The Doctor miraculously survives the destruction of the Dalek ship on which he’s being held prisoner, but his brief time among the Daleks leaves him riddled with guilt: the Dalek Time Controller, who he thought he had destroyed in the distant future, has traveled back in time to lead the Daleks’ second invasion of Earth. The Doctor learns that the Dalek Time Controller was sucked into the time vortex and had an eternity to observe history and concoct a plan to wipe out all non-Dalek life using a combination of potent viruses, spreading disease through the universe by using Earth as a mobile plague planet. The Doctor plans to take a nuclear bomb that the Monk has stashed away forward in time to correct his error and prevent this chain of events from happening, but Lucie insists on using the nuke in the present to wipe out the Dalek invasion force. For once, the Doctor is in no position to save the world, but he will witness the death of many dear friends and family members as they battle the Daleks without him.
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Sheridan Smith (Lucie Miller), Niky Wardley (Tamsin Drew), Graeme Garden (The Monk), Carole Ann Ford (Susan Campbell), Jake McGann (Alex Campbell), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
Timeline: between Lucie Miller and The Great War
Notes: This release wraps up the separate range of eighth Doctor audio stories that had been published by Big Finish since 2006, though the adventure would continue in a box set release also outside the main range, Dark Eyes, in 2012. The Doctor, then in his sixth incarnation (and traveling with the eighth Doctor’s former companion, Charley Pollard), encountered the Dalek Time Controller at Amethyst Station in Patient Zero. A sole Dalek plummeting through time (and driven insane as a result) would also prove to be a problem in the 2008 season finale The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End; Nicholas Briggs uses a similar voice treatment for both the Dalek Time Controller and Dalek Caan, which may indicate – without breaking Big Finish’s contractual obligation to avoid direct reference to the new series – that the two are intended to be the same character.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Big Finish has had to “clear the decks” of the eighth Doctor’s storyline multiple times, mainly to accomodate letting new listeners in on his continuity-bound adventures and/or to satisfy a demand from the BBC to “wrap up” particularly labyrinthine ongoing storylines (see also: the abrupt end of the Divergent Universe cycle in The Next Life). But this time, Big Finish is doing so on its own terms, with a very clear mission in mind: to consciously and drastically advance the character of Paul McGann’s Doctor toward the more ruthless, battle-scarred Christopher Eccleston incarnation.
Of course, there’s no way for Big Finish to “do the Time War,” as many have suggested; it’s part of the new series only, which Big Finish can’t touch due to licensing restrictions. The ending of the third “season” of Gallifrey stories hints strongly at the Time War without spelling it out for the audience, but here Big Finish is making very clear strides toward meeting the new series in the middle: the eighth Doctor is enraged, embittered, and unsure of his own morality by the end of the story. The presence of the Monk – and the Monk’s responsibility for all that has happened, including the deaths of several continuing characters – helps to focus the Doctor’s rage not only upon the Daleks, but toward his fellow Time Lords as well. He even talks about taking the oft-mentioned but seldom-defined “laws of time” into his own hands, a slippery slope that the tenth Doctor would eventually roar down with gusto (2009’s The Waters Of Mars), and damn the consequences. In the scenes where the Doctor is grilling the Monk to learn exactly what he did to help the Daleks, it’s easy to imagine the Doctor all but cornering and intimidating the Monk, even though there’s absolutely no dialogue to indicate such an obviously visual stage direction. (And by the end of the story, one can imagine the Doctor barely holding himself back from throwing a punch – or worse – such is the intensity of McGann’s performance.)
The eerie similarity of the voice treatments of the Dalek Time Controller and the insane Dalek Caan from the Tennant-era TV episodes The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End strongly suggest another “new series reference in every way but name.” Both of them spent a protracted amount of time drifting through the time vortex, took in the entirety of history and its implications for the Daleks and other life firms, and they were both driven insane by it. As the writer and Dalek voice artist, only Nick Briggs truly knows if this is meant to be a blazingly clear implication that the two are the same character (even though Dalek Caan is said to have escaped the closing moments of the Time War directly, we have only the word of an insane scientist in the process of devising a “reality bomb” that this is true – call me unconvinced).
To The Death clears the deck of numerous recurring characters from the eighth Doctor’s latest audio “era” fatally, leaving only Susan alive in the end. Jake McGann’s exit as Alex is a bit perfunctory – we have only the reactions of the other characters to drive it home – and ever since her defection to join the Monk, Tamsin has had “doomed character” written all over her. Lucie’s exit, on the other hand, is magnificent, and again helps to set up why the ninth Doctor would tell Rose to “go home” upon meeting her. The body count in To The Death again plays into Journey’s End, with Davros’ pointing out that the Doctor’s former companions comprise a kind of ad hoc army willing to use tactics – including sacrificing themselves – that the Doctor wouldn’t employ. The Doctor’s vow to undo his fourth incarnation’s mistake in Genesis Of The Daleks – i.e. leaving the Daleks alive – is another great big neon-sign pointer toward the Time War.
To The Death would’ve been an incredible setup for whatever torturous events await the eighth Doctor in his final years by itself, but Big Finish later announced that it would follow up on this story with McGann’s Doctor. The eighth Doctor’s ongoing storyline could’ve ended here – and indeed, with the short run of stories set further back in the Doctor’s timeline with Mary Shelley as his companion, that seemed to be the implication – but Dark Eyes will not only have to show how skillfully Big Finish can dance on a knife’s edge with its classic-series-only Doctor Who license… it’ll also have to live up to the impact of To The Death.