Review by Jacob Licklider
It’s most definitely a coincidence that Big Finish Productions would have two releases within a week of each other that tells its story in a non-linear fashion, but it is interesting that it’s happened so soon after Stranded 3’s What Just Happened? inspired my review to be told backwards. The War Doctor Begins: Warbringer is presented as non-linear in the way each of its episodes are presented, beginning in media res, going to a conclusion, and then flashing back to the beginning to deal with a character’s amnesia. This decision assists in making the themes of Warbringer come front and centre with each of the three episodes having single word titles: Timothy X. Atack’s Consequences, Andrew Smith’s Destroyer, and Jonathan Morris’s Saviour. These titles make the set feel much like three episodes of a complete story. While Forged in Fire also acted as a miniseries, Warbringer is a three-part story. It feels like Atack, Smith, and Morris all had the time to communicate with each other in telling the same story.
Louise Jameson is back again in the director’s chair and that assists in elevating the performances, and has already been announced as the director of the third set. Jameson’s style could be paradoxically described as fitting Claudia Gironi’s painted cover, with a melancholic tone to each of the episodes. The Time War has been going on for some time by this point and it already feels like the War Doctor is tired. His heart really isn’t in fighting the war, only doing it out of obligation, believing that there could be a way out with saving people is slowly becoming a dream. Jonathan Carley’s impression of Hurt is still spot on which is great, but in this set the Doctor isn’t actually the most interesting character. Carley’s good and clearly having the time of his life, but here the Doctor is more the mythic figure who is the warbringer. He brings the war to this planet, he is responsible for Case’s identity crisis and eventual identity, and he is the one to initiate events. This is a set where the idea that the War Doctor isn’t the Doctor is toyed with, but doesn’t ever quite get there, though I don’t blame the writers but Moffat’s idea of the character in The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor where Hurt was given just a grumpier Doctor to play. Making him almost a background player here actually helps go against that portrayal for a number of scenes, especially when the Doctor isn’t there.
Adele Anderson and Beth Chalmers as Tamasan and Veklin respectively are our representatives of the Time Lords, both returning from the first set yet here there is something that their appearances just click. Chalmers as Veklin in particular is more ruthless than her previous appearances as the War is slowly getting to her, she doesn’t actually care about the people, just the goal of defeating the Daleks and ending the War. Ajjaz Awad as Case also fulfils the role of the companion here, but is one of those characters who has to find herself bringing the audience along with her as she realises who she is. It’s also nice to see Awad playing a companion using her natural voice instead of her appearance as Katarina in Daughter of the Gods, and while she wont be appearing later, these one off companions for the War Doctor feels perfect for what The War Doctor Begins is doing with each set being a complete story and step in the War Doctor’s journey leading towards Only the Monstrous. The standout of the supporting cast outside of Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks (which is expected to be brilliant by this point) is Angela Bruce playing two characters where she’s allowed to ham up her performance bringing some levity as well as working with the drama. Bruce is a voice who doesn’t appear often in Big Finish, but is always a welcome surprise.
The War Doctor Begins: Warbringer does suffer from slight pacing issues between the three episodes, each of them feeling just a touch long at points, but this does not stop it from being a great follow up to Forged in Fire while not necessarily needing the context of the previous box set for potential new listeners. It’s full of brilliant performances, direction, and sound design making it a great piece about what the Doctor in the war means. 8/10.
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