Big Finish: Doctor Who: TIME WAR 5: CASS, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: TIME WAR 5: CASS, Review

Matthew Kresal discovers an unexpected companion in the listening area.
Nearly a fortnight before The Day of the Doctor rung in Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary epically, fans got a little treat. In a handful of minutes, The Night of the Doctor presented Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in his final adventure as he encountered a young woman named Cass and showcased the events that saw him become the late Sir John Hurt's War Doctor. As well as renewing interest in McGann's incarnation, it also led to fan speculation about what adventures he and Cass (played memorably by Emma Campbell-Jones) might have had if events had played out differently. Now, after nearly a decade, Big Finish has offered something of an answer in their latest Time War set of audio dramas given the appropriate subtitle Cass.

Of course, given this is called Time War 5, new listeners might well think they might need to give the previous four sets a listen. That isn't the case here, something that the set's producer David Richardson, director Ken Bentley, and the script editor John Dorney all put to their advantage. Something made possible, as Richardson reveals in the extras, by the lack of availability of Rakhee Thakrar (who played Bliss for the range's earlier sets) is that this one could be a soft reboot, even as it picks up on a thread from the end of 2020's Time War 4. If you're new to the range, dive into this set headlong.

Why? Because there's plenty here to enjoy. Tim Foley opens the set with Meanwhile, Elsewhere. Foley has a lot on his plate, bringing the Doctor and Bliss together and re-introducing the Doctor's great-grandson Alex (Sonny McGann). Foley handles it with aplomb, crafting an appropriately timey-wimey plot to bring all this about. Along the way, Foley plays on audience expectations to a degree, including with knowing nods back to Night of the Doctor, but also adds to the knowing sense that things might well be amiss. Add a bit of chasing and mystery, and you've got a fine opening installment.

Lou Morgan takes the new TARDIS trio on their first flight in the set's second episode, Vespertine. Morgan presents something of an archeological mystery with a research base that shouldn't exist over the wreck of a legendary ship that, according to the Doctor's knowledge, was destined never to be found. It's the sort of thing that the Doctor can't leave alone, especially with Cass being interested in the ship and the famous explorer who disappeared with it. While the connection to the Time War is tangential in this installment, Vespertine is an engaging listen, with Morgan exploring both our fascination with historical mysteries and how their legacies can help to (sometimes willfully) hide truths about them.

James Moran, who has written for Doctor Who and Torchwood on TV, rounds off the set with a two-part story. To say that Previously, Next Time shows Moran's origins as a writer of televised Who might seem like a backhanded compliment, but it most assuredly is not. Moran's is a story of two halves, setting up first a Time War element that brings the Daleks back into things but also a world and people who shouldn't be there, then having to see the TARDIS trio having to face dilemmas in resolving the situation. In doing so, Moran combines action and suspense with set pieces and well-drawn characters, including Nadia Albina as Oshia, whose journey becomes the emotional heart of the TARDIS crew's dilemma. In short, it's a quintessentially Modern Who story done entirely in sound and soars because of it.

The set is also given a boost by the strength of its three leading cast members. Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor has spent the last decade being a creature of the box set, moving from one epic story to another, often with big emotional stakes. While those still make themselves present here, there's also a sense of fun in McGann's performance that hasn't been heard much in recent years, bringing to mind his early days in the role alongside India Fisher's Charly or Sheridan Smith's Lucie. That's something brought out by his two companions, with both Sonny McGann and Campbell-Jones returning to roles they've played before but (thanks to the Time War) not how they played them previously. Sonny channels his father's charm and adventurous spirit, moving away from the teenage version of Alex we've heard before. Campbell-Jones, meanwhile, delivers in spades on nearly ten years worth of fan speculation, building on the spunk and chemistry with McGann she had in Night of the Doctor. Between them, they offer up some fantastic chemistry and banter, bringing forth the kind of TARDIS crew with this Doctor we've not heard in quite some time.

That extends beyond them, as well. Bently, as director, surrounds them with fine supporting players, including Albina and Simon Shepherd, getting the best from both the actors and the scripts. A trio of sound designers offers differing soundscapes for each episode, from old spaceships to vibrant but ancient civilizations. The icing on the cake comes from Howard Carter and Jamie Robertson, who set the pace with their underscoring.

The result? Time War 5: Cass is a fun, engaging listen and a perfect place for fans new and old to jump into the Time War saga. Not to mention helping to fulfill on the tantalizing glimpse of a TARDIS team nearly ten years ago that seemed like it would never happen.

Or did it? You'll have to listen and find out.

Doctor Who: Time War 5: Cass is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 28 February 2023, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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