Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor: The Time War: Series One – Paul McGann, Olivia Vinall, Nimmy March, David Ganly, Sean Murray, Hywel Morgan, Laurence Kennedy, Rakhee Thakrar, Karina Fernandez, Jacqueline Pearce, Nick Brimble, Katy Sobey, Okezie Morro & Nicholas Briggs. Written by John Dorney & Matt Fitton & Directed by Ken Bentley – 5xCD / Download (Big Finish)
You certainly can’t accuse Big Finish of lacking in ambition. The Time War Series One is a box set comprising of four (count them!) linked adventures starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor as he becomes embroiled in the Time War, the epic clash between Gallifrey and the Daleks often alluded to in previous Who stories but never really explored. Each adventure rocks in at about an hour, so you’re getting a fair amount of Who action for your buck.
It all starts off innocently enough with The Starship of Theseus. The Doctor and new companion Sheena materialise on a luxury space liner and decide to indulge in a spot of sightseeing. Within literally two minutes, they’re involved in a missing person’s case and some sinister goings on are discovered (of course). It appears to be a straight forward enough tale of Space Trolls (really!) but there’s something else much more important going on as time and reality all seems a bit fluid. The luxury liner becomes a refugee ship fleeing the Time War and the Doctor suspects that they’ve been caught in the backwash of the conflict. No sooner has he worked this out then a battle Tardis shows up with a small fleet of Dalek saucers in pursuit. I would say ‘with hilarious consequences’ – but I’d be lying. Although there is some hot Troll vs Dalek action.
Things calm down slightly as The Doctor crash lands on a jungle planet in the next instalment, Echoes of War. Accompanied by a small group of refugees he has to enlist the help of an amnesiac Dalek to reach a safe zone and find his missing Tardis. A safe zone is required because the planet is in a state of temporal flux with the local fauna and flora rapidly evolving and then devolving thanks to the rather enthusiastic use of time weapons by both the Gallifreyans and everyone’s favourite genocidal pepper-pots.
Rescue, of a sort, by Cardinal Ollistra (a Gallifreyan bigwig from the War Council), leads into The Conscript where the Doctor is drafted into the Gallifreyan army and sent to a boot camp for new ‘recruits’. The usual trainee hijinks ensue with the Doctor not exactly getting along with the military regime. But the Daleks are still in hot pursuit of the Doctor and his chums and they aren’t going to let a little thing like a Gallifreyan training camp get in their way. Although their solution-literally the destruction of the entire solar system the base is in- is a bit over the top even for them. It’s a good job Darth Vader never had access to Dalek tech and was limited to a Death Star.
The final chapter, One Life, sees the Doctor and the remaining refugees, along with Ollistra, fleeing the doomed solar system in his badly damaged tardis, the cloister bell going into overdrive. A gloriously well played McGuffin shows itself and effortlessly ties the entire story together.
McGann delivers a blinding performance as the Doctor, quite difficult for an audio drama when you think about it. It makes me wish he had a chance at doing a Who tv series because based on his performance here, he would have been really good. It’s all superbly acted to be fair and full marks to the writers who have delivered a top notch script.
John Dorney is responsible for creating episodes one and four, whilst Matt Fitton delivered the middle two. Both have masterfully blended a heady mix of humour and drama with an underlying ‘serious message’ about the horrors of war. The Gallifreyans are portrayed as almost as arrogant and ruthless as the Daleks themselves. In places you won’t be entirely sure that you want them to win. When the alternative is the Dalek Empire, that’s saying something.
The whole story is acting as a prequel towards further boxsets exploring the Time War, the next being the War Master. Based on this presentation, I cannot wait. The Time War 1 is thoroughly recommended. Paul Ferriday