors and other companions and characters from the classic series in its Doctor Who audio range). Previous Doctor Who boxsets such as UNIT: Dominion and the first volume of Dark Eyes made satirical allusions to the Time War but Gallifrey VI is the closest that Big Finish has come to postulating how the conflict originated. The trilogy is also not afraid to homage (if not outright steal) moments from the classic and modern eras alike, from serials like Genesis of the Daleks and Logopolis to episodes like Dalek and The Stolen Earth.

Given the conclusion to Gallifrey III strongly contradicted the Davies hypothesis – Gallifrey was in ruins, Time Lord civilisation was on the brink of collapse and the principal protagonists had fled the home world to take refuge in the Axis – Russell and his trio of writers – Scott Handcock, James Goss and Justin Richards – credibly wrap up the Gallifrey saga without the stories bordering on fan fiction or “fanwank”2 (a term I don’t often use lightly!). In addition, they also successfully tie up the various story strands left hanging from the first three seasons of Gallifrey, the loose Axis/parallel worlds story arc of Gallifrey IV and the wobbly political shenanigans of Gallifrey V. And all while delivering some entertaining, albeit mixed and intertwined scripts.

As often happens when an episode is preceded by a strong cliffhanger (the impressive visual of Daleks invading via the Axis at the end of Gallifrey V), the first instalment Extermination fails to live up to its promise. It is more of a character piece that focuses on the reactions of Romana (Lalla Ward), Leela (Louise Jameson) and Time Lord operative Narvin (Seán Carlsen) to the Daleks, not an all guns blazing “tour de force”. In fairness, Scott Handcock has said in interviews that he sought not to write a carbon copy of one of Big Finish’s earliest releases The Apocalypse Element (which also featured a Dalek invasion of Gallifrey) but where he falls down is in his portrayal of Romana who gravitates between being a whinging wreck at one point, bemoaning to Narvin that all she wants to do is return to their Gallifrey, and vengeful, spiteful and almost unhinged when she channels the Ninth Doctor’s rage (á la the episode Dalek) and tortures and kills a Dalek mutant:

And that’s where you’ve made your last mistake, Dalek, because I am not Unit 117! I am not your property, I am not your prisoner! I am the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, I am President of the High Council of the Time Lords and I will quite happily end your pathetic little life without a moment’s hesitation!

While the ferocity of Ward’s performance in this scene is outstanding, in story terms, it comes so far out of left field to be credible (even allowing for Romana’s two decades of trauma as a prisoner of war on Etra Prime in The Apocalypse Element, this is the first time it’s ever been referenced in the Gallifrey saga). We always knew Romana was a tough and robust character, so I’m not sure why there’s such a need to emphasise that in this story. Leela and Narvin’s portrayals and performances in Extermination are more constant and believable; Jameson is a delight to hear in one scene as Leela takes a knife to a Dalek gunfight but she does so with the subtlety and consistency that we have come to expect of Leela’s character.

In fact, while Romana’s portrayal greatly improves in the subsequent instalments, Ward nevertheless finds herself outperformed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Juliet Landau as the Time Lady’s next incarnation. If Ward’s portrayal of Romana II over the years has been popularly characterised as more relaxed, care-free and playful than Mary Tamm’s cool, intellectual and classy Romana I, then Landau’s Romana III (Trey, for short) is an even more vibrant, mischievous version whose humour, effusiveness and optimism clearly belie the future horrors and traumas that she must have endured. Indeed, James Goss takes a leaf straight out of Steven Moffat’s playbook, with the pair’s initial meeting highly evocative of Amy Pond’s mutual admiration session in the Doctor Who/Red Nose Day shorts Space and Time:

Romana: Hello, me.
Trey: Hello, you. What do you think?
Romana: I’ll get used to it.
Trey: The plan?
Romana: No, my new body.
Trey: Lovely teeth, though.
Romana: Mmmm ... Pearly white!

As a novice to Doctor Who, Landau is confident and superb as Trey (Russell explains in the CD extras that she immersed herself in the character of Romana before recording) and for an American, her English accent is nigh-on flawless (no doubt mastered during her time as English gypsy vampire Drusilla on Buffy!). Landau’s Trey provides an excellent foil for Ward’s Romana and is a worthy successor for the role.3 Indeed, the cheeky cliffhanger to Renaissance (which mimics that of the modern series episode The Stolen Earth) leaves you genuinely wondering if Trey will immediately take charge in the subsequent episode Ascension.

