Gallifrey: Time War 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 March 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Gallifrey: Time War 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, and Seán Carlsen

Written By David Llewellyn, Lou Morgan, Helen Goldwyn

Directed By Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery Nicholas Briggs
Released by Big Finish - February 2020

When we last left off on Gallifrey: Time War, Romana and Narvin were banished by the Time Lords and sent packing into the vortex in an old TARDIS (Romana was sentenced to death, but someone didn’t want her becoming a martyr), and despite their predicament, Romana decided the best course of action was to find their lost friend Leela. Their first stop (Hostiles) is a wreckage of a ship, upon which they find a Time Lord and an abominable being with time disruption powers that will kill them all to keep that one Time Lord alive and with him.  It’s a decent enough opener, as it has a good monster and some good Time War business.  

From there the duo end up on a rural planet, one in which the Time War has also begun to take effect as they deal with time folding in on itself.  If I am honest, this one is pretty forgettable. As I sat down to write this review it took me a few minutes to even remember what the details of this one’s plot were. The synopsis I found of Nevernor did not even remotely help me.  Finally...something of this story came back, but it just isn’t that great. It’s not a horrendous listen, because if nothing else Big Finish have tremendous production values...but I can’t sit here and pretend that they are infallible, and that they don’t occasionally have stories that can bore and confuse me, and then have the entire memory of the tale just float out of my brain.  

The big return of Leela happens in the third episode, Mother Tongue, in which she gets the full focus.  She has found herself jumping back and forth through time on a planet that is utterly peaceful with mysterious plants that take root around the whole world and somehow protect them from the outside universe.  As she bounces from the past to the future, she finds he has a son, and sees the different paths the world could take. It’s a solid premise and it is executed decently, even if I occasionally wasn’t able to keep up with where Leela was.  I also found another actress had a voice similar enough to Louise Jameson that it threw me off once or twice.  

The set concludes with Unity as Narvin and Romana finally meet up with Leela, find her living as a protector of a family on the planet Unity, but a guy trying to make a buck steals their TARDIS and lures the Daleks there to buy it (which as you already guessed doesn’t really pan out for him).  It all comes to a head with Romana deciding to sacrifice herself via the Chameleon Arch, become human and forget the dangerous knowledge she has to keep the planet hopefully safe from the Time Lords and the Daleks.  

But she also doesn’t do that. She decides it is cheating, and gives herself up to the Daleks believing she can maybe outwit them?  But while Narvin knows she changed her plans, they seem to feel it is best that Leela doesn’t know. To be honest, right now I am trying to figure out why Leela is so important to their plans.  Not that she isn't a fun character, but they seem to act like Leela MUST be saved and taken back to Gallifrey or help in the Time War cause or something...but she is just this Savage girl who could maybe be good on the front lines or something.  The whole ending just feels like it is concocted for a dramatic cliffhanger (the Daleks seemingly about to exterminate Romana), but doesn’t really make too much sense big picture to me.  

This set has decent episodes and is, as always, wonderfully produced, but I did feel it was missing something.  What I enjoyed about the Gallifrey series was the machinations on, well, Gallifrey. This set doesn’t have a single moment on the Time Lord’s home planet.  It doesn’t really continue the descent into madness and ramping up the Time War business, and how the Time Lords truly lost their way. Instead this just feels like an Eighth Doctor: Time War set.  Two characters bouncing around in an old TARDIS running into monsters and experiencing the effects the Time War is having on the universe. I like the Eighth Doctor sets, but this feels like they lost the identity that made the Gallifrey sets unique.  They were about the political intrigue that led to Gallifrey’s downfall. This is just adventures. It is worth a listen for fans, it’s just missing that key element.   

FILTER: - Gallifrey - Time War - Audio - Big Finish -

Gallifrey: Time War 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 8 April 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Gallifrey: Time War Volume One (Credit: Big Finish)


Written By David Llewellyn, Una McCormack, Lisa McMullin, Matt Fitton

Directed By Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery Nicholas Briggs
Released by Big Finish - March 2019

The second volume of Gallifrey: Time War picks up not long after the previous set left off, with Romana grasping to keep some control of the Celestial Intervention Agency as the newly resurrected Rassilon consolidates his control of Gallifrey and the Time Lords as President Eternal, and with a war as an excuse, it is increasingly easy for him to take that control.

The opening episode (Havoc) is something of a slow start for the set. Not that it is bad, but it is all about set up rather than building up to a big climax.  It is mostly just setting the stage for this new era of Gallifrey, with a resurrected power hungry and angry Rassilon at the top of the pack.  Romana is acquitted for treason at the beginning of the story, but her troubles in this new environment are just beginning.  And really, if you go back years in the Big Finish canon, she only has herself to blame.  Back when the Eighth Doctor adventures with Charley were the closest thing the franchise had to new performed stories, Romana was involved with a plot by Rassilon attempting to resurrect himself and perform some evil deeds, and she tried to keep that under wraps.  Now she is stuck having to bow to this bitter old nut as he seizes control of the society he helped found.

