Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
It was so bitter sweet listening to this one. Knowing with each world we were hearing the last performance of the War Doctor and what I think is the last of John Hurt at Big Finish.
“The Daleks are coming and when they get here, they will dive on this city. They will fill the air with death & screams, with white hot weapons, fire that burns so brightly it incinerates the tears off you cheeks. Minutes, that’s all it’ll take. Minutes to see everything you ever loved turn to blacked meat and cracked bones.”
The above is just a small sample of the pure poetry we are treated to in this set right from the beginning.In Pretty Lies writer Guy Adams see’s the War Doctor (John Hurt) and Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) on the run following the events of the last boxset. The Daleks soon find them on the planet where they have landed and bring all the forces to bare of killing the two timelords and the planet on which they stand. As if this wasn’t enough a future historian called Schandel (Joseph Kloska) is there too on the case to find out what happened on that day, but his ‘Editor’ AI computer refuses to tell them what happens. If this was any other Doctor they might vow to save the planet and everyone on it, but this is the War Doctor. He only promises to try to save some lives; as many as he can, but he doesn’t see them winning this day.
“I’m not a magician, I’m not a God. I’ll do what I can but miracles are simply beyond me.”
This is a really strong open to the boxset. Kloska shines as the comic relief that in the end becomes more and this story gives plenty of time for Hurt and Pearce to spar with each other, which for me is one of the highlights of this entire series of War Doctor audios.
The Lady of Obsidian see’s the return of Leela (Louise Jameson) who we find out was an early casualty of the Time War. She was hit by a terrible Dalek time weapon; that would obliterate most of her memory from the timeline but due to her strength instead of being eliminated Leela has become unanchored from our reality and remembers several possibilities of what could have happened as well as what actually did. For every moment she doesn’t know if one path was taken or another. So Leela has abandoned her name and now lives only as The Lady of Obsidian and with a band of gorilla fighters she does battle with the Unlived; who are from timelines that never were in any reality. The War Doctor arrives wanting to find an ally in ‘the Lady’ but instead finds a friend he must help and restore to this reality.
The clear mirror between Leela as the Lady not wanting to accept her real name and the Doctor is very nicely done by classic Who writer Andrew Smith. Louise Jameson shows once again how she can bounce off any Doctor and still shine. She feels and sounds different as the Lady and you could listen to her and John Hurt act off one another all day long.
“With no ship, no supplies and a planetoid of killers below, alive may be a temporary condition”
In the final ever War Doctor story (certainly the last to be played by John Hurt anyway) Nicholas Briggs writes ‘The Enigma Dimension‘. The Daleks are playing for the win by installing a weapon above Gallifrey that would undo all of Timelord history and have Daleks in control of the planet Gallifrey. But is the machine (much like ‘The Moment’ in Day of the Doctor) having second thoughts?
The Doctor must try and make sure the Enigma machine makes the right choice about the past and possible future it wants to see.
“We have nothing to lose, we have lost. The Daleks have defeated us. Replaced us. Well don’t you want to find out how they did it?”
This last story again poses the question of how far should the Timelords go to defeat the Daleks and if they could change things so the Daleks never existed, do they have that right? Another great breeding ground for a battle of wills and opinions by Pearce and Hurt, with the added bonus of Jameson as Leela in the mix.
I was glad we got to have closure on this series. This was intended to be the last boxset in the first series of War Doctor stories; but I was worried it might have left some lose ends untied to leave it open for a second series that for obvious reasons we can’t have. I don’t know if Big Finish had to change the ending at all to remove any open ending, but I rather suspect they may have been all too aware that John Hurt’s schedule was always such a busy one; you could never have banked on him being able to commit to more even if he were still with us. I may have felt the ending wasn’t as impactful as I had hoped. Don’t’ get me wrong, the end of the story is a cracking one, but we don’t get a final speech from the War Doctor. A very telling last line about the character of the War Doctor, yes, but just not the ‘button’ I was hoping for. Of course they didn’t record this knowing that John would leave us; but maybe knowing it was the last set in the first series of the War Doctor they could have written something larger at the end? But as complaints go, this really as a small one.
The structure of these sets was always inspired. To have each set concentrate on a different aspect of the Time War and a different theme to each was really nicely done as to be clear, but not be so in your face that you couldn’t enjoy the story alone.
These sets were also jam packed with talent both on the production side and front of mic. As they say in the extra’s people were lining up to work with John Hurt and producer David Richardson fit them all in, in exactly the right parts. I now look forward to going back and listening to the whole set as a delicious 4 course meal of audio.
I wish there was something I could say that would sum up what it meant to me and so many other Doctor Who fans having Sir John Hurt reprise his previously ‘One Night Only’ performance as the War Doctor. To flesh out the role with more context without taking anything away from his TV performance.
All I can say is thank you John, for this and so many more amazing performances that enriched our lives and will still in movies for years to come and thank you Big Finish for making this possible.
You can buy this set here https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-war-doctor-volume-04-casualties-of-war-1383
Order now for Amazon
You can also listen to me and Fraser Coull look back at the amazing work of John Hurt here.
Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!