‘Doctor Who’ spin-off ‘The War Doctor’ Volume 2 review: ‘Infernal Devices’

With barely time to catch our breath since December’s epic ‘Only the Monstrous’, this second box set presents three further adventures for John Hurt’s missing incarnation of our favourite Time Lord.

Surrounded by terrific, thumping version of the theme, these stories ostensibly deal with attempts to employ super-weapons in the struggle against the Daleks. In truth, they are far more than this; the “infernal devices” of the title are an exciting and dramatic hook on which to hang a series of explorations about the morality of war.

John Dorney’s ‘The Legion of the Lost’ starts in the heat of battle with the War Doctor working to his own agenda, seeking to eliminate a weapon called the Annihilator from the conflict. Knocked out by an explosion, he becomes witness to a dangerous alliance between his own people and the Technomancers, practitioners of magic who offer a way to swell the ranks of the Time Lord troops at a terrible cost.

‘A Thing of Guile’ sees our hero coerced into a mission in search of a secretive Dalek base, in the company of the manipulative Cardinal Ollistra herself. Phil Mulryne’s script has the Daleks thinking the unthinkable, with the themes of the tale sharing some similarities with the plans of the Cult of Skaro as they attempt to gain an advantage in the war.

The final story is Matt Fitton’s ‘The Neverwhen’. Dropped into the midst of a middle of a planetary conflict ravaged by temporal flux, the War Doctor finds the two sides battling as changes impact – the combatants shifting through mutated physical forms (spider Daleks!) and ever-changing weaponry, from spears to stasers.

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John Hurt sparkles in the central role, moving from disgust at his people’s actions to notes of optimism, and it is clear that his incarnation cannot help but be the Doctor, despite his best efforts. He is well matched by Jacqueline Pearce, who is wonderfully cold and conniving Time Lady who sees herself as the Doctor’s puppet mistress, and there are many thumping good scenes between the pair.

In the guest cast, David Warner dives gloriously over-the-top as the fanatical Shadovar, calling forth his demonic gods, while Zoë Tapper’s Collis convinces as the conflicted soldier caught up in the first battle. We also loved the fussy Co-ordinator Jarad (Jamie Newall) and his gung-ho accomplice Captain Solex (Robert Hands) who bicker like children at times.

Through these three tales we get a sense of the Time Lords’ desperation; they are prepared to sacrifice anything in order to beat the Daleks and this chimes well with what we saw of the scheming Rassilon in ‘The End of Time’. It seems that it has become the role of the Doctor, though he eschews the title, to be his people’s conscience and he is determined to keep them off the darkest paths

With sequences of strong action, stunning sound design and through-provoking themes, we can’t get enough of this War Doctor. With Daleks, dilemmas and dreadful consequences, the series is gloriously exceeding many of our expectations.

Roll on Volume 3: ‘Agents of Chaos’!

5star

Released in February 2016 by Big Finish.

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What did you think of Volume 2? Let us know below…

  • Martine

    Another superb box set showcasing why John Hurt ranks with Peter Capaldi as the best of the modern doctors. While it would perhaps be too greedy to ask that we see Hurt return to the screen as the War Doctor or better still work with Capald, we do at least get to enjoy the War Doctor in these fantastic adventures. Given the inevitable drop in quality likely when Chris ‘Broadchurch2 and Cyberwoman’ Chibnall takes over, perhaps it is just as well that Hurt remains in the Big Finish range where he is more likely to be served by decent writing. What a great shame that Steven Moffat didn’t get to write a further episode for Hurt though.

    • Helles

      The thought of Hurt and Capaldi together written by Steven Moffat is way too delicious! Wouldn’t it be great if the Grand Moff managed to make this happen in his finale year. What a way to end things. If they could get Matt and Alex involved as well, it would be his greatest hits of his greatest creations as well as the three best doctors in the modern show. It HAS to happen!!!

  • Dr Moo

    John Hurt is the Doctor. Three years on I still can’t get over how incredible that fact is. Easily in my top five Doctors, while it makes perfect sense not to bring him back it is a shame that we’ll never get him on the show again. Thanks to Big Finish we can see (or hear) the Doctor Of War in his element and it’s proved every bit as marvellous as expected.