In the second episode, Partisans, Romana discovers that there is a planet that will one day be of strategic importance to the war against the Daleks, but they need to go back centuries during that planet's own war, in order to make sure the outcome is one that benefits Gallifrey.  There are two possible outcomes, total destruction of all life if one faction wins, or let the other faction win with survivors.  But the War Council also gets involved, and their tact doesn't gel with Romana's plan...and is closer in style to a genocide.  Ultimately, Narvin finds another way, but even his way feels dire.  He freezes the planet, sealing them indefinitely before their own destruction.  The consequences of the Time War are already taking hold, and it is still early days.

Collateral, the third episode, picks up this thread with the time seal being broken, and someone calling through.  With the seal broken, their war rages on, and an alien race called the Sythes are feeding on the planet's resources, and that could potentially help the Daleks out.  A woman named Nyla contacts Gallifrey, but she also sends out a message warning the Universe to stop the Time Lords.  Rassilon decides to obliterate the planet from Time itself and keep the Daleks from gaining any benefit...but Romana is determined to keep that from happening. Rassillon achieves his end goal, but not before their warning about the Time Lords gets out there, and the Sicari are on their way.

The boxset wraps up with Assassins, which has this race called the Sicari attempting to infiltrate Gallifrey and take out Rassilon.  The Sicari seem to be a race created by the Time War itself, with weaponry that is Time Lord in origin, though quite modified.  The story culminates with Romana attempting to assist them in taking out Rassilon, as she can see he is on the road to totalitarianism and very likely the ruin of Gallifrey.  Ultimately, her attempt fails, and Rassilon not only survives the attack, but is then able to use this as the perfect way to get Romana out of his hair. She is set for execution, but is given the chance to escape from a Rassilon sycophant who doesn't want her becoming a martyr.  She and Narvin are put into an old TARDIS with it's course headed into the heart of the Time War...they may seem doomed, but Romana is determined to get out of this scrape and find Leela, who has been lost since the first boxset. 

Overall, I really liked this set.  Not really a bad episode in the bunch. The first Gallifrey: Time War set was more scattershot in focus really.  Now I liked that set, but it was all about the various things that lead to the war truly beginning and, ultimately, the resurrection of Rassilon. This set feels more focused, and instead of four distinct stories leading to the same end goal, this time it feels like one long story built episode by episode.  Both are quite good, but I think I give an edge to the second set in terms of overall quality.  If you, like me, have enjoyed Big Finish's foray into the Time War, then this set is another winner. 

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GUIDE: Time War 2 - FILTER: - Gallifrey - Big Finish - Audio

Gallifrey: Time War (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time War (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish
 Released on: Wednesday 28th February 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

Just how did the Time Lords get into such a major conflict with the Daleks?  Big Finish's latest entry into their Time War saga attempts to answer just that via their long-running series Gallifrey, which has long focused on the adventures of Romana and Leela on the Time Lord homeworld, often in Political and Spy thrillers. It will be difficult to write this review without Spoilers, so reader beware, while I will try my best to limit them, but this review may feature an element of SPOILERS AHEAD! (Skip to Final Paragraph for my recommendation)

Celesital Intervention, the opening episode revolves around Romana (now heading up the Celestial Intervention Agency) and her increasing worry about the War Council and it's Secret Operations.  She and her CIA cohort Narvin recruit Leela to at first spy on the War Council, and then desperately recruit her again to travel into the Death Zone to see what the War Council may be cooking up there.  Meanwhile, a fellow time traveling race, and Time Lord ally, have had their planet destroyed by the Daleks, and the remaining 500 refugees from the Planet come to Gallifrey seeking asylum.  While the War Council initially opposes letting Refugees onto their homeworld, and thus open them up to more risk, political games are played and the poor souls are allowed in...but at a price that Romana fears may be too high, as it gives the War Council even more power and free reign.  In the end, the President Livia (the new TIme Lord President), declares War upon the Daleks...the Time War officially begins, and we find out that some of the creepy stuff the War Council is up to will have some long-lasting repercussions. 

This opening episode begins the set off with a bang, and Lalla Ward's increasingly desperate and frantic performance sells it.  You can just feel the stress and worry of what is happening to her and her world pushing down on her, and making her worry were they will end up when it is all said and done (and as we all know, it is nowhere pleasant).  While the whole cast is great, Ward's frustrated Romana makes this political thriller all the more entertaining. 

