Doctor Who – “The War Doctor Volume 2 – Infernal Devices”

The War Doctor Volume 2 – Infernal Devices kicks the horrors of the Time War up a notch, not so much through huge action set-pieces (although there are plenty of those) but rather by showing the lengths that both the Daleks and the Time Lords will go to in order to defeat their mortals enemies;  not only in terms of more and more horrific weapons (although, again, there are plenty of those), but through radical changes in their core beliefs.  The three stories in this box set form a loose trilogy, each one well-acted and directed, with Sir John Hurt’s War Doctor being taken further and further into the heart of the Time War against his will, beginning to experience the moral quandaries and impossible decisions that would eventually drive him to end the Time War by any means necessary.

Cast
The War Doctor – John Hurt
Cardinal Ollistra – Jacqueline Pearce
Collis – Zoë Tapper
Shadovar – David Warner
Captain Solex – Robert Hands
Co-ordinator Jarad – Jamie Newall
Daylin – Jaye Griffiths
Commander Thrakken – Barnaby Kay
The Daleks – Nicholas Briggs

Written by:
Legion of the Lost – John Dorney
A Thing of Guile – Phil Mulryne
The Neverwhen – Matt Fitton

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Sound and music: Howard Carter
Released: February 2016

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-war-doctor-volume-02-infernal-devices-1381

Theme – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxdzcRQ45Fc

X X X X X

In a time of war, every means of victory must be explored. In the Time War, the unthinkable must be thought, and neither side can afford to be squeamish about their methods.

When the destruction of an obscene weapon leads to the Time Lord once known as the Doctor uncovering a secret Gallifreyan initiative, he cannot believe what is being considered.

Should victory be sought at any cost? Or are there worse possibilities than losing to the Daleks…

Legion of the Lost kicks off with the Doctor attempting to retrieve a Dalek weapon called the Annihilator which has the power to utterly erase an entire species from time itself, removing all traces of their existence save for the memories of those who knew them.  The Doctor, who remembers that the overgrown and ruined planet he stand upon was once called Vildar and held a race of beautiful creatures who were among the most artistic in the galaxy, wants nothing more than to destroy the Annihilator.   But during his escape from the Daleks, the TARDIS is ripped off-course.  Forced to land in what appears to be a large cathedral, the Doctor is surprised to find himself in the presence of two other Time Lords who have come to this ancient church to witness something amazing.  The church is dedicated to the Horned Ones, ancient beings worshipped by a race known as the Technomancers who have built their society on a combination of technology and magic.  The Doctor doesn’t believe in magic, but he also can’t believe what he sees – a dead Gallifreyan soldier resurrected before his very eyes.   It seems the Technomancers’ magic can be used to circumvent the regeneration process and bring the dead back to life.  This could be the Time Lord’s answer to the mass armies of the Daleks, and despite the Doctor’s protests the seemingly trivial cost is one the High Council is easily willing to pay…

Writer John Dorney (The Companion Chronicles Solitaire and The Rocket Men as well as The Red Lady from Doom Coalition 1 and the Fifth Doctor Box Set’s Iterations of I) gets kind of a tough gig here.  He has to kick off the trilogy with an original story while still planting the seeds for the next two, but fortunately he’s more than up to the task.  Legion of the Lost begins with a desperate soldier and the Doctor facing two simultaneous menaces; the Annihilator and varga plants, a Dalek biological weapon that causes their victims to quickly gestate into new varga plants, turning them inside out as tendrils rip through their skin (complete with some very spine-chilling soundwork and horrifying screams).  It’s a scene that serves to highlight both the escalating arms race between the Daleks and the Time Lords as well as helping introduce this story’s proto-companion, the doomed soldier Collis as played by Zoe Tapper (Hex, Survivors, Mr Selfridge).  A soldier who doesn’t know what she’s truly fighting for, she sacrifices herself to the varga plants so the Doctor can slip past and grab the Annihilator.  But her sacrifice is rendered moot when the Technomancers bring her back to life as proof of their resurrection process.  How can the Doctor rant about stopping the horrifying process when it’s given her new life after experiencing the horrors of death?  Tapper does a great job as the shell-shocked soldier, the resurrected warrior, and someone willing to risk death a second time once the truth about the Technomancers’ process comes out.

