Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 2/28/17 11:33 am
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In the penultimate War Doctor story, the War Doctor (John Hurt) and Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) have decided to make a stand and defend the planet Grend from an incoming Dalek invasion. But when the Time Lords refuse to send assistance, the War Doctor goes chasing after a mysterious guerilla group called the Obsidian, led by the mysterious Lady of Obsidian. The Doctor is about to reunite with an old friend, but their reunion may not be quite what the War Doctor was expecting. The Lady of Obsidian comes on the heels of a rather excellent opening story, but it's almost as if we've been returned to the time of Only the Monstrous and Infernal Devices, quality-wise. Writer Andrew Smith fails to continue the characterization of the War Doctor Big Finish has pushed since The Shadow Vortex. Alongside a rather bland script, the only thing really saving this story is the return of Louise Jameson as Leela, but even that return has some glaring issues.
Once again, John Hurt portrays the War Doctor, and Jacqueline Pearce portrays Cardinal Ollistra. Hurt and Pearce are both wonderful actors here, bringing a sense of gravitas to the story. Hurt is quite enjoyable throughout this story, though not as much as he was in the opening story, while Pearce gets a very different role here, that of someone defending the planet Grend from the Dalek invasion. It was nice to see Pearce getting a slightly different characterization to play with here, though she's still unmistakably Ollistra. But the biggest member of the guest cast is Louise Jameson, returning as the eponymous Lady of Obsidian, Leela. Jameson's performance is very different from the Leela of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. She speaks in a more sophisticated way at times, and is more introspective at other times. What I liked most was how Jameson played Leela during the scenes where she was getting potential timelines confused. It is a difficult thing to portray a character who both knows and doesn't know another character, and who's memory is highly unreliable, but Jameson manages to make it seem effortless.
The rest of the guest cast was enjoyable, if a little bland. Lizzie Roper portrays the companion du jour Rosata Laxter, a smuggler who teams up with the War Doctor to find Leela and her group. Roper gives a fine performance, and shares a strong chemistry with Hurt, which is always a positive thing. I quite liked her first scene on her ship with Hurt, which I felt was a strong, commanding bit of acting. Also part of the cast this time is Chris Porter portraying the leader of the villainous Unlived, Skaul, and the Time Lord commander Freel. He does very well as Skaul, with a rather creepy vocal effect applied to his voice, and his performance as Freel is a bit too similar to the many nameless and faceless Time Lord commanders that have come before him. The final member of the guest cast is the extremely fun cameo of Beth Chalmers as Veklin, Cardinal Ollistra's assistant from Only the Monstrous; it was a brief, one-line cameo, but it was nonetheless a very welcome surprise.
My biggest criticism of this story is of Andrew Smith's rather lackluster script. While I found elements of the story fascinating, like the Unlived, and Leela's memory issues, there were so many more elements I disliked about the story, including the ending that saw the Daleks defeated, everyone happy, and nobody mad at one another. To start with the good, I thought that Andrew Smith knocked it out of the park with his creation of the Unlived. They were an extremely creepy villain, which is one of Smith's strengths as a writer. They felt like a fascinating creature, especially considering that most of the monsters from the War Doctor series have felt rather lackluster. I also quite liked how Leela's memory issues, where she remembers every timeline, including the results of roads not taken, were handled throughout the story. It was a really nice use of the temporal aspects of the Time War, something that's been very lacking so far. However, there was a lot of really poor moments in this story. Once again, the War Doctor has been reduced to a fluffy grandad, rather than the bitter, battle-hardened warrior he was promised to be. There really isn't anything the War Doctor does in this story that justifies his explanation to Leela at the end that he threw away his name because he's had to do things the Doctor would be ashamed of. I also rather disliked how the story ended with a relatively happy ending; the Daleks were defeated, the Unlived were defeating, Ollistra was saved (I don't want to say I'd hoped Ollistra would die, because I adore Jacqueline Pearce, but I had braced myself for the possibility in this story), Leela was cured of her illness, and the Time Lords have a head start on the Daleks. It just... considering the last story ended with the Daleks, out of frustration, blowing up the planet because the Doctor dared to try and save that planet, made this story feel extremely out of place, and made its shortcomings more obvious. I would've appreciated this story more if the War Doctor had simply saved Ollistra, defeated the Unlived, and managed to escape relatively unscathed, but instead, it's another "everyone lives!" moment for the story. In a similar line of thinking, one of the things we were promised when this set was first announced is the conflict between the War Doctor and Leela, with the latter being horrified by everything the War Doctor has done in the Time War. I will wait and see if that aspect comes into play in the next story, but the description for this story certainly makes it seem like this was the story that conflict would occur in.
The final thing I'd like to mention for this review is the covers for this release, as a whole. I've seen all three covers, and while I think this cover is absolutely fantastic, I found that the cover for the previous story and the final story to be somewhat of a letdown. The striking cover for this story, with the extremely creepy looking Unlived is wonderful, but the first cover feels like cover artist Tom Webster was told to put certain elements onto the cover, and he was in the middle of arranging the cover, only to get distracted and then forced to send it in. The final cover is better, but it just feels rather bland. Dalek, War Doctor, Leela, Ollistra, Gallifrey. That's it. Nothing striking about it, a rather plain, ordinary one, which is too bad considering it's the final War Doctor story.
Overall, The Lady of Obsidian is a decidedly average War Doctor story, which is especially disappointing considering all that was promised about it, and due to the fact that it comes off the heels of one of the strongest War Doctor stories to date. Smith's script felt as if the happy ending of the story was forced in to counteract the darkness of the previous story, which would be fine for any other Doctor, but not for the War Doctor. And while Jameson's performance here as Leela is strong, the character itself is a shadow of the Leela we know; obviously characters change over time and nothing changes people faster than war, but I would expect a greater semblence to the character beyond the fact that she kills. It was a disappointing story overall, cast performances aside, and felt like a step down in quality from the recent trend of the War Doctor audios.