Forged in Fire’s final two thirds are two stand alone stories that continue the high bar set by the first story. Once again Jonathon Carley impresses with his vocal work and the latter of the two stories, “The Shadow Squad”, properly plays about with time in twisted ways that make the Time War a bit more … Time-y. Let’s take a look!
Synopsis (of Lion Hearts):
Seeking out Gallifrey’s new warrior, Commodore Tamasan finds that the War Doctor has invited himself on a secret mission. The time-sensitive Tharils are in danger, and an old friend of the Doctor is trapped.
But Biroc knows better than to trust either side in this war.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The standout episode has to be “The Shadow Squad”, the episode that caps the set off. The Doctor is sneaking onto a planet locked by Dalek time technology after he found out that the Dalek Time Strategist was stationed on the planet. He meets Commodore Tamasan (Adèle Anderson) on his way there and finds out she’s on a super-secret mission that even she doesn’t really know what its about. The two meet her contact and relay a message but the contact soon vanishes from time itself, so they follow the message they gave to a meeting point where they’re saved from a Dalek attack by a mysterious man in the mountains, then head into a secret underground (or inside mountain, I guess) base where a team of Time Lord Commandos are stationed. The leader of these commandos is Trestor (Kit Young), who eventually informs them that the Dalek weapon they face has been erasing key Time Lords from history decades before the Time War in order to stop their positive effect on the war, and that in order to get around this technology they were dropped off as infants into this base and have never left it despite growing old and regenerating several times, just constantly training and waiting for the call. The Doctor summarises that without any interaction with anything else the Dalek Time Annihilator (as I believe it was known) can’t track them because they’ve made no ripples in time. It’s a really fun concept.
The story then gets a bit plain as The Doctor is taken in front of the Dalek Time Strategist who arrogantly boasts as he does, then he sees the Annihilator and it’s an actual Dalek that exists outside of time thanks to a device on its chest that definitely won’t be destroyed later. The Time Lord Commandos attack the base, they all die apart from Trestor, and then The Doctor and Trestor follow the Annihilator through a time bubble it created to stop it from erasing Tamasan a few hours earlier, becoming the mysterious man in the mountain that saved them earlier. Trestor is killed by the Annihilator but The Doctor picks up his gun, shoots the confused Dalek (who thought The Doctor never uses guns, but you know… wrong Doctor, I guess!) several times, initiates its self-destruct sequence and then removes the device from its front to make sure the Dalek vanishes from the time stream and therefore all the damage its done is undone. Overall it’s a fun story full of great concepts. Sort of what you’d imagine a Time War would be, lot’s over-using time travel to one-up each other.
In comparison “Lion Hearts” wasn’t as interesting, but it was still entertaining. The Doctor meets a Tharil named Valetta (Marilyn Nnadebe) and takes on a mission to save a group of Tharils led by his old buddy Biroc (Voiced by top writer John Dorney, oddly enough!) and does so by meeting a Time Lord known as Lorinus (Amy Downham) who has been given the job to just save Biroc as he has information on how to breakthrough a blockade on the planet. The trio cross dangerous land and face giant mech-like things before arriving at the cell, where Lorinus mentions how it’s impossible to save everyone and just wants to take Biroc. After a few arguments Lorinus leaves with Biroc and Valetta, hearing and feeling an explosion shortly after and learning that The Doctor had put the remaining injured Tharils out of their misery. The four of them make it back to camp and Tamasan is thrilled to hear The Doctor did something so cold and logical, but then it turns out it was all a ruse and The Doctor actually saved the injured Tharils and only faked that he killed them so both sides would think they’re wiped out and no longer seek their unique talents for the war. It was a good story, but nothing too special. I did enjoy how it was a very literal look at what the War Doctor is, an incarnation that fights on the front line but it still otherwise just another Doctor, but one that pushes his reputation as a heartless warrior to his advantage.
It’s still a really nice cover, but there isn’t much else to say that I didn’t say already in the previous review…
Not a lot, “Lion Hearts” was framed by Lorinus being debriefed by Tamasan in a tent, constantly cutting back to her telling a tale, and while it worked from the perspective of showing us the War Doctor by reputation and the War Doctor as we know him it also felt a bit out of place and somewhat annoying to cut back and forth to a character talking about what you just heard happened. Small complaint, but I felt it would’ve work better as a more linear story, and we certainly didn’t need to hear flashbacks to the start of the episode when The Doctor was explaining how he freed the other Tharils…
The Tharils and Biroc himself first appeared in the Fourth Doctor TV story “Warriors Gate”.
The Dalek Time Strategist, or Strategists at this point, first appeared in the Eighth Doctor’s “Dark Eyes 4” boxset, specifically the “Monster of Montmartre” episode, and it has / they have appeared many, many times since.
While I enjoyed “Lion Hearts”, “The Shadow Squad” was something really special, a proper look at what a messy war a “Time War” would really be and a good look at what the War Doctor really was: a Doctor still, but one who is that little bit more willing to directly kill his enemies. This whole boxset has frankly been a triumph and I’m now really looking forward to Volume 2!
“The Shadow Squad”: