So, Big Finish has now joined the Eighth Doctor to the world of the Time War, landing Paul McGann in a hinterland between Doom Coalition and Night of the Doctor. It’s The Time War 1, the first of an annual series, due to run until 2020 no less. Something that significant needs savouring. Let’s take a listen and pool our thoughts…
The Time War 1 stories
The set is a sandwich of four stories, with John Dorney and Matt Fitton sharing writing duties. As the herald of a new series, these stories need to not only show some progression for the Eighth Doctor, introduce any new companion (in this case Bliss, played by Rakhee Thakrar), and give us the Time War. Cue the first story…
The Starship of Theseus is John Dorney’s take on the classic paradox The Ship of Theseus but focused more on the mystery of disappearing passengers as he and assistant Sheena (Olivia Vinall) need to also deal with reality being somewhat on the blink. The Doctor needs all his companion Emma’s (!) support as they try to make sense of a universe that won’t sit still. And meanwhile the Daleks are coming!
The story keeps the listener wrong-footed, with characters moving from friend to foe as the Time War ripples over reality. The Doctor has a sense of flux but is unable to navigate the nuances, instead he takes on the task of rescuing as many refugees from the war as he can. John also sets up his final story, as well as introducing new companion Bliss (Rakhee Thakrar).
Matt Fitton takes over with Echoes of War and takes the refugees to a jungle-world where time itself is corrupted and the only way they can survive is by soliciting help from someone called Dal. Of the four stories in the set, this is the strongest part for Bliss as she takes on the role of second-in-command when the Doctor is unavailable.
It’s a vivid landscape though by narrowing the narrative down to so few characters, the other refugees do feel somewhat superfluous. Full marks to Matt, though, for the sense of place and grim heart of the war.
Matt’s second story in this set is Conscript. Although it almost completely parks the new refugees, it does bring Jacqueline Pearce into the fold as Cardinal Ollistra, and very much in full on Time War mode. The Doctor is conscripted into a Time Lord bootcamp as reality of the war comes ever closer.
While I personally prefer my Time Lords and Gallifreyans few and far between, and not treated as just another race of humans, this is tehs style the show has taken, and Matt sticks very close the vision of Time Lords at war we had in Day of the Doctor. It’s a boot camp, and well presented if nothing we haven’t had many times elsewhere, but where it works very well is in the growing sense of how the Doctor’s whole character stutters when he can’t drive a situation. As others have their own imperatives and even Ollistrata seems ambivalent to his fate, he struggles (at times) to stamp his normal authority on events, even though his example still inspires others.
It’s a clever, provocative piece, and perhaps an important stepping stone on the path to the War Doctor.
John Dorney wraps the set with One Life, a great multi-valued title capable of meaning many things, and John wrangles every last interpretation as we find out just what is going on and the nature of the latest super-weapon. It asks some deep questions about war and the need to fight or not, and asks just how far even the most pacifistic of us can be pushed before joining the crowd.
It’s a tidy piece and neatly leaves the Eighth Doctor in a new context with a new companion in the form of Bliss and the beginnings of an existential crisis.
The set of stories
So yes we are in a new slice of Eighth Doctor adventures, and while Bliss has been introduced, she has yet to really take centre stage, though has plenty of potential. I wonder if every set will have Ollistra and Daleks, and if any new characters will make further appearances, I suspect the answer is yes to all these questions.
It’s been widely rated at 10/10 by other reviewers. On my blog I don’t give scores, but were I rating this elsewhere I would hesitate to give it 10/10 as I believe there is more to come and what we have here is only the beginning. I suspect Big Finish has a lot more in store for us.