Review by Michael Goleniewski
Romana is lost to the Time War though Leela and Narvin still fight to survive. A resistance, caught between Rassilon’s fury and the Dalek Emperor’s mania, have a desperate plan to stop the conflict. Everything ends. And for some on Gallifrey, the Time War will soon be over.
DECEPTION by LISA MCMULLIN
When we last left the Gallifrey saga at the end of Series 3, Romana II, Leela, and Narvin had finally been reunited on the desolate planet of Unity after two sets of being apart from each other in the wake of the Master’s influence and Rassilon’s return to power. But their reunion was cut short as the Daleks invaded and Romana, tired of the constant cycle of violence and death, decided to stay behind as a decoy to allow her friends to escape extermination. Now separated once again and with Romana’s sacrifice weighing heavily on their hearts, it’s up to Leela and Narvin to continue the fight and resist both against the Daleks and their fearless Time Lord leader’s regime.
‘Deception’ begins the (at time of writing) final Gallifrey Time War set which picks up right where the last series left off and focuses first on Leela caught up in an information mission to sabotage and prevent collateral damage from an oncoming Time Lord attack on a Dalek stronghold. The difficulty is going to be getting to the double agents involved as it seems they’ve been caught in one of many nasty Gallifreyan weapons littered all across the universe meant to capture ships and drive their inhabitants mad. The title of the story comes from the name of the weapon itself appropriately called a ‘deception field’ and it’s an intriguing new addition to the War that fits perfectly in line with what the Time Lords are quickly becoming capable of. It also nicely emphasises just how amoral both sides are rapidly becoming and the need for a growing third side to the War that opposes both the Daleks and Rassilon’s Gallifrey while still working to end the conflict at any cost which the narrative takes the appropriate time to focus on in-between moments of set-up and danger.
When all is said and done though, this first story is more of a mixed bag than it has any right to be. It’s nice to see that the War Doctor may not have been 100% alone in his views that both sides of the conflict needed to be stopped. But the new faction’s vibe and energy are a bit too much akin to the immature youngster vibe of the initial Rebellion from ‘Star Wars’ and it’s hard to take them and their troublesome methods seriously at first which does drag things down in the initial moments of the story. The premise certainly has promise by itself and the themes that Lisa McMullin’s script plays with surrounding the horrifying ideas of PTSD that we haven’t seen so viscerally connected to the Time War before are outstanding in the moments we do see them. But the plot is surprisingly lacking in terms of real tension and it doesn’t really pertain to much of the bigger picture except in terms of buildup to bigger things for the rest of the set. Leela’s adventure on her own is honestly a bore despite Louise Jameson’s strong as usual performance and most of the more interesting moments happen in the side threads on Gallifrey itself. In hearing Samuel Clemens’ Mantus and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s Livia react both to Romana’s fate and the chillingly visceral and familiar-sounding rhetoric from Richard Armitage’s first appearance as the new Rassilon, we get a true glimpse of how things have advanced since we last saw the planet all the way back in the second box set. By the end though, the adventure succeeds in making it perfectly clear how deadly the fight is rapidly becoming for our remaining heroes and the final moments greatly emphasise just how much is really at stake both for Gallifrey and the Time War itself in the days to come.
‘Deception’ is a decent start to the fourth Gallifrey Time War set that works well in setting things up for the future of the immediate series and the rest of the conflict itself. Lisa McMullin’s script is strong in theme and possibility and there’s a lot to engage with in the escalating background details especially in boasting the first appearance in fury and power of the newly regenerated Armitage Rassilon. But the premise is inconsequential to the bigger picture and most of the immediate plot is a chore to get through despite a good performance from veteran Louise Jameson. It is FAR from the series’ worst and does its job nicely with the role it’s been given. But it is doubtful it’s going to be anyone’s favourite in the bigger picture of the saga itself and is interesting more based on what it teases rather than what it delivers in its own right.
– 7 / 10
DISSOLUTION By LOU MORGAN
In response to the devastation of the Time War and the callous nature of both sides of the conflict, a resistance force is being gathered and a desperate plan is being formed. With Leela off on an impromptu mission in the Vortex and an ambush by the Daleks causing the group to evacuate their current base of operations, the focus now turns to Narvin as he is forced to retreat to a remote jungle world in search of solace and help from a very old friend. Joined by a survivor from the planet Unity who has grown attached to him but has been traumatised by the effects of the War, he hopes to find some extra healing and a course of direction to pursue. But the Daleks aren’t going to give up on any associate of Romana II so easily and they’ve sent a special hunter in pursuit…..