The box set continues with Soldier Obscura, and sees Ace and Braxiatel on a mission into The Obscura, a strange deadly region in Time and Space, which may hold a secret weapon within it. Ace is working for the CIA, having been left on Gallifrey by the Doctor at some point (at what exact point in Ace's mildly confusing spin-off material life this takes place, I've no real idea, but it doesn't really matter to the story), and she and Braxiatel head off into this dangerous area of space and meet Danna, a Time Lord mentor of Braxiatel who was once one of the best marksmen ever known, but has been living for years alone posted in the Obscura.  The Daleks have been trying to break into this region of space for a while, occasionally transforming themselves by adding wings and other mutations hoping to get in and get a weapon that could win the Time War.  But can Ace trust Braxiatel? 

While I found the second entry to contain good performances and some interesting Time War ideas, I think it just didn't work for me in the same way the opening episode did. That's not to say it is bad (fr from it), but it wasn't as great as I felt the opening was.  The reveals of what the Weapon was or might have been felt underwhelming, and the fake-out death of Ace is too kind of know they won't kill her off (though really, why not?), and then after the theme music is played it is revealed that Braxiatel has wiped her memory and abandoned her on some random planet. I think this episode had some interesting concepts and good performances, but I wasn't as engaged with Ace or Braxiatel in the way I was with Ward or the supporting cast in the opener. 

With the Braxiatel/Ace plan not panning out and knowing that the Doctor has sworn off helping the Time Lords in this War, Romana decides to enlist the help of the other major Time Lord Renegade: the Master.  In The Devil You Know, they recall the Master to Gallifrey (the call he received in the middle of the War Master boxset), and he is tasked with retrieving a man called Finnian Valentine, who supposedly has knowledge of a weapon that is so powerful it could deter the Daleks and maybe even end the war.  Of course, things are never so simple, particularly in a war waging havoc upon Time and Space.  To keep the Master in check, Leela is assigned to go with him, and when they arrive on Valentine's alleged whereabouts, they find not one, but two versions of him.  One whose race was wiped out by the Time Lords, and another whose race only survived through the help of the Time Lords keeping the Daleks at bay.  Both are a little uneasy about helping The Master and Leela however.  And when the interrogations begin to go nowhere, The Master's more ruthless techniques must take hold, at a cost higher than anyone would like.  Major Spoilers here - learning that what they are after is not a weapon but a planet with a major power source, the Master disposes of Leela and sends her out into the Vortex in the midst of the Time War, hoping to leave her fate forever ambiguous to the Doctor...of course her fate was explored in the final War Doctor set, in which we had seen her in a far more fragile and lost state.  The Master then heads off to Arcking where the alleged power source is held, that story picks back up in The Good Master, the third story in the War Master boxset. 

The Devil You Know is excellent.  Derek Jacobi once again gets the chance to relish in the role he only os briefly got to play on television, and this episode is not another great showcase of just how great he is, it also fills in the gap of his own War Master set.  Louise Jameson is also quite good in this, as is Bryan Dick as the two Valentines, playing two slightly different versions of the same person quite well.  Just great performances, a great story, and another exciting audio performance from the great Derek Jacobi

The set concludes with Desperate Measures, which focuses on a new election for the President of the High Council. This section of the review has definite SPOILERS.  Livia no longers wishes to be a War President and looks for a way to get out with her dignity intact.  When her appointed successor is a General that is clearly being propped up by the War Council, Romana decides that she will challenge him and run to retake the office (offering to give her life for the seat, because she can only be elected President for another term if she has regenerated into a new body.  But when her secret attempts at trying to negotiate with the Daleks become public, it pretty much ends her chances.  Meanwhile, Narvin heads into the Death Zone to try and destroy the Resurrection machine which plans to bring dead Time Lords back from death in order to fight in the War...but the agent that is meant to be helping him betrays him.  And so during the new President's installation as Leader of the High Council, Livia, and the War Council's real plan comes to light. The General's familial ties to Rassilon are used for one utilize the MAtrix and the Resurrection machine, along with a living descendant of Rassilon, to resurrect the famed former leader of the Time Lords.

This finale is excellent.  Ward is great, and the entire plot to bring Rassilon back from the dead is a lovely way to give us a cliffhanger for more.  When it comes to political games, espionage, and deep cuts into canon, this set really can't be beaten.

