Review by Doctor Squee (Host – Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
Mild spoilers below!!!
When it comes to the War Doctor a lot of people get it wrong. I try not to sound arrogant as I write that; but I think it’s true.
People have said that for the Doctor to be that disgusted with himself from the War and to deny his name he must have done something really bad; something maybe even evil. I’ve never felt this. All the Doctor has to do to not consider himself good is simple. He has to either not live by his personal code (which is so well summed up in Day of the Doctor) ‘Never cowardly, nor cruel. Never give up, never give in’.
He also needs to never be a pragmatist, because part of being the Doctor is always to find the unquestionable right thing to do something when it seems impossible.
1) The Innocent
The Doctor is almost killed trying to stop the Daleks and save a couple of Timelords (clearly having little regard for if he might die in the process). When he awakes on a planet he has never been to before called Keska, a local named ‘Rejoice’ (Lucy Briggs-Owen) is nursing him back to health. Her people have hidden from the Time War & are instead fighting a local War.
John Hurt is perfect as the War Doctor as he was in Day of the Doctor. He is clearly a man who wants to deny who he is, so he can do what he feels he must but the Doctor is so embedded into him he can’t help himself.
The relationship between him & Rejoyce is brilliant. She is kind & patient, when he is trying to be grumpy & push her away. It’s hard to put a finger on what his relationship with her is. Are they attracted to one another? It seems not, but they are so tender toward one another (the War Doctor more reluctantly so), are they just friends? That seems wrong too. But whatever it is, it works. The Doctor is clearly attracted by the simplicity of the way these people live and they represent a more typical small scale problem that the Doctor is used to solving in the Heart of the action. A big scale War is not. He says he will return to the War and he is to be believed but you can tell this is not what he wants, just what he choose when he drank from that fateful chalice on Karn.
2) The Thousand Worlds
Having been taken from Keska to be returned to the war the War Doctor is sent on a rescue mission to save a high ranking Timelord Seratrix. He is given a top flight TImelord elite team, which he in true Doctor style promptly loses.
He finds himself in the future of Keska and they have ultimately (as the Doctor predicted) been caught up in the Time War after all. He finds himself with some slaves who help him to get nearer to the Daleks posing as a ‘slave elite’ as he has clean enough clothes to pass for being new there.
In one lovely moment, the Doctor is once again denying he has a name, but one of the slaves insists on knowing it, so he has someone to pin his hopes on, a role the Doctor would usually be used to taking on.
He meets up with an older version of Rejoyce and is filled in on how events went sour on her world.
The older version of Rejoyce played by Carolyn Seymour not only seems flawlessly like the same character but she sounds so world weary from the war and gives a lot of pathos to the already established relationship between her & the Doctor and of a woman that has lived her life knowing someone so amazing as him came into her life & left just as suddenly.
Whilst the Doctor is finding the lost Gallifreyan the rest of his would be team play catch up and provide a great B-story that weaves into the main one.
When the Doctor is discovered by the Daleks & he finds out what has happened to the one he was sent to find and the Doctor isn’t happy about it at all.
3) The Heart of Battle
From here on, it is impossible to give a review without giving more spoilers, so please read on at your own risk…
With The Timelord the Doctor is charged with saving, Seratrix; aligned with the Daleks in a misguided attempt at peace and the Daleks set to destroy Keska & 1000 other worlds the Doctor starts to see all the details clearly. As the Doctor Opens Seatrix’s eye’s he only has a short time to save the day.
This is a great opportunity to show how the Doctor has changed. To be on the side against the man who just wants peace for all.
The music for this production is clearly meant to strike a more serious, maybe even more sinister tone to the usual arrangements of the Doctor Who theme. It does sound to my ears a little too close to Star Wars but I applaud them wanting to give a different feel to this drama.
Not mentioned in my review above is Jaqueline Pearce as Cardinal Ollistra, who is an amazing well rounded character who one minute seems to be on the Doctors side and showing admiration for him, the next she is cursing him for not following her will.
Without giving away the final scene, it revolves around some people in a deadly situation, with no hope of escape (I know, that never happens in Doctor Who!) but as opposed to finding a way to rescue them at the 11th hour or for them to sacrifice themselves the Doctor is in a situation where he must sign their death warrant or let the whole planet be destroyed. And as I said above; being pragmatic is something very new for the Doctor, that is what for me makes the War Doctor different.
John Hurt is amazing in this, as is testified by all the cast in the behind the scenes feature. If it was anyone else it would seem sycophantic, but since its John Hurt, who could help but be in awe? He and the writers play the mix between him not going too far so as to not be able to be the Doctor again in the future and being different enough to justify why when he reclaims his mantle as the Doctor again he can’t come to terms with how he acted during the war.
Available to buy on CD now.