The purpose of this thread is to discuss the War Doctor audios from Big Finish. Like the Eighth Doctor, who was featured in only one televised episode then went on to be featured in a long-running series of audio adventures, so too is the “War Doctor” featured in only one televised episode (“The Day of the Doctor”) and has only just begun what I hope will be a long-running series of audio adventures. The first three-part collection, “Only the Monstrous,” was released last month. The second, “Infernal Devices” is due in February, with two more slated to be released later in 2016.
There is one other, brief, small screen appearance of a rather young-looking War Doctor, and that is in the short film “The Night of the Doctor,” which features the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor. It also brings the Eight Doctor audios into official continuity by mentioning the Eighth Doctor’s most prominent companions be name. If you’ve never seen “The Night of the Doctor” mini-episode and would like to (or if you have and would like to see it again), you can watch it by using this forum’s “List of Doctor Who Threads,” clicking on the Eleventh doctor episode “The Day of the Doctor,” then following “The Night of the Doctor” link within.
When writer, producer and executive producer of “The Collected War Doctor,” Nick Briggs, was asked whether or not there was any thought of picking up directly after “Night of the Doctor” with the new Doctor finding his feet, Briggs replied: “Not on my part. I’m very keen not to lock things down and join up continuity. On the one hand you risk the TV series contradicting what you’ve written at some point—because although we have to check with them, they don’t check with us—but also, I think it’s a creative dead-end to leave no space for new stories. On a practical note, it would hardly have been credible for John [Hurt] to play a younger version of himself. He has a beautiful, craggy voice that absolutely speaks of decades, perhaps centuries more experience than that.”
As with “The Eighth Doctor Adventures” discussion, I will maintain an index to the individual stories on this initial post.
1. ONLY THE MONSTROUS
1.1 The Innocent - p1
1.2 The Thousand Worlds - p1
1.3 The Heart of the Battle - p1
2. INFERNAL DEVICES
2.1 Legion of the Lost - p1
2.2 A Thing of Guile - p2
2.3 The Neverwhen - p2
3. AGENTS OF CHAOS
3.1 The Shadow Vortex - p2
3.2 The Eternity Cage - p3
3.3 Eye of Harmony - p3
4. CASUALTIES OF WAR
4.1 Pretty Lies - p3
4.2 The Lady of Obsidian - p3
4.3 The Enigma Dimension - p3
The Doctor materializes the TARDIS around the Shadow Vortex, creating two distinct timelines: one in which the Daleks invade Earth, one in which they do not. He then manipulates the timelines so that the true one overwrites the corrupted one. (It’s difficult to recall the exact details a day after listening, but it all makes sense at the time.) This action is in direct violation of the Laws of Time, but the War Doctor is at times more reckless than any of his previous incarnations.
I see from my above (March 4) post that this set comprises mainly self-contained stories. That’s true, but The Shadow Vortex does end on a cliffhanger: the Doctor is recalled to Gallifrey immediately. Cardinal Olestra has been kidnapped!
THE ETERNITY CAGE:
“Sontarans are the ultimate warriors – so they believe – and the Time War the ultimate conflict. Denied that glory by Skaro and Gallifrey alike, General Fesk of the Eighth Sontaran Battle Fleet employs a dangerous strategy to draw both sides to the planet Rovidia and prove his forces worthy. Meanwhile, the War Doctor leads a rescue mission, aided by Rovidian street-urchin Kalan. Neither Daleks nor Time Lords expect the Sontarans to be so fearsome a foe, until they uncover the secret of the Eternity Cage.”
Cardinal Olestra has been kidnapped by the Sontarans. They agree to return her unharmed provided the Timelords accept them as allies in the Time War. However, the Sontarans have made a similar offer to the Daleks, Olestra in exchange for becoming the Daleks’ allies, so it becomes a race as to which side can reach Rovidia first. Neither the Timelords nor the Daleks are keen on accepting the Sontarans as allies. The Sontarans must know this, so the Doctor questions what they are really up to. He accepts the mission, of course, even though Heleyna (Olestra’s aide) had previously branded him a traitor.
Meanwhile, the Dalek Time Strategist has reached Rodivia first, but the negotiations with the Sontarans did not go well. The Dalek has been disarmed (literally) ad placed in the same cell as Olestra. This leads to an interesting philosophical debate, but that’s where I left off. Today’s Wednesday, though, so I will be able to listen to a bit more when I go to pick up this week’s comics.