This was an excellent set, and I am genuinely looking forward to the next entry in this saga. Big Finish has really outdone themselves with their Time War entries...from the War Doctor sets starring John Hurt, to the War Master boxset, and now with the ongoing Eighth Doctor and Gallifrey: Time War sets...they are really exploring this untapped era of Who-lore with nothing but top-notch storytelling, almost as if for years when they didn't have the New Series license, they were just thinking it over and over for a decade.  They've been waiting for this, and they aren't wasting their chance. If I have a real criticism, it is that despite their best attempts to make this set easier to dive into for new fans, it really is better listened to with some background into other stories. You don't really need to listen to all of the Gallifrey audio series (I've only heard the first series from over a decade ago, which has little to do with this beyond introducing some key characters)...but listening to some War Doctor stories or the War Master set will definitely help in getting the big picture here.  I would say if you wanted to jump into some of Big Finish's Time War stuff, don't start here, but definitely GET HERE.  It's all well worth a listen, and they are killing it on the Time War stuff. 

Associated Products

GUIDE: Time War - FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio

Supremacy Of The Cybermen - Complete CollectionBookmark and Share

Friday, 17 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Writers: George Mann + Cavan Scott

Art: Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni, with Alessandro Vitti

Colorist: Nicola Righi With Enrica Eren Angiolini

Letterer: Richard Starkings
And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Senior Designer: Andrew Leung 

Senior Editor: Andrew James

Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton
& Amoona Saohin

Designer: Rob Farmer

Published :7th March 2017

The most recent incarnations of the Doctor must combat the might of the Cyberiad - an overwhelming force that links the minds of Cybermen through all of time. The Tenth Doctor is forced to use a super-powered, and truly gigantic machine, as part of a combat alliance with Sontarans (who are normally his sworn enemies). The Ninth Doctor is on the back foot as he seemingly loses Rose forever, and his faithful time ship into the bargain. The London of 2006 that was established as relatively safe is now totally overcome by the silver giants. And as for the Eleventh Doctor, both he and Alice face a change of evolution back in the ancient time zone of ‘Prehistoric’ Earth. A change that contradicts established knowledge concerning the fate of the Silurian race.

But it is the Twelfth Doctor who is facing the eye of the storm and discovering what his Cybermen nemeses are intending to do, not only with the wider cosmos, but with the  temporal flow of causality itself. It soon becomes clear that this Doctor’s apparent triumph over Rassilon (in Hell Bent) was only short-lived. The alternately legendary and reviled keystone figure in Gallifrey’s history (depending on when in his elongated lifespan) is now truly betraying his own kind, by allowing the Cybermen to have access to the higher technology of his race. In return for this 'sharing' of superior knowledge, the former Lord President is accepting some Cyber ‘enhancements’ to his own person.

The initial two issues of this arc were separately reviewed on this site last year, and the consensus was that the initial foundations were promising.

So the logical question is: does the conclusion deliver?

In a nutshell - this is a satisfying romp  for the general time required to read through it. And as a collected edition it also perhaps reads in the best way, for one to enjoy such a large scale and ambitious type of story. When this story was first being released every month (or every other month) in the second half of 2016, sometimes the wait between issues highlighted how sparse was the material that most of the starring Doctors were given. 

The key premise of the Cybermen looking to master both space and time is perhaps not new when one is to consider the likes of Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis, but with all due respect to those 1980s stories, the ideas at work here are that much stronger. Also, the limitless 'budget' of comics is also put to better use than was ever the case with those TV outings’ resources. The Doctor rarely is put under such immediate pressure as in this tale, and it is refreshing to have his other selves being so helpless and threatening to drag down the ‘present’ (Capaldi) incumbent. There are plenty of moments of high drama, with full-on ‘shock effect’ as various associates, or close friends of the Doctor(s) are seemingly slain, or coldly assimilated by the impassive forces of the Cybermen.

The biggest stumbling block for this distinctly ambitious story is that the jeopardy is raised to such intense levels that the final method of bringing things to a close verges on deus ex machina. Yet it does see some welcome character development for one of the main antagonists, that arguably was not the most easy to anticipate based on much of the previous storyline. If one were to look for how strong the conclusion is overall, such as by comparing it with the prior year’s Titan comic event, then it is clear that the ending Paul Cornell devised for his Four Doctors story was just that margin more satisfying and neat.  

Also, whilst it was brave to force the Twelfth Doctor to be the one regeneration to have the key to the puzzle, it is a little frustrating that the Doctor’s various companions are so passive here – again Cornell’s story was mindful of keeping the considerable precedent of the assistant role being crucial to the Doctor’s fortunes. As an introduction to those not so familiar with Doctors of past times – even in the recent decades – this adventure does fine work in maintaining key defining traits. The Eleventh Doctor is as light hearted and unflappable in the face of danger, as the most striking turns Matt Smith contributed on-screen. The Tenth Doctor has those hints of darkness and fury, such is the relatively short period that has occurred since the Time War. The Ninth Doctor’s relatively macho and assertive nature is well captured, and despite the human casualties that assault his senses, he still has that firm core belief in his ability to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Titan had also done a fine job in their ongoing regular comic lines to introduce teasers for this saga by having Doctors from the classic era of 1963-1989 pop up , and this is executed well in the main story by having further glimpses of the TV Time Lords of yesteryear..There are also some other pleasing references that operate in relieving the often relentlessly grim vibe – such as the mention of the 'Kessel Run' by the Ecclestone version of the Doctor.

