When John Hurt was cast in Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary tale, ‘The Day of the Doctor’, it was terrific coup for the programme and proof of how high its stock had risen since its triumphant return to our screens in 2005.
His curmudgeonly and reticent take on the Doctor, or indeed the missing incarnation of that same Time Lord who eschewed the title, was a thrill to behold and only tinged with slight sadness that, like Paul McGann before him, it was destined to be a one-off.
However, just in the same way that McGann’s Eighth Doctor was granted a fresh lease of life on audio, audio producers Big Finish have managed to secure the rights to bring the War Doctor to life for a series of four box sets.
Set during the Time War, these stories propose to tell the tale of a darker Doctor, one prepared to take arms against not only the Daleks but his own people too; a warrior incarnation who was finally driven to countenance the ultimate sanction and destroy both the Daleks and his own people for the good of the universe at large.
Of course, the War Doctor has already been granted the chance to return in book form. Author George Mann’s terrific 2014 novel ‘Engines of War’ provided a pleasing take on the character as he dealt with the Skaro Degradations and tussled with the reincarnated Rassilon. His War Doctor seemed to hold no formal rank within the Time Lord’s war machine, but rather acted as an agent of chaos.
What might we expect?
The title ‘Only the Monstrous’ has been announced for the first set of tales, with a release date of December 2015. While no story details have been forthcoming, we do know that Jacqueline Pearce (Blake’s 7’s Servalan) has been cast as a Time Lord Cardinal, an arch manipulator waging the Time War against the Daleks.
Carolyn Seymour (Survivors) and Lucy Briggs-Owen (The Avengers) are also on the cast list, but the tantalising prospect of a head to head between Pearce and Hurt is surely worth the admission price alone!
Writer/Director Nicholas Briggs calls the War Doctor “…a deeply disturbing and engaging character” so it looks like we may well be in for some internal conflict as he grapples with his decision to take up arms. Producer David Richardson builds on this theme, saying “This is Doctor Who at its darkest — the era in which our hero casts aside his core values in order to try and save the galaxy in its most terrible hour.”
From what we saw on screen, the War Doctor was styled as a rather more traditional take on the character than his modern successors and great fun was had with him, questioning their use of catchphrases and brandishing of the sonic-screwdriver like a weapon.
There were flashes of humour too though and, despite the darker material, we would expect some lighter notes. You would not secure the services of a charismatic star like John Hurt and not allow him the chance to twinkle a little.
In ‘The Day of the Doctor’ the War Doctor travelled alone, perhaps put off by the rejection of Cass who he tried to save just prior to his eighth regeneration… although the implication is that he had been fighting the war for many, many years.
‘Engines of War’ had him form an uneasy alliance with Cinder, a resistance fighter on a Dalek subjugated world, and we’d expect these new stories to follow that sort of idea with new allies picked up in each box – unless of course the Doctor is saddled with a fellow Gallifreyan for his missions.
That said, we could easily imagine a character like Jack Harkness fitting in well on anti-Dalek missions. Hell, why not resurrect Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer for even more fun?
Of course, we had tales of the Time War drip fed over the years since 2005. It was Russell T Davies’ way of resetting the Doctor’s backstory and making him a lonely wanderer again. We fans, as well as new audience coming new to the show, were able to discover his loss and despair as the story unfolded and finally its implications came home to roost.
We know that Davros participated in the War, as it was discussed in ‘The Stolen Earth’ with the Doctor regretting he was unable to save him as his command ship flew into the jaws of something called “The Nightmare Child”. We also know that the Dalek Emperor took control of “The Cruciform”, the prospect of which was enough to make the Master turn tail and run, so there is potential for either of those characters to return.
Also, more mysteriously, in ‘The End of Time’ the Doctor made reference to the “Army of Meanwhiles and Neverwheres led by the Could’ve Been King” and “the Horde of Travesties” that might be released once the time-lock on the war was broken. Goodness only knows what these were, Gallifreyan weapons perhaps, but the Tenth Doctor was terrified of their release.
On the Time Lord side, ‘The Day of the Doctor’ seems to suggest a split between the Rasillon’s High Council and the General defending Gallifrey itself. We saw the “fall of Arcadia’, Gallifrey’s second city. We also know that the Time Lords have an Omega Arsenal full of weapons at their disposal.
Another consideration is Big Finish’s successful range of Gallifrey audios in their back catalogue, with another set Gallifrey: Enemy Lines due out in May 2016. Former companions Romana, Leela and Ace have starred there, as well as a range of new characters such as Coordinator Narvin involved in various levels of political intrigue. While we would expect the War Doctor series to stand alone, we would not be surprised to find some connective tissue to weave the stories into the wider Big Finish continuity.
Regardless of where this new series takes us over the next couple of years, with twelve hours of stories (plus an Eighth Doctor prequel set promised too), we are thrilled that we will get to experience this lost chapter of the Doctor’s story. He might be the “Doctor, no more”… but we are looking forward to plenty more!
Are you looking forward to the return of the War Doctor? Let us know below…