Big Finish: Doctor Who - TIME WAR Vol 4 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - TIME WAR Vol 4 Review

Matthew Kresal starts at the end of the beginning.

For the longest time, the Time War was among those great and unknowable pieces of Doctor Who lore. Since The Day of the Doctor aired in 2013, the veil has slowly raised on the Time War and we've gradually learned what various characters from the Doctor to fan-favorite Time Lords got up to during wartime. The story of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor, the man who tried not to fight and get involved only to become John Hurt's War Doctor, has been a strand followed with plenty of interest by fans. The latest McGann Time War set has plenty to offers both those fans and others new to the range.

The set kicks off with John Dorney's two-parter Palindrome. For a series on its fourth boxset, Time War 4 offers a new listener-friendly opening salvo, albeit one that packs a punch. On a pure fan level, Dorney has fun with the multiverse concept by introducing listeners to a version of Dalek creator Davros (played once more by Terry Molloy). Except, the Davros we meet isn't the man who created the Daleks. Nor is this the Skaro that fans have come to know in everything from the first Dalek TV story to Big Finish's own I, Davros series. Instead, and keeping the story's title in mind, Dorney throws the listener and Davros into a series of events unfolding in the wrong order, yet in the right order from another point of view. It's a neat twist, one worthy of the Time War concept.

The other punch Dorney throws is a far more powerful one. The fact that this isn't the Davros we know means that both scriptwriter and actor alike can explore the character anew, especially with two CDs worth of story at their disposal. Nor is this, as it might have been at the pen of a less capable writer, a retread of the above mentioned I, Davros. Instead, and again intriguingly using the Time War, Palindrome becomes a tragedy of the first order, the story of how the road to hell rests on the pavement of good intentions. With Molloy handing in a first-rate performance in the role of Davros going through that journey into a disaster of his own making, it's a powerful piece of storytelling. If anything makes this set worth your time, it's the combined efforts of Dorney, Molloy, and director Helen Goldwyn in this opening installment.

Though offering such praise isn't to write off the rest of the set, far from it. Lisa McMullin's Dreadshade, for example, poses an interesting question: What happens when a war is over, and you can't remember who you were fighting or why? Not to mention when you have sentient weapons locked up, and someone like rogue Time Lord the Twelve (Julia McKenzie, reprising the role from Time War 2, as the next incarnation of the Eleven) on the loose? Going in, one might reasonably ask if a Gallifrey story was a necessity here, but, just a short way into the episode, it's clear that this is a Gallifrey story with a difference. McMullin's script is an SF thriller, again putting the Time War setting to use, that asks a question found in plenty of Cold War and War on Terror thrillers: at what point does a society cross a line to do terrible things in the name of self-preservation? It's a big question explored entertainingly, especially with the likes of McKenzie and Ken Bones (reprising his Gallifreyian General) to help tell it.

Matt Fitton brings the set to a close with the aptly named Restoration of the Daleks. Picking up on the strands left by Dorney, Fitton gets the perhaps unenviable task of crafting a finale that brings everything to a close. He is, though, more than up to it. In this closing installment, Fitton crafts a story that is an encapsulation of so many great Dalek adventures of yesteryear reimagined via the prism of the Time War. It's a chance for McGann's Doctor and Molloy's Davros to face off, the first time in fifteen years, and it's a reunion worth hearing, and a chance to see the lengths both sides of this temporal conflict are willing to go to if it means victory. That it all ends up tied up with a neat bow, while offering one heck of a hint for the future, is all the more to Fitton and Goldwyn's credit.

In reviewing Big Finish, I've often noted that as good as the scripts are, it's the casts and production team who bring them to life so well. Time War 4's three entries are no exception, starting with McGann and Rakhee Thakrar as Bliss. As someone new to the Time War series, hearing the two of them together was something of a revelation. Perhaps they've gelled so well over previous sets together, but here they're firing on all cylinders. The banter and chemistry between them recall the glory days of this Doctor and Charly Pollard, without the romantic overtones, while striking a serious note when required. Director Goldwyn surrounds them with a fine cast, getting the best from both the actors and the scripts. With Benji Clifford offering a vast soundscape and Jamie Robertson setting the pace with his often electronically infused scores, it's another demonstration of what has made Big Finish as long-running as it has.

It's said that the word epic risks diminishment by overuse. Yet, from tragedies and good intentions gone astray to hearing old enemies reunited, it is a deserving epithet for this. Time War 4 is a genuine epic, in every sense of the word. So, whether you're new to the Time War series or a listener to previous sets, Time War 4 is well worth your time.

Doctor Who: Time War Vol 4 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until November 30th 2020, and on general sale after this date.

 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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