The Eighth Doctor: Time War Volume 4 – with the Daleks defeated and the Time War apparently over, this latest boxset picks up where The War Valeyard left us, following the Doctor and Bliss through an interdimensional portal on the trail of the scheming Dalek Time Strategist.
In a temporal puzzle box of a two-parter, Palindrome focusses on the life of an alternate Davros. On a peaceful Skaro, this universe’s version of the Kaled scientist is brilliant and successful. Naturally, he never sustained those horrific injuries, nor did he ever foresee the need to help his race survive. Crucially, he enjoys a happy marriage to Charn, a Thal scientist. Together, they have developed a dimensional portal… and with it opened a door to the Dalek Time Strategist who has a plan to reinvigorate the Dalek menace.
With the unusual structure of this story, it is difficult to know where to start; there are elements of repetition as characters encounter each other out of sequence. Told from Davros’s point of view, we meet the Doctor and Bliss as secondary figures. Pulled in different directions on successive days, Davros tries to leverage his knowledge to avoid what appears to be an inevitable, horrific conclusion. With its level of temporal complexity, this is doubtless a story that demands repeated airings to fully appreciate.
Previous visits into Skaro’s past, notably Genesis of the Daleks, but also Big Finish’s excellent I, Davros mini-series (recently re-released) and 2003’s Davros, naturally inform this story but references do not overwhelm; events play out differently here and writer John Dorney keeps a tight focus on Davros himself. Markedly different here, he is initially warm and affectionate, if distracted, and his relationship with Isla Blair’s Charn is both touching and believable too.
For those still smarting from the controversial opening of Davros’s eyes in The Witch’s Familiar, a clever explanation is provided, as well as a nod to the character’s slightly altered appearance on-screen after the Time War too. Both, while not essential, are eminently pleasing to the fannish heart.
Back in our universe, the Doctor and Bliss find themselves at a loss. So too do the Time Lords, dismantling from a war they have no memory of, against an unknown enemy. The Eighth Doctor has been plagued with amnesia across his lengthy lifespan, but this time it is different; no-one remembers the Daleks, not even those who fought the Time Lords on their behalf.
Returning to Gallifrey, we are reunited with both Cardinal Rasmus and the General, the Time Lord Battle commander, so memorably played by Ken Bones in The Day of the Doctor. The action centres around the Omega Arsenal, or as the Doctor terms it, Gallifrey’s gun cabinet; home to some devastating sentient “weapons”, its contents include both the fearful Dreadshade and the manipulative villain, The Twelve. Meanwhile, on the former front-lines, Bliss and the newly regenerated Cardinal Rasmus (Chris Jarman) begin to piece together the facts.
Lisa McMullin’s tale, while entertaining enough in its own right, could feel like it is marking time. What keeps it vital is the brilliant Julia McKenzie, delightfully reprising her role as The Twelve – the latest incarnation of the multi-faceted Time Lord trouble-maker. Here, uninhibited, she is at her manipulative best, turning the Dreadshade’s devastating abilities to her own advantage.
Restoration of the Daleks
With the Dalek threat resurgent, the Time Lords return to war and the Doctor hastens towards an exit. That is, until he realises he can assist a planet about to be caught in the crossfire.
With Davros also restored, we see the culmination of the Dalek Time Strategist’s plan. Throwing links back to Series 1, and even earlier, writer Matt Fitton returns to the crux of the Davros dilemma. While the story might be chock full of continuity, it spins on a single point: the Daleks need Davros, but he is not content to be anything but their supreme leader.
In the guest cast, as well as the familiar Tamasan (Adele Andersen) and Rasmus, a whole world is represented by Queen Mithia – played by genre favourite Jemima Rooper (Atlantis).
Firstly, we must tip the hat to Benji Clifford who thrillingly creates the Time War in devastating sonic detail. On direction duties, Helen Goldwyn takes over from Ken Bentley here, providing heart and soul to the conflict as we come to truly despair for Davros in his turmoil.
Now well established, we are thoroughly enjoying the relationship between the Doctor and Bliss; quite different from his other current audio companions, Rakhee Thakrar’s naturalistic delivery is always a delight. Bliss is more than a match for Paul McGann’s quippy, sometimes sardonic Doctor.
Throughout the box set, Terry Molloy gives a powerhouse of a performance. We follow Davros’ descent into madness, before rediscovering his role as the manipulative Dalek creator. Also, credit is due to Nicholas Briggs, who brings a scheming menace to the Time Strategist, as well as a panoply of other Dalek variants.
Originally created as a single boxset prequel to the War Doctor series, and then expanded to four sets, we were unsure if this release would be the last. However, with a further mystery posed at the end of this set, it appears that the storyline has legs. We can also see the start of an intriguing dynamic between Bliss and Cardinal Rasmus; she is a companion who seems keener to take on the Daleks than the Doctor… which can surely only spell trouble. Quite how long the Doctor can stay on the fringes of the conflict though is surely open to question!