Legion of the Lost also touches upon the idea of magic being nothing more than new or highly advanced technology.  Any time “magic” or “the supernatural” is brought up in Doctor Who, the truth behind the unexplainable turns out to be easily explained.  The life-extending elixir of the Sisterhood of Karn is just the a mixture of the planet’s unique minerals combined with high heat and pressure.  The ghostly Gelth who haunt Charles Dickens are actually an alien race whose corporeal bodies were destroyed by the Time War.  The demonic creature inhabiting the dark underground of Krop Tor is nothing more than an ancient being who has been trapped for billions of years.  But the Technomancers are widely accepted as being the only race in the galaxy to wield true magic, granted to them by the slumbering Horned Ones in return for their service and worship.  It’s interesting to see the Time Lords willing to put aside any mockery of “magic” or lording their superiority over the Technomancers simply because of the military advantage the Technomancers can give them.   Regeneration of a Time Lord is one thing, but true resurrection of a “mere” Gallifreyan in the same body, with all their memories and accumulated knowledge intact, is something both appealing to the Time Lords and horrifying to the Doctor.  Death is the only thing that’s guaranteed to all species, and for the Time Lords to take even that away from their soldiers…and for the same Time Lords to casually dismiss the “trivial” price shows just how far down the path the Time Lords have gone in their attempts to defeat the Daleks.

But what really makes Legion of the Lost stand out is one David Warner.  A well-known and much beloved British actor, Warner has done it all – stage, screen, television, and voice work, including playing an alternate version of the Doctor in two Unbound audios.  The part of Shadovar, priest and scientist of the Technomancers, was made for Warner.  He could have easily turned it up to 11 and chewed the scenery until the cows came home.  But instead, Warner keeps the energy high during his time “on screen” but doesn’t take it too far over the top.  He’s a man with confidence in himself as well the process that will save both the Time Lords AND further the hidden agenda of the Horned Ones but recognizes the potential threat of the Doctor and does what he can to stop him.   The Horned Ones aren’t sleeping anymore.  The Time War is unweaving the threads of time and space, and things best long forgotten are beginning to slip back through the cracks…

Legion of the Lost does suffer from a bit of padding in the form of technobabble and “who is/can we trust the Doctor” conversations held a time too many, but overall it’s a fine opening story with a top notch ending stand-off between Hurt and Warner as the Doctor does the only thing he can do to stop the threat of the Horned Ones and the Technomancers.  It’s an extreme step for the Doctor, but still in line with some of the actions he’s had to take in the past.  Nevertheless, none other than Cardinal Ollistra arrives on the scene with orders to arrest the Doctor.   The sabotage of the resurrection process and the punishment laid upon the Technomancers is a bridge too far and the Doctor is to be placed under arrest as a war criminal…

The Daleks are developing a secret weapon on Asteroid Theta 12. It is imperative that their plans are uncovered.

Cardinal Ollistra has her hands full studying the range of ancient and mysterious armaments the universe has to offer, but she makes it a personal mission to investigate the Dalek project.

On this dangerous assignment, there is one particular Time Lord she wants at her side – and he will be accompanying her whether he wants to or not.

Phil Mulryne has served with Big Finish over the years as a voice actor and now dips his toes into the writing pool with A Thing of Guile as well as two stories for The Churchill Years box set  There is a mysterious Dalek research facility located in the heart of Asteroid Theta 12; a base that the Time Lords know about but whose existence is unknown to Dalek High Command.   Cardinal Ollistra has come up with a daring plan to infiltrate this facility and find out what kind of project could be so important that the Daleks are hiding it even from themselves.  Or rather, Cardinal Ollistra has ensured that Prisoner 101, once known as the Doctor, has come up with a daring plan…