The visuals are mostly effective from the artwork team that contributed to this mini-arc, and the wealth of time and space is no doubt a cause for excitement for both casual reader and loyal monthly purchaser alike.  The main artists – Ivan Rodriguez and Walter Geovanni – are able to put their personal stamp on a wealth of familiar faces, along with those newly introduced for this particular story. There is good further art support from Alessandro Vitti, and the main colouring work from Nicola Righi is typically lively and effective in conveying the mood intended by co-writers Scott and Mann.

Overall, readers can do far worse than give this graphic novel some time and careful attention as they uncover the myriad threads concerning Doctors past and present, as well as the turbulence that is Gallifrey in the future. It perhaps is not up there with some of the very best stories from Titan, but as an adventure featuring the second most recognised monster of the show, and one that makes some interesting use of the different Doctors from television screens in the last 12 or so years, it is definitely worth a look. It remains to be seen if Series 10's concluding episodes make equal or better use of the (potentially infinite) Cybermen concept; one that is now more than Fifty Years of age.


The War Doctor - Box Set 3: Agents of ChaosBookmark and Share

Monday, 13 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The War Doctor: Agents of Chaos (Credit: Big Finish)


John Hurt (The War Doctor) +
Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra)

Neve McIntosh (Lara), Honeysuckle Weeks (Heleyna), 
Timothy Speyer (Kruger), Helen Goldwyn (Professor Crane), 
Gunnar Cauthery (Kavarin), Matthew Cottle (Leith), 
Dan Starkey (General Fesk/Sontarans), Josh Bolt (Kalan), 
Barnaby Edwards (Vassarian), Andrew French (Muren) +
Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Time Strategist/Daleks)


Written By: David Llewellyn, Andrew Smith + Ken Bentley

Director: Nicholas Briggs, Sound Design/ Music: Howard Carter

Producer: David Richardson, Script Editor: Matt Fitton

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery + Nicholas Briggs

Cover Art: Tom Webster

Duration: 250 Mins

Product Format: 4-disc CD (slipcover box set)

Released October 2016


He was once intended as just a one-shot player in The Day Of The Doctor. But over the ensuing four or so years, the War Doctor has garnered plenty of new material. He had his own full length novel in the shape of Engines of War (written by George Mann), and also was designated the opening short story in the Heroes And Monsters anthology, as well as popping up in The Shakespeare Notebooks. (All three of these were published by BBC Books). More recently, this most destructive, but no less noble incarnation of the title hero was instrumental in the timey-wimey contortions of the Year Two arc in Titan's Eleventh Doctor comic book line, (having already featured in The Four Doctors 'event' of 2015).

Although when first introduced in the Series 7 finale, there was a sense of shame and terrible wrongdoing connected to him, Who followers quickly came to bond with the War Doctor, and have a firm investment concerning both his wellbeing, and his effectiveness in saving the day.

We now have sadly lost the main force behind this character being so enduring, as John Hurt passed away in January of this year. However, he obviously leaves behind a considerable legacy owing to his many years in TV and film, as well as radio and theatre. This is the third box set from Big Finish to afford Hurt the primary starring role, and was released last Autumn. A fourth and final one is due to come to the market soon.

As with the first and second miniseries, there is both standard adventurous narrative, with twists and turns typical of most Doctor Who, but also a vein of dark comedy and satire; one example being the standard under-estimation of how Dalek armour can withstand standard 20th Century Earth handguns. Also persisting, in terms of the thematic core behind the storytelling, is the sense of war time chaos and suffering, which underlines the long history of human conflict in real life on our planet. 

In comparison to how he was portrayed in the Eleventh Doctor comics, this War Doctor embodies perhaps a little more typical humour that we associate with the 'regular' Doctor of any given TV era, and he also is quick to bond with strangers, too. But then again, such is the tempestuous nature of war, and the effects it has, there should be no surprise that can be more open to accepting others' company at different points in this (unofficial) regeneration than others.

Regarding the other major starring performer of these original stories from Big Finish - namely Jacqueline Pearce  - this set offers the character of Ollistra the most audio time so far, and therefore also the most character development. Pearce is quite incapable of a dull and phoned-in performance, and like Tom Baker, or Hurt himself, has a richly unique voice.