Sorry for the delay. Continuing…
Years earlier in the Time War, the battle TARDIS of a Timelord named Vassarian was shot down and the Timelord himself was severely injured. He ejected an “eternity cage” with the idea of putting himself into stasis until help arrived while his TARDIS repaired himself. But he wasn’t simply severely injured, he was mortally wounded, and the eternity cage activated in the midst of his regeneration. The Sontarans (again, played by Dan Starkey), found the eternity cage, filled with artron energy, and were able to construct time weapons from it, such as time bubbles which age anything caught inside them thousands of years. Their idea was to provoke both the Daleks and the Gallifreyans into fighting so they could create more time weapons from regenerating Timelords trapped in eternity cages, all simply for the glory of battle.
Another objective of the Doctor’s mission is to root out a suspected spy for the Daleks. The Doctor travels to Rovidia in a stealth ship with Cardinal Olistra’s aide, Heleyna, and another Timelord named Kavarin. On Rovidia, they enlist the aid of a local guide named Kalan. Kalan is very mercenary, and Kavarin suspects him of being the spy. The Doctor is not convinced, though, because Kalan has been in as much danger as the rest of them as they dodge Sontaran patrols.
When they discover the eternity cage, everyone comes together, including General Fesk, Cardinal Olistra and the Dalek Time Strategist. When things look bleak, Kavarin pulls a gun on Olistra and reveals that his secondary mission is to kill Olistra if he can’t rescue her. Heleyna steps in front of Olystra and accuses Kavarin of being the spy. The Doctor asks Fesk how he knew where they all were, and he reveals that the Sontarans are tracing Gallifreyan tech, so there really is no spy after all.
The Sontarans are in control of their stolen Timelord tech, but the Doctor finds help from an unexpected source: Vassarian himself. Vassarian is in agony, but is able to communicate with the Doctor telepathically if the Doctor touches the eternity cage. Vassarian’s artron energy is almost all used up. There’s no chance of him regenerating, and he sacrifices himself to save the day.
Later, as the Doctor uses Vassarian’s TARDIS to return Cardinal Olistra to Gallifrey, Heleyna opens the door midflight, causing the TARDIS to materialize in midair in the midst of the Dalek fleet. Heleyna has been the Dalek spy all along. Before the doctor has fully grasped the situation, the ship lurches and…
CLIFFHANGER: The Doctor falls out of the TARDIS, apparently to his death!
NEXT WEEK: “Eye of Harmony”
EYE OF HARMONY:
“In the aftermath of events on Rovidia, the Dalek Time Strategist is presented with a unique opportunity to strike a lethal blow to the heart of Gallifrey. A devastating power is set to be unleashed, and with agents in place ready to do the bidding of the Dalek Time Strategist, the future of the Time War could turn in an instant. Trapped inside a critically-damaged Battle-TARDIS, hopelessly adrift in the Time Vortex, the War Doctor and his allies have a final desperate fight on their hands.”
Where did we leave off? Oh, yes! The Doctor was falling to his death. Heleyna reports to the Dalek Time Strategist who confirms the “Timelord, Designation: Doctor” is falling. Kalan jumps for Heleyna and Ollistra is able to engage the short-range trans-mat to transport the Doctor back aboard. In the scuffle that follows, Helyena is shot, ad both she and Ollistra fall below decks.
Heleyna and Ollistra go first to the armory, then to the Star Chamber where the Eye of Harmony is housed. The Doctor and Kalan are one step behind, following the trail of blood from Heleyna’s wound. Heleyna’s grandfather was a pacifist who lost his life earlier in the Time War. The Dalek’s have convinced her that if she destroys the Eye of Harmony (which she needs the Cardinal’s bio-data to do), the Time War never will have happened. That’s true as far as it goes, but the destruction of the Eye of Harmony will also prevent the Timelords from ever coming into being.
Most of the episode so far has been the Doctor and Kalan racing through the battle TARDIS to thwart Heleyna’s machinations. It’s a good, action-packed episode, much better than I’m making it sound. I’ll wrap it up tomorrow.
As soon as Heleyna realizes she has been betrayed by the Daleks, she (reluctantly) switches sides. Heleyna had originally tried to reconfigure the TARDIS interior to cut off the portion occupied by the Doctor and Kalan. That gives the Doctor the idea to cut off the Star Chamber from the Eye of Harmony, which will cause an explosion killing them all, but thwarting the Daleks. The Dalek Time Strategist had not foreseen this move because, the point is made, that the War Doctor thinks differently than other Timelords, and from the way he thought before. The Doctor points out to the Time Strategist that the explosion in the near future is already showing on their chrono-whatsis, so in effect, it has “already happened.”
