Review by Jacob Licklider
The Eighth Doctor: Time War was announced by Big Finish Productions as a four box set prequel series to Big Finish’s War Doctor range in 2017 after the passing of John Hurt. It is now 2020 and the miniseries is coming to an end with Time War: Volume Four which is incredibly fitting as the world has gone into lockdown, much like Gallifrey has become at this point in this set where the Time War is over after the events of Time War: Volume Three.The premise here is that the Daleks are no more, there isn’t a Time War to fight, and the set presents three very different stories where, as expected, the war is revived and the course of history is changed quite a bit. Like the other releases in this range, as this set has an overall arc with its three individual stories, this review will contain spoilers for Time War 4. For those who have not listened to it, please know that it is a set that is highly recommended and will go down as one of Big Finish’s best, the first story being worth the purchase price alone.
The first two discs of this set is dedicated to Palindrome by John Dorney; a release which plays around with an experimental format. Time changing is a big theme of the story as a sequence of four days are shown to the listener starting from Day 4, then going back to Day 1, but then Day 1 is repeated and we go back to Day 4. Several scenes are played out twice, but as the characters understand different things and time is changed at several points, it is not simply something going backwards and then forwards. The story opens with a nightmare for one scientist; Davros sees his world in flames due to a portal which he has created before waking up happily in bed next to his Thal wife, Charn. So, Dorney makes the listener feel incredible sympathy for Davros by presenting the genocidal megalomaniac as living on a Skaro whose war ended in peace with his wife who is a Thal. Terry Molloy as a happy Davros is a performance that must be heard to be believed, as he sells the good nature of the character. He and his wife are only experimenting with an inter-dimensional portal because of the scientific achievement, and they are happy in their lives.
Palindrome is a story, however, which begins to break Davros immediately, as the nightmares shake him, and he is visited by the Doctor and Bliss who already know him. He thinks they are insane and each day he and his wife are killed before moving back to the previous day, unravelling the mystery as he goes. This is the first half of the story, with the cliffhanger being where a big twist about Davros is revealed: this story takes place in an alternate universe to the main Doctor Who universe, the Dalek Time Strategist has survived its experiences in Dark Eyes (at least one version of it) and is trying to bring all of the universes back together. This is only possible because of this version of Davros and Charn being able to open their portal. The big cliffhanger involves this version of Davros dying one last time before he merges with his other selves, who then manipulate him with the Dalek Time Strategist, causing him to become a version of Davros closer to the version that we know.
This means that throughout the second part of Palindrome, Davros has been broken and begins to commit atrocities as the listener can only listen in horror at the carnage and destruction. Charn gets murdered and the Doctor’s companion, Bliss, makes several attempts just to lose. There’s also some excellent explanations of how the multiverse works, and how everybody can be killed (even explaining the reasoning behind Davros’ plan in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End).
Paul McGann and Rakhee Thakrar as the Doctor and Bliss both shine here, but their characters are kind of put in the background, as the focus is squarely on showing how this Davros is brought down into insanity and evil, and how the Daleks can reenter the main universe and the Time War can continue. Terry Molloy’s descent into madness is chilling and made ever the more effective due to Isla Blair’s Charn being such a loving wife and the relationship between the characters being so real. Helen Goldwyn’s direction throughout these two episodes in particular is perfect, as a different approach is used to make sure the listener feels where the same days are occurring, but occurring differently. Benji Clifford and Jamie Robertson handling sound design and music is implemented excellently by Goldwyn to make the listener care for Davros and then have their emotions toyed with and destroyed.
Palindrome, while recently released, is a story that will be among the best Big Finish has to offer and Dorney and the team have outdone themselves. The story is one that takes the concept of a time war and actually uses it to its fullest potential. 10/10.
