Review by Jacob Licklider
The Unbound range essentially started as a way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who by introducing six alternate universe takes on the Doctor and Doctor Who based around questions like “What if the Doctor never left Gallifrey?” or “What if the Doctor was exiled to Earth in the 1990s?”. This allowed different actors and actresses to take on the role of the Doctor, but after the initial six release run there weren’t any new Unbound Doctors introduced, two more releases in 2005 and 2008 before the David Warner Doctor was paired with Bernice Summerfield. So, imagine the surprise when it was announced that the range would be revived for two box sets using a new Unbound Doctor, the Doctor of War, played by Colin Baker, in a timeline that diverges during Genesis of the Daleks for two box sets, Genesis and Destiny (named after the Tom Baker Dalek serials).
Destiny is set to be released in September while Genesis has just been released at the time of writing this review and after listening to it there is the obvious conclusion that this range allows Big Finish to go back to its darker routes in a lot of ways that the current ranges just can’t anymore with the topics and themes it’s allowed to include. The opening scene sets the tone perfectly showing the divergence with Tom Baker, Sadie Miller, and Christopher Naylor playing out the “Do I have the right?” scene from Genesis of the Daleks and the first big divergence is that the Doctor has the right to commit genocide on the Daleks. The wires are pressed together. The set opens with the genocide of a sentient species who while they would go on to commit horrors, have not committed any said horrors. And then the TARDIS team are gunned down by the last remaining Daleks. Cue credits.
Doctor of War: Genesis is a miniseries chronicling the damage to the timeline from this alternative act with three writers taking on each episode as we start at a point very close to the Doctor Who we know to a point where it becomes unrecognisable. John Dorney, Lou Morgan, and James Kettle write the three episodes and each writer is able to achieve more than Steven Moffat ever attempted with a War Doctor concept. The Warrior as a character gives Colin Baker so much to do with the idea of someone who is slowly becoming a genocidal dictator in a universe that hates him. The big change here is that the end of the Daleks only made things worse because it caused the Thals and Kaleds to unite and conquer the universe. Gallifrey finds itself with the Warrior at its head in the final story with the CIA ramped up into essentially a whole office where Rebecca Night plays a version of Romana who never had the influence of the Doctor, though sadly she is only in the final episode. Political turmoil on Gallifrey is done incredibly well by James Kettle as the final episode involves uprising and invasions of Gallifrey by aliens that even acknowledge shouldn’t be able to invade Gallifrey. There is also a brilliant turn by Sanjeev Bhaskar as a Borusa who hasn’t experienced any of the television stories Borusa was in.
The Master is working with the Warrior in the second episode allowing Geoffrey Beevers to flex as a still evil version of the Master who is just as chilling as he always is, but being on the same side as the Warrior makes things feel darker. Lou Morgan is responsible for writing the Master and making the middle episode the big twist from John Dorney’s opener which was closer to standard Doctor Who in structure despite a very dark subject matter. It’s the one with the most references to the work of Terry Nation and the one that actually features Peri who is brilliantly played by Nicola Bryant, though of course some subverted expectations are to be expected with this performance. Sean Carlson also is one of the other few standards in the cast throughout this set as Narvin who may or may not be the Narvin listeners of Gallifrey will be used to. Barnaby Kay must also be congratulated for his unique directorial style while Howard Carter’s music and new Unbound theme only helps to highlight the story
Doctor of War: Genesis may be a set that I have been intentionally vague in discussing since it does things very differently and relies on twists on the Doctor Who formula, it comes highly recommended for brilliant performances. The only reservations are that it’s all setup and some small implications may try and connect it to the universe proper which may not turn out, but it is a brilliant use of the Unbound format and contender for one of the best releases of the year. 9/10.
Doctor Who: Bernice Summerfield Vol. 3 – The Unbound Universe
Interview with Geoffrey Beevers from 2016
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