As the Time War, the unfathomable temporal conflict between Daleks and Time Lords rumbles on, the Doctor refuses to fight. Instead, he hovers at the edges, trying to save lives.
State of Bliss
Though planned only for the first boxset, Rakhee Thakrar’s impressive debut ensured Bliss became the Doctor’s Time War companion. Writer Matt Fitton uses the first story of this volume to further explore her background, following up on her visit home in ‘The Lords of Terror’.
Using the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits, the Doctor and Bliss address her temporally confused past. Sliding though alternative histories, we see differing versions; the family home on Derilobia she never left, studies at Lunar University, the ill-fated research mission which led her to the Doctor.
Permanent fixtures among those alternating pasts are Bliss’s two closest friends. Callar, played by Anjli Mohindra (The Sarah Jane Adventures, Bodyguard) and Ryall (John Scougall), both of whom have the hots for her. We also meet the charismatic Professor Deepa (Nina Wadia) who encourages her talents. Cleverly, the Doctor keeps popping up as other people within Bliss’s memories and it is smart way to utilise Paul McGann in the Doctorless aspects of the story.
An engaging, if complex tale, but we are not sure we learned much more about Bliss than we already knew.
The Famished Lands
Looking for somewhere to make that difference, the Doctor brings Bliss to Iptheus. Suffering side effects of the war, the population is starving to death. On the fringes of the conflict, they barely know the cause of their privations: Daleks and Time Lords are simply frightening, confused rumours.
Lisa McMullan’s story considers the horrifying choices a starving society has made to survive. Though the Doctor and Bliss witness atrocities, her story still finds time for humour amidst its grim subject matter. There is particularly delightful sequence with the Doctor on a psychedelic trip, thanks to the effects of noxious chemicals.
Among the guest cast, Natalie Gumede impresses as Aeronwen, the driven scientist responsible for the planet’s plans to find an alternative food source. Also, Andrew Fettes provides a plethora of voices, including that of the creepy robotic Enablers.
Fugitive in Time
Ronald Moore’s story sees the Doctor and Bliss embroiled in a mission with Major Tamasan. Centuries ago, the Helixara crossed the Time Lords and suffered a brutal retribution: deletion from time and space (a precedent set in ‘The War Games’). Could a single member of that race have somehow survived?
Crash-landing on a medieval planet, sans TARDIS, the trio blend in with the locals. The two Time Lords are recruited to help the King’s alien visitor while Bliss becomes his new lady in waiting. An uneasy alliance develops between The Doctor and Tamasan, though she remains highly focussed on her mission. There is also a Dalek agent abroad – in a small cast, candidates were limited, but the reveal was satisfying nonetheless.
The guest star here is Wendy Craig, who is compelling as the desperate fugitive Shonnath, driven by survival and revenge.
The War Valeyard
With his prominence on the cover, there is no doubt that headline grabber here is the Valeyard. The Doctor’s dark mirror, he first appeared during 1986’s season-long Trial storyline. Michael Jayston has occasionally reprised his role on audio, notably in ‘The Sixth Doctor – The Last Adventure’ and more recently with Bernice Summerfield, but it is novel to find him interacting with a later incarnation.
Granted a heroic introduction, this “Doctor” saves a young woman from the Daleks. Naïve, desperate and full of questions, Nim (Venice Van Someren) is perfectly-pitched companion material. Meanwhile, the Eighth Doctor begins to suffer visions, sensing the Valeyard’s return, and is horrified to find him deployed on the front line of the war.
John Dorney’s script takes the concept of the Valeyard and develops him in an interesting way. The mellifluously voiced Michael Jayston gives a terrific performance through a complex story and we wish it had been a two-parter to give the story more room to breathe. It would have been great to have more interaction between Jayston and McGann.
If the first and last stories here grapple with identity, the middle pair investigate the implications of the war. While only alluded to onscreen, it is great to see the fall out on the smaller races explored.
As the Time Lord representative, the latest incarnation of Tamasan (Adèle Anderson) is terrifically ruthless. She has ably inherited the story role occupied by the Cardinal Ollistra (the late, great Jacqueline Pearce) and we hope this version of Tamasan will endure.
Paul McGann clearly still relishing his role and we enjoyed the attitude he brings to dealings with his people. His relationship with Rakhee Thakrar’s Bliss is entertaining and she is a capable companion, albeit with an occasional wry take on events.
With “War” versions of the Doctor and Master, plus the Valeyard, we cannot help but wonder who is next? Surely the War Drax is waiting in the wings? Or more seriously, a version of Susan who took up arms?
With the usual high production standards from director Ken Bentley and his team, we look forward to the next Eighth Doctor outing, Ravenous 4. Concluding that storyline with a multi-Master extravaganza, it lands in October.