    • Martine

      John Hurt’s performance in Day of the Doctor and his incredibly important and central role in Who history as the War Doctor made him for me a better and more convincing doctor than four years of David Tennant gurning and prancing about and acting like he was in a failed audition for Twilight. The magnificent audio box sets have added to his reputation ( as have novels) and I now rate him higher than Eccleston and nudging Smith. It seems to me that Steven Moffat hit his stride in creating both the War Doctor and the 12th Doctor and in John Hurt and Peter Capaldi we undoubtedly have the two best actors to ever grace the role. I only rate Troughton now above Capaldi and Hurt and something tells me that series 10 may nudge Capaldi’s 12th doctor to the very top if it is even half as brilliant as series 9. The show has come such a long way and matured and grown since the low point of Tennant’s sub- Twilight time. I just hope that Capaldi stays on when Chris Chibnall takes over to advise him and rise about what is likely to be dangerous times for the show. If it does take another downward turn in quality such as when Davies was in charge, I am happy to return to the worlds of BF and trust that not only John Hurt and Alex Kingston continue to inspire writers to produce material which is better than most of the televised show in the modern era, but that we get Capaldi too at some stage. It took until John Hurt’s appearance in Day of the Doctor for me to enjoy new Who but these last couple of years on television and audio now do make me feel that the show has finally connected to classic Who and made peace with the legacy, rather than trashing it or mocking it in favour of appealing to the lowest commom denominator.

      • Dr Moo

        I am of the opinion that Tennant’s 10th Doctor has all the right ingredients of a good Doctor but was “not cooked with the right recipe” if you’ll excuse the metaphor (which I just made up). To my mind he’s let down by a lot of different issues and inconsistencies in his characterisation more than anything else. Of course the constant pining after her divine royalty Wose Tylwer certainly doesn’t help. It’s a huge case of wasted potential and that’s why I look forward to seeing what the extremely capable writers at Big Finish have got lined up for him.
        To me the ranking order of Doctors from favourite to least-favourite goes 11, 12, 7, 6, War, 3, 9, 4, 1, 2, 8, 5, 10.

        • Martine

          I really fear the 10th doctor adventures for BF will be more of the same as we had served up during the television show. I am no fan of Catherine Tate’s shouty irritating Donna and the thought of both of them shouting at each other already gives me a headache. I have nothing against BF using new Who characters, indeed the River Song and War Doctor box sets are both first class and the Churchill set, while not as good, is still enjoyable. Tennant’s doctor simply does not suit audio as an hour of constant yelling can not progress even the best written story and his character remains the most inconsistent and least ‘doctorly’ of all. I generally like all doctors except Tennant who I simply can’t think of as a genuine doctor because of the way he was written as a human heartthrob, rather than as a Gallifreyan and Tennant did not have the acting chops to overcome the writing. My ranking is 2, 12, War, 4. I like all the others sort of equally. The era with the 10th doctor is undoubtedly the weakest in Who history and like many other long time Who fans, made me turn my back on the show until The Day of the Doctor piqued my curiosity. I have since seen a bit of Matt’s doctor – while he is doctorly, he seems too young to me but the writing for him is generally good and Matt Smith is a fine actor. Peter’s doctor is the only one of the newer chaps, along with War Doctor who really feels like the doctor I know and love.

          • Helles

            Let’s face it, the straight fact is that Tennant was sh**. The only ones who liked him were silly teenage girls who fortunately have either grown up or disappeared into the weirder corners of the internet. Nice that we finally have proper grown up actors in the parts now. Peter Capaldi is extraordinary and last series was possibly the greatest in the last 52 years. I have my fingers crossed that Chibbers has enough sense to keep Capaldi on for at least one more year, if not more but I sense that the suits want a returned to dumbed down Who ala Tennant and Wose with a pretty boy in the lead, so that they can flog merchandise to teenage girls. Capaldi has too much integrity and will walk if this happens, so let’s hope Chibbers has the kind of backbone that Moffat had in returning the show to the way it should be after the disastrous years with RTD and Tennant and ensure that it remains creatively strong and vibrant, and not pander.

          • Dr Moo

            Tennant was sh** – That is a claim I would dispute. Certainly he was not the best, he’s the worst in my opinion, but calling him sh** is just not true. Let’s try to keep this respectful and on topic.
            Speaking of which, if the previous box set and reviews like the one above are anything to go by then this looks amazing. I can’t wait for more War Doctor!