By this point, the Daleks are aboard the battle TARDIS and are leading an armed attack against the Doctor and his allies in an effort to detonate some dark matter time grenades before the link to the Eye of Harmony can be broken. Ollistra suffers a badly spained ankle and has to be assisted by the Doctor. Kalan is severely wounded trying to get Heleyna to safety. He succeeds, but is himself trapped in the Star Chamber. At the risk of her own life, Heleyna saves Kalan, but is herself trapped. While they are exposed to the vortex, Kalan talks to his dead father and Heleyna talks to her dead grandfather.
Now that the Daleks have been routed and the Doctor, Ollistra and Kalen are safe, the Doctor reveals his true plan. He appeals to Helayna’s better nature to sacrifice herself and detonate the dark matter weapons herself. Now that the Star Chamber has been separated from the Eye of Harmony, there’s no danger of wiping out Gallifrey. The Doctor’s thought is that the dark matter explosion will “jump start” the time rotor. They wouldn’t have any navigation, but the TARDIS should be thrown clear of the explosion. Heleyna is dead either way. She’s still not real keen on helping the Doctor and Ollistra, but she’s willing to do it for Kalan’s sake.
The Doctor’s plan works, but Kalen dies, anyway (as a result of his wounds and his exposure to the vortex). The Doctor and Ollistra find themselves on the surface of Rovidia, being taunted by the Rovidians (who blame the Timelords for dragging them into the Time War). The episode ends on something of a down note, with the Doctor quoting something Kalan’s father once said: “It has to be as bad as it can get before it can begin to get better.”
That is it for the War Doctor until the next three-parter, “Casualties of War”, in February. For those stories, the Doctor will be reunited with (wait for it)… Leela. See you back here in February.
Make that March. Here’s a preview of Casualties of War:
“The War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra are stranded far from their Time Lord forces, with Daleks closing in, destroying all that stands between them. They must call on the help of new friends and old to fight their way back to the front lines. From the outer reaches of the galaxy, to the heart of Gallifrey itself, the Doctor finds casualties in every place the Time War has touched. Among them, a fighter, a travelling companion of the distant past, who remembers him quite differently. A warrior woman named Leela…”
See initial post for updated index.
PRETTY LIES by Guy Adams:
“Trapped and desperate, light years from their armies at the heart of the Time War, the War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra discover that wherever they go, destruction follows. A war reporter named Schandel may provide the key to their escape, but it is often said that the first casualty of war is the truth. When the choice between grim reality and a hero’s story means life or death, will the Doctor allow Schandel to print the legend?”
This episode picks up right where the previous one left off, with the Doctor and Ollistra crash-landing on Rovidia. (One of these days I will go back and listen to all 16 of these in order.) Apparently they have travelled back into the past a bit, too. They soon meet a time-travelling war reporter named Schandel. Schandel approaches his subject by travelling to the past of a planet under military occupation or whatever, to better cover the entire sequence of events, start to finish. He has an AI called EDITOR, which is an acronym for… something. Basically it’s an interface to his organization designed specifically for use in war zones.
Schandel romanticizes the Doctor’s exploits for propaganda purposes. This time, the Doctor is unable to save the entire populace. He has to decide on a course which will save some of them. This episode has a lot of ground action and special effects, with Cardinal Ollistra right on the front lines fighting along with the other soldiers. When the smoke clears, Schandel tries for a shot of the downed Dalek ship. The Doctor warns him that it’s not safe, and sure enough, Schandel is killed. The Doctor is relieved that the fictionalized account of the battle will not be circulated. But he and Ollistra are stuck there. Ollistra ends up trading the story to EDITOR for a way off the planet.
“According to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the pen is mightier than the sword. I’ve never doubted it, still now I break out in a cold sweat when walking past a Rymans. [Rymans is “the UK's leading stationer and supplier of home and office essentials.” (I Googled it.)]
“In war, propaganda is everything. Not only is it the tool with which warmongers justify every bulet, every bomb, every death, but it’s also what gets soldiers marching in the first place. Nothing makes the pulling of a trigger easier than a sense of righteousness.
“The War Doctor doesn’t believe he’s right, but how would he be viewed by others? Let’s be frank, despite his ever-present shame, we still think he’s a hero. He’s the Doctor however much he may deny it—so how can we not?
