For a long time, Big Finish had been prohibited by the BBC from doing any stories set during the Time War. I was pleased when that restriction was lifted, but disappointed when I found out I’d have to wait nearly two years before those stories would be released. Now my wait is very nearly over; the first set arrived in the mail today.

Initially, the Eighth Doctor Time War set was planned as a one-off complement to the War Doctor series. Sadly, the death of John Hurt means that there will be no more of those forthcoming. Soon it became clear that there was too much potential in the Time War to let the series come to a premature end. Soon there will be new series of The War Master (December) and Gallifrey: Time War (February). Also there are plans to up the Eighth Doctor box sets to three per year for the time being, one for the Time War and two for the Doom Coalition sequel.

According to Big Finish’s Vortex magazine: “There will be new regular characters in the Time War, too. When the saga opens, the Doctor is already travelling with Sheena (Olivia Vinall), who is a new companion for us but someone he has been with for a while. And then a second new friend will explosively enter his life—Bliss (Rakhee Thakrar), a refugee scientist. Listeners who follow our War Doctor stories will also need no introduction to Olistra (Jaqueline Pearce), here proving she has been a thorn in the Doctor’s side for far more years than we might have imagined.”

We have already heard some Eighth Doctor stories set during the Time War (in the Diary of River Song series and elsewhere), and we’ve seen him regenerate in the mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor”. As showrunner Steven Moffat once said of the audio range, “We saw how the Paul McGann Doctor died—now it’s time to find out how he lived.”

  The Starship Theseus - p1
  Echoes of War - p1
  The Conscript - p1
  One Life - p1

   Beneath the Viscoid - p1
   The Good Master - p1
   The Sky Man - p1
   The Heavenly Paradigm - p1

   Celestial Intervention - p2
   Soldier Obscura - p2
   The Devil You Know - p2
   Desperate Measures - p2

   The Lords of Terror - p2
   Planet of the Ogrons - p3
   In the Garden of Death - p3
   Jonah - p3

     Call for the Dead - p3
     The Glittering Prize - p3
     The Persistence of Dreams - p3
     Sins of the Father - p3

   Havoc - p3
   Partisans - p3
   Collateral - p3
   Assassins - p3

   The Survivor - p3
   The Coney Island Chameleon - p3
   The Missing Link - p3
   Darkness and Light - p3

     State of Bliss - p4
     The Famished Lands - p4
     Fugitive - p4
     The War Valeyard - p4

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“The Time War rages through space and time – two powerful enemies in a fight to the death. The Doctor keeps to the fringes of the conflict, helping where he can. He is not a warrior. Not yet. But this war takes no prisoners, and friends and enemies are drawing the Doctor ever closer to his destiny.

3.1 – STATE OF BLISS by Matt Fitton:

“Bliss has lost her home, her family, and her friends – an orphan of the Time War. The Doctor attempts to find out where things went wrong. Across a multiverse of possibilities, Bliss discovers the many paths her life could have taken – but do they always lead to the Time War? And if Bliss can save her past, will she destroy her future – and the Doctor’s?”

Bliss is an “orphan of the Time War,” but when the Doctor attempts to find out just how that came to be, things go awry. He put her in contact with the telepathic circuits of the TARDIS, and suddenly she is shunted to another reality. Her mentor in this reality, Deepa, hooks her up to a “quantum visualizer” which, again, opens her up to multiple realities. She has two friends: a male, Ryall, and a female, Calla. Both are interested in her romantically. As Bliss is shunted through these quantum realities, the Doctor keeps appearing in certain roles: a space ship captain, her grandfather, etc.

It turns out that Bliss’s state is not directly caused by the Time War at all, but rather by her mentor, Deepa, who altered Bliss and Calla and Ryall’s pasts in order to set a trap for a Time Lord. Calla and Ryall are messed up even more than bliss is. (Writer Matt Fitton thinks of bliss as Zoe Heriot but with a 21st century attitude.) When the Doctor arrives to set the situation right, Bliss decides to do right by her friends, even though it means they will be shunted to alternate realities and she will likely never see them again.

3.2 – THE FAMISHED LANDS by Lisa McMullin:

“Trying to make a difference far from the front lines, the Doctor and Bliss arrive in the Vale of Iptheus, where the Time War is starving populations out of existence. The inhabitants have taken matters into their own hands – but are now on course for something worse. Bliss discovers exactly how the robot Enablers are helping the people, while the Doctor uncovers a terrifying secret.”

The Doctor and Bliss arrive on the planet Iptheus, which has a green sun and “crunchy” grass. The first thing they notice is some robots executing a group of emaciated inhabitants. In fact, very nearly all of the inhabitants of Iptheus are emaciated. They encounter a different robot of the same type and learn that it is an “Enabler” and it is there to help. When they point out the other Enablers were executing the others, the robot explains that it was “helping them to die.” Then it observes, “You must be hungry,” and directs them to the nearest restaurant.