          • Daniel

            It’s hard now to conclude that Tennant other than a failure in the role but it’s not like he deliberately tried to be bad or trashed the show. The problem was that he was stuck with some of the worst characterisation and writing in modern Who and the silly love story with Rose Tyler just smothered his entire time in the Tardis as Russell T Davies wouldn’t let it go. You have to separate actor and writing sometimes. I mean I absolutely adored series 9 and think Peter Capaldi is a genius but I can recognise that some of series 8 had some weak writing but Peter has the authority and acting skills to rise above it. I don’t blame Peter for any shortcomings in series 8 – it’s his job as an actor to make the best of what is given. Some actors like Peter and Matt are highly skilled and have that certain ‘something’ that allows them to transcend the writing. David isn’t quite as skilled or versatile as them and was stuck with a really bad run of episodes when he started which made it almost impossible to ever rise above them. Tennant might be considered to be the least successful of the modern doctors ‘artistically’ but I can give reasons for why 10 and Tennant didn’t work, not just to hurl names around. Be respectful. Being rude about Tennant is no better than the kinds of things his batty fan base have said in relation to Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. Just hurling rude words around undermines your point.
            Back to base – this box set is really sensational and looking forward to more from the fabulous Sir John Hurt. It’s wonderful that he has overcome a serious illness as well. I kind of like to think that Who helped him during his recovery by having faith in his capacity to do the audio work. Job very well done!

          • Dr. Moo

            Very well said Daniel.
            John’s recovered? I didn’t know that. Good for him, that’s fantastic!

          • Daniel

            Appears that way. He is lining up new work, so that’s a great sign! Long may the War Doctor continue.
            I sometimes wonder if the really strong personal dislike for David Tennant’s time on the show and sometimes for the actor stems a lot from how vociferous and downright nasty his fanbase is? Every time you go on to social media you can see them decrying and criticising every other doctor and lamenting that the show has somehow gone downhill. If you dare to say anything critical about David’s doctor or even worse, the 10/Rose relationship, you get vitriol spat at you. The kind of hatred poured on Peter Capaldi in particular is quite sick making. Doesn’t excuse people being rude about David or his doctor, but I can see that rather than arguing objectively that the 10th doctor’s era is the least critically and artistically successful of the modern doctors (and there is plenty of evidence to back this up), some more het up critics just can’t stand how nasty the fandom for 10 is in shouting down any rational argument and then channel that anger into their own comments.
            I’d just rather wait in anticipation of wonderful new Capaldi episodes on television or continue to wallow in the frankly superb series 9 box set (I think the best produced in the modern era and terrific set of extras and commentaries as well as the best run of episodes since 2005 from Last Christmas to Husbands of River Song – only Sleep No More is less than stellar in that line up!) or get around to listening to the great new stuff on Big Finish. While not a fan of the 10th Doctor, I will certainly give the 10th Doctor/Donna BF set a listen as it will be good to hear how this pairing works away from Davies. Hopefully it may go some way to improving the way 10 is written and we’ll get less angst, teenage petulance and arrogance and more fun and good old fashioned adventure. 10, unlike War and 12, doesn’t lend himself to having great philosophical writing around him, so just a few laughs will suffice.

          • Dr. Moo

            I think the level of immaturity that a certain vocal percentage of 10’s fans display may well be a part of the dislike some show towards his time; it’s a shame because I’ve also met several 10 fans who happen to be among the nicest people I know – my father and my brother for starters! Personally I like that era less (but don’t dislike it, there’s no era I dislike for the show) because of the often-poor writing and characterisation that 10 had to suffer with.

            Last Christmas to The Husbands of River Song? I’d stretch that back as far as Mummy on the Orient Express personally, ItFotN and SNM being the exceptions but even they have their fans.

            10 & Donna is, paradoxically, a favourite TARDIS crew of mine so I’ll be sure to check out what Big Finish have got lined up. They may not have the same unique magic that made 11 & the Ponds, 12 & Clara, 7 & Ace or 4 & pretty much anyone he was with but what 10 & Donna bring to the table is pure entertaining fun and friendship, possibly helped along by the genuine closeness between the two actors, and their pairing makes series four Tennant’s best – though it is also his best by default!

