Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Eighth Doctor: Time War Volume 4
Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor continues to navigates the early days of the Time War with companion Bliss (Rakhee Thakrar) in the latest volume of The Eighth Doctor: Time War from Big Finish, which picks up from the cliff-hanger at the end of last year's volume 3.
Check out out review of The Eighth Doctor: Time War Vol 1
Check out out review of The Eighth Doctor: Time War Vol 2
Check out out review of The Eighth Doctor: Time War Vol 3
Volume 4 has been written by Lisa McMullin, Matt Fitton and John Dorney and directed by Helen Goldwyn. It is available exclusively at the Big Finish site here before going on general release on the 30th November. Here are the synopses...
The Eighth Doctor and Bliss are dragged into the Time War as the Daleks replenish their army, using Davros himself.
4.1 Palindrome Parts 1-2 by John Dorney
In an alternative universe, Davros lives in peace, until the Doctor and Bliss arrive, and the Daleks emerge in a new reality.
4.2 Dreadshade by Lisa McMullin
The Time Lords, including the General and the Twelve, adjust to life after the Time War, until the Doctor and Bliss return with a warning.
4.3 Restoration of the Daleks by Matt Fitton
The Dalek Time Strategist restores the Dalek armies to the universe, but wants to dispense with Davros.
Palindrome Parts 1-2
The opening story of the latest volume is also its strongest, John Dorney's script bringing a mix of rich character drama and tragedy with a dash of Doctor Who's timey wimeyness. Carried for the most part by Terry Molloy, Palindrome opens with a very different Davros to the one we know. Pottering around the house, enjoying breakfast with his Thal wife Charn (Isla Blair), this is a far cry from the monster and creator of the Daleks. He might have the intelligence of his counterpart, but there is something disarming and likeable about the old man.
Across the two parts, Dorney proceeds to deconstruct his life, corrupting everything about him. It's a compelling narrative, made all he more harrowing to listen to as his love for Charn and the very peaceful world of Skaro we see presented is slowly eaten away. Molloy remains sympathetic in his performance, even when facing off against the very real monsters in the Dalek Time Strategist (Nicholas Briggs bringing plenty of oomph to the Darlek mastermind) and a surprising manipulation from someone much closer to himself.
There are plenty of great twists and turns throughout the story. The repeating day, counting backwards to the creation of the portal, sees characters die and resurrect over and over again. The Eighth Doctor and Bliss are mere bystanders in Davros's story, desperately trying to undo what is happening and prevent the Time War from reigniting. Again, the tragedy of the tale gives Palindrome an even darker edge. Just as Davros is slowly corrupted, you know that the Doctor and his companion will never really be able to stop what is happening. The Eighth is a mere part of the early days of the conflict to come.
The entire cast are well served by Dorney's script. Paul McGann reamains one of the strongest Doctors in the Big Finish range, while Rakhee Thakrar has really grown in the role of Bliss. She is an intelligent, compelling character in her own right, playing as much a role in the fight against the Daleks as the Doctor himself. Briggs is superb as the Dalek Time Strategist and Blair delivers a warm, endearing performance that makes the tragedy of Davros's journey all the more tragic. Molloy, it must be said, certainly lives up to the role offered him.
Director Helen Goldwyn works hard to blend moments of action and horror with the quieter character beats. The continuous rise and fall of the Daleks and the ensuing conflicts on Skaro as the same day is relived over and over again gives Palindrome a truly epic quality with the fall of Davros at the heart of it.
Dreadshade is something of a filler episode between the closing dramatic moments of Palindrome and the return of the war in Restoration of the Daleks. But it's a decent filler episode at that, returning to Gallifrey and bringing back one of Big Finish's best original characters, in the current guise of the Twelve.
Julia McKenzie offered a very different side to the Time Lord with an extreme case of Dissociative identity disorder, in volume 2 of The Eighth Doctor: Time War. Here, she gets to let loose, as the effects of the Dreadshade prevent her from holding back her various deranged personalities and some of the best moments are the many voices of the Twelve debating Paul McGann's Doctor.
