Big Finish: The Worlds Of Doctor Who - SUSAN'S WAR Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: The Worlds Of Doctor Who - SUSAN'S WAR Review

Matthew Kresal follows Susan to war.

Since the Time War made its way into Doctor Who lore, with its implications for the Time Lords, perhaps one question has been asked more than any other. Whatever happened to Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter? After fifteen years of speculation, we finally have something of an answer. Big Finish’s Susan War sees Carole Ann Ford reprise the role as she heads into battle on different fronts.

Of course, Big Finish has seemingly been building up to this set for some time now. Susan was re-united with her grandfather, in the guise of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor, almost a decade ago now in Marc Platt's An Earthly Child. From there, the pair (alongside Susan's son Alex), re-appeared in three more releases before the climactic and tragic events of To The Death. The threads from that tale were left hanging a bit as the Eighth Doctor went from Dark Eyes to Doom Coalition to Ravenous. It wasn't until late 2017 when Eddie Robson's Short Trips tale All Hands on Deck appeared that the pair were reunited for a glorious half-hour or so, seeing Susan make her choice to take part in the Time War. Yet, despite what Robson says in the extras was the intention of that adventure, that wasn't the end of Susan's story. With Big Finish's output having moved firmly into Time War territory in the last few years, there was just too much demand for her to reappear during that conflict.

And now, Big Finish has obliged splendidly.

It's appropriate that it's Robson who kicks the set off with Sphere of Influence. After a wham-bam of a cold open, the story shifts into one of Time War diplomacy with Susan heading to a place she once visited with her grandfather: the Sense-Sphere, home of the Sensorites. With her is Commander Veklin (the ever-reliable Beth Chalmers reprising her role from numerous other releases) and another face from her traveling days: Ian Chesterton, now much older but still played with gusto by William Russell. Hearing Susan and Ian, Ford and Russell, together is perhaps the biggest thrill of this opening installment, seeing how much these two characters have grown since they were first together. Robson, though, isn't happy to wallow in nostalgia, even with the return of the Sensorites. Instead, Sphere of Influence presents a tale of intrigue, xenophobia, and mass manipulation, food for thought hidden in Time War trappings. Combined with a 1960s cast reunion, it's an immensely satisfying opener for the set and a fitting potential send-off for Russell as Ian.

The Uncertain Shore by Simon Guerrier sees a change of pace, moving away from diplomacy to espionage. Susan and Veklin find themselves on the trail of a Dalek agent, taking them undercover to a world on the eve of a Dalek invasion. There's a particular Second World War resistance feel to Guerrier's script that seems fitting, harkening back in a way to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Here, though, it's about those left behind once everyone else flees, those who will either stand to fight or turn collaborator. It is also, like that aforementioned TV story, at times rather stark in its depictions of the invasion, including a moment for Susan toward the end that made this reviewer's jaw drop. It's here, perhaps more so than the previous release, that one realizes just how far Susan has come as a character over the decades.

There's another change of pace for the third story, Assets of War by Lou Morgan. Traveling to a Time Lord weapons research facility with Cardinal Rasmus (Damian Lynch), Susan and Veklin meet the self-righteous scientist Lord Vibax (Vincenzo Nicoli). Vibax has created a new, living weapon, one which, of course, gets loose inside the facility, leaving them as well as the soldier Rennis (Roly Botha) trapped. Of the four stories in the set, this is perhaps the most action-centric by its very nature, though there's strong echoes of Darkness and Light from the War Master: Rage of the Time Lords set. What makes Morgan's script stand out is how central she makes Susan to the story, its moral dilemmas, and its eventual resolution. It also offers a tantalizing look at how those Gallifreyians who aren't Time Lords deal with the war, drawing parallels to the class divisions of the First World War and beyond. It's something that takes a potentially straightforward story and gives it an extra layer.

The set concludes with another blast from the past in the form of Alan Barnes' The Shoreditch Intervention. As the title may suggest, this story takes Susan back to her roots, to not long before the events that first introduced viewers to Doctor Who back in 1963. In doing so, Barnes not only is skirting around two major television adventures set around this same time (An Unearthly Child and Remembrance of the Daleks) but also does something rather important: reunite Susan with the McGann Doctor. As much as this is a story about the Time War, it's also one about legacy and family, and what became of these two characters after both To The Death and All Hands on Deck. Barnes fills The Shoreditch Intervention with Easter eggs for fans to pick up on, to be sure, but the heart of this story belongs to Ford and McGann. As with William Russell in the opening installment, hearing them together again is what sells the episode, listening to the two play off each other so wonderfully. While perhaps not on the same level as Robson's Sensorite tale, it's a fantastic conclusion to the set, as well as a potential launchpad for the future.

As great as the four stories are, the presence of Ford as Susan goes a long way to seal the deal. Sometimes dismissed as a performer on-screen, due to the incredible variance in the writing of her character, Ford is just one of many Classic Who alumni who proved their acting chops with Big Finish. Perhaps channeling the older alternative Susan from the two Geoffrey Bayldon Unbound audios, this older Susan feels right as an extension of the young woman we saw in black and white nearly sixty years ago. Ford, too, brings an air of maturity to the part, making Susan's role as a conscience to the Time Lords around her all the more effective. I'll go a step further: this set might represent Ford's best performance as Susan, on-screen or off.

Between that, and the mix of elements from Classic and Modern Who, what's not to make a fan a happy listener?

Susan's War is available to buy from the Big Finish website here.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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