“That’s where I was coming from when I sat down to write this. There was a great deal of—terribly sensible—talk of war movies when discussing the plots for this set and The Killing Fields was my touchstone.
“Outside of cinema though we’re living in a culture where truth has ceased to hold much currency. We’re swamped by disinformation, moral positions argued via Facebook memes and Twitter soundbites.
“War is won by those who tell the prettiest lies.”
THE LADY OF OBSIDIAN by Andrew Smith:
“As a Dalek Strike Fleet heads to destroy another defenseless world, the Doctor seeks help from a shadowy guerrilla force. The Time War leaves many casualties in its wake, and inside the Obsidian Nebula the monstrous Unlived are held at bay only by the ‘Lady’ and her dwindling band of fighters. The War Doctor soon finds himself at the Lady’s mercy, and two old friends face new revelations…”
The intelligence gleaned from Schandel indicates the system the Daleks are going to attack next. Ollistra’s plan is to summon a larger Time Lord Fleet to lie in wait and obliterate them. The first step is to recruit the natives of the system as allies, but they don’t trust the Time Lords any more than they trust the Daleks. There is a guerrilla band rumored to be operating from inside the Obsidian Nebula and led by a woman warrior known as the Lady of Obsidian. Upon seeing some old footage of the guerrillas in action, the Doctor recognizes their leader as his old companion Leela. But there are a few problems. First, although her body was never found, Leela was reported killed in the early days of the Time War. Second, no one has heard from this band for quite some time; they’ve gone totally off the grid.
The Doctor transmits a message to Leela but it is intercepted by the Daleks. The Daleks order an attack, but before that happens the Doctor’s forces are attacked by skeletal creatures who may be indigenous to the nebula. The Doctor’s forces retreat and discover about 50 fighter ships linked together encircling a larger ship. It is in this central ship the Doctor finds Leela, but she is not the woman the Doctor remembers. Leela identifies the skeletal creatures as the “Unlived.” They are physical manifestations of potential lives that don’t exist in any alternate universe. The emerge from an area called “The Breach” within the nebula, an effect of the Time War.
When I first heard that Leela was going to meet the War Doctor I thought it would be a good match. It is that, although the story is not at all what I was expecting. Many of these War Doctor stories are call-backs to well-known war films. This one is reminiscent of Apocalypse, Now!, with Leela in the Colonel Kurtz role. I don’t want to reveal too much (you’ll read something about it in the writer’s notes below), but Leela has been… I supposed “damaged” is the best word… by her experience in the Time War. Louise Jameson delivers an excellent performance (again, you’ll read more about that below), and she leaves with the Doctor in hope of finding a cure for her condition.
“Actors. Blimey. After more than 25 Big Finish scripts, I continue to be surprised, hugely impressed and moved by what professional actors can do with the material I throw down on the page. Never more so than by what Louise Jameson delivered in this story.
“There’s on section of a particular scene—I won’t be more specific here, but I think you may recognize it when you reach it—that I was especially keen to hear Louise tackle. I was pleased with it on the page, I knew it had emotional weight and I expected Louise to be as wonderful as she always is. I just wasn’t expecting to cry. Because, y’know, I’ve been moved in the studio before, but I don’t cry. Or at least, I hadn’t until that day.
“As Louise delivered the scene, I felt my chest tighten, then came a lump in my throat. And as she reached the end, a couple of tears formed. I turned away, and tried to brush them away discreetly. Because as I said, I don’t cry.
“The scene ended and it was all pretty quiet for a few seconds. I could see Louise through the glass looking a little worriedly at Nick, in his director’s chair. I was behind Nick, so didn’t know what was happening until he produced a handkerchief to wipe the floods of tears from his face.
“Then David, sat next to me, declared, ‘Andrew’s crying!’. Busted.
“Louise asked Nick, ‘Do you want me to do it again?’
“Nick held up his hand and said, ‘No, I do not want to put myself through that again.’ I could relate to that.
“Louise. She’s phenomenal.
“You may want to have your own handkerchief on hand.”
This I must hear.
THE ENIGMA DIMENSION by Nicholas Briggs:
“The Dalek Time Strategist has a new plan to ensure final victory in the Time War. As its forces gather for a huge assault on the enemy, ahead of the fleet something hovers above the planet of the Time Lords. And on Gallifrey itself, shadows move among the Cloisters. The Time Lords face a threat alien to their entire universe. To save their world, the War Doctor and his allies must enter the Enigma Dimension...”
