The War to End All Wars is a Companion Chronicle written by Simon Guerrier. It is a First Doctor story for Peter Purves as Steven Taylor with Alice Haig as Sida (a young girl whose identity becomes apparent). We learn from the interview at the end that this was the last Companion Chronicle to be recorded before the series ends though not the last to be released. [Later boxsets in fact appeared!]
Is the series showing its age or is there still plenty of life left in the format?
The shortest of short synopses on the Big Finish product page tells us:
Years after he gave up travelling in the TARDIS, Steven Taylor is the deposed king of a distant world.
From the confines of his cell, he shares his story with a young girl called Sida.
And one story in particular – a visit to a whole world at war, which will mark Steven for life…
Sida is the Steven’s granddaughter who finally gets to hear the story of why Steven is now no longer king and learns that her aunt Dodo was indeed the favourite of his three daughters. Two stories run in parallel – Steven cannot explain the recent past without reference to the time the Doctor, Dodo and he became entwined with events on the planet Comfort.
On Comfort the Doctor becomes separated from the others. They are assessed and separated leaving Steven to train for a war without end. He ends up in a World War I like setting (appropriate in this centenary year of that war’s commencement) fighting in trenches and is only re-united with Dodo by accident.
Steven and Dodo try to stop the war but fail; of course the Doctor has more luck and all ends well though Steven (in a foreshadowing of his eventual departure) feels that having moved the society of Comfort forward they should stay and help it evolve. This is of course what he did when he left the TARDIS and became king.
We then learn why he became deposed and all seems tidy until in one last moment a warning shot is fired across the bows of our complacency.
Most of the story felt comfortable but not challenging. The characters were split up, various threats of death and a lot of gentle anti-war messaging. The ante was raised as this became a study into the futility and causes of war and also a study of Steven’s character and motives.
Simon Guerrier offered us narrow glimpses of Steven’s life after the TARDIS painting a large story with very few brush strokes and the skill with which he did this is possibly too subtle to be casually grasped.
Although the story of planet Comfort has few real surprises to a regular fan it does allow the build to Steven’s life as a king and beyond. Older Steven has great maturity and wisdom and everything is like real life – depending on where you draw the line this is either a happy ending or an ending that reveals a new story about to start. The last few scenes lift this story from solid to good.
So as the Companion Chronicles fade away for now at least, they still manage to challenge the listener and tell stories in a way that will be missed.