There are plenty of great moments as the Dreadshade causes the residents of Gallifrey - and the Doctor and Bliss - to loose their memories. The idea of the sentient weapons are a terrific idea, causing plenty of chaos that allows Bliss to once again forge her own path away from the Doctor. With monsters and memory loss, characters, consumed by fear and unaware of the returning Dalek threat, Lisa McMullin's script has plenty of fun and on their own, the scenes are some of the most entertaining in the entire set. There's also a welcome return for Ken Bones' Gallifreyan General.
The problem comes with the fact that Dreadshade is just filler. It's not a bad story but it takes the focus away from Terry Molloy's Davros and his connection to Time War. Volume 4 might have been better served by having two two-part stories, particularly given the high-stakes drama of the final story.
Restoration of the Daleks
The final story is a bombastic return for the Daleks as the Time War is reignited. Adèle Anderson is back as Major Tamasan as the Doctor's attempts to pull away from the encroaching conflict once again sees him cross her path and in the midst of the action.
Matt Fitton's script is packed with rich characters. Anderson has really made Tamasan her own, proving to be a strong, grey character bouncing of McGann's Doctor. Chris Jarman is another strong addition as Rasmus, bouncing off Thakrar's Bliss well; there is a hint at possible romance for the future, suggesting a path for the companion away from the Doctor - assuming she survives The Time War series. As with the rest of the box set, this is one of the strongest stories for Bliss, who has learned a lot from her experiences and once again drives the plot. Volume 4 is definitely saw me start to love the character.
Bouncing between Gallifrey and the first army in the line of fire as the Daleks return, there is a mounting tension as the planet, led by Mithia (another commanding performance from Jemima Rooper) braces for invasion. The return of Davros really spices things up further, offering plenty more exchanges between the Doctor and the creator of the Daleks. It's also a story rich in Dalek lore - both past and present chronology - with the return of another iconic character and some pleasing fan references to the RTD era too.
Restoration of the Daleks is a real crowd pleaser, capping off a successful fourth volume of The Eighth Doctor: Time War. And just when it feels like it could be a perfect place to end the Eighth Doctor's time in the conflict, it throws up an intriguing cliff-hanger that promises more to come - and another surprising throw back to McGann's time as the Doctor at Big Finish.
Just over twenty minutes of music accompany the end of the third disk from composer Jamie Robertson. Five Days of Davros has a gentle, oriental vibe that reflects on the tranquillity of Davros’s life. It is a haunting beautiful piece packed with some eerie chords at the end that reflect the darkness coming, a theme that continues into The Time Strategist. The use of long string movements, percussion and wind build the tension of the piece. The wonderfully titled Out of the Frying Pan and Don’t Call Me Shortly, take the haunting beauty of the previous tracks and overlays some bold techno beats and rumbling synth chords interlaced throughout, while Daleks and the Dimension Portal raises the tension further with haunting chords and ethereal percussion. There are some delightful mix of industrial drumbeats and racing strings that wouldn’t be out of place in a Terminator soundtrack. Cross Dimensional is another tense little piece with rising strings, clashing percussion and dramatic beats. This music suite sequence ends with On Gallifrey – The War That is Unknown, a piece that mixes gothic, haunting orchestral movements with brassy, industrial percussion beats and some offbeat, eerie chords that perfectly the capture the menace of the Daleks and the tension of the returning war.
Over fourteen minutes of music can be found at the end of disk four too. As with Robertson’s work on the previous music suite, the score here feels like it could have come out of the very best sci-fi horror movies we all love. The Dreadshade Attacks is a delightfully unhinged opening piece, with plodding synth beats and huge, gothic percussion and brass that is packed full of tension and drama. For The Comfort of Bliss, Robertson really lays on the gothic feel with Danny Elfman-eqsue organ music and soaring strings, mixing In moments of beauty with lighter, ethereal chords and strings. The War is not Over is a short, emotive piece with some thundering percussion picking up the tension while the equally brief Dreadnought Operations is a tense sequence of music, accompanied by a racing techno beat and some gothic choral pieces. The Cosca Army carries on those gothic choral tones and brassy, bombastic beats, interplayed with a heroic mix of orchestral and techno music. It certainly has a 90s video game-vibe! The Davros Speech is a mournful piece of music, all low gentle strings and haunting choral music. Believe, Believe, Believe has a hint of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who music in the rise and fall of the strings and bold percussion, while the final piece of music, What’s in the Box ends things on a softer note, with a hopeful harp sequence.
