As Doctor Who fans we are used to enjoying stories in varying eras of the show, but there is a special thrill with the current Eighth Doctor offerings from Big Finish.
While the Ravenous stories see a younger Eighth enjoying adventures in the company of companions Liv and Helen, the alternate strand is set much later in his personal timeline. In The Time War, the Doctor continues to valiantly resist involvement the universally destructive conflict between his own people and the Daleks.
The Lords Of Terror
Jonathan Morris begins this box set with a tale that finds new companion Bliss (Rakhee Thakrar) seeking to reconnect with family. However home – one of the Orion colonies – is barely recognisable; the population are under daily bombardment, living within an Orwellian domed city and participating in a rocket project which promises to bring “Death to the Daleks!”
As the Doctor digs deeper into this altered timeline, and we discover how the society was changed to become a dystopia with desperate rebels and a subjugated populace, Bliss faces some heart-breaking truths. As well as granting her some backstory – and the extras reveal that Bliss was not originally planned as a continuing character – it feels as though these events may serve as motivation as her story develops. If initially thrown together with the Doctor for survival, she now has a purpose to her travels.
Planet Of The Ogrons
Guy Adams writes both the second and third stories which, though linked, are markedly different in tone. This feels the most traditional of the pair and certainly the most fun, beginning on Gallifrey with the arrival of the Doctor’s TARDIS and a most surprising occupant: an ape-like Ogron, commonly found as the henchmen of the Daleks.
Acting as an agent of the Time Lords, The Twelve – the latest iteration of the villain from earlier tales – tracks down the Doctor with this unusual Ogron in tow, ready to accompany him and Bliss on a mission to discover the creature’s origins.
Through a surprising mirror, we get to consider our hero’s essential nature and there is a pleasing relationship developed between Bliss and the Ogron, who is beautifully played by John Culshaw. Of course, it helps that Culshaw is enough of a fan to recognise the script’s ample call backs to stories past and future. The story also references Ogrons throughout the show’s past too, and provides Nicholas Briggs the chance to give another chilling Dalek interpretation in The Overseer.
The Garden Of Death
Following straight on, The Doctor, Bliss and The Twelve find themselves recast as inmates a prisoner of war camp, complete with memory suppression which leaves them unaware of both their identities and their crimes.
With the Doctor designated Alpha, and segregated under special conditions, he is want to wonder at the terrible nature of the crimes. Meanwhile, Bliss resides among the main population and strikes up a friendship with an entertaining, semi-robotic fellow prisoner, played by Victor McGuire (Bread, Goodnight Sweetheart).
Despite taking away her memories though, it is not long before The Twelve begins to ferment a devious plan for escape. Despite an unassuming new visage, she remains incredibly dangerous and it is great to hear her villainous genius in action!
Rounding out the set, Timothy X Atack’s homage to submarine movies sees the Doctor captaining his own boat – crewed by Bliss, The Twelve and a few survivors – deep in the seas of a Dalek subjugated planet. They are not alone though, as also submerged are Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) and Tamasan, watching and waiting for the Doctor to unlock a puzzle…
Tania Rodrigues plays the weary Chief Panath, who has the wonderfully endearing quality of responding to enquires about the ships status by first giving a personal assessment of how she is feeling. With Anya Chalotra’s valiant (Ensign Murti), they together fill out a crew of desperate survivors willing to take the Doctor’s commands…
As ever, Paul McGann’s Doctor remains full of life, even despite the darkening universe around him. His mission to help, but not to fight, continues throughout and there are some charming moments where he gets to have some fun, not least at the start of Planet Of The Ogrons. For her part, Rakhee Thakrar’s Bliss receives some good development here and gets to hold her own as well as enjoying some charming with character moments, especially when making friends while the Doctor is busy taking the lead.
Naturally, the standout guest star across the set is Julia McKenzie as The Twelve. If The Eleven’s manic antics as the Time Lord criminal, vividly played by Mark Bonnar, were a highlight of the Doom Coalition and Ravenous stories, the introduction of the next iteration is a master stroke. Julia McKenzie plays her regeneration with equal vigour and is a delight from her very first scene – and she keeps those troublesome former incarnations in check with a hilarious schoolmarmish charm.
Throughout, the Time Lords are represented by Tamasan – Cardinal Ollistra’s impressive right hand woman – now played by Nikki Amuka-Bird (Torchwood: Sleeper, Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time). However, Ollistra herself remains in the background which was a shame, as we would love to hear a full-on confrontation between her and The Twelve.
As the Time War rages on, these stories lead us away from the front lines to explore the wider aspects of war, from genetic experimentation to the potential for conflict ending weaponry.
With impressive sound design from Benji Clifford, especially for the underwater action of Jonah, to the taut direction of Ken Bentley, these stories continue to impress and it is clear there is plenty of scope for Paul McGann’s adventures on the fringes of the conflict to run and run!