Having previously teetered on the brink, last year’s Gallifrey box set launched into the “Time War”, the primarily off screen temporal conflict between the Doctor’s own people and the Daleks which indelibly coloured his backstory when the show returned to television screens in 2005.
While the previous volume took pieces off the board, seemingly lining up Leela for her destiny with The War Doctor and returning Ace to Earth, it also ended on a killer cliffhanger by resurrecting the legendary Time Lord President Rassilon. A pivotal founder member of their society, he was depicted in The End Of Time as a murderous, frothing despot and his presence – while not yet that far gone here – chills the political temperature markedly.
The set opens with a David Llewellyn script, Havoc, which sees a threat to Gallifrey caused by the arrival of a TARDIS from the planet’s own future. At the same time, picking up on previous events, Romana is surprised to be exonerated of her treason charge; it seems that former President Livia (Pippa Bennett-Warner) – one of those responsible for Rassilon’s resurrection – is beginning to have misgivings.
The middle two stories, Partisans and Collateral, by Una McCormack and Lisa McMullin respectively, concern themselves primarily with the fate of a temporally significant planet. Rich in an energy source vital to the Daleks, Ysalus is inhabited by a population busy persecuting their own war with no notion that they are pawns in a larger conflict. As its future becomes contentious, we consider the planet from various directions; while Romana seeks to save lives, Rassilon’s priority is to deny the Daleks at any cost.
The consequences of interventions on Ysalus lead to the finale, Matt Fitton’s Assassins, where Romana contemplates more direct action against her enemies and Narvin’s allegiance is tested.
Increasingly isolated, Romana (Lalla Ward) cuts a lonely figure here, aided only by her deputy Celestial Intervention Agency director, fan favourite Narvin (Seán Carlsen). For his part, Narvin is beginning to feel his age, prompted in no small part by the arrival of a fresh face in Eris (Samuel Gosrani) a junior agent who becomes enmeshed in the fate of Ysalus.
The new incarnation of Rassilon, by our count the fifth we have met (counting Richard Matthews, Timothy Dalton and Donald Sumpter onscreen, plus Don Warrington on audio), is brought to life by Terrance Hardiman (best known as The Demon Headmaster). Scheming from the start, this Rassilon promptly builds his power base and spouts some dangerous and unpleasantly familiar rhetoric. For those looking for it, there are plenty of resonances with the worst of current political dialogue both at home and abroad.
In the wider cast, we meet some great new characters. Particularly memorable is the craven and ambitions Cardinal Mantis, head of Rassilon’s newly formed Internal Defence Unit and played with entertaining relish by Samuel Clemens. Meanwhile, on Ysalus, Abra Thompson gives us passionate Ysta, who has her eyes opened to the wider conflict, while Jessica Hayes, as Aladra, embodies all the worst qualities of Time Lord indifference.
Despite a lack of Daleks, their threat and the implications for Gallifrey’s society remains present throughout. Director Scott Handcock maintains the tension, assisted by an excellent Ioan Morris score, as we dig into the political machinations of the Time Lords at war with relish, and these tales show our heroes coming under unbearable pressure… as well as delivering another great cliffhanger ending – one which will not be picked up on until February 2020!
In the Extras there are interviews with all the principal case, plus sound designer Russell McGee enthusiastically demonstrates how he built some of the story’s new effects, including a new TT capsule from scratch – all fascinating stuff!
Gallifrey: Time War Volume 2 is available now from Big Finish.