Both music suites are a real treat, composer Jamie Robertson really capturing the mood of the set. Mixing beautiful soaring melodies and bombastic, industrial beats that feel right at home in any sci—fi horror movie, this is a score that can be enjoyed entirely on its own.
A massive hour of behind the scenes discussions with the cast and crew round off the set. producer David Richardson offers an interesting insight into the ongoing Time War story, with Palindrome originally envisioned for the end of volume three and writer John Dorney talks about theme around Davros and the Daleks' return shaping volume four. It's also lovely to hear Nicholas Briggs' praise for director Helen Goldwyn, transitioning from acting to directing for this set,
Paul McGann gives a huge amount of appreciation of the quieter character moments afforded the Doctor in the script, while Goldwyn talks the rich opportunities afforded by the two-hander between Terry Molloy's Davros and Isla Blair's Charn and how it differs from standard multi-character stories. Molloy enthuses on the multi-dimensional nature of the story, contrasting the multiple versions seen on TV, of which he played the role in two stories. Isla Blair is no stranger to Doctor Who and Big Finish, recalling her memories of working on the TV episode The King's Demons with Peter Davison and recording audio adventures for Blake's 7 and Space 1999. It's also a delight to hear Richardson discuss the pleasure of expanding the Eighth Doctor's role at Big Finish, his huge appreciation for McGann in the role, something echoed by Molloy's love of the dynamic between his Davros and McGann's Doctor.
In the behind the scenes discussions for Dreadshade, there's a great admiration for actors Julia McKenzie and Ken Bones from Goldwyn. McKenzie discusses exploring the attitude of Twelve this time round and balancing all the various voices, while Bones delights in the opportunities sci-fi storytelling can bring. Actress Suzanne Procter (Tubor, Deadshade) is also an absolute delight to listen too, particularly her gushing praise for McKenzie, while actor Chris Jarman (Rasmus) reflects on the feeling the Daleks gave him as a child as he faces off against them in this story.
McGann also reflects on the American fans of Big Finish and the impact of Doctor Who's 50th anniversary on how fans started to connect with the audio adventures. He has huge admiration for the quality of the writing as he records more and more each year. David Richardson continues to reflect on the love for the Eighth Doctor era and the amazing people they have been able to get to work alongside him. There's also a lovely insight into the creation of the Eleven and his impact on the era.
In the discussions for Restoration of the Daleks, Nicholas Briggs delves into the voice contrasts and tones of the various Dalek characters, from the low key Dalek Time Strategist to the booming Dalek Emperor. It's also interesting to hear how Bliss was originally conceived to be part of volume 1 only, before Rakhee Thakrar won everyone over and continued into subsequent releases. There's also some delightful name dropping of various Doctor Who actors from Jemima Rooper and Adèle Anderson; Anderson also relishes the opportunity to make her version of Tamasan her own.
Finally Nicholas Briggs, Terry Molloy and the wider cast talks about their appreciation of audio drama, the ability to cast anybody, play roles no matter what their looks and the professionalism of everyone involved. It once again shows just how much passion there is from everyone at Big Finish in making great drama. With that cliffhanger tease, David Richardson all but confirms that more The Eighth Doctor: Time War is coming. And that's a great thing.
Some Final Thoughts
The Eighth Doctor: Time War Volume 4 is the best set in the range yet, delivering a very different Davros story that offers some powerful, emotional storytelling before the war returns, with Terry Molloy on fine form, playing a very different version of the character he originally played on TV. Indeed, everyone is at the top of their game, from Paul McGann's commanding performance as the Doctor to Rakhee Thakrar, who does her best work yet as companion Bliss.
While third part Dreadshade offers some delightful moments, it's placement between Palindrome and Restortation of the Daleks does break the flow of the set; a two-part closing story to bounce off the first would have been far more satisfying. But this us a minor quibble. Volume 4 builds off the superb cliff hanger to volume 3. It makes the Daleks scary again , with Nicholas Briggs delivering two terrific performances as two very different - and iconic - Dalek characters and offers an tantalising cliff-hanger of its own that leaves me anticipating more. Let's home volumes 5 of The Eighth Doctor: Time War and beyond are announced soon...