Goss manages the portrayals of Romana and Trey in Renaissance magnificently. Just as it is fascinating to see how the Doctor interacts when he meets his other selves, it is even more absorbing to see how Romana relates and reacts to the enigmatic Trey who appears to have an agenda all her own and even seems to be conspiring against Romana herself! After all, as we’ve seen in the aforementioned UNIT: Dominion and Dark Eyes (and even the classic series’ The Trial of a Time Lord), even a Time Lord’s supposed future incarnations are not above stabbing their former selves in the back! Inevitably, Trey’s influence in the overall story arc proves more pivotal than is immediately evident and it proves difficult to second-guess her.

For the purposes of this review, it is hard to write about the saga’s resolution Ascension without giving away major plot spoilers, even with strong hints that the Time War isn’t so far away. Nevertheless, Justin Richards manages to wrap up the overall story arc in convincing and compelling fashion. In the process, not only do we discover what contributed to Gallifrey’s premature downfall in Gallifrey III but Richards manages to wrap up the arc of a recurring character whose motivations were first hinted at in Gallifrey V but then seemed to evaporate over the course of that season. Although the closing events of Gallifrey III are effectively retconned, Gallifrey VI satisfactorily does this in a way that doesn’t scream “cop-out” and the saga concludes with President Romana back in charge and the principal characters reunited with K9 (again matter of factly voiced by veteran John Leeson) and some of the antagonists of earlier series, such as Valyes (Steven Wickham), Matthias (Stephen Perring) and the oily Castellan Slyne (Peter Sheward).

Naturally, as with long epics like this, there are still some unanswered questions that go unresolved, eg how will former President Matthias react to Romana’s return to office when he and other Time Lords have no memory of his abdication? What happens to Regenerator society on the parallel Gallifrey after the Dalek threat is thwarted and Romana, Leela and Narvin return to the Axis? Do the Regenerators and the Outsiders reconcile, considering they were on the brink of civil war in Gallifrey V: Arbitration? (To some extent, it would have made sense in Extermination if the two factions had reconciled and united against the invading Dalek taskforce but alas this is not even covered.) More to the point, is the Axis closed for good? Or is there still the potential for forces from other Gallifreys to bleed into Gallifrey Prime’s reality? While the saga appears to conclusively end with Gallifrey VI4, perhaps there is still the scope for threats from the other Gallifreys to be explored.

If you’ve followed this series from its beginning back in 2004, then you will definitely get a satisfactory pay-off from the concluding chapters of Gallifrey VI. Barring a couple of hiccoughs in Romana’s characterisation in Extermination, this final trilogy of stories is entertaining and well conceived, thanks to the mostly strong writing and extremely impressive performances of not just the principal but the secondary cast. However, given its serial nature and structure, Gallifrey isn’t a saga you should just enter mid-stream, particularly if you want to better understand the machinations and duplicity of the Time Lords.

“A new dawn!”
“A new beginning!”
“A new start – for the one, true Gallifrey!”
Co-ordinator Narvin, Leela and Lady President Romana, Gallifrey VI: Ascension

  1. Russell T Davies’ hypothesis about the origins of the Great Time War appeared in an article titled Meet the Doctor, printed in the 2005 Doctor Who Annual, published by Panini UK.
  2. Wiktionary defines “fanwank” as “elements added to a television program or similar entertainment that appeal to avid fans but are of little interest to outsiders”. While there are other, less savoury definitions of the word, this is my justification for using the term in the context of this article.
  3. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend you check out Doctor Who Companion Chronicles tale Luna Romana, released in January 2014, in which Juliet Landau is equally impressive as Trey and doubles for the late Mary Tamm’s Romana I.
  4. Gallifrey VI is not the end of the matter, after all. Big Finish will release Gallifrey: Intervention Earth in February 2015, with Juliet Landau and Seán Carlsen returning as President Romana and Co-ordinator Narvin respectively, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Stephen Thorne reprising the role of Time Lord pioneer and nemesis Omega.