Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 2/28/17 11:31 am
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In the opening story of the final War Doctor box set, the Doctor (John Hurt) and Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) have landed on a planet far far away from the Time War. As they meet a time travelling reporter, the two Time Lords discover that a Dalek invasion of Belltox, the planet they're standing on, is imminent. The War Doctor and Ollistra are forced to work to save the small town of Fairgill from this Dalek invasion. But death is coming to Belltox on this day; will the War Doctor and Ollistra be able to escape it? The opening story of Casualties of War was a strong start to set. With a fantastic performance by John Hurt, some great performances by the rest of the cast, and a dark Dalek story by first time War Doctor writer Guy Adams, the opening story is a high-quality, shocking War Doctor story.
As with the previous three sets, the late John Hurt once again portrays the War Doctor, the lost incarnation of the Doctor. I'm not going to beat around the bush too much: Hurt gives a fantastic performance here in this story. His portrayal of the War Doctor has been consistently strong throughout, even when the writing for the character is lacking, but here, Hurt has outdone himself, with a bitter, jaded, sardonic performance as the War Doctor. Maybe it was the introduction of Joseph Kloska's obnoxious (in a positive way) Schandel that brought this out in Hurt, but unlike previous stories, I can actually believe that Hurt's Doctor is the monster he constantly claims he is. There are several strong moments for the character, such as his scene first meeting Schandel, or his short interaction with the Old Man (played by the brilliant Mark Elstob), but really it's quite hard to choose one particularly standout scene. This was a brilliant performance by Hurt here, consistently strong throughout, and there's nothing else that can be said about it, in my opinion.
The rest of the guest cast, while not quite able to match Hurt's fiery performance, did a great job as well. The lovely Jacqueline Pearce returns once again as Cardinal Ollistra, the member of the War Council of Gallifrey who leads the efforts against the Daleks. Pearce has always walked a fine line with her character, between amoral villain, much like the role of Servalan on Blake's 7 that made her famous, and someone desperate to survive and win the Time War. It's a tricky balancing act, but Pearce pulls it off so well that she makes it seem effortless. She did a great job throughout this story, but I particularly noted the excellent scene towards the end where Ollistra was explaining to Sera (Julia Hills) that this was to be her last stand. Also of note in the guest cast was Joseph Kloska as the obnoxious time travelling reporter Schandel. I quite enjoyed Kloska's performance here, as it clashed brilliantly with Hurt's excellent performance, and brought out a rather interesting element in both their performances. I particularly liked how Schandel never really changed throughout the story, started as an overly eager reporter fawning over the War Doctor, and finished out the story in the same way. The rest of the cast, was surprisingly strong for their bit parts; I was slightly disappointed that the brilliant Mark Elstob (who plays Number 6 in Big Finish's The Prisoner range) had two small parts in this story, but his performance as both were excellent asides to the story. Similarly, Julia Hills did a great job with her characters; her pleading with the Daleks in the opening scene was a disturbing bit of acting that impressed me quite a bit.
Guy Adams' script for the opening story was a rather cracking start to the final box set. It was a shockingly dark story, though I did feel it petered out a bit towards the end, and ended on a slightly predictable note. This whole story was just a rather dark affair. This may be one of the few War Doctor stories I've heard that actually lives up to the hype as a dark story. Right from the start, I thought the opening scene where the Daleks mercilessly destroy the space station was a fantastically dark opening; it set the mood for the rest of the story right away, and was a brilliantly written starting scene. That theme of bleakness and hopelessness continued through the rest of the story, from scenes on Belltox where, as the minutes tick by, it gets increasingly clear that the planet is doomed, and there's nothing the War Doctor can do about it. I was genuinely surprised, and somewhat impressed, the Adams wrote in the scene at the end where the Daleks destroy Belltox in a fit of rage; it was a strong ending to an already strong story, and it really enhanced the sense of hopelessness throughout the story. At the same time though, the ending of the story, that scene excluded, were a somewhat predictable affair. While I'm happy with the choice to destroy Belltox anyways, I felt that it would've been more effective to have the War Doctor fail to save the city, and only be able to barely escape with his life, alongside Ollistra. But instead, we were treated to another story featuring the Doctor being dead clever and saving the day, albeit temporarily. It's a minor niggle in an otherwise excellent story, but it irks me that Adams, who went with a dark story throughout, had that slightly obvious ending for the story.
Overall though, Pretty Lies is a fantastic opening story. Featuring a powerhouse performance by John Hurt, and a strong set of performances by the rest of the cast, this whole story feels like a well-acted affair. Compounded with a fantastic, dark script by Guy Adams, issues with the ending aside, and you get a cracking start to the final War Doctor set.