            I’m holding out for the 11th Doctor to make his Big Finish debut soon, with Amy and Rory of course. Maybe we can put him in a River Song story and finally see their meeting with Jim The Fish or the picnic at Asgard? Hopefully a Classic & Modern Doctors multi-Doctor story will show up sometime. Time Crash was great but it was very short and 10 & 5 are my bottom two Doctors so if we can do more in that vein with more of the Doctors getting involved I say go for it!

          • Daniel

            Series 4 isn’t too bad. Not a patch on series 9,5 or 1 though. I agree that a five or six story arc from BF with 11, River, Rory and Amy would be amazing. I’ve loved all of the BBC audiobooks form the 11th doctor’s era and the fantastic characterisation, great inter relationships of that TARDIS crew and the talents of Matt, Karen, Arthur and Alex would be pure audio gold. All have had brilliant post Who careers, so might be hard to get all of them together.

          • Dr. Moo

            I think that’s literally the only reason it hasn’t happened yet. I’m sure eventually there’ll be a point when they can do it; even in a single afternoon I reckon they could knock out three or four full stories. It’s just a matter of finding time when they’re all available.

          • Notyet

            I think an 11th doctor BF boxset with Amy, Rory and River would probably break all sales records. Not just the greatest pairing in new Who but up there with Liz and Tom and Katy and Jon. BF must be itching to do it but Matt, Karen and Arthur are now among the hottest television talent on the planet.

          • Dr. Moo

            The top ten:
            1. Matt, Karen, Arthur and Alex
            2. Sylvester, Sophie and Lisa (that’s right, I’m going off-screen!)
            3. Peter and Jenna
            4. Jon and Katy
            5. Tom and Liz
            6. Colin and Maggie
            7. Tom and Louise
            8. David and Catherine
            9. Tom and Lalla
            10. Patrick, Fraser and Wendy

          • notyet

            I agree if my arm is pulled that Matt, Karen, Arthur and Alex just about top Tom and Liz and Katy and Jon. They are the combination which made the show so successful internationally and have gone on to have the greatest success post Who. Also, so many of the best episodes were during their time. Pretty hard to argue with that but although my head says they are the top Tardis team of all time on any objective measure (ratings + awards + great stories + characterisation + acting prowess + chemistry), I think my heart still belongs to the amazing kooky and adorable Jo and the dashing Third Doctor. Part of the reason I think I also adored Clara and 12 is that there is just a smidgeon of Jo and 3 somewhere in there. I also loved Ace and 7, Leela and 4, Romana I and 4, Jamie and 2, Ian, Barbara and 1 and even have a teeny soft spot for the gobby Australian and 5. Rose and 9 were good but unfortunately the mess they made of her with 10 sort of ruined the character for me forever. Such a shame as 9 was a great and under rated doctor and Rose started out as a potentially great companion before Davies lost the plot when he created 10 – shame that. Mind, if Eccleston and Piper were to ever do BF (I can dream), I would be in heaven.

          • Dr. Moo

            I think you meant Eccleston, Piper *AND* Barrowman.

          • Notyet

            Not Barrowman. I’m afraid that series 3 &4 of new Who + Torchwood (sans Children of Earth) have made him toxic for me. He was brilliant as written by Steven Moffat in Empty Child/Doctor Dances but diminishing returns since then to the point Captain Jack is a complete cartoon, rather than a rounded character as he was in his first outing. A bit like David Tennant, John Barrowman always seems to have only ever had the one great performance in him and since then he has just fallen back on the same handful of gestures and intonations and cranked it up to 11 in each subsequent performance. David was terrific in Blackpool with David Morrisey but has never touched that again and John was excellent in the Moffat two parter. Both actors have since relied on their innate charm and ability to attract fandom to leverage further parts but just haven’t been able to find that spark which they had at those points in time. Barrowman did some reasonable work in Children of Earth and Tennant gave a creditable performance in Midnight but that’s about it. A real pity as I think both are usually too easily dismissed as no talent/Just good looks when there is some actual ability underneath.

          • Daniel

            Agree with your number one – absolutely no doubt. Next is your 10, then anyone with 4 except Adric and Tegan, then anyone with 3. Worst is obviously 10 and Rose (just awful). Also like Clara and 12 ( best actors and Jenna and Peter have chemistry in spades that Matt and Jenna didn’t but that is down to uneven writing in series 7B). Excited about new companion… Hoping for either an alien or a younger bloke, not another Rose/ Martha clone.

