Review by Michael Goleniewski
“Romana and Narvin are exiles, driven from Gallifrey by Rassilon’s regime and cut adrift amid the horrors of the Time War. Their one remaining hope is that they can find their friend: Leela was also lost in the maelstrom of battle, but she is fighting to survive…”
PART 1: HOSTILES BY DAVID LLEWELLYN
When we last saw Gallifrey at the end of the second Gallifrey: Time War audio set, Romana and Narvin had been exiled from their homeworld. Forced out of power by a new regime forged by a reborn Rassilon, the pair have taken a TARDIS and begun a new journey searching for their old friend Leela who disappeared after being thrown into the Time Vortex by the Master in a story from the first set. Volume Three catches up with the pair struggling to survive and chased into the middle of a Time War battlefield. Landing on a derelict Gallifreyan ship looking for safety and spare parts, they soon discover the remnants of a devastating temporal event with a lone survivor being stalked by a dangerous entity who refuses to let her go. As both parties are brought together onboard with one not really trusting the other, a fight to escape looms large on the horizon and a dastardly experiment is about to make its presence known…..
“Hostiles” is an appropriate start with a tense ticking clock and a decent expansion to what was established before. The script by David Llewellyn makes for a strong survival epic and a far cry from what we’ve seen in this series in a long while. The focus is less on the larger scope of the War and more on how it effects individuals on the ground level which brings another very unique view of how the Time War affects that’s more akin to something out of the Eighth Doctor Time War series than anything else. It’s a nice twist and a decent focus for the saga to take but compared to the intriguing politics of the previous installments, it’s not quite as interesting as it ought to be. The soundscape and base plot is also on the weaker side of good even with strong ties back to the previous set but some very minor time tricks salvage a lot of what’s here and it never quite loses your attention no matter how much it might try.
In terms of the cast, both Lalla Ward and Seán Carlsen are great as usual. The narrative provides a strong focus on Romana and Narvin as characters and their well-built relationship despite their differing ideologies of suspicion and skepticism vs. trust and understanding; both of which are reasonable given their history and circumstances to where you can easily see where both characters are coming from. Leah Harvey’s Trellick is a bit of a mixed bag in that her performance is fine but her motivations are a little bit muddled. It’s not immediately apparent as to why she’s so suspicious and secretive towards Romana and Narvin especially given where she stands in the war and the end result that comes from her actions and story beats isn’t very memorable. It also doesn’t exactly use the surprise villains of the story very well even with a very strongly written final confrontation that pits Trellick against the effects of the past.
In the grand scheme of things, “Hostiles” is definitely a weaker opening than the series has had in a long time. The different approach it takes given where things were left for these characters is certainly novel and Lalla Ward and Sean Carlsen are both fabulous as always in their main roles. But the standard plot, disappointing use of links from the previous set, and confusing character motivations in the primary side character mean that it comes across as more of a usual Who adventure and not something in the Gallifrey range. That’s not necessarily a bad thing per se and it’s still a good listen all around even despite its issues. But considering the epic size, intrigue, and scale of what Volumes 1 and 2 had to offer even in their first installment, it’s not exactly this series’ A-game. – 7 / 10
PART 2: NEVERNOR BY LOU MORGAN
Tracking a strange trace of what they believe to be Leela’s biodata, Romana and Narvin have been drawn far out into the universe on to a world far out of the norm from what the pair are used to. It’s rural, primitive, and covered mostly in water with strange sounds on the atmosphere haunting the air. Taken in by a family of ordinary people living on the outskirts of a nearby village, it’s not long before they learn of some troubling information. Something or someone nasty is hunting in the wind looking for vengeance and peace and in the midst of a dark temporal storm, one of the two has been marked for terrible danger…..
“Nevernor” is another fairly significant departure from the usual Gallifrey fare. The base plot is a haunting story of all things with a plot that ties into the Time War very nicely but also takes a very spooky and ominous approach compared to the normal sci-fi direction. The soundscape is gritty and dirty and the plot by Lou Morgan continues the theme of how events in the War once again effect non-combatants with strong emotional resonance; in this case being one particular family, which lends a bit more emotional to weight to the ultimate outcome that not many Gallifrey stories really get in the grand scheme of things.
The title of the audio itself ends up referring to a dangerous test at the Time Lord Academy which was used to recruit spies into their ranks. The meaning behind it is tied to the message gained by the pair once things are over which is a tad flimsy but still interesting. Both Lalla Ward and Sean Carlsen are fine enough performance-wise and it’s not a standout adventure for either of them. But the desperation in Romana’s situation is conveyed well and the reasoning behind how things came about for this planet because of the past is a very nice touch that lends credence to some of the disadvantages of being a general time traveler.
