Review by Jacob Licklider
With the release of Gallifrey: Time War: Volume Four the general consensus was that the series was over. Romana was punished to chronicle the Time War, Gallifrey was in the throws of a fascist dictatorship under Rassilon’s thumb, Leela was captured, and Narvin was essentially sent off to his suspected death. And then the Gallifrey One convention for 2022 happened and Big Finish Productions announced not one, but four new Gallifrey box sets under the series name War Room with the first set releasing this August, over a week ago at the time of writing. Yes, I am a bit late because this released while I was sick, so here we are finally taking a look at Gallifrey: War Room: Allegiance.
Allegiance is perhaps the perfect subtitle for a set like this, as it is four hour-long adventures, not connected by some big over arching plot outside of the Time War raging on, but exploring the different allegiances that are formed, forced, and broken among an ensemble cast of characters who have been in various pieces of Doctor Who history surrounding the planet Gallifrey, and a lot of Big Finish spin-offs. Most notably from television Louise Jameson is the lead after leading the rest of Gallifrey while Rassilon appears as the dictator we see in The Five Doctors, The End of Time, and Hell Bent (here played by Richard Armitage), and the General from The Day of the Doctor and Hell Bent played by Ken Bones. Big Finish have also built up a cast of recurring characters throughout their various Time War related eras as well as the Eighth Doctor’s box sets going as far back as 2017’s Doom Coalition (though the character from that set first appeared played by Jacqueline Pearce in 2015).
This makes Gallifrey: War Room: Allegiance a set which has somehow been a long time coming and the culmination of several plot threads hanging from their other ranges while starting some new ones. Tonally it is important to put a character like Leela into a bad situation where she is forced to do monstrous things and forge her own allegiances.
In the opener, The Last Days of Freme, after Gallifrey: Time War: Volume Four she has been pressed into servitude of Rassilon using a collar which essentially puts her into the position of a dog. Rassilon only really appears in this first story and the second, The Passenger, though his appearance here is the more substantial as Lou Morgan’s script really shows the mad power he has and what he allows. In the story, and throughout this set, there is a Time Lord who is doing horrific genetic experiments, something Leela is threatened with early on to force her to comply. While we don’t get an exploration of said experiments in depth, they are this constant threat throughout the set, one of many dark undercurrents. There is also the horrific image of Leela being collared and treated essentially as a pet of the Time Lords. The first story ends in Leela failing to stop a genocide and that’s the tone we end up with.
Ken Bones’ return to Doctor Who is an aspect of the set that is perhaps the most pleasant surprise. The General as a character wasn’t one I was particularly fond of, there wasn’t really a lot of characterisation in The Day of the Doctor and the less said about Hell Bent, the better. But here The General is allowed to be completely rewritten as a genuinely complex military leader. In the second story he begins to forge this bond with Leela, giving her just a little bit of trust to not be collared and giving her the respect she deserves. Perhaps the line in the set that sticks in the listener’s mind comes from the General, saying to Leela something to the effect of “At least if you were to betray me you would do so by stabbing me and not with a word in the Lord President’s ear”. There is something that speaks to the legacy of Gallifrey and what it stands for. While the second and third stories, The Passenger and Collateral Victim by David Llewellyn and Alfie Shaw respectively, both dealing with outsiders to Gallifrey causing problems. The later is perhaps the most Time War-esque dealing with the threads of time fraying while the former reintroduces Rasmus who appears throughout the rest of the set. The final episode is Sophie Iles’ The First Days of Phaidon which brings back Narvin, played wonderfully by Sean Carlsen, and is the only episode that feels uplifting as not to leave listeners on a dour note. Iles’ character work shines as a highlight above three other writers who are known for doing really good character work especially. A final note must also be given to Samuel Clemens taking over directorial duties here bringing his own flair to the proceedings to match the change in tone.
Overall, Gallifrey: War Room: Allegiance is a wonderful beginning to a brand new era of a spin-off series while managing to respect the legacy of the series which has released twelve series before this and it’s still going strong. This is one of the strongest entries as a set with four very different writers putting their own spin on the series to also have the complete new direction with politics at the centre which is what makes Gallifrey work.
Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!