The brand new sub-set of War Doctor stories titled “The War Doctor Begins” has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Jonathon Carley does a stellar job filling John Hurt’s shoes, not only replicating the incarnation’s voice but also his vocal mannerisms all while still actually acting. “Light the Flame” is technically the War Doctor’s debut / post regeneration story, a key milestone indeed, but does it live up to those lofty heights? Let’s find out!
The Sisterhood of Karn have a guest, recovering from his traumatic regeneration. To do what is asked of him, the Doctor has rejected his name and his code.
The Time Lords have plans for him and for Karn. Is he ready to light the flame of war?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
When I said “Post regeneration story” I really meant it, the opening scene is literally a few minutes after the end of “Night of the Doctor”. The Doctor, already shying away from the name, is trying to gather his thoughts and ambitions, questioning whether he really has changed, whether he really can go through with it and how to even start fighting back. He connects with a Sister of Karn known as Lithea (Anna Andresen) who can produce windows into the heart of the war and slowly becomes convinced of what he must do, scouring a graveyard of ships for potential weapons and pitying but ignoring a ship where the crew is stuck in a perpetual state of death. While this is all going on High Priestess Ohila (Veronica Roberts) agrees to accept help from the Time Lords to protect the sacred flame from an on-coming Time Storm, leading to Commodore Tamasan (Adéle Anderson) to send Cardinal Rasmus (Chris Jarman) to Karn, to tie this into the Eighth Doctor Time War series nicely. Rasmus is accompanied by Commander Sanmar (Helen Goldwyn) who soon heads off to the sacred flame chamber with Lithea to “protect it” as The Doctor arrives to see Rasmus failing to turn his TARDIS into a Battle TARDIS.
There’s a great exchange between The Doctor and Rasmus, the former describing his predecessor as a fool and then claiming he can’t hear his other selves in his head, unknowing if its because they’re ashamed of him or afraid of him. The two Time Lords sense something is wrong when the planet starts shaking so they take a quick trip down to the underground chamber and find Lithea dead by Sanmar’s hands after she found out that the Commander’s orders were to transport the sacred flame and water source to Gallifrey and leave Karn to collapse. Lithea soon returns within the flame as some sort of primal force seeking revenge and in the first sign of change The Doctor allows the flame elemental to consume Sanmar, saying she brought it on herself, then threatens to use the Time Lord tech to destroy Karn in order to send a destructive wave towards the Time Storm and Dalek fleet, sacrificing the few to “get a win”. Tamasan agrees to use a Time Lock on Karn if The Doctor backs off, which he does. It’s left up in the air if he’d really have done it, but Ohila believes he would have…
Rasmus heads back to the front line and offers The Doctor a place, but he responds that he’s going to travel to various battlefields and help where he can, that he’ll fight the war but on his own terms, putting the ship full of people caught in the death loop out of their misery on the way out. A really good little story that perfectly sets up the War Doctor as we hear him in the four John Hurt audio drama sets as well as his appearance in the TV show: someone who will carry a gun and fight the Daleks head on, but on who also won’t forget the innocent lives involved. He’ll be more likely to sacrifice innocents for the greater good, but it’d still be a very last resort…
Honestly, not a lot. It’s only one hour and its goal was to kick off the War Doctor era of The Doctor’s long life with purpose, and it achieved that handily.
A rather striking cover, and using a more painted effect stops any potential bad photoshop efforts when creating a young War Doctor via old Hurt pictures!
Obviously this takes place a few minutes after the end of “The Night of the Doctor” minisode. It also strongly links with the Eighth Doctor Time War audios due to the appearances of Rasmus (although he’s appeared in several pre-Time War stories as well) and Tamasan. Ollistra is also mentioned, who appeared frequently in the John Hurt War Doctor boxsets, but sadly due to the passing of Jacqueline Pearce she’s unlikely to appear in these boxes…
The Doctor is reminded that he once used the Hand of Omega to blow up Skaro, showing that even as his more innocent selves he’s shown resolve to do wrong for the greater good. This incident happened in the Seventh Doctor TV classic “Remembrance of the Daleks”.
Light The Flame had one goal: show us a post regeneration War Doctor trying to come to terms with who he now is compared to who he was before, and it does that perfectly. Both the writing and lead performance are top notch, and at just a single hour it’s perfectly paced so nothing feels cut out or too short. Highly recommended, and I hope the rest of the set lives up to it!