          • Martine

            Interesting that the new 10th Doctor novelisation is about internet trolls and an epidemic of unkindness from people online. Given the terrible reputation of 10th Doctor/Tennant fandom and some of the truly vile things posted by them, coincidence or not that this particular storyline was for this particular doctor? Hmmmm….

          • Dr. Moo

            Sending a message much? I saw one person once even go so far as to wish Steven Moffat dead because he “ruined Doctor Who” when he cast Matt Smith. This was on the official Doctor Who Facebook page. It is truly astounding how horrible some of them can be. Tennant was a good Doctor even if he’s not my favourite, but the way some people who’s favourite he is react when I say he’s not my favourite… just sickening.

          • Martine

            I am pretty sure that the messaging and the particular doctor the story relates to can’t be a coincidence. It wasn’t just the vile stuff posted by Tennant fans when Smith was cast, years down the track they are still at it. I wouldn’t go onto any Tennant specific sites (they are not for me, so I guess they can share their hatred in private), so can only imagine what must be said there but when Peter Capaldi was cast, the level of truly horrible and personally vicious things said about his age and looks on general forums, newspapers and Doctor Who sites by these so-called fans of the show made me shudder. Peter has proved to be a tremendous asset to the show in every way and even if a person preferred Tennant’s performance to Capaldi’s, it would be hard to argue that Tennant in his time in the role has even done half as much as Peter has over the last two years to promote the show and to be accessible to fans. If Peter is as old and decrepit as Tennant fandom seems to think, then how come he’s managed a round the world trip, visits to Germany, US and just recently to Mexico, on top of personal appearances as well as charity trips to bring attention to the plight of Syrian refugees and throughout it spent hours attending to fans, signing autographs, taking selfies and generally being charming, patient and ridiculously lovely. It’s quite noticeable that you don’t get people who loved Matt’s doctor being so nasty about Peter’s doctor, so I just don’t know why one particular actor has such awful fans, when others don’t. I know it’s not David Tennant’s fault that he has such a rapid and nasty fanbase, but I do wonder if he mightn’t use his PR people to send out some messages about respect and tolerance. Perhaps the new novel does have his tacit support in promoting this message? That would be nice and would raise my overall respect for David as he hasn’t helped himself by being so standoffish about Who fandom, failing to acknowledge that he owes his current career to the show and until recently turning his back on promoting the show or appearing at conventions and the like.

          • Daniel

            I don’t rate Tennant at all but not sure he can be held accountable for the ill behaviour of his fans or their nasty comments about Matt or Peter. He isn’t encouraging them to think or act that way – I can sort of see that the writing for his doctor did encourage a kind of hero worship and treatment that he was the ‘ultimate’ but that’s not down to him at all. Also don’t think we should compare the amount of effort a particular actor gives to the show outside just filming their episodes as a reflection of their ‘worth’. David may not have been as available and willing to interact with fans during his time as the doctor as Matt or Peter, but at that time the show wasn’t well known internationally so probably fewer opportunities to travel overseas and he seemed to have an agreement to be able to do other things during any breaks, rather than publicity or conventions etc (remember that the show accommodated him to do Hamlet which resulted in the gap year). Maybe that was in his contract? It’s horses for courses and although David may not have done as much for the show by way of publicity as either of his successors, it doesn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the show or its fandom. I am sure I have seen him mention that the first line in his obituary will always be that he was in Doctor Who. I think it’s more a case that Steven Moffat really beefed up the publicity and fan interaction side of things when he took over and both Matt and Peter seem to really enjoy meeting the public and doing promotional work, so probably just a great alignment of people and circumstances. Anyway, David is in the past now and Peter is the doctor, so that’s who people should be supporting if they are fans of the show, rather than just a particular actor. There is no need to throw shade on Tennant due to either the nature of fandom, nor his willingness to do PR or attend fan events.

          • notyet

            I agree it’s not Tennant’s fault his fandom is so awful but it’s tarnishing his reputation so you’d think his PR people might try something to get them to tone it down. He’s been gone for years and he ain’t coming back to the role on tele so I don’t know why they are still shrieking about it constantly on social media and tearing into Peter. An hysterical Tennant fangirl in full mode must make even David Tennant himself shudder in horror. I thought most of them would have grown out of it by now.