The Time War 1.

Audio Much like the Clone Wars in Star Wars, the Time War arguably works best as an abstract concept. When the nuWho Doctors list some of the incidentsx, the nightmare child and whatnot, our imaginations are sