Thursday 31 December 2015

The War Doctor - Only The Monstrous

The words “Eagerly” and “awaited” are often applied to some releases – like a certain Seventh Episode of a popular film franchise also released this week – or The Strictly Final or every single annual iPhone release.
Back in 2013 the words “eagerly” and “awaited” applied pretty much exclusively to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary story, and its introduction of the hitherto unseen and unmentioned “War Doctor”.
For Eight years we had assumed that it was Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor that had fought in the Time War – but that was all changed – there was a secret Doctor, his sham and guilt so much that he didn’t even use the name “Doctor” – and in the guise of a lesser actor this may not have worked, but in the hands of John Hurt we really were given something very special – a world weary, or should that be a Universe weary portrayal, a man faced with an impossible choice, a man being the Doctor when it was impossible to live up to that name……
“Eagerly” and “awaited” are also two words that completely apply to this box set – Big Finish have pulled a blinder not only in getting the rights to the New Series, but also succeeding in persuading the wonderful John Hurt to reprise his role in not one but four box sets that tell the tale of the War Doctor.
How to describe this set? Hmm….
Using my usual flowery verbose method – imagine that Nick Briggs (all hail The Briggs) was an architect. Now imagine that he was the Doctor Who equivalent of one of the masters of the Brutalist Movement – a Peter Smithson with a ring modulator if you will. Looking from the outside Briggs has created a harsh, brutal, epoch spanning epic – the Universe has gone to hell, all chewed up and spat out again and again by the Time War – BUT get closer to the Brutalist Architecture, move in to the harsh, martial cold war era building and look outwards, look at the walls, doors, fixtures and fittings and imagine they were designed by a Pre-Raphaelite idealised designer like William Holman-Hunt with the lyricism of the romantic poets. Because what looks, harsh, brutal and functional has some really quite beautiful, lyrical, soft and sweet moments. In Who terms think of Pertwee’s “Daisiest Daisy” speech. In terms of design and counterpoint Briggs has got the balance perfect – the right mix of spectacle and sadness – and this box set’s story is told in three parts.
The Innocent
In a supreme act of self sacrifice The War Doctor defeats the Daleks at Omega One and is pronounced dead. But he is given a second chance of life on the Planet Keska where he is nursed back to health by a young would be companion called Rejoice. But he finds out that even this paradise has its demons.
An interesting beginning, after the initial grand scale battle this is a very very small scale character piece and serves for the listener to get to know The War Doctor. And what a Doctor he is. Or isn’t. He wont let anyone use his name as he has renounced what it means to be The Doctor – but he is still a good and moral man, but very much a man defined by the situation he is in rather than the man that defines the situation – this Warrior (for that is what he chose) is cantankerous, short tempered and brusque – very much like Hartnell and as Rejoice gets to know him more, we get to see the layers of his personality revealed and we see a caring, moral crusader who is more than willing to do the right thing for the right reasons.
The Thousand Worlds
Brutalism is personified in this episode – if part one was lyrical and sweet this is industrial and harsh. The Warrior is sent to rescue a fellow Time Lord called Seratrix from behind a temporal Null Zone – what he finds is the world of Keska obliterated by The Dalek’s – turned into a slave world as they have with the other worlds in this sector of space and a rather familiar Dalek master plan to turn not only Keska, but the 1000 planets of this sector of space into a moveable battle fleet.
This is a very political episode, who is manipulating who? – a real homage to boys own World War 2 fiction with a mission behind enemy lines, fifth columnists and a chilling re-using of the phrase “Peace in our Time”
The Heart of the Battle
If you do what you have to do even though it is the wrong thing, but the only choice – does that make the protagonist a monster? That is the question posed by this final episode. With peace in sight, only the Warrior doesn’t believe it can be achieved and desperately looks for another way apart from peace. This is the real difference between the Warrior and his other incarnations – the others would have looked for a peaceful solution at any cost, they are and were idealists – this one is a pragmatist doing what needs to be done to resolve the immediate situation. A moving and shocking conclusion to the set.
I started this review using two words “eagerly” and “awaited” I will bring it to an end using two further words “John” and “Hurt” – the man is effortless and an exceptional focal point for the series – his character grows throughout the three episodes, Nick Briggs imbues him with a real character progression and Hurt brings these observations to life – his outrage, his knowing cunning, his caring, his self-loathing. Briggs pitches and Hurt knocks it out of the park.
I feel a bit of an old meanie not mentioning the rest of the cast – sorry they all really rise to the script – Jacqueline Pearce as the arch manipulator Cardinal Ollistra, Beth Chalmers as the obsequious Velkin, Alex Wyndham as Seratrix, all provide light and shade to the proceedings. But best supporting actress goes to two ladies playing the same character Lucy Briggs-Owen and Carolyn Seymour as the younger and older Rejoice respectively – in different times with a different Doctor – she would have been a perfect companion, she has it all and is more than a match for The Warrior, this being the Time War, she isn’t given that choice…
So an epic, brutal, but sometimes beautiful set, wonderfully acted and written with an epic sweeping score and a great martial re-imagining of the theme song – and very much eagerly awaited. Cinema for the ears is a good description and in the week that a certain seventh episode of a certain franchise is released that certain seventh episode has a lot to live up to. Briggs and Hurt 1 – Lucas and Abrahams 0.

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