‘Dissolution’ as a story is appropriately juxtaposed with Leela’s journey in the previous adventure and serves more or less the same purpose in giving another main character some extra insight and growth. Lou Morgan’s writing however goes in a quiet and much more introspective direction and the script serves almost as an impromptu recap of the entire series with quite a few references and noteworthy links to the past to remind listeners of everything Narvin’s character has been through. Needless to say, the plot is another fairly bland one and the soundscape is nothing outright surprising beyond the character drama and the ever-hovering spectre of the Daleks who do have more of a significant presence this time around. It’s also easily the shortest story of the set which does kind of shoot it in the foot in terms of being able to really delve into what it’s trying to explore effectively. But there are actually some interesting moments to it beyond the scope of its synopsis and background that really make it more worthy of a listen compared to its predecessor.
In particular, this installment explores some very interesting sides to Narvin himself, racked guilt over his actions and desperate for action that makes a difference in the grand scheme of the universe which plays directly in his backstory and why he’s arrived in this particular world in the first place. The extra dimensions revealed as to where he came from in terms of his Gallifreyan heritage integrate fabulously into why his ambitions are so strong and it’s interesting to hear Seán Carlsen’s long-standing Time Lord truly struggling alone against forces he’s been dealing with for a good chunk of his life. These emotions play directly into his interactions with his tagalong Rayo whose struggles and the weight he’s carrying on his shoulders finally get a bit of extra time to develop compared to the minimal time he’s had outside of his introductory story thus far. The newly introduced side character known only as the Apothecary (played by Anna Carteret) is also a great touch who is both a reassuring presence to keep things grounded and a force for Narvin to rally against and find realistic motivation from. The ultimate outcome is a tad predictable considering several lines at the end of “Deception” indirectly give clues as to the climax which uses the overplayed but still effective threat of one lone Dalek very well. But the real surprise comes in how hopeful things actually end up being without a tragic death in sight and more than enough heart to send Narvin on his way home though the absolute final moments are also a nice way to answer one long-standing question from Series 3 and set things up for the penultimate story to come.
‘Dissolution’ is a small but significant step-up from the previous story that gives Seán Carlsen’s Narvin one last chance to shine on his own in the spotlight. Lou Morgan’s writing is light on significant plot but heavy on character interaction and development which seems to be the trend of the first half of this set and the added threat of a single Dalek is a nice way to add a little bit of extra flavourful action and tension into what could’ve otherwise been a fairly dry adventure. All of this plus some great performances that even manage to pack a little emotion into its final moments as things begin to wrap up for the series help to push things to their logical outcome and continue to prepare listeners for the optimistically grand-standing chaos of the saga’s finale.
— 8 / 10
BEYOND By DAVID LLEWELLYN
On the planet of Unity, Romana thought she had met her final end. Sacrificing herself so her friends could live, she was ready for death and relief from the constant cycle of conflict and violence inflicted upon her. But instead, she’s found last-minute salvation at the hands of an old friend who’s simply not ready to see her depart the universe just yet. Irving Braxiatel has returned after having seemingly abandoned the battle for good three series ago and needs his old friend’s help to venture into the depths of a black hole in which lies an impossible byproduct of the Time War that simply shouldn’t exist. The pair are about to travel down into an endlessly repeating ‘afterlife’ where aborted timelines containing Time Lord and Dalek alike are trapped in a layered nightmare of pain and misery and it’s going to take all they have to find what they’re looking for especially with something rather ravenous stalking them and waiting to feast…..
‘Beyond’ sees the full return of both Lalla Ward and Miles Richardson into the series as well as some surprising villains from a whole range that make an appearance in perhaps their strongest story to date. David Llewellyn’s script essentially lifts the idea of Dante’s Inferno and applies it to the series with Romana serving as the Dante figure and Brax as a kind of strange Virgil journeying into a figurative Time War hell. This reviewer is an absolute sucker for anything that takes inspiration from the Divine Comedy so this story automatically gets major creds just for that premise alone. But the fact it is combined with the best Classic Who companion/character of the whole Gallifrey series is simply a divine stroke of magic and a brilliant idea for a penultimate story and the writing exploits all of its implied potential magnificently. The plot includes everything from a search for an ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’ entrance to interacting with projections of the ‘damned’ to even a devastating secret that defines the adventure itself from beginning to end and though at times it gets a bit lost in the grips of action and technobabble, it’s a masterfully crafted narrative.