A remote location, a daring infiltration, spending the first half of the story moving slowly towards the base while under the threat of native creatures and the second half of the story dealing with the reason the group came to the base, complete with cutaways to another group of individuals in a different plot and a little bit of deus ex machina saves the day…A Thing of Guile is a story very much in the vein of the classic series and could have been a televised episode, probably for the Third or Fifth Doctor.   A run down ore freighter commanded by a Gallifreyan crew tries to desperately to buy time for the strike force by drawing the Dalek fleet to the edge of the asteroid field while the team of the Doctor, Ollistra, the nervous and jumpy Celestial Intervention Agency coordinator Jarod (played by Jamie Newall from several Jago & Litefoot stories) and the hard-charging Solex of the Chancellery Guard (Robert Hands, who played Captain Jack Harkness’ boyfriend in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) as the team members who are whittled down due to the hazards surrounding the Dalek facility.  And what is inside the facility that this group of Daleks is so desperate to hide from Dalek High Command?   I don’t want to spoil anything, but it has a fair bit in common with Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, only pulled off much better by A Thing of Guile especially since listeners are hearing for the first time just how desperate the Daleks are to win the Time War.  So far in the War Doctor range, the focus has been on the Time Lords and how the Daleks are getting the better of them at nearly every turn, be it blinding the Time Lords with a phony peace treaty in Only the Monstrous or the Time Lords turning to magical resurrection in Legion of the Lost.  The research being undertaken by the renegade Daleks in this story turns the spotlight upon the Daleks and the desperate acts THEY are willing to take to the point of hiding their actions from the “perfect” society of the Daleks.  Dalek fighting Dalek has happened before through the show’s history, but it was always an argument over which side was superior.  Here?  It’s about admitting that possibly, just possibly, the current iteration of Dalek isn’t as perfect as Daleks are biologically programmed to believe.

Jacqueline Pearce plays the scheming Cardinal Ollistra, picking up from her brief appearances in the previous box set to take on the “Rasslion” role of the all-powerful Time Lord meddling in the Doctor’s affairs.  Ollistra is just as desperate to win the Time War as any of the other Time Lords, but she seems willing to go further than any of them in the process.  One can’t help but feel through Pearce’s sly and haughty performance that as long as every single Dalek in the universe is exterminated, she could be the only Time Lord left standing and still consider it a total victory.  Pearce isn’t hammy or as dramatic as David Warner in the previous story, but Ollistra’s confidence and will are at the forefront of her portrayal.  While she definitely shows her controlling side, going so far as to place a control collar around the Doctor’s neck to drain his life force should he wander out of its transmission range, Ollistra is also portrayed as a leader of Time Lords as she convinces and cajoles the crew of the freighter, the Doctor, Jarod, and Solex towards their final goal…or rather her final goal, sacrificing each one of them along the way to reach her true objective inside Asteroid Theta 12.  And the schemes of Ollistra go even further into the final story of this box set.

The downside to A Thing of Guile, aside from being JUST a bit slow, is the almost deus ex machina method of beating the Daleks.  It boils down to a scene at the opening of the story  “oh by the way Doctor while we’re sitting around waiting here’s this weapon from deep within the Omega Arsenal that we have no clue what it does” and a scene near the end where the Doctor proclaims “oh by the way Ollistra I’ve figured out what this weapon does, let me just turn it on,” and the Daleks are easily defeated.  To Mulryne’s credit, the effects of the weapon are shown through the story in a very subtle manner that will cause the listener go to “oh, that makes sense” as the Doctor explains what it does.  But why would Ollistra just happen to have this weapon handy on a covert mission?  While the presence of the weapon in A Thing of Guile seems out of nowhere, it does play a part in Ollistra’s plan regarding the Time Lords’ final victory over the Daleks.  And the Doctor’s flight from Asteroid Theta 12 was exactly what Ollistra knew he was going to do all along.  All she had to do was tweak the TARDIS’ navigation control to send him to time’s lost horizon…

On an isolated world ravaged by battle, time itself has become a weapon, laying waste to all who live and die there. Arms and technology are in a state of flux – and it seems that everlasting war is their only option.

The arrival of one battered Type Forty TARDIS inside this nightmare offers hope to the combatants trapped within.

