Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 10/4/17 3:38 pm
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In A Heart on Both Sides, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) is now controller of the hospital ship The Traken, which travels the universe in the midst of the Time War, looking to help those in need. Arriving on the planet Reeve, an explosion tears through a major city, causing many casualties, and stretching the resources of The Traken thin. But behind the explosion is a Time Lord plot, and a deep-seated hatred of them by the native Reeveans. Nobody can be trusted, and time is running out for Nyssa and The Traken. A Heart on Both Sides is almost a taster story, meant to show the horrors of the Time War to listeners, and in that respect, it is an excellent story. It shows a darker aspect of the Time War than we've seen so far, and if Rob Nisbet's excellent script is a harbinger of things to come with the Eighth Doctor during the Time War, Big Finish could have another hit on their hands. But this story works well as a teaser to the larger conflict of the Time War, with a dark tale about the desperate lengths the Time Lords are willing to go to to win the Time War. Sarah Sutton's steady narration of the story, where she plays Nyssa rather than simply reading the script, is a highlight, as Sutton shows off her range here throughout the story. Overall, it's a strong release, and everything I personally could've hoped for.
Sarah Sutton is the lone star of this production, billed as the Narrator, but really playing the role of Nyssa, former companion to the Fifth Doctor. Writer Rob Nisbet did the right thing making sure that this story would allow Sutton to actually play the role of Nyssa, rather than a traditional audio book reading (as most of these Short Trips tend to be), because it gives Sutton the chance to show off her range. Sutton proves herself more than capable here, showing off the aspects of Nyssa we've known for years, such as her kindness, and her intelligence. But the aspect of Sutton's performance I most enjoyed was her despair and hopelessness. Nyssa's character is one shaped by death and destruction, from her father's death, to the genocide of her people, and all the way to the deaths of her friends. Here Sutton wrings a lot of emotion out of her performance, expressing a sort of quiet horror at the scale of destruction wreaked by the bomb, and a despair, as she realizes she is unable to trust her assistant Dr. Foster. It's an excellent performance by a sometimes boring character, and as such, it hits home very well. Aside from her performance as Nyssa, Sutton did well narrating for each of the characters in the story, capturing the feeling of hopefulness in her narration of the Doctor's parts, and capturing the depravity of Isherwood during her narration there.
Rob Nisbet's story is a dark teaser of the Time War at large, showing an aspect of the Time War long hinted at, but never really heard on audio: the horrific actions of the Time Lords during the Time War. The Daleks are completely absent from this story, making this rather unique as a story where the enemy is the Time Lords themselves. This is a smart choice, in my opinion, because it gives Big Finish a chance to go dark that they never had with the War Doctor audio series, being able to show that the Time Lords weren't just people practicing a mantra of, "the ends justify the means", but rather that they were as bad as the Daleks in some circumstances. The character of Isherwood in particular is the prime example of that: a Time Lord agent who cut out one of her hearts simply to pass as a native Reevean, in order to go about undetected, who attempts to bomb Reeve, so that they are forced to deal with the Time Lords. I mean... I don't know how to process that really, a Time Lord cutting out their own heart? That's a horrific idea, but it works so well to get the point of the story across. The Time Lords are as evil as the Daleks here, giving Cass a justification for her reaction in The Night of the Doctor.
I particularly liked the plot of the story as well, for what it showed about the Doctor and his actions during the Time War. This story is basically the Doctor checking up on former companions, trying to prevent the Time War from affecting them. Some companions, as we've seen, cannot escape the Time War (Leela and, eventually, Romana), but the Doctor is going to make damn sure that he tries to prevent it from affecting as many people as he can. This story is no exception to that, as the Doctor works to prevent a bomb from destroying Nyssa's ship. The story had a rather Troughton-esque feel to it, as Nyssa tries to figure out what's going on. The Doctor doesn't properly appear until halfway through the story, hiding as "Dr. Foster", and I think that that benefits the story a bit, as it allows the focus to be on Nyssa and her story. The Doctor is nearly superfluous to the story, just passing by the story on his way to bigger and better things, and I like that. Nyssa isn't even aware that Dr. Foster was the Doctor she once knew at the end of the story, and I think that's for the best.
Overall, A Heart on Both Sides works well as a taster of the horrors of the Time War, something that Big Finish was prevented from showing, by and large, with their War Doctor series. Rob Nisbet's story was an excellent look at the darker aspects of the Time War, showing just how horrific the Time Lords can be. His story was an enjoyable Troughton-esque affair, elevated by that aspect of the story, with an engaging arc for Nyssa within the story, and an interesting tale overall. Sarah Sutton is excellent too as Nyssa, smartly written to allow Sutton to actually play Nyssa, rather than just reading the script. Sutton runs the spectrum of her emotions here, portraying Nyssa as both the warm, caring person she was during the TV series, but also as horrified and despairing, once she meets up with the Time War. It's an excellent entry for the Short Trips range, and a good sign for Big Finish's further adventures with the Time War, hopefully.