The Shadow Vortex (Credit: Big Finish)The Shadow Vortex is a fun romp, if perhaps the least successful in overall impact of the three plays. It is set in the Cold War - 1961 to be exact - and involves the British, Germans and Russians .. plus of course the Daleks themselves. It is also yet another adventure where the Daleks have a ruthless and duplicitous agent working on their behalf - namely Lara Zannis (Neve McIntosh). 

There is also some fine development for one of the Stasi officials, who initially tries to subdue the (English-accented) War Doctor. Kruger, however, is outwitted by a man he thought he could break, before going onto assume the perennial - yet always intriguing - 'pseudo companion' role. Added into the mix, are some internal political tensions running amongst  the British scientific establishment, not to mention threats to causality, time lines, and planet Earth. It all comes together into making a season opener that will engage and surprise enough, thus leaving the listener wanting access to the next story - and in double-quick time.


The second entry - denominated The Eternity Cage - is arguably the jewel in the crown of the set, and one of the best stories altogether in the War Doctor's saga. It offers the possibility of the brutal Sontarans becoming a viable faction in the Time War. There are some great plot twists and revelations. It also is welcome to see the mutually captive Dalek Time Strategist and Cardinal form an alliance; however temporary and involuntary in nature that may be. The Doctor acquires a motley crew of would-be rescuers to help him in extricating Ollistra from the clutches of the squat and brutal warmongers from Sontar, who are led by the uncompromising General Fesk (Dan Starkey). Chief amongst his new allies is a boy called Kalan, who is native to Rovidia (where the action mostly takes place). He reminds one of Leela, in that he is technically primitive but loyal and proactive. This supporting character also features in the ensuing finale to the box set.

It of course helps that so many TV viewers will know the Sontarans. This may be in connection to Strax, who was part of the recurring Paternoster Gang, or owing to one of the stories to feature them as out-and-out foes. They always have made for a worthy antagonist, but some degree of humour is always involved too. In this middle episode, we do get a pretty emphatic reminder that sometimes their ambitions are simply a little too bold.

It also is an asset that Andrew Smith is behind the play's script. Smith first broke into the Doctor Who business, when the program was still in its 'classic era' phase, all the way back in Season 18. He has more recently done a good number of these Big Finish audios. Knowing just how to merge with the house style, but also to offer something that typifies the show in having a mesmerising 'hook' or conceit behind the narrative, he paces this story to perfection. Consequently its 'cliff-hanger' works to the very best effect.


The Eternity Cage  (Credit: Big Finish)The third and final story is primarily set in the TARDIS itself, but makes full and profitable use of the Eye Of Harmony aspect. Despite having the story take place in one location, the TARDIS is never a dull place - such is its endlessly changing and infinite nature. And by having a small cast, all concerned get their chance to contribute in a meaningful fashion. The main point of interest is the extent of Ollistra's involvement in the final outcome. She displays some more overt heroism, as well as seemingly genuine concern for others' wellbeing. However, the coda, which is brilliantly executed, reminds everyone of just how fickle and opportunistic high-ranking politicians can be.


With this particular box set being released, the Time War mystery is slightly less opaque. However, there are some more questions raised along with the answers: Just how confined was it in terms of space and time, despite the assertions of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors? And how many other races tried to muscle their way into the aeons-old conflict between the children of Davros, and the Gallifreyans?

These three stories can all stand on their own, but together in this set they all resonate stronger. The initial story in mid 20th century Europe is more separate, in the sense that it barely qualifies for Time War status, but still offers jeopardy in terms of changing history and its effect on the wider Web of Time. The other two entries are rather more traditionally located back in the broader war occurring across the cosmos. Yet, clearly a lot of careful work has been done by script editor Matt Fitton to make the trinity of Time War episodes feel suitably cohesive.

The theme of a traitor (or two) in the ranks is well-utilised, as is the major new Dalek character. The Dalek Time Strategist is unrelentingly sure in its abilities to forecast what is come, and for much of the trilogy this clairvoyance appears to be a most formidable tool in the Dalek's arsenal. Nicholas Briggs does fine work with the Dalek ‘foot soldiers’, but his main achievement as a cast member is breathing life into the strategist. Chilling, loathsome and yet also arresting, this thorn in the War Doctor's side can be ranked amongst some of the best villains. 

Compared to Only The Monstrous and Infernal Devices, there is a little more mellow side to the Doctor here, that complements his moral outrage and consternation at the horrors he comes across. His "Not that old chestnut" retort, when threatened with either the "easy" or "hard way" interrogation method, shows much of the more 'normal' Doctor of years and decades gone by. Also, his confidence in leading a team, or issuing orders shows how much he welcomes slipping into his 'old shoes', and becoming a somewhat standard hero - at least for the time being.