While some of the ‘ghost’ sounds and screams are a little bit silly and the eventual threat is described well but just amounts to some dark growling that’s not at all threatening, “Nevernor” is a great example of how a Time War story can be handled in a very different fashion. It’s a bit stronger than its predecessor in terms of engagement and atmosphere but a bit less so in regards to performance and character balancing out to be seemingly on par for the set in general. It’s once again not going to blow your mind and in terms of the saga itself, there’s not too much worth revisiting. But as a continuation of the journey of Romana and the War, it’s still more than worth checking out. – 7/10
PART 3: MOTHER TONGUE BY HELEN GOLDWYN
The penultimate story of Volume 3 picks up not with Romana and Narvin but with the missing Leela. Last seen falling through the Time Vortex after being thrown from the Master’s TARDIS, she soon wakes up in a strange place hidden from space and time where she’s recognized and beloved as a friend and mother. But things are decaying fast, an undercover betrayal is at hand, and the War is on its way with nothing anyone can do to stop it. It’s going to take everything Leela has in order to prepare the planet and her loved ones for the oncoming conflict…..
“Mother Tongue” is a dark exploration of what’s happened to Leela physically and emotionally since we last saw her. The narrative by Helen Goldwyn jumps back and forth frequently from past to present and the soundscape is fascinating with a strong connection to nature, time, and all of consciousness itself. The plot employs similar time-wimey tricks and timelines as the other two audios prior but with far more weight and intrigue especially with the alien race the Trill being left mostly to the imagination in terms of detail and it all works amazingly well.
This is especially true when combined with strong interpersonal drama. This story boasts the best performances of the volume thus far particularly from Louise Jameson and Sam Hallion as mother and son. Hallion himself as Sholan is a far cry from who Leela is in personality and energy which plays strongly into the premise and plot and the emotional payoff between the two is devastating and heartbreaking.
It doesn’t tie too much into the bigger picture with no hint of the Daleks, Romana, or Navin in sight and it still lacks a fair amount of the engaging oomph in soundscape and intrigue that made other sets so memorable. But “Mother Tongue” is immensely good and a major step up from what Volume 3 of the Time War has delivered so far. With a tense emotional plot, strong performances, and a continuing theme of the effects of a ground-level conflict on the people, it’s a nice little treat for fans of Leela and Louise Jameson while setting things up well for the climax to come. – 8 / 10
PART 4: UNITY BY DAVID LLEWELLYN
“Unity” ends the set with a sci-fi Western that’s very small-scale but in a way that fits very nicely with the rest of the set. But with the script once again penned by David Llewellyn, the narrative also returns to the power of words and the harm that broken trust and suspicion can bring. This is by far the most engaging story of the set by a wide margin boasting the best script, dialogue, and soundscape of Volume 3 with the rustic energy of the planet and surroundings practically leaping out of the audio like it was being held back this entire time.
The cast is also incredibly strong and the best of the set in part because we finally get the reunion that fans have been waiting for for a set and a half now. Narvin gets a surprising amount of humour being forced into his most rural situation yet and Louise Jameson gets plenty of opportunities to kick ass and take names as Leela. But once again, it’s Lalla Ward who gives the best performance in the entire set here as she’s forced to make several big decisions that will have a great impact and determine nicely how things will proceed in stories to come. This is also the first and only appearance of the Daleks in the set and Nicholas Briggs is great as per the norm even if their presence is merely reduced to a situational hazard at least until the final moments.
Speaking of which, it really is those final moments that redeem much of what has come before. The pacing throughout most of the set so far has taken its dear sweet time with little to no impact on the larger conflict. But in the climax of this story, we finally get some major change and stakes that shake the foundation of the series to the core. It’s shocking, haunting, and absolutely appropriate in terms of both Classic and New Who and leaves some major questions hanging for the fourth set to come that will have listeners foaming at the mouth waiting to see how it all turns out.
While the previous three stories in Volume 3 have been good but not amazing, “Unity” changes all of that and makes the entire set worth purchasing on its own terms. It keeps the tone and theme of the rest of the set but also brings the narrative back to what Gallifrey is good at and the performances of our mains here are some of the best that they’ve ever given. It has plenty of interesting Time War development, Dalek action, and fantastic writing to keep fans of the series happy but it also packs a wallop of a finale that will have Whovians talking for months until the final (?) set sometime next year. It may be tough to get to after three hours but trust this reviewer; “Unity” is outstanding and well worth the time and energy. – 9 / 10
FINAL SET VERDICT: 8 / 10