Doctor Who Gallifrey: Time War review

Running in various formats since 2004, Gallifrey has chronicled eight series worth of political machinations at the heart of Time Lord society. Following the stories of the Doctor’s former companions Romana and Leela. Latterly, the series has added Ace to its roster, picking up on the notion that the Doctor was preparing her for life as a Time Lord agent.

Since the fate of Gallifrey was revealed in the New Series, fans have been itching to discover what happened to our heroes based there, not just those from on screen Doctor Who itself, but the characters brought to life on audio, such as the Celestial Intervention Agency’s Narvin, who has grown to become Romana’s closest ally, and the independent Time Lord Irving Braxiatel.

Celestial Intervention

In her new role as CIA Coordinator, Romana (Lalla Ward) finds herself on the back foot, grappling with a much changed political situation. David Llewellen’s story sets out the new normal for Gallifrey at war: The High Council is led by the newly regenerated President Livia (Pippa Bennett-Warner), while the power of the War Council is on the rise under the ambitious General Trave (Paul Marc Davis). To counter the growing Dalek threat, Romana repositions the CIA as an intelligence gathering operation, and together this political triumvirate prepare for war.

Of course, Trave has his own plans and schemes, including working towards the removal of the idealistic Livia with someone more pragmatic, and Leela’s position as the CIA’s liaison to the War Council becomes a useful back channel, although this creates some conflict for her.

With a handful of pleasing references back to the various elements of Gallifrey we are familiar with, from the Death Zone to the Omega Arsenal, the story presents the rise of protectionism as the Time Lords grapple with a request for asylum from their beleaguered allies.

Soldier Obscura

Away from Gallifrey itself, Tim Foley’s story follows Ace and Brax into the Obscura, the ravaged remains of a temporal battlefield, where he has a scheme to deal the Daleks a decisive blow.

Aboard a space station at the gateway to the Obscura, Brax is reunited with his former mentor Danna, who sheds some fascinating light on his early years. Zulema Dene, who has an amazing back catalogue including appearances in The Avengers, Catweazle and Willow, brings the elderly Time Lady to life with wit, passion and steel.

The Obscura itself is a brilliant creation, a spacetime disturbance which cannot be observed directly as it will drive the viewer insane and it provides Nicholas Briggs the chance to deliver another incredibly creepy Dalek performance, with a distorted version of a familiar nursery rhyme. For her part, Sophie Aldred brings a new maturity to Ace, and it is interesting to hear the dynamic between her and Miles Richardson’s Brax, who can be just as secretive and manipulative as the Doctor.

The Devil You Know

After Sir Derek Jacobi’s terrific reintroduction in The War Master Box set, we find Romana reluctantly deploying him to track down a potentially war-stopping weapon. Paired with Louise Jameson’s indefatigable Leela, the pair are uneasy allies and both ruthless in their own way.

Scott Handcock’s script is a tight and tense affair, contrasting the styles of these two old adversaries and ramping up their lack of trust for each other; though not on screen, the two characters have plenty of history built up across encounters in the Fourth Doctor Adventures – but many years have passed and both are much changed.

With only one other principal cast member, Bryan Dick’s complex Finnian Valentine, there is ample room for plenty of entertaining repartee as the actors spark off each other. Our favourite line came from the Master: “Subtly is a concept you’ve never been troubled with, is it Leela?”

While he does not directly address the Master’s resurrection by the Time Lords itself – other than it is mentioned in passing and that Narvin (Seán Carlsen) was responsible – Handcock judiciously knits his tale into already continuity, as a forerunner to ‘The Good Master’.

Desperate Measures

For those familiar with the Time War backstory of the new series, there is an elephant in the room concerning the return of another important character. It is one we considered at the start of this box set, but did not necessarily assume was going to be addressed. With his characteristically deft approach, Matt Fitton ties up this continuity issue and leaves Gallifrey’s future on a knife edge.

With President Livia keen to step down, we are presented with the rise of a populist, more trigger-happy candidate in Valerian (David Sibley), and there are some perhaps unsubtle parallels to current politics on both sides of the Atlantic in his approach, as well as the spectre of another regeneration for Romana as she stands against him.

As well as putting Romana through the wringer, the story also provides some great Dalek perspective and it was great to hear the return of the booming divine Emperor. We dare not say much more, other than that ‘Desperate Measures’ does not disappoint and leaves the Gallifrey in a fascinating place.

Summary

Picking up on threads from earlier stories, this quartet does an excellent job of showing the desperate attempts by Romana and her allies to stop the descent into all-out war. Throughout, the theme of trust is writ large; between Romana and Livia, Ace and Brax, and, naturally, Leela and the Master. Of course, we have seen conclusion of this temporal conflict on screen – including the War Doctor’s actions to end it – but in many ways the decline into open conflict is just as fascinating.

As ever, this is a sumptuous audio production and it is accompanied by some cracking visuals too; Lee Binding’s series of covers nod to the “Gallifrey Falls No More” painting and present our heroes in their war attire, the most striking of which shows Romana in New Series style Time Lord regalia. The images have also been utilised in a great video trailer.

In addition to a series of round-table interviews in the extras, led by director Scott Handcock, the set also comes with approximately twenty-five minutes of music from the terrific score by Ioan Morris.

Future plans can only be guessed at, but we hope this will be one in sequence of box sets which chronicle the conflict from Gallifrey’s point of view; with multiple battles across space and time, the scope must be boundless. Certainly these stories have plenty of character’s fates uncertain and the set ends on an almighty cliff-hanger!

5star