But still, at times difficult choices are required of him. And the very ending of the third story sees him powerless to save all he would have intended to.

Where the fourth and final set of adventure - Casualties Of War - will take Hurt's Doctor is still open to speculation - especially given his mixed fortunes in overcoming opposition, and keeping the Time Lords' chances of triumph as strong as he possibly can.


Eye of Harmony  (Credit: Big Finish)The supporting cast here are generally strong, with several exceptional performances. Kalan - portrayed by Josh Bolt - is consistently engaging, and helps to give his two stories some emotional heart and soul. As good as the plots are, there is much sci-fi technobabble and large scale action, that require some serious 'mind's eye' work on the part of the listener.  Bolt manages to diminish the conscious effort involved. Dan Starkey is also tremendous fun as Fesk, as well as the Sontarans that serve under him. Whilst Kevin Lindsay set a high standard in the 1970s as Linx and Styre, Starkey is the definitive modern Doctor Who clone warrior - much in the same way Briggs encapsulates latter-day Daleks. Out of the guest female cast, I would say that Honeysuckle Weeks is more memorable than Neve McIntosh, but it also helps that she is given more to do, and that her character has a fuller back-story that is linked to previous adventures for the War Doctor. Elsewhere, Timothy SpeyerHelen GoldwynMatthew CottleBarnaby Edwards and Andrew French all authentically portray the given attributes and drawbacks of a particular character.

Music is first-rate yet again, thanks to the creative gifts of Howard Carter, and also makes for a welcome separate track, that can be enjoyed in isolation from the sound and fury of the plays themselves. This bonus feature allows the listener to recall the most stirring moments of the three tales, and is just as welcome as the standard inclusion of cast and crew interviews. 

Carter also is again at hand to provide some convincing audio effects, amongst them are various weapons firing, as well as unusual devices such as The Eternity Cage itself, not to mention the startling portrayal of the War Doctor drifting away (potentially endlessly) - thanks to the actions of someone who is not all they appear to be. Whatever the punctuation of sound needed to make these stories feel fully alive, the appropriate effect is invariably selected.



Whilst the loss of John Hurt will resonate for a long time to come, this CD/ Digital Download release is yet another example of us being able to celebrate all the great skill and magnetism the man was capable of. From the (typically revealing) behind the scenes material, there is a clear sense of how others put their all into collaborating with him, and make a strong, firm effort to raise their own bar so as to match his sheer class and artistic integrity.

Furthermore, out of the three box sets released thus far, this works best in offering straightforward, easy-to-follow entertainment. Perhaps less new ground is broken here than in some of the earlier stories of Sets One and Two, but regardless there is a palpable sense of a cast and crew totally in synch with the material that they are working on.

David Richardson, alongside Jason Haigh-Ellery, has once again assembled a top-notch original production, which does justice to the core idea that sprung from Nicholas Brigg's seemingly boundless creativity.





The Invasion Of TimeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who and The Invasion Of Time (no narrator announced) (Credit: BBC Audio)Terrance Dicks, Narrator: John Leeson
 Available from BBC Audio (Download/ Four CDs)

 Published: 1st September 2016

Run Time: 247 Minutes

Season Fifteen of Doctor Who was arguably the most directionless of the Seventies. After the wonderful three prior seasons under producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Doctor Who suddenly had a very different person at the helm, as Graham Williams took over. However the new showrunner perhaps was less able to make the most of the limited resources afforded the Saturday teatime show, and also commanded somewhat less authority over the sometimes domineering leading man. It was evident to many viewers how the show was struggling through a period of transition, and the average quality of both script and production dipped quite dramatically. It does need to be acknowledged, however that budget cuts were enforced by higher management, and furthermore in the case of this story industrial strikes took their toll. 


The last two years had featured very strong climactic stories, which made the often regarded 'burden' of six episodes into an opportunity to really explore an exciting storyline and afford one-off characters stronger examination. The Invasion of Time unfortunately stopped the run of triumphs, although it still had quite a few merits to prevent it from being anywhere close to a disaster. The foundations for a satisfying season finale were never quite right from Day One, and even the same budget as Season Fourteen would not have prevented some of the decisions made by the production team. Experienced writer David Weir was unable to offer a script that could be made to work on screen; although perhaps if made with Hollywood resources it would have proven a success. Some Who stories failed for being too ambitious, with many of those being in the experimental Sixties era. But surely the concept of killer cats that could walk upright and talk should have been vetoed from the off(?). Deciding to keep the basic setting of the Doctor's home world, script editor Anthony Read, along with Williams, came up with Invasion. It was a work of some desperate measures, and to be frank it did show through a significant portion of the story's duration.


