Review: Doctor of War – Destiny

Review by Jacob Licklider

Doctor of War: Genesis was the first of a surprise two release miniseries reviving the Doctor Who: Unbound range by giving listeners a chance to explore essentially one aspect of the Time War that the normal Doctor Who ranges either couldn’t do or just haven’t done. The entire idea is that the timeline is rewritten at the “Do I have the right?” speech in Genesis of the Daleks, Sarah Jane and Harry are killed, and the Doctor regenerates into a fifth incarnation played by Colin Baker as reality fractures. Doctor of War: Destiny continues from Doctor of War: Genesis in three separate stories that on the whole does something that the idea of Doctor of War could have become if it were a bit more self-indulgent in retelling classic Doctor Who stories in this new timeline. Doctor of War: Genesis really only did that with the first few scenes to show where the timeline diverged while taking some ideas from other stories but not just remaking them, Doctor of War: Destiny opens and closes with two stories that do takes on classics with the middle story not quite being filler, but being a story to do world-building with the universe and playing around with the Time War at a conceptual level and how changing time can affect a civilisation. What’s especially interesting is this is a set that wraps up the story fairly completely, there is a post-credits sequence that implies it’s possible for this Doctor of War series to continue, but the arc itself is basically over and the threads have found their endings.

Nigel Fairs opens the set with Who Am I? which is the closest to taking it’s plot from a television story, taking the opportune moment to retell The Face of Evil with some key changes. The implication is that Leela is older here as one of the plot points is that she is also pregnant while the story is occurring as well as retelling the story with the Master, played by Geoffrey Beevers, in the role of the Doctor and Xoanon. Colin Baker only appears as the Warrior at the end, though there are some vocal cameos as the voice of Xoanon. Fairs does an excellent job of playing off the familiar, limiting himself to only a few select but iconic scenes to have play out just as they did on television, mainly before Leela and the Master end up meeting, and adding an extra subplot involving Leela being in love and having children which are clearly meant to be used in a scheme for the Master. Who Am I? is a story you’ve seen before but one that plays around with it in enough interesting ways to stay interesting. Fairs as an author makes the story move at this very slow, methodical pace so we can see how evil the Master can get, yet since it’s the Geoffrey Beevers Master who gives his most charismatic performance yet. This is also the only story of the set that is straightforward in terms of plotting, it tells a linear story from beginning to end.

The nonlinear storytelling is something that really ramps up with the middle installment, Time Killers by Lizzie Hopley, a story that Hopley admits she had difficulty writing in the behind the scenes interviews on the release. The setting is Marinus, keeping much of the inspiration from Terry Nation ideas but making it a twist. Hopley’s story directly deals with the idea of a society where wasting time is illegal, everybody is monitored and if you stay still too long the automated police appear to take away part of your life. This is already a great idea and should perhaps have more time to be explored as this is a single hour long story, as it quickly becomes a story about rewriting timelines. The idea of time being money is something that is nothing new to science fiction but Hopley doesn’t have enough time to develop it before the time travel nature of the plot has to come through as this is the story where the Warrior and the Master have to wrap up their dynamic, searching for a weapon that will end the War against the enemy. This is one listeners may wish to listen to more than once since it’s a story that has a lot of twists and turns and two distinct timelines are explored in the episode which the listener jumps between depending on whose perspective is being focused on.

The Key to Key to Time by Tim Foley is what finishes the set and is the gem of the entire series. It’s a riff on Season 16 as a whole, and like Who Am I? only one scene from that season is repeated word for word, in this instance Foley takes the opening moments of The Ribos Operation with Anna Savva playing the Guardian. The key difference is that this is a story where we don’t ever get confirmation if the Guardian is the White or Black Guardian as there is only one Guardian of time left in this timeline. The location of the segments are also completely different which Foley uses to contrast the two major players of the story, the Warrior having to confront his past and the fact he was created after committing a genocide while the Warrior’s companion for this quest reckons with the creation of the Daleks. Yes, that implication is correct, Davros is in the role of companion for this story as this is all a plot from the Time Lords (and one particular Time Lord) to continue their grab for power. Terry Molloy and Colin Baker are wonderful as they play off each other, with Molloy playing Davros as this tired man whose creations have gotten away from him. If this wasn’t enough brilliant character work for Tim Foley to do, he brings in some ideas from the Eighth Doctor Adventures book range to further cement the idea that the War in Heaven is just one aspect of the Time War with Doctor of War: Destiny ending with this beautiful confusion about just how the war can be fixed. Foley’s character work is something that sets him apart from other Big Finish writers and this is no exception.

Doctor of War: Destiny’s perhaps one suffering is that it’s over all too soon, it feels like while this universe had plenty of brilliant world-building and expansion there’s a lot more that could be done with the Warrior, the Master, Davros, and the Time Lords. It cements these two releases as one of Big Finish’s most experimental ideas especially in recent years and that’s worth the price of entry alone while relative newcomer to directing Barnaby Kay makes his mark and makes himself distinct from the other directors. The cast is brilliant and all three writers take the premise to the natural conclusion and to the advantage of a Time War. 9/10.

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Review: Doctor Of War – Genesis

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