Review by Jacob Licklider
What’s always fascinating for a range is what happens when a cast member cannot return for a range. Time War: Cass is one such release, continuing the Eighth Doctor releases from Time War: Volume Four but without the character of Bliss due to scheduling conflicts with Rakhee Thakrar. Luckily, unlike the issues that arose with Dark Eyes and the scheduling conflicts Ruth Bradley faced, the setting of Time War: Cass is one where due to the universe being in a constant state of flux due to the Time War. This is something that the writers of this box set are keenly aware of with each of the three stories featured doing something with the ‘time’ element of the Time War which is already a recipe for success when dealing with this era. There is a clear reason (or at least an appearance of a reason) for why Bliss isn’t there, though the details of this are not given to the listener partially for intrigue and partially because there is not a guarantee that she will be available to record with Big Finish anytime soon. Instead this set picks up some time after the cliffhanger ending of Time War: Volume Four with the Doctor traveling with Alex Campbell, once again played by Sonny McGann, with an unspecified amount of time having past and this is an interesting premise since when we last saw Alex he was dead.Of course this is a version of Alex from a different universe, and Meanwhile, Elsewhere from Tim Foley is very keen to establish him as quite different from the character that we know. Much of this opening installment to the set is there to give the character a chance to establish himself: he’s much more optimistic and excited to be travelling despite travelling through the Time War himself, he takes after his great-grandfather’s current incarnation’s romantic attitude, and almost matches him at points in terms of intelligence. Sonny McGann is now over ten years older than he was when he appeared as the character and that growth is reflected in the way that Alex is written, with the Doctor specifically not telling him about his fate which adds this unspoken tension coming from the Doctor’s side. Paul McGann also reflects his son’s performance by making the Doctor in general throughout this set. Emma Campbell-Jones returns as Cass, and yes the end of the set does begin to explain how this can be, and she’s honestly used by the Doctor to fill a missing hole here which doesn’t really get explored in subsequent stories as it should. It’s important to note that while this story may seem complex on the outset as Foley switches location at almost frantic paces at points, it’s actually quite simple in terms of what it’s trying to say. With the concept of the Time War, Foley takes the time to explore what a war profiteer could possibly look like in this type of war. Jaye Griffiths plays the villainous Hieronyma Friend and it’s a fascinating performance as she has been using her status as a diplomat to increase her status in the war. Sadly, this is only a single hour and also has to reintroduce Alex and establish Cass so it doesn’t get explored to its full potential but it is a very strong opening.
Lou Morgan writes the middle story, Vespertine, and like Foley’s exploration of war profiteering, Morgan’s script is examining what loss of one’s loved ones may look like in the Time War. Once again, there are reflections in this story about the previous sets and how odd the Doctor’s traveling situation is, returning to someone who the Doctor met while he was travelling with Bliss. Morgan takes clear inspiration from the Franklin Expedition with the setting around a long lost ship trapped in the ice but with an added time travel twist as those who should have perished were saved by a time lock on the deck. Oddly enough this is perhaps the closest to being a standard Doctor Who story and only really brings the Time War into things concerning how the timelines don’t quite match up. Once again, this is a story that asks several questions as to how any of this set is really possible while it wraps itself in a very nice one hour disaster thriller. This is perhaps the perfect way to break up the two stories that surround it as they are both complex in terms of their time travel structure while Morgan keeps Vespertine simple, making it a small breather (though not one without its stakes) in the middle of a complex and heavy set.
Time War: Cass closes with Previously, Next Time bringing back writer for the revived series and Torchwood, James Moran, for a two-parter that ha sone of the more interesting uses of the Daleks throughout Big Finish’s Time War ranges. As the title implies, this is a story where the temporal placement is in a constant state of disarray. Timelines have been splintered, almost beyond repair, causing the TARDIS to crash land leaving the Doctor and companions to explore a factory converted from a Dalek ship. Moran includes several references to classic Dalek stories, The Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks, and Destiny of the Daleks being perhaps the most relevant if you are paying attention. The first half is essentially a half of discovery, building to the cliffhanger where it is revealed that the Daleks have created an endless time loop that our characters are now trapped inside with no escape. The second half is more concerned with going off the rails in perhaps the best way as several questions the listener may be primed to think of are asked. Moran’s script is great but it is greatly enhanced by the sound design, shared throughout this set by David Roocroft and Benji Clifford, which adds an extra layer to the entire set and these two episodes in particular. Moran also makes the decision to leave the set on an interesting cliffhanger since the sixth volume is already announced and set to be released in over a year’s time, hopefully indicating some character appearances.
Time War: Cass continues the great streak of releases to start out the month of January from Big Finish with three stories that actually take advantage of the time aspect of the Time War. Ken Bentley, as always, is sublime as director and the performances are all wonderful though this may not be one for newcomers to the range to get despite the soft reboot since the intrigue comes from unanswered questions. 9/10.
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Review: The 8th Doctor – Time War (Vol 4)
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