(Big Finish Productions)
Reviewed by Chris Gardner (@chrisgardnernz)
Doctor Who’s most enigmatic incarnation is back.
The War Doctor, otherwise known as Captain Grumpy, has got his own full cast audio drama two years after Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat mischievously revealed there was a secret regeneration between the eighth and ninth Doctors. A regeneration whose decision to fight in the Last Great Time War betrayed the Doctor’s pacifist tendencies so much that he could not bring himself to call himself Doctor any more.
The ineffable John Hurt played The War Doctor on screen in the 50th Anniversary Special episode The Day of the Doctor after Moffat was unable to convince Christopher Eccleston to return to the role. So it was Hurt who appeared alongside David Tennant, recently voted the best Doctor ever, and Matt Smith, who I’d argue deserves equal billing with Tennant.
The War Doctor was introduced in the closing cliffhanger to Series 7, The Name of the Doctor, and again in an online special, The Night of the Doctor, showing Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor regenerate into a young Hurt.
Only The Monstrous is set some time after that regeneration, when Hurt’s Doctor has truly began to loathe himself for the things that the war has forced him to do. And it’s all coming to a head for him.
Cleverly, however, this first volume of War Doctor stories doesn’t go into any great detail of what’s behind him. Big Finish Productions may decide to go into the detail in coming volumes, but for now it’s left up to the audience’s imagination for much of those missing years. Instead what we get is a kind of a study into the character of the War Doctor, and the effect the war has had on his heart and soul. At least at the beginning of this three story volume.
This examination is masterfully done by Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs who wrote and directed the three episodes that make up this volume. They are The Innocent, The Thousand Worlds and The Heart of the Battle. And they dabble in politics on the Doctor’s home world of Gallifrey as the Daleks mass their time fleet there for a final assault and the Doctor gets caught up in a secret mission to stop them.
One of the joys of this production, without giving too much of the plot away, is the scenes in which The War Doctor appears with Time Lord Cardinal Ollistra. Actress Jacqueline Pearce, who played Servalan in that other great Terry Nation creation Blake’s Seven, plays the cardinal opposite Hurt in the audio drama and it’s a wonderful match.
Doctor Who: The War Doctor Volume 1: Only The Monstrous is available on CD and download from Big Finish Productions at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-war-doctor-volume-01-only-the-monstrous-1380.