At the end of the last episode, the Dalek’s plan to launch a major assault on Gallifrey itself was revealed. The Doctor, Leela and Ollistra rush there only to discover a giant object, twice as big as Gallifrey itself, in space nearby. The Time Lords have dubbed it the “Enigma.” It has no mass, no readings whatsoever. The Doctor speculates that it may exist in dimensions imperceptible to human senses. Leela has some sort of sensitivity to it, however, and can see images of Daleks emerging from shadows. A much smaller version of the Enigma then appears in the situation room. Before the Time Lords can determine if it is the Enigma itself shrunk to small size, or a duplicate or a projection or what, the Daleks attack. The Doctor materializes his TARDIS around himself, Ollistra, Leela and the Enigma. From within the relative safety of the TARDIS, they observe that all Time Lord society has been wiped from existence. Not only is the Time War over, it never happened because the Time Lords never existed.
The Doctor finds a way to retreat to the Enigma’s home dimension. It is a dimension in which the laws of the physical universe do not exist: no gravity, no matter, no time. The effect of being there is more than disorienting; they cannot survive for long. The TARDIS is completely dead. Then the Enigma grows to encompass them (or shrinks them to fir inside it, there’s really no way to tell). The Enigma is like V’ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture: it is virtually all-powerful, yet does not know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. It set about destroying Gallifrey and the Time Lords simply because the Daleks encountered it and asked it to. (The Daleks also threatened to exterminate several hostage Enigmas.)
But the Enigma is also ignorant of emotion. There is a great sadness in the Doctor regarding Leela’s condition, and that sadness is transferred to it via Leela’s connection. The Enigma then uses sadness as a method of communication. The Doctor soon comes to realize that the Time Lords may not have been destroyed. Before the Daleks appeared on Gallifrey, Leela had seen “shadows” of them, from which they eventually emerged. The Doctor speculates the Enigma first “tried out” the new reality before actually crerating it. When it encountered the Doctor’s sadness (via Leela), it reconsidered its actions.
The Doctor finds a way to tap the power of the Daleks’ weapon just enough to transport the TARDIS to where they are. Once there, they find themselves in a sort of protective bubble the Daleks are hiding in to protect themselves from the effects of the Enigma’s destruction. They cannot exterminate the Doctor and company because they have no idea what will happen within the bubble. The Doctor uses psychology to convince the Enigma to end the Time War by wiping out both the Time Lords as well as the Daleks. The Daleks begin to exterminate the hostage Enigmas. Eventually, the Enigma resets the universe to the way it was before the Daleks stumbled into the Enigmas’ dimension in the first place.
“Our four War Doctor box sets were developed and recorded in an unusual way.
“Normally, a set of four releases like this would come together over a long period of time—probably two years of story lining, writing and intermittent recording. We were delighted to be granted blocks of recording with John Hurt during the autumn of 2015, and so worked on the 12 episodes pretty much back to back.
“In some ways, it was quite a refreshing change—it was like developing one 12-episode series as well as distinct box sets. It meant lots of plates were spinning at the same time, and script editor Matt Fitton did a splendid job not only working with the writers on the scripts, but defining the core of the story arc for each set.
“It was a great challenge to step into this previously unexplored era of Doctor Who with the doctor who has abandoned being the Doctor. He’s a warrior during the universe’s darkest days, and he’s on a journey to his own darkest hour when we saw him in ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ activating the Moment and making the most awful sacrifice to end the Time War.
“In Casualties of War, his past has come back to haunt him, in the form of Leela, his former companion. They share the title of warrior, but time has driven them apart. It was irresistible to bring these two characters together and to have John Hurt and Louise Jameson—two of my favorite actors—firing off each other. During the recording of one scene, everyone in the control room was sitting in floods of tears, so affected by the performances.
“Our War Doctor tales have been leading to this, as the Time Lord faces a personal reckoning.”
…aaaand that’s a wrap. Not only of “Casualties of War” but of “The Time War Saga – The Collected War Doctor” as well. Sadly, because Sir John Hurt has died, there will be no more War Doctor audios, ever… at least not with Hurt in the role. I think Big Finish knew in advance that this would be their one big shot, not only because of Hurt’s ill health but also because of his busy schedule. Although he reportedly loved doing these audios, there may not have been any more, anyway, even if he had lived. This set does bring the entire 12 story arc to a satisfactory conclusion, with all loose ends wrapped up (yes, even Leela’s condition). We fans will have to content ourselves with the Eighth Doctor’s side of the Time War, scheduled to begin this coming November.