The story also happens to be absolutely terrifying at its core and not just because of the monsters thrown into the mix. The inclusion of the Ravenous last seen with the Eighth Doctor adds a whole other layer of tension into the story which brings it with some terrifying sound effects, horrifying set pieces, and a desperation to get to the end of the line that the adventure might not have had otherwise emulating the Inferno. But some of the more shocking moments come in terms of character and dialogue surrounding our two main leads and what their ultimate intentions are. Brax and Romana fulfil their respective roles brilliantly from scene to scene and the conflict they have with each other based on their choices surrounding their respective situations brings some of the strongest performances from both Lalla Ward and Miles Richardson to date. The script shines a terrible grand-standing mirror into the worst of both of their characters, what they are both capable of, and what they can still achieve given the opportunity and even gives some unexpected minor hints as to where the Doctor is at this point and what both truly think of his new and more battle-ready War incarnation. By the time the climax rolls around bringing a suitably chilly endpoint and a supposed last farewell, you really feel like you’ve been on a journey of sorts that’s about to change everything and it sends Romana off towards the final culmination of all she’s been through for the salvation and ending that she and the series are desperately hoping for.
After two stories of build-up and development, “Beyond” finally begins delivering the goods for the final Gallifrey set with a transformative trip down into a sci-fi underworld that Dante Alighieri himself would be proud of. Intense, dramatic, and extremely powerful, it brings Lalla Ward’s Romana back from her supposed extermination in a physical, mental, and spiritual capacity and reinvigorates her while also examining just what makes her such an interesting character in the first place. It also brings back some surprising faces old and new into the mix and gives them both a place to thrive as well as find some semblance of a conclusion to their respective arcs though it’s hard to say that we’ve seen the last of either of them for good. An outstanding penultimate story, one of Gallifrey’s best, and an exceptional way to lead into what’s sure to be a devastating series finale.
— 10 / 10
HOMECOMING By MATT FITTON
Leela, Narvin, and the resistance have a plan to stop the Time War for good but it involves a stealthy trip back home towards a familiar rip in the Vortex that holds the key to everything. But with a Dalek fleet led by the Emperor himself approaching and Rassilon ever-present and watching, things are about to get exceedingly complicated and this time, not everyone is going to get out in one piece. Gallifrey no more; it all definitively ends here…..
‘Homecoming’ as a story is one that deserves to be experienced fresh by all who go into it and so this review will be somewhat lighter in detail for the sake of major spoilers going in. But it’s a true to form finale that mostly takes advantage of all it has to offer with an eye towards both the past and the future. The soundscape and vibe feel grander than ever before which is of course Matt Fitton’s style in terms of writing big series endings and the initial premise is a nice reworking of what the War Doctor would eventually come to try albeit in a much less extreme but still altogether appropriate manner at this point in the War. The plot represents both sides at their most deluded in regard to their own superiority and it leads to deaths on both sides as well as lots of dick waggling as both leaders try to outdo the other in terms of menacing threats, full-scale plans, and obnoxious building of their own sense of divinity.
In terms of the script and writing, every big aspect of what makes Gallifrey so great as a series (both in and out of the Time War) is given one last moment to shine from Romana and Leela’s wonderful friendship played excellently once again by Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson, Narvin’s ambitiously clever scheming that again takes advantage of Seán Carlsen’s wit and passion, several shattering monologues and conversations surrounding events in the Panopticon, and bold and brass Dalek pomposity at its most ridiculously over the top. Richard Armitage’s Rassilon gets plenty of time in the spotlight and his performance is scintillatingly good with his madness regarding ultimate plans of ascension into glory in full swing. On the other side, Nicholas Briggs’ Daleks have a novel plan that utilises technology that foreshadows other stories in the War Doctor range and makes sense of some of their seemingly more merciful actions in the narrative. Obviously, some details have to remain set in stone in order to set up things for the future and after a tense and action-packed rescue, it all comes to a head in a devastating way that may not be quite what some fans are hoping for. But it still makes perfect sense given what we know from the New Series and other Big Finish ranges and every actor from Lalla Ward to Seán Carlsen gives it their absolute all as the series comes to an explosive finish all around them while making it clear that the Time War (at least in terms of the Time Lords and Gallifrey itself) is a long way from being over.
‘Homecoming‘ ends a long saga of stories on an appropriately high note that represents the best that the series has ever delivered in terms of high-end sci-fi drama. It may not be the most political, the most subtle, or even the most novel in comparison to stories within its own saga and it’s surpassed slightly by its predecessor in terms of sheer uniqueness and energy. But the script is a perfect balance of everything that fans love about this range while still delivering a tragic Shakespearean conclusion to what amounts to twelve series of character-driven storytelling. Managing a perfect balance of Classic and New Who and with several big gut punches and performances that stand out and lead into the rest of the Time War with an absolute vengeance, it’s a powerful story and about as good a finale for one of Big Finish’s most well-loved series as one could ask for.
— 10 / 10
SET RATING OVERALL – 9 / 10
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