One of the news biggest stories in Doctor Who last year was Big Finish acquiring the rights to tell stories in the New Who canon.
What was even more exciting was the news that John Hurt would be returning to the role of the War Doctor for a series of Four box-sets showcasing untold chapters of the Time War. These stories would be set before the War Doctor’s climatic finale in the 5oth Anniversary special Day of the Doctor.
The first of these box-sets, Only The Monstrous was released to great acclaim late last year and hot on its heels we now have the second, Infernal Devices.
I must begin this review with a confession though.
I have not heard the first War Doctor box-set as yet, so I was a little nervous about jumping into this second set. What if I had missed a great deal of back story that would hamper my understanding and enjoyment of these stories?
I’m happy to report that Infernal Devices requires no previous knowledge and works amazingly as a standalone story arc.
Infernal Devices is a set of three stories each linked around a different weapon (the infernal devices of the title).
You might begin to question, just how many weapons of mass destruction could there be in the universe? Well the Omega Arsenal is not empty yet, and those are the weapons the Time Lords know about.
The first story Legion of the Lost, by John Dorney finds the Doctor on the world of the Techo-mancers. The Time Lords have chosen to ally themselves with this race who combine science and magic to help Gallifrey recruit more troops for the war. This is of course achieved by the most abhorrent means and it is up to the War Doctor to sort it out. This is without doubt the strongest story in the set, with great action and fascinating moral questions.
I was highly intrigued by the use of magic in this story.
Magic has been explored in Doctor Who before, usually explained away as an unknown form of science, but in Legion of the Lost, the story plays with your expectations.
You begin to wonder whether Doctor Who will fully cross over into the supernatural all the way throughout. I will not spoil the story’s revelation but it is rather satisfying.
Legion of the Lost is notable for the appearance of David Warner as Shadovar, the leader of the Techno -mancers. To hear John Hurt and Warner, two giants of screen and stage trade insults is an utter joy and makes for some of the strongest scenes in the box-set.
A Thing of Guile by Phil Mulryne has the War Doctor being forced to work with the Time Lords to help hunt down a super weapon being developed by a secret cabal of Daleks. This is a very grim and dark adventure story and an excellent showcase for Cardinal Ollistra, played to perfection by Jacqueline Pearce. Ollistra and the War Doctor’s differing ideologies of how to bring the war to an end and what methods can and can’t be used inform the latter two stories. War naturally brings out the worst and best in people, but the War Doctor is seeing the very worst come not just from his own people but himself.
In The Neverwhen by Matt Fitton, the War Doctor is now labelled a war criminal caught between a battalion of Gallifreyan troops and Daleks. These two armies are doomed to fight in a battle that constantly resets due to the after-effect of an experimental Time weapon. This is the weakest of the stories on offer but it is still a fascinating look at just how far the Time Lords are prepared to go to win the war.
John Hurt as the War Doctor is one of the greatest gifts we have been given as Doctor Who fans. His performance in this set of stories enriches an already memorable incarnation, and you can tell Hurt is throwing himself into the part with as much careful thought and emotion as any of his past film performances.
The War Doctor frequently proclaims he is not the man he was, and talks about the Doctor as a different person. He shuns the title with shame and bitter anger.
But despite his somewhat ruthless nature, there are moments where he is utterly the Doctor of old. Even Ollistra, observes that the War Doctor cannot help but be the Doctor no matter how hard he tries to run from it.
This is a fascinating expansion of what was only touched upon in Day of the Doctor. The War Doctor has been fighting the Time War for far too long and he has made decisions which break the promise he made to himself as the Doctor.
But despite everything in many ways he is still the same man especially when he proclaims, in my favourite line from the box-set ” I do not need authority! I have a screwdriver!”.
One thing I am happy about is that the War Doctor is simply not another soldier in the employ of the Time Lords. True to his past, this incarnation is a rogue element of the war, helping the innocent caught in the conflict and trying to prevent atrocities on both sides. He is frequently referred to by some characters as “the renegade” which is absolutely in keeping with the Doctor’s character.
I would have found it hard to accept the War Doctor to be just a gun for hire by the Time Lords, so a roguish personality and agenda is perfect for this incarnation. It keeps ties with the past whilst exploring some interesting new possibilities.
It is going to be a long wait for the third box-set in September, but I am rather lucky that I have the first one to go back and listen to.
Source: Big Finish Productions
GS Blogger: Matt Davis @DecadentGent