Lisa McMullin is responsible for writing the follow up to Palindrome, which is no easy task, so McMullin decides to give the Doctor and Bliss amnesia, returning them to the universe where the Daleks no longer exist. Dreadshade is the one story in the set where the Daleks don’t appear (though the ending brings them back into the universe); and honestly after Palindrome, that is what the set needs to provide, a calm. Instead the story is dealing with a weapon created by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War, which the Time Lords now cannot remember the details of. The Daleks have never existed, so they are only referred to as the Enemy (possibly explaining the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels). The ‘Dreadshade’ of the title is a creature which feeds off fear, and has been engineered to destroy the Enemy, but as the Enemy no longer exists, it has lost its purpose and can only become afraid of something out there in the dark.
This weapon is such an interesting idea and McMullin eventually releases it against the Time Lords The plot with the Dreadshade escaping and being turned onto the Time Lords is really a B plot, as the A plot of this one is where Paul McGann and Rakhee Thakrar shine as amnesiacs. Yes, it’s a joke now that the Eighth Doctor gets amnesia, but McMullin uses it effectively to make the Doctor and Bliss feel off on Gallifrey. They interact with Ken Bones General character who makes his Big Finish debut and a regenerated Rasmus, played wonderfully by Chris Jarman who gives the character a different outlook from the War. They both have this sense of confusion as they cannot remember who they were fighting and the decommissioning process is something that becomes fascinating for the listener as we know what’s going on, but the characters obviously cannot know what’s happening.
The biggest surprise of Dreadshade is actually the return of ‘the Twelve’ played by Julia McKenzie, whose neural inhibitor is broken and she is attempting to avoid being a villain, but causes plenty of trouble for the characters. The Twelve is such a complex character who reacts wonderfully against an Eighth Doctor who doesn’t remember who this regeneration is, only remembering up to the Eleven. McKenzie is a delight in the role and gives the episode some of its absolute best moments, being both sinister and humorous, and working towards her own ends. It makes Dreadshade an excellent follow up to Palindrome and gives listeners a slight calm before the storm of the finale. 9/10.
The set is completed with Matt Fitton’s ‘Restoration of the Daleks’ which in a lot of ways is the most traditional story of Time War: Volume Four. The title gives away just where Fitton intends to do with the story, leading to the point where the Last Great Time War starts again with Davros and the Dalek Time Strategist restoring the Dalek race. This is a story which starts out traditional and puts the Doctor and Bliss on a planet where Davros has put himself into an advisory position to the rulers of the planet. This allows him to secretly make a new army of Daleks and set up a conversion protocol; even getting into certain Time Lords. This is partially because Davros has seen the future, including the events of The Stolen Earth, Journey’s End, and Victory of the Daleks, so he knows that his creation is something that will last beyond the Last Great Time War.
Terry Molloy gives a performance as a Davros who has become insane and ends the story as a prisoner of his own creation, something he can only laugh at as it means that they still have the need for him. Over the course of an hour, a once calm planet devolves into chaos as the bloody mess of the Time War is brought back into the universe. Alternate universes are still bleeding into one another, leaving the Doctor with a casket with someone special inside which future stories will follow up on. Adele Anderson returns as Tamasan who comes to help the Doctor on a suicide mission, as the story is building up to a bloodbath. Anderson is excellent in the role as always and her return is quite a lot of fun. Nicholas Briggs as all of the Daleks shows much of his great range here, playing standard Daleks, the Time Strategist, New Daleks, and the Dalek Emperor who takes over from Davros near the end of the story. Bliss as a character also has the most growth in this story, as between this story and Dreadshade she makes herself be trusted by the Time Lords, being given a communication device and Thakrar is just excellent in the role. There is this hint that there’s something more to Bliss which is intriguing for future volumes.
This is a story that means the Time War is here to stay and it is more dangerous than ever…9/10.
Overall, Time War: Volume Four is the first real volume from this miniseries which takes advantage that this is a story about a war throughout time. Time is changed, universes are built and collapsed, and everyone dies at one point. This set is a bloodbath with three stories that will keep you engaged. Big Finish Productions have outdone themselves giving McGann something to really sink his teeth into, and leave the listener realising that more is coming as Eight cannot escape the War, and Bliss is still travelling with him.
This should be a set you have already purchased, if you have not, go and correct that! 9.33/10