A couple of months ago Big Finish did a “best of the year so far” sale, where everything returned to its pre-order price, so after thinking about it for a while, my enjoyment of the War Master set last year lead me to buy the two spin-off releases he appeared in, starting with this! Gallifrey, as a series, never appealed to me. Gallifrey politics was always a negative rather than a positive, and Lalla Ward hasn’t exactly won me over with her performances in the Fourth Doctor audios, but I can say this: There are two stories here that were fantastic! So let’s take a look at the set as a whole, and see what worked and what didn’t, in my opinion, of course!
The Time Lords and the Daleks have opposed one another across millennia. But now, their conflict tips into an all-out Time War, and nowhere across the universe of spacetime is safe.
Battle plans will be drawn, allies recruited, and innocents caught in the crossfire.
Gallifrey is going to war, and the cosmos will never be the same again.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
Just realised I put “The Time War” in the thumbnail… Oh well, can’t be bothered to change it now!
Romana (Lalla Ward) – Romana, once President of Gallifrey, is now in charge of the Celestial Intervention Agency and wishes for it to run a bit more above-board than it had done in the past… well, that was until war broke out…
Narvin (Sean Carlsen) – Narvin is the Sub-Coordinator of the CIA, behind Romana. Although he is still getting used to a the demotion, having held the title of Coordinator for so long, he does respect Romana and willingly serves under her.
Ace (Sophie Aldred) – Ace has been working for the Time Lords, as a special agent of sorts, for some time now. Gone are the times travelling with The Doctor, Ace still manages to get into trouble, it’s just a more… controlled trouble.
Leela (Louise Jameson) – Leela has lived on Gallifrey for a long time now, and is a trusted agent of Romana’s. Her instincts often give her an advantage many Time Lords lack, meaning she’s often ideal to put in rather dangerous situations…
The Master (Derek Jacobi) – The Master has finally got use of his TARDIS back, and almost immediately has been called to Gallifrey. Why not? If nothing else, it’ll be safe there…
Irving Braxiatel (Miles Richardson) – Braxiatel is, at heart, a man whole loves collecting the knowledge of the universe. Sadly for him, he’s tied to Gallifrey, and that has led to a lot of death and destruction. Now the Time War has begun, can he bring himself to live through it?
President Livia (Pippa Bennett-Warner) – The current President, Livia isn’t cut out to be a war-time leader. Deep down she knows this, but she wants to be able to step down gracefully, rather than as a coward…
Trave (Paul Marc Davis) – Trave was formally a member of the CIA, but recently has joined the newly formed War Council. The Council has began to construct many new buildings and facilities to help with the war, none of which they’ve decided to share with other parts of Gallifreyean hierarchy…
Ace looks happy to be in the middle of death and destruction, while Brax… looks badly photoshopped.
The standout episode of this set is undoubtably Episode 2, “Soldier Obscura”. Ace and Braxiatel are sent to a space station that exists in the middle of a temporal no-go area, one so twisted that to look out at it drives you mad (so the station has all the windows blocked, obviously…) There they meet Brax’s old teacher, Danna, but they’re soon invaded by Daleks… Daleks sent mad by trying to cross the Obscura, but Daleks nonetheless. Ace believes they’re here to retrieve a weapon, but actually Brax’s plan was to lure an entire Dalek fleet to the Obscura and then have Danna, the greatest shot on Gallifrey, sacrifice herself by shooting the fleet down in the collapsing station.
“Sadly” Brax’s plan fails because Danna had become to feeble to aim straight, which causes Irving to kill her and flee, rather than sacrifice himself to take the shot instead. Ace, who has been dodging Daleks and automatically opening windows this whole time, over-hears everything and gives the Time Lord a piece of her mind, which leads to Brax literally giving Ace his life’s experiences, showing her all the difficult decisions he’s had to make. He then wipes Ace’s mind of all things Time Lord and brings her to 20th Century Earth, leaving her to have a normal life away from the Time War, before deciding to run from the war himself.
So, not only was this a great look at a very believable mind, a coward who is also not one at the same time, but it’s also, seemingly, Ace’s leaving story. She stays with the Time Lords after the Seventh Doctor, but eventually is mind-wiped and put back on Earth. This leads well into Russell T. Davies’ dialogue from the Sarah Jane Adventures that implies she creates a charity corporation called “A Charitable Earth” or “A.C.E.” (see what he did there?) but either way, if this is the end, then it was a satisfying one. The hardened but weary Braxiatel sees she probably won’t make it through the war, so returns her to Earth to have a peaceful rest of her life. Makes sense!
Coming up a close second in Episode 3 “The Devil You Know”, which sees Romana get desperate enough to try and trust The Master, putting him with Leela, who she can trust, and hoping they can gather some intel for them. The two arrive at their destination, The Master having great joy teasing Leela, and Leela disliking the smooth and pleasant-sounding Master more than the brutal and mostly burnt Master she used to know. They find the man they were supposed to find, Finnian Valentine, who had information on a valuable energy source and a weapon, but it turns out he used the weapon already and thanks to being in the epicentre, had split into two different people, each with different backstories and personalities.
The Master and Leela capture them both and try to interrogate them, and that’s a good chunk of the episode. The Master manipulates and threatens with death, Leela tries to sympathise and eventually gets angry. One Finnian saw their family killed by Time Lords, so naturally hates all of them, the other his family was killed by Daleks, so was more cooperative. In the end, after some really great dialogue between all four of them (The Master, Leela and both Finnians), The Master tricks the other by killing one of them, and then once he gets the information on a power source, kills him too. Leela is furious with him, which leads to The Master ejecting her into the Space Time Vortex mid-TARDIS-flight, and never returning home to Gallifrey… I’m sure Romana was shocked…
It was a story full of great dialogue and more deliciously smug and evil Derek Jacobi, which is always a great thing.
As for the rest of the set? Well, Episode 4 “Desperate Measures”, had some good moments. Romana and Narvin suspect a plot by the War Council, and so to stop them from having the new President in their pocket, Romana tries to run again, while Narvin digs into the War Council’s plans. After a few twists and turns the big reveal is that the War Council, who already have been resurrecting dead Time Lords via Matrix data and forbidden technology, resurrect Rassilon, finally explaining how Rassilon was in charge of Gallifrey during the end of the Time War, while also explaining how he escaped the Divergent Universe… in that he seemingly didn’t. This would be a new Rassilon based on Matrix data of the man, rather than the actual person from the earlier Eighth Doctor stories. Interesting, and fun cliffhanger.
I love the look of these covers, if nothing else!
Episode 1, “Celestial Intervention”, was good, but not great, and in a box set of great, it really stands out. It’s all about the internal politics of Gallifrey, with the President, the High Council, the War Council and the Celestial Intervention Agency all having different pieces of information and different ideas about how to deal with the Time War, and therefore causing conflict. It’s okay, has some good moments and teases the start of the war well, but it’s not super interesting. Probably a bit harsh to put it in “The Bad”, but there you go… I did.
Hmmm… good idea for a cover, but The Master and Leela look a bit… “head placed on another body”-ish…
Apart from every story involving the Time War, and past Gallifrey episodes (which I wouldn’t really know about, to be fair) there are a few direct links.
Leela’s fate isn’t sealed, as she reappears in the War Doctor story “The Lady of Obsidian”, where it was revealed that she was hit by a prototype Dalek weapon that made her experience all possible futures at once, so… that must have happened after this, presumably.
The War Doctor story takes place during the first War Doctor set, references having just got his TARDIS back, which lines up with the cliffhanger of receiving a message from Gallifrey at the end of “Beneath the Viscoid”, and the energy source he finds out about from Finnian Valentine is what he goes after in the rest of the boxset.
As mentioned, Rassilon was last seen trapped in the Divergent Universe by the Eighth Doctor in the story “The Next Life”, but is seen as President during the end of the Time War in the Tenth Doctor TV story “The End of Time”.
Romana, looking good given how long this incarnation has lasted…
Gallifrey – Time War was a great boxset, though funnily enough it was the two bottle episodes in the middle of the set that really excelled, and the two set on Gallifrey with Romana were the weaker ones. Still, whether this has convinced me to listen to more of the series or not I can’t tell you, but I’m glad I listened to this set regardless.
Episodes 2 and 3:
Episodes 1 and 4: