Hot on the heels of The War Doctor Volume 1: Only the Monstrous comes The War Doctor Volume 2: Infernal Devices. If the first volume was Nick Briggs re-capturing some flavours of Dalek Empire from the point of view of a set of intriguing characters, this volume is a study in themes, almost an audio essay, by John Dorney, Phil Mulryne and Matt Fitton. The listener will come away from this astutely aware of the impact war has on its participants, rendering the gap between them increasingly thin. It also takes time to explore the meaning of death for a race capable of regeneration.
The three stories each feature a unique super-weapon — the infernal devices of the boxset title.
John Dorney’s Legion of the Lost takes a new spin on proceedings and gives us an encounter with a race of technomages, led by David Warner’s Shadovar. The War Doctor spends time with Collis (Zoë Tapper) a Time Lord who is very much transformed by her experiences at the start of the story. John Dorney cleverly sets Collis up as a proto-companion but her commitment to the cause proves stronger than the War Doctor‘s, though in the end it takes all her belief in what’s right to do what we the listener might view to be the appropriate thing. To say more would spoil several powerful scenes.
The story also has a temporal super-weapon as part of the rich plot, though John never lets it take over the story.
Phil Mulryne has the filling of the sandwich of stories with A Thing of Guile. This is a hands on mission for Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) to investigate a high-security Dalek station on asteroid Theta 12. When the nature of the super-weapon is deduced by the War Doctor it opens up a new range of possibilities for the Time Lords, but the Dalek’s are pursuing their own line of research. There is also plenty of action in the background and this felt the most Star Trek of the stories (the new theme music sounds a bit Next Generation to me as well. By that I meant we have the heroes on planet doing one thing, while the crew of a spaceship are struggling to survive elsewhere.
Matt Fitton brings this particular set to a conclusion with The Neverwhen and if nothing else gets the prize for best title. The setup is a battle-worn war-torn world where time itself is a weapon and both people and weapons are in a continual state of flux. Into this comes the War Doctor, still with Ollistra and thanks to some tightly crafted dialogue the ability of the War Doctor to distinguish sides comes to the fore.
Even if at moments this War Doctor feels like the Doctor by any other name (and in my mind the performance is reminiscent of the Third Doctor) at exit he is as much of an outsider to how own people as he is to everyone else. Another deft touch is the way Ollistra is very much foe as companion (cf Missy in Magician’s Apprentice / Witch’s Familiar)
Nice touches sprinkled all across this set, even if the central motif of infernal devices is a bit submerged at points. I’ve spoken in the previous review about how well Jacqueline Pearce works as a Time Lord manipulator, and of course John Hurt is superb. The stand-out performances are David Warner’s somewhat OTT Shadovar, Zoë Tapper and Tracy Wiles as Commander Barnac in The Neverwhen. Nick Briggs directs and turns in his usual performances as the Daleks and even if the stories so far have focussed on action and weapons, there is still a lot here to savour. Next stop September’s Agents of Chaos.