Written by David Llewellyn
Directed by Scott Handcock
Cast: Lalla Ward (Romana), Leela (Louise Jameson), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Seán Carlsen (Narvin) Miles Richardson (Braxiatel), Celia Imrie (Livia), Tom Allen (Plutus), George Watkins (Gaal), Hannah Genesius (Trave), Eve Karpf (The Watchmaker), Nigel Fairs (Kalbez), Sean Biggerstaff (Moros)
Big Finish Productions – Released May 2016
To start with, a polite warning that this review contains a spoiler for the previous instalment, Gallifrey: Intervention Earth. Also, a further warning that anyone who doesn’t like reading negative reviews, just as this reviewer really doesn’t especially enjoy writing them may also want to stop reading now.
Despite being left somewhat underwhelmed by this release as a whole, there are still some positives to focus on. Although this reviewer quite enjoyed the previous instalment which featured the future incarnation of Romana played by Juliet Landau, it is very welcome that this continuation is set at an earlier point in time and thus allows for the return of Lalla Ward’s incarnation of Romana alongside Louise Jameson as Leela. There are also some fun scenes between Seán Carlsen as Narvin and Sophie Aldred once again playing the Time Agent version of Ace who was properly introduced in Intervention Earth. The continuity of Ace’s arrival on Gallifrey, which was hinted at in the Lost Stories and UNIT:Dominion, seems somewhat confused as her characterisation in this release comes across as rather more juvenile than the slightly older version of the character who has emerged during the her Big Finish adventures with the Doctor and Hex. However, she remains a welcome addition to this cast and it is only a shame that the three former companions don’t get many scenes together.
Another welcome returnee is Miles Richardson reprising the complex character of Braxiatel. Again, another continuity quirk is that one of the characters refers to him using the first name Irving whereas in earlier series of Gallifrey he is only ever referred to using the title Cardinal Braxiatel. It has also been suggested in earlier releases that the Cardinal and Irving are either alternative versions of the character who belong to different universes or possibly different regenerations with a remarkable similarity of appearance. That being said the paradoxical nature of Braxiatel’s existence proves to be a central part of the story as we learn he is one and the same version who conveniently appeared at the climax of Intervention Earth to save the future version of Romana and in the first episode of this release makes a similarly timely appearance. One cannot complain too much about a character who instantly calls to mind Richardson’s father’s portrayal of Francis Urqhart with lines such as “I couldn’t possibly comment.”
A nod to I Claudius can be found in the introduction of new presidential hopeful Lady Livia, named after the first empress of Rome and played with relish by Celia Imrie. It is only a shame that having set her up as a great rival to Romana that the two don’t get to spar more. Sadly, the promise of Livia taking over the role vacated by the much-missed Lynda Bellingham as Inquisitor Darkel in the earlier series is never quite delivered. Other highlights include the delightfully sinister Watchmaker played by Eve Karpf.
In summary, despite quite a lot of enjoyable moments (this reviewer’s favourite being a clever nod to the TV episode Hell Bent) this release doesn’t quite manage to hit the heights of the earlier series. Whilst there are political machinations, the plot of this release is largely driven by (at times confusing) paradoxes and there are only a certain number of times you can listen to the same characters being killed off as a result of alternative versions of events without starting to lose interest. Ultimately, the over reliance on convenient resets to resolve the plot leads to a rather predictable conclusion which is likely leave anyone who was looking forward to the continuation of the story begun in Intervention Earth feeling somewhat disappointed.