Romana’s proud new Gallifrey is falling – the Daleks have come through the Axis from one universe, preparing to conquer all others. Swarming through the corridors of the Capitol, the Daleks seek, locate and exterminate everyone they find – because they are searching for something, a something they believe will give them domination over the entirety of existence…
These three episodes in Gallifrey's final series, Scott Handcock’s ‘Extermination’, James Goss’ ‘Renaissance’ and Justin Richards’ ‘Ascension’ push Romana, Narvin, Leela and K9 to the limit to preserve Gallifrey throwing in one or two curveballs along the way. And make no mistake; this final series is not one for a new visitor to Gallifrey. It heavily relies on not only the previous Gallifrey series, but also stretches across the web of Doctor Who continuity as well. I lapsed listening somewhere around the second or third series and I’ve had to do some serious reading up on past events just to keep up.
After their shock appearance at the cliffhanger to the last series, the appearance of the Daleks seems to have been rather divisive amongst fans. Even more eyebrow raising was the fact it’s the gold new series Daleks that appear (including a delicious variant on the cover) clearly establishing a link between this series and the Time War Daleks. It’s just a shame that these particular Daleks are, well, a bit thick. They just sit around waiting for people to finish their sentences and have multiple chances to finish off K9, Narvin and Leela yet don’t seem to take them. Sadly this is endemic of a further problem with the series – pacing.
There are a lot of things crammed into Gallifrey VI, unfortunately leading to it becoming rather bloated. The ideas are good – in some cases very good, but it’s the erratic pacing and lack of room for them to breathe that hampers the execution of said ideas. Extermination in particular suffers from endless running up and down corridors away from lethargic Daleks that could end the story there and then shattering your belief in them. Later on during Ascension, things become a little confusing as you try to decipher whether events are real or fake. It’s pretty high-concept stuff that doesn’t always become clear on first listening.
Juliet Landau (Buffy’s Drusilla) makes a promising debut appearance as a future incarnation of Romana coming back from the future to try to avert an as yet unseen disaster. ‘Trey’, as she’s christened, (from the longer form of Romana’s name) forces Romana’s current incarnation to confront her future head on pitching the tired, almost defeated Romana against an ethereal, romantic, vibrant fresh new one. This allows Goss and Richards to tinker with Romana’s fate and for Lalla Ward to also play up to this. But, like when two Doctors meet, much of the excitement comes from the interplay between the two Romana’s as they bitch and backstab their way around the deserted Capitol.
Elsewhere, Louise Jameson’s Leela continues to impress. Wise and smart, she’s Gallifrey's savage anomaly – treated horrendously by her adopted home; she nonetheless cannot help but be cheered by the prospect of finally returning there. Jameson is given the lion’s share of the script, trying to understand regeneration in the best way that she can by querying what is left of her friend inside the new Romana and leads to some beautifully crafted scenes with Narvin as they face certain death together.
Sean Carlsen’s Narvin is definitely the best thing about the series though. Hopefully it won’t be the last time that Big Finish uses the character as Carlsen’s portrayal is utterly magnetic. Out of all Gallifrey’s characters, it’s Narvin’s that has been the most engaging. Originally having sided against Romana, he now finds himself fighting side by side for the future of the planet and his friendship with Leela has been strengthened to the point where he offers to lay down his life in protection of her gives us some of the strongest and most resonant scenes in Extermination. This quartet of characters have gone from being political animals to a strong unit, cohesive and united in the face of a common enemy. It's about time, and it's a crying shame this is the last we will see of them.
In some ways Gallifrey VI is a throwback to the days of independent companies, like BBV, creating bold and experimental audio adventures that were Doctor Who in all but name during the mid-1990’s. For once, it genuinely feels like Big Finish can do anything with anyone and that nobody is safe. It comes as a vitally refreshing shot in the arm for the company. It’s just a shame that the actual production is a bit muddled. Gallifrey has always felt like a character piece rather than a bombastic action one. In this boxset, you end up with both and they make for odd bedfellows at times. Without being specific, parts of the climax wind up being illogical and feel rushed. Overall, Gallifrey VI winds up being a diverting, if too conveniently tied up, last hurrah for our fabulous four.
Gallifrey VI is available from Big Finish to download or CD boxset now.