The (audio) book format takes away some of the considerable ropiness of the onscreen production. On the other hand, it also excises the excellence of Borusa and Kelner - performed respectively by John Arnatt, and Milton Johns, (who also made a fine villain in the re-discovered The Enemy Of The World). The ever-strong Louise Jameson made the most of the emotional tribulations that faced Leela, as she appears to be cast aside by her best friend. Even Andred and Rodan, while hardly the stuff of legend, did make for likeable one-time characters, and as portrayed on-screen gave some colour to the rather obtuse and stuffy society of Gallifrey's Capitol.

All the same, there is no getting away from the laughable visuals/costumes used for the Vardans, and the inadequate allocation of money for the Sontaran invasion squad. The casting and/or performances for both the Vardan leader, and Commander Stor left something to be desired as well. And most dedicated classic Who fans will be aware of the use of a disused hospital for the final episode run-around sections, within the endless depths of the Doctor's TARDIS, with even some verbal 'acknowledgement' by the characters of the repeated use of the limited sets.


Apart from exploring Gallifrey in notable depth and seeing Leela leave the show, Invasion was one of a number of stories where the Fourth Doctor went 'evil'. Other examples involved possession, being impersonated, or replicated in android form. This story however did the most with the trope, by allowing Tom Baker to come across as chillingly ruthless and corrupt. And yet there was also that hint at times he was still the same do-gooder, as viewers had long come to expect. Once episode three of the story is underway, an element of tension subsides as the Doctor's true intention is clarified. But then with each passing episode the plot become shakier as the rushed writing process shows through.

Nonetheless, this brave choice to start a season closer with such a shocking premise should still be given some credit. Thus, taken on its own terms as an intriguing story, with a hook as to the Doctor's loyalties and overall game plan, and also a chance to see how Gallifrey has fared since the conspiracy that took place in The Deadly Assassin, the novelisation had some distinct in-build advantages. Terrance Dicks, so comfortable at this point as an author, was always going to produce something pleasantly readable. 

This new audio production is yet another feather in BBC Audio's cap, and the decision to once again employ John Leeson was a sound one. This loyal supporter of the show - both during his time in the cast, and many years after interacting with fandom - reprises his K9 voice effortlessly, and seamlessly incorporates any extra lines he is afforded in this version. One of the most minor characters sounds a little too much like K9, but that is forgivable, as Leeson's overall range is strong, and he breathes life even into the more one-dimensional figures of the original scripts. 

The much-praised Episode Four cliffhanger makes for the most dramatic chapter ending, and sees Leeson's heartfelt read-through of the prose at its absolute peak. This moment is coupled with a nicely done accompaniment of orchestral music - somewhat similar, but certainly not identical to the great work of Dudley Simpson. Even if the front cover gives away the main enemy's identity, for someone completely new to the story and/or Doctor Who in general, the decision made by Williams and Read to use a big twist to bolster the 'four-plus-two' episode structure twist still holds up almost forty years later. Of course, back in 1978 the chances of spoilers were next to none, with a little bit of discretion. 

In terms of what original material Dicks' adaption brings to readers who want more than just a solid translation of the teleplay, in all honesty this effort has limited 'bonuses'. Most regrettably, there is no build on the Leela/Andred relationship in this version of the story. Compared to the likes of Jo Grant, Vicki, or even Peri, this romantic exit - especially for a companion as iconic as Leela - really felt artificial. In fact there is less indication of their bond than the TV version, which had some moments of hand-holding/ eye-contact for Jameson and Christopher Tranchell to try to signpost to viewers. Also, perhaps Dicks missed opportunities for the Doctor to justify risking a full-scale Vardan invasion, and also the price paid in a number of Time Lord and Gallifreyan deaths. This loss of life, so normally abhorred by the Doctor is likely the by-product of a necessarily rushed script at the time, which still needed its quota of action-adventure and suspense.

There are at least some welcome explanations of how the Doctor was able to use the status of President, despite continuing on his travels, via a solid recap of the previous (and superior) Gallifrey story, and also a little bit of clarity over which of Rassilon's artefacts remained intact, for those who make the effort to scrutinise such details. 

In sum then, this is a nice little addition to the BBC Audio library, mainly thanks to John Leeson's committed involvement. The original book was efficient in getting the rather elongated six-parter told in expeditious fashion, and the running time here - spread over 4 CDs - feels comparatively lighter. As a tale in its own right it can be followed with little difficulty, although it certainly resonates more if the listener is somewhat clued up on Time Lord basics, and also familiar with Leela's development (which evoked George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion).Whilst probably not the first choice for a fan unfamiliar with the Tom Baker era - and in particular this maiden season of the Williams era - this audiobook still holds its own, and offers a good few hours of easy listening.