“Why would you…”
“Maybe I think I’ll stand more of a chance of getting out of this alive than you two patsies.”
Just another day on the battlefield…one which finds The Doctor killed in action. And all Gallifrey makes a very public show of mourning.
“Hypocrites, the lot of you. He was a thorn in your side…an embarrassment for most of his lives. But what is war if not the embodiment of hypocrisy?”
But is our hero really dead?
“You knew these Talians were coming to attack you?”
“We had always hoped they wouldn’t.”
“Interesting defense policy…”
Injured after yet another skirmish in the Dalek/Gallifreyan Time Wars, The Doctor finds himself nursed back to health by an apparently uninvolved party. But in the process, he winds up involved in yet another skirmish, which seems to be wholly unrelated to Skaro’s tinpot fascists…
“You’ve met a lot of genocidal people?”
“Quite a few, yes. They’re surprisingly common…the cosmos is in dire need of a compassionate, rational species.”
Despite ostensible resistance, The Doctor ends up in a sort of father-daughter relationship with Rejoyce (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and rescues the Keskans from their own inability to fend off their would-be conquerors.
“Nothing is sacrosanct. Not if you want to survive a war.”
Despite how it all sounds and the fact that this is, at best, a sidereal skirmish during a much larger conflict, this story is quite bucolic. Briggs-Owen offers a warm, winning turn as the increasingly girlishly flirtatious Rejoyce, with the legend himself, John Hurt, offering a typically nuanced performance as the most battle-weary of Doctors.
“Just because you have to fight doesn’t mean you’re a monster.”
“Throughout the millenia, people have bleated that war is complicated, unfathomable, as if it were some mystery disease without a cure. But it isn’t true. War is very simple. All you have to do to wage it is become a monster.”
The tenderness of their ever-building relationship, not to mention the thoughtful philosophizing of Hurt’s Doctor, comes as a welcome surprise in a set of stories relating to warfare, and as such comes quite recommended.
“Orders, it’s all about orders, isn’t it? What a pretty little regiment of Daleks we’ve all become.”
Then The Doctor is involuntarily dragged back to the front lines to rescue high ranking Timelord strategist Seratrix (Alex Wyndham) from a mysteriously impenetrable sector of space known as the Null Zone. Unfortunately, he gets saddled with a rather unlikeable, huffy little snit named Veklin (Beth Chalmers) as de facto companion…
“You know, Veklin, I’m happy to say I took an instant dislike to you the moment you barged in on me.”
What is the secret of the Null Zone? And what does it have to do with a misguided attempt to broker peace with the Daleks?
“Well. Isn’t this sordid?”
With crosses and double crosses and surprise unwilling sacrifices in the name of expediency, the next two stories are more typical territory for this sort of Dalek tale cum war story. It’s well scripted and terse, but this kind of thing is really not my bag, as discussed quite recently.
“None of this would have happened if Seratrix and his cohorts hadn’t tried to make peace. And isn’t that a testament to what a sick place the universe has become?
A man harbors a hope for peace. That should be a good thing…a noble thing. But instead, that hope could have led to the destruction of everything good in the cosmos…to a clear victory for the Daleks.”
All three tales tie together quite nicely, with all being explained by the time we get to the last moments of The Thousand Worlds, but aside from some unsurprisingly strong performances, the nice stuff is front loaded. As we proceed, listeners get more of what they’d expect from a set of tales involving the War Doctor…
“Stop asking questions, I can’t bear all the questions. That’s why I gave up taking you people with me. I’m sick of explaining all the bad news.”
Look, Big Finish is known for pulling British cult television and film stars out of whatever limbo of stage and screen beloved thespians of the 60’s-80’s wind up in over the last three somewhat questionable decades of ostensible ‘entertainment’. The ongoing, ever-building list of notables is both lengthy and quite impressive.
But this is John f***ing Hurt.
I, Claudius’ Caligula.
Star of everything from cult films like Alien, The Ghoul and the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings to comedies like Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1 and Spaceballs to arthouse epics like 1984 and the Elephant Man. In point of fact, it’s kind of hard to imagine a bigger name card to pull and add to the deck. And true to his resume, the man does not disappoint.
The levels of nuance and depth of characterization Hurt is able to imbue his roles with is notable if not eyebrow raising, and his performance herein as The War Doctor is no exception. Enough said.
Another beloved figure of cult entertainment is on hand as well, the lovely Jacqueline Pearce (doyenne of everything from Hammer’s Cornish diptych to the slinky and sensual Servalan of Blakes 7), and as fans might expect, she brings the Sadean authority of the latter role to her Cardinal Ollistra. New Who newbies, if you like her here, don’t walk, run to catch her on Terry Nation’s memorable late 70’s/early 80’s teleseries – still a turn on after all these years.
Similarly, another veteran of that era’s Terry Nation-authored teleseries turns up, namely Carolyn Seymour of Survivors, joined by Big Finish regulars like the aforementioned Chalmers, Barnaby Edwards and perennial voice of the Daleks, Nick Briggs (who also authors and directs all three episodes). It’s a class production all ’round and a fitting setting for the diamond-grade thespian turn Hurt always brings to the table.
It should be no secret to Third Eye regulars that this author has no great affection towards the ridiculously overused Daleks.
So the fact that I’m giving this one an easy thumbs up nonetheless, should say something.