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“If we’re quick enough collecting the bodies…”
“…They pluck the departed souls from the…afterlife, place them in their original bodies, and…voila.

They do die…but then, they come back.”

A ghoulish military experiment to create an endless supply of soldiers hails not from the sinister Daleks…but the Timelords themselves.

Are the mysterious technomancers amoral scientists? Or sinister occultists? And what lengths is the Doctor willing to go to in the war against his greatest enemies?

“A sentient being was killed to bring you back to life.  Doesn’t that trouble you in any way?”

The specter of genocide rears its ugly head in a tale that conflates the trappings of metaphysics with some very disturbing existential and philosophical questions.

Author John Dorney uses Legion of the Lost as a cautionary tale, and while obviously set in a metaphorical and decidedly fantastic SF milieu, rest assured, this is a warning that needs our full attention.

Elitism and discussions of Social Darwinism are not only addressed, but (at least on the part of a questionably aligned participant or two herein) rather disingenuously brought to the level of vegetarianism vs. omnivore.  It all serves as a sadly all too pertinent and apropos metaphor for modern day sociopolitics and increasingly prevalent attitudes that lean far more towards a very obvious evil than any claims of neutrality or “laws of nature” could ever possibly leaven.

It’s dark, relevant and more than a touch sick…but a discussion that sadly needs to be held and points that need to be mulled over in the world of today.

Then Phil Mulryne shows us A Thing of Guile, where Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) declares The Doctor a “war criminal” and drags him along on an effective suicide mission to a secret Dalek asteroid base.

Can she convince him to uncover the mysteries of the arsenal of Omega’s “anima device”?

“Monstrous?  Is that any worse than us?  This is how far the Time War will push us.  All of us.”

While The Doctor seems to get the upper hand and break the Timelords’ effective leash, multiple issues are uncovered, showing that both sides are willing to go to some unconscionable extremes in pursuit of “victory”…

“We have one purpose, and one purpose alone – mutual destruction.”

Then Ollistra’s rigging of the Tardis sends The Doctor off to “The Neverwhen”, where Matt Fitton shows us an especially disturbing theater of war, where an artificially created time flux locks both sides in an endless battlefield, dying and reviving and cycling through the timelines of socio-evolutionary development in a perpetual moebius strip of horror.

It’s all hopelessly futile and unutterably ugly…much like war itself.

A set of tales devoted entirely to an incarnation of The Doctor who existed solely during a period of intergalactic warfare can’t help but be dark to the point of blindness and grim to the point of bleakness.  While some necessary and sadly pertinent messages do bleed through, it’s something of a hard listen: man at his lowest, perhaps necessarily at his most hardhearted and closedminded.

Thankfully, we have some truly excellent actors on hand, delivering as winning and fleshed out a performance as the rather extreme circumstances in which they find themselves (or more literally, their characters) allow.

Scarifyer Harry Crow himself, David Warner offers his standard measure of craggy authority in the first tale as the mad technomancer Shadovar, and Jackie Pearce brings her imperiously slinky Servalan to the role of Gallifreyan Cardinal Ollistra.  These two alone could make the set, but with the great John Hurt on hand?  Even these much beloved thespians almost feel ill-matched.

Offering an equal measure of recognizably human (or is that “half-human”?) warmth, pity and concern to the cold bitterness of a Doctor driven more by necessary expedience than the man we’ve come to know throughout his other 12 incarnations, Hurt manages to deftly balance two seemingly quite opposite character-defining traits and make them feel inextricably one, as if The Doctor were always written and performed this way.

At times cynic, others Romantic, often grimly driven and forced to do what is necessary, yet still protesting and at least trying to retain the principles that make The Doctor the man he is, Hurt’s War Doctor treads a tightrope far more precarious than that of any other incarnation, and handles this delicate balancing act with aplomb.

Who else could make such a dark, embittered, self-doubting if not self-hating character so listenable…entirely understandable in all his contradictions, and yes, even likeable?

While the scripting this time around allows him more leeway than we’ve seen with The War Doctor to date, granting him more “can’t we all just get along” moments than may in fact be appropriate given the scenario at hand, it’s unquestionable that Hurt imbues the part with a surprising degree of subtle nuance and the sort of character motivation that seems to make perfect sense, while simply never having occurred to the listener before.

You can tell a master performer by how simple it all seems to be, when he pulls off something so terribly difficult and complicated.

Whatever the listener may feel about the concept of this incarnation of The Doctor or even the stories contained herein, a trio of strong performances…and especially that of John Hurt, make what could have been a real slog into a rather pleasant ride.

 

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/quickinfo/the-war-doctor-volume-02-infernal-devices-1381

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