But when he discovers the truth, the horrors of the Neverwhen will shock even the War Doctor…

The Doctor lands on a far flung world ravaged by conflict. The long battle between the Daleks and the Time Lords has damaged more than the planet. Time itself has fractured to a degree never seen before. One moment a group of combatants will be fighting with the most advanced and powerful weaponry imaginable. A few minutes later, the soldiers will have devolved into their primal ancestors, using spears and arrows against armor and plasma. Cardinal Ollistra wants to harness the power of this event, the Neverwhen, in order to crack the time lock on Skaro and strike the Daleks at the very beginning of their history. The Doctor wants nothing more than to end the suffering of the poor souls stuck in the Neverwhen, Dalek and Gallifreyan alike. And neither Time Lord will get what they want…

Matt Fitton continues his great run as a Big Finish writer. I’m not saying he’s the new Robert Shearman, but he’s the new Robert Shearman. The Neverwhen is a horrifying concept, a ribbon of chrono energy that arrives with barely a moment’s notice and sends those caught inside back in their historical and evolutionary past, or flings them into the future at the height of their technological prowess. The Neverwhen is a fantastic way to highlight just how badly the Time War is ripping apart the universe without resorting to a huge, over-the-top villain or universe threatening event. The Neverwhen is localized to the planet, but both sides are looking to weaponize it. Ollistra believes that the Neverwhen can be transported off-planet, and combined with the weapon from A Thing of Guile will cause the Daleks to rip themselves apart before they discover spaceflight and spread throughout the galaxy. And the Daleks believe that the Neverwhen can be used to permanently exterminate the Time Lords before they discover regeneration. The Neverwhen showcases the sheer desperation of both sides as they try to find the perfect weapon, no matter what the damage to the rest of the universe.

And it’s the Doctor who is just as horrified as he was during Legion of the Lost. Now, I say “Sir John Hurt” and you know you’re going to get a quality performance. What’s great about Infernal Devices is Hurt’s portrayal of the War Doctor. He insists to everyone, Time Lord and Dalek alike, that he’s left the name of the Doctor behind. But the wry humor is still there, as dry as the planet of San Helios. Through those comments and witticisms, the Doctor’s true personality peeks through. His desire to save as many people from the Time War as he can is now compounded with trying to stop the development and introduction of these horrible weapons and engines of destruction. What sets Hurt’s performance in Infernal Devices apart from his turn in Only the Monstrous is the note of desperation in the Doctor’s words and actions. The Doctor always has a plan, always has a way to save the day. More often than not, when given the chance to implement his plan things work out for the best. And here in The Neverwhen, the Doctor has that chance. His way works, the eternally trapped Daleks and Time Lords locked into a timeline where both sides have been devolved to Kaleds and Gallifreyans, before the dark times, before the Time War. No war, no reason for conflict, no casus belli, just a place outside of time and space where both sides can lives out their lives free of battle and destruction.

Except that it doesn’t work. The hatred between Dalek and Time Lord is too ingrained into the time line, and soon both sides are back to killing each other in the idyllic landscape. Ollistra can only laugh as the Doctor looks on in despair. His only option is one he would never take under any other circumstance, but it’s the only way to stop the Neverwhen and provide an act of mercy to those trapped inside.

And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Hurt’s age helps add to the weariness of the War Doctor, his anguish and despair soon giving way to resigned acceptance as what he must do. Only the Monstrous introduced the War Doctor, but didn’t quite show us why the War Doctor was a monster. Infernal Devices does just that. Listeners experience the Doctor standing on the edge of that slippery slope. What he does might be a case of “the ends justify the means,” but the Doctor’s defining characteristic has always been “The Man Who Never Would.” Here, he is the “Man Who Could When There’s No Other Way.” And this story is where the War Doctor begins walking the path that will lead him to the Moment and the end of the Last Great Time War.

Add in the steady directing hand of Nicholas Briggs and the great sound and music work of Howard Carter to set a mood of grandeur and horror, Infernal Devices continues the story of the War Doctor, building upon the initial characterization to show just how the horrors and travesties of the Time War are affecting not only him, but the fundamental nature of both the Time Lords and the Daleks as both sides are willing to sacrifice long-held beliefs for a military advantage, regardless of anyone or any species who gets in their way. The stories are solid, but the box set alone is worth the full price for the performances of David Warner, Jacqueline Pearce, and Sir John Hurt.

Cobi’s Synopsis – The saga of the War Doctor continues with The War Doctor Volume 2 – Infernal Devices, three stories that showcase just how the devastation of the Time War in changing the very society and core beliefs of the Daleks and the Time Lords, with top notch performances from David Warner, Jacqueline Pearce, and Sir John Hurt along the way.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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