There, they order sautéed dazzle eggs and roasted idlebird but are served a grey glop the Doctor refers to as “gelatinous gunge” instead. Everyone in the restaurant is eating plates of the glop and apparently enjoying it. Bliss tries it and discovers that it is the most delicious food she has ever eaten! And now it looks like dazzle eggs and idlebird, plus everyone else in the restaurant now appears to be eating food as well. At least, that’s how it appears to Bliss. The doctor still sees tasteless gelatinous gunge.

They soon learn that the glop is called “Ichor,” and although it fills people up, it has absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. They split up and the Doctor visits an Ichor processing plant while Bliss interviews some of the natives. The Doctor succumbs to fumes which should liquidate his brain, but only cause him to hallucinate green monkeys dancing on the ceiling. (One is doing the Foxtrot with an actual Aldeberon Fox.) The Time War has destroyed the planet’s food, but the Iptheans know very little of the war itself. When the Doctor tells the scientist he meets that he is from Gallifrey, she says, “You’re… a Dalek!?” When he tells her he’s a Time Lord, she thinks that’s even worse.

There is only enough food to feed the entire population for a couple of months OR 10% of the population for four years. The Ichor is a kind of Euthanasia designed to speed up the starvation process, but make people think they are fed and happy. It reduces them to mindless, ambulatory skeletons, filled with rage but susceptible to suggestion. These “skeletons” become the planet’s army in case the Daleks or the Time Lords ever invade. The Ichor has no effect on a small percentage of the population, and those are the ones led by the Enablers to be “helped” to their deaths.

While the Doctor was learning parts of this story from the scientist, Bliss was learning other parts aboard a “drop cart,” which is a kind of a shuttle which takes people to the processing center as the driver shouts, “Bring out your hungry!” When the Doctor, fleeing the green, ceiling-dancing monkeys first encounters Bliss, being chased by skeletons, he at first thinks they are an hallucination, too. As the hallucinations begin to wear off, the Doctor shows the scientist the reality of the Time War, it have the undesired effect of having her make the decision that the entire population should eat the Ichor and accept their fate rather than be caught up in the Time War.

Now the Doctor really has his work cut out for him!

I don't know Lisa McMullin. Usually, the best stories in a given set are the ones written by Matt Fitton, but in this case, I preferred "The Famished Land" to "State of Bliss."

3.3 FUGITIVE IN TIME by Roland Moore:

“Returning a favor for Major Tamasan, the Doctor and Bliss accompany her to extract a dangerous fugitive from an isolated medieval world. Shonnath is the last of her kind and has her reasons to be wary of Time Lords. What’s more, the Daleks are also on her trail – and when the Doctor and friends arrive, the enemy is already closer than they think.”

The Doctor agrees to a non-combat, reconnaissance mission with the Time Lord Tamasan. In the distant past, the Time Lords thought it necessary to wipe an entire race from the history of time, but now it comes to light that one of that race, Shonnath, has survived. This race had been mucking about in the timeline and it was decided the only way to undo the damage they had caused was to retroactively wipe them from existence. That was the easiest way, but the Doctor believes it would have been possible for the Time Lords to track down each aberration in te time line individually. In any case, Tamasan and the Doctor have been tasked to find out exactly how this woman survived, because it could be tactically important… or devastating. The Daleks are after her for the same purpose. Then the Doctor discovers that Tamasan’s true mission is to finish the job the Time Lords started and wipe Shonnath from existence.

When Big Finish first started doing Time war stories, I hoped they wouldn’t all concentrate on the Dalaks, because that would get real old real quick. I needn’t’ve worried.

NEXT: “The War Valyard” (Yes.)

3.4 – THE WAR VALEYARD by John Dorney:

“The Valeyard has returned to the universe amid the Time War – and the Time Lords see his potential to end the conflict for good. When the Doctor discovers that his twisted future self has been conscripted, he sets out with Bliss to find him, braving a planet ravaged by Daleks. But in a world where he can finally be a hero, will the Valeyard want to leave?”

There’s a wibbly wobbly timey wimey reason how and why the Valyard exists during the Time War, but I won’t spoil it for you here. I will say that he soon acquires a companion of his own, Mim. And this version of the Valeyard thinks he is the Doctor. Oh, and there’s a Dalek who thinks he (himself) is the Doctor, too. You wouldn’t think the Time Lords would be all too keen to enlist the aid of the Valyard (considering “Trial of a Time Lord”), but think about it: he’s got the experience and the knowledge of the Doctor without all those pesky scruples. Philosophically, the “War Valeyard” is somewhere between the War Doctor and the War Master.

I would love it if Big Finish did a story in which the War Master and the War Valeyard met!

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