Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 2/28/17 11:37 am
4 out of 8 found this review helpful.
In the final War Doctor story from Big Finish, the War Doctor (John Hurt), Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce), and Leela (Louise Jameson) are returning to Gallifrey with news of the Daleks' plans to attack the Time Lords at their home. But on their way back, the TARDIS bumps into an odd anomaly, and when they return to Gallifrey, several Time Lords note strange appearances by Daleks on Gallifrey, that are gone as fast as they came. The War Doctor and Ollistra suspect a Dalek weapon, but Leela isn't convinced. In order to solve this problem, they'll have to enter the Enigma Dimension; but they could be in for the fight of their lives, or they could be facing the end of the Time War itself. The War Doctor series closes much like it began; with an aggressive mediocrity, an unsatisfying story, and a deeply unsatisfying characterization of the War Doctor. While the story itself was an interesting concept, the actual execution was a bit of a mess, in my opinion.
For the final time, John Hurt returns as the War Doctor. The War Doctor himself has had his ups and downs, but John Hurt has been a consistent strength for these audios. Here is no exception, as Hurt gives his all for what was to be his final performance as the War Doctor, unfortunately. He acts the absolute hell out of every scene he's a part of, from his scene confronting the Enigma, to his final scene telling Ollistra he'll kill her with his bare hands should she refer to him as 'Doctor' once more. Hurt, ignoring the character he was given, has given several brilliant performances as the character, and this may be one of his finest moments with the character.
Jacqueline Pearce once again returns as Cardinal Ollistra, the scheming Cardinal of the War Council of Gallifrey. Pearce, alongside Hurt has been one of the best parts of this series, matching Hurt in most of their stories together, and sometimes even out-acting him. Here is no exception, as she gives her all here, with a sense of desperation that she's hasn't had in other stories from this series. It makes her character a bit more sympathetic in some ways, and it's a delightful bit of acting. I particularly liked her scenes in the "situation room" on Gallifrey, as well as her scenes alongside the Doctor when she first enters the Enigma Dimension.
An actor I've neglected to mention in the previous two reviews is Nicholas Briggs, who voices the Daleks and the Dalek Time Strategist in all three stories. Briggs is a criminally underrated actor, because without him, there wouldn't be any Daleks in any of these stories. Briggs has the voices of the Daleks down to a science at this point, but his performance as the Dalek Time Strategist, a Dalek who sounds almost human at times, is disconcerting and absolutely fantastic.
Returning once again from the previous story is Louise Jameson as Leela, who later becomes the mouthpiece of the Enigma throughout most of the story. Jameson is quite good here, acting well, especially in her scenes as the Enigma. There was something satisfying and chilling about having Jameson very calmly state to the Daleks that she doesn't care if they murder every one of the Enigma's race. The other two members of the guest cast, Alan David as Castellan Kanteer and Jane Slavin as Panopticon Guard Lintok were rather minor roles, that both did perfectly fine with the roles, if not standing out.
Unfortunately, even though Nicholas Briggs did a fine job acting in this story, the same cannot be said for the writing of this final story. While his story had a very interesting concept, with the idea that an extradimensional being takes over the Doctor's companion and passes judgment on the Daleks and Time Lords. I found the idea that the Enigma were benevolent to death, as it didn't matter to them to be a fascinating idea, and I quite liked the idea of an alternate universe where the rules of our universe don't apply. It recalls shades of one of my favorite stories, Neverland. But that's one of the few good things about this story; there is SO much wrong with this release.
The biggest thing is the almost complete reversion to the characterization of the War Doctor from the jaded, brutal version of the Doctor, to the juice-sipping fluffy grandpa of the first set. I relistened to the series in anticipation of this fourth set, and I noticed that the third box set did a lot of work making the Doctor more like the War Doctor promised on the box; a brutal, jaded monster, willing to sacrifice friends and innocents to defeat the Daleks. I was hoping that that would lead to a trend where they would end the final set with the War Doctor truly becoming the monster he claimed he was so long ago. But instead, it seems that the main point of this series was to make the War Doctor understand that he is still the War Doctor, not the monster he claims he is. This would be a fine arc for another Doctor, like the Second or Seventh Doctor, should they go too far with their manipulative ways, but it's not appropriate for the War Doctor. Another huge issue is the story itself, which petered out into really nothing. It makes absolutely no sense why the Doctor, especially this version of him, would be reluctant to wipe the Daleks from existence, given what he is supposed to be. He's not the Fourth Doctor wondering about right and wrong, nor the Twelfth Doctor agonizing over whether or not to save Davros; he is a battle hardened criminal who, in his own words, has seen what the Daleks are capable of time and time again. He should relish the thought that he could destroy the Daleks. What I really think should have happened is that the Doctor would try and destroy the Daleks, only for Leela to stop him, horrified by his actions. And that brings me to the final large issue: at the outset, we were promised that Leela and the War Doctor would come into conflict with one another, as Leela would be horrified by what the Doctor had become. Instead, they seemed to get along famously, even more so than she did with the Fourth Doctor. There are a few more issues I could touch upon, such as issues with the pacing of the story and the odd, confusing behavior of the Daleks (regarding their reluctance to kill the Doctor and Ollistra while in the Enigma Dimension, when a story ago they were perfectly willing to send suicide squads in to destroy people), but I think this review is getting too long as it is.
To end the review on a positive note, I would like to say that Howard Carter's work on the soundtrack for this story was absolutely fantastic. His work on the previous two stories was great as well, but this final story, with arguably four distinct soundtracks, made for a strong release, music wise. I particularly liked the otherworldly, weird music used in the Enigma Dimension; I felt that it captured the tone of that universe extremely well. I have very few positive things to say about this release, but the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. Carter should be proud of the work he put in here.
Overall, the finale of Casualties of War and the War Doctor series as a whole is a mess. Some fine acting from the main cast aside, the plot of this story dredges up problems that were best left in the first box set, such as characterization of the War Doctor, once again, as a slightly more angsty Doctor. Rather than portraying him as some horrific monster, they instead tried to portray a sort of redemption story with the character, much like The Wizard of Oz, where the Doctor realizes he had two hearts inside him all along was the Doctor all along. That would be all well and good for a Seventh Doctor story with him questioning whether or not he is truly a good man, but for a War Doctor story, for a series about the Doctor who committed horrible crimes in the name of peace and sanity, it is a mediocre series of stories.