Written by Gareth Roberts
Adapted by John Dorney
Starring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, and John Leeson
with Michael Troughton, Tim McInnerny, Jon Glover,
Jane Slavin, and David Troughton
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released April 2015
The last of Gareth Roberts' trilogy of Fourth Doctor novels to be adapted for audio by Big Finish is great fun. It's rather a lot of great fun though, like a seven-course meal shared with friends. It's slow-burning, filled with good ingredients and fine conversation, but also a little hard to digest in one go.
In Roberts' earlier efforts, The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death he gave us first a fine trad-Who story, then something a little more out-there. This is a Season Finale story turned up to eleven, it's a lot of story to fit into the four episodes here. The cliffhangers in the book are preserved by John Dorney, rather than reorganising into an easier six-parter. It's all good stuff, with an excellent cast, but the episodes are rather long.
The Well-Mannered War opens with the Doctor, Romana, and K9 landing in the middle of a war between humans and the tortoise-like Chelonians - a conflict that is taking rather a long time to get going, over a century in. As wars go, it's more like a mild inter-office dispute. The opposing sides get on well, they go for dinner together. The war even has its own tea-trolley.
Being Doctor Who, of course this can't last - suspicious deaths on both sides lead to the war escalating into actual conflict, and the TARDIS crew are quickly separated and flung into variously investigating just who or what is behind this, and election campaigning, as K9 suddenly becomes rosette material. There are sinister carrion-flies, well-meaning robots, a fake civilisation, and an old foe to deal with. The overall effect is somewhat like a drastic rewiring of The Armageddon Factor, such is the amount of shared DNA. The dose of black humour is a little less than in The English Way of Death, this is more of a space-opera.
The Doctor, in truth, takes a bit of a backseat for the middle episodes, whilst Romana and K9 take centre-stage. Both are flung full-pelt into proceedings with cowardly artist Menlove Stokes (Michael Troughton, reprising his role from The Romance of Crime) in tow, whilst the Doctor plays sleuth with the Chelonians. That said, although they're separated for so much of the story, the three leads are all on fine form. Tom Baker is rarely better than here, his slightly moodier performance recalling the Hinchcliffe years in places. Lalla Ward and John Leeson are simply a delight, their rapport carries the story through some complex exposition, but most of all it's the character work that stands out for all three. Dorney's skilful adaptation of Roberts' story perfectly recaptures that spirit of '79.
With a fine guest cast, and some strong direction, music, and sound design - The Well-Mannered War is a fine tasting menu of a Doctor Who story. As with the original, it ends on a cliffhanger, as the Doctor pulls the TARDIS out of reality to escape the Black Guardian. We never found out how this was resolved, but Big Finish have recently announced that The Fourth Doctor, Romana, and K9 are due to return for more adventures. Perhaps we'll finally find out what happened next.