Cardinal Olistra of the Time Lords receives word that the Doctor has died in the latest battle of the Time War, taking the place of two Time Lord soldiers sent to deploy the Daleks’ own Time Destructor in the path of their advance against Gallifrey. The Doctor felt more qualified – and likely to survive – than the young Time Lords whose place he takes. Indeed, he does survive, escaping (just barely) in his TARDIS, which lands on the planet Cesca, a world seemingly untouched by the Time War. But it’s still a planet at war: the native Cescans are under siege by their enemies, the Tarlians. The Doctor acts quickly to fend off a Tarlian attack, but when he is offered a reward, he asks to be left alone in peace. His request is almost granted; the only person who doesn’t honor it is the girl who first found him when his TARDIS landed there. Fascinated by his tales of travel through time, she wants to join him when he leaves, but the Doctor insists that he doesn’t take on companions anymore. The Doctor also insists that he is a monster, and she doesn’t believe him. But the Time Lords want him back on Gallifrey, fighting for their side – and they are not above doing away with the Doctor’s would-be companion for their own purposes.
written by Nicholas Briggs
directed by Nicholas Briggs
music by Howard Carter
Cast: John Hurt (The War Doctor), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra), Lucy Briggs-Owen (The Nursemaid), Carolyn Seymour (The Slave). Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Alex Wyndham (Seratrix), Kieran Hodgson (Bennus), Barnaby Edwards (Arverton), Mark McDonnell (Traanus), John Banks (Garv), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks)
Notes: The Dalek Time Destructor was last deployed, to devastating effect, on the planet Kembel in part 12 of The Daleks’ Masterplan (1966); on that occasion, it was activated by the first Doctor’s companion, Sara Kingdom, who paid for it with her life.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: The Doctor Who audio spinoff we dared not even hope for, The War Doctor chronicles the exploits of John Hurt’s one-off incarnation of the Doctor (seen in 2013’s The Day Of The Doctor) in the thick of the Time War. Not only does this give us some extra rounds of Hurt’s irascible Doctor-who-doesn’t-call-himself-the-Doctor, but it does so without the celebratory trappings of the anniversary story. In short, we find out what this Doctor has been through that hitting the Moment’s Big Red Button seems like a good idea to him, even though he’d be at the epicenter.
As if we didn’t already know it, Hurt is utterly magnificent as this incarnation of the Doctor. While not without the wry sense of humor that permeates virtually all of the Doctor’s lives, the War Doctor is a deeply wounded being. He claims to be a monster, but when the chips are down on Keska, the War Doctor does what the Doctor has always done – he improvises brilliantly to save lives and fight on behalf of the oppressed. And the first chance he gets to take a break from the hostilities between Gallifrey and Skaro, he takes – even if it means involving himself in a smaller, less incomprehensible war on another planet.
The icing on the cake is the Doctor’s antagonist back home, Cardinal Olistra, played by Jacqueline Pearce of Blake’s 7 fame. It’s probably a forgone conclusion that listeners will find parallels between Olistra and Servalan, but Olistra takes a certain cruel relish in the Doctor’s participation in the Time War. She knows he wants nothing to do with it, and delights in ordering him back into action. Obvious parallels with her past characters or not, Pearce is perfect for this part; put her and Hurt in the same room, and scenery will be chewed upon exquisitely.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how extraordinary it is to then add Carolyn Seymour (of Survivors and Quantum Leap fame) to this embarrassment of riches. The cast, as is often the case with Big Finish’s output, is excellent – though I’d pity the poor soul who walked into a recording date with Sir John Hurt without being on top of their game. (Whoever that hypothetical person might be, Big Finish didn’t cast them here.)
The very first time I saw John Hurt’s Doctor stalking the ruins of a Gallifreyan city on TV, I immediately thought that it would be incredible if Big Finish could get a chance to paint a few additional strokes onto that canvas. The result truly is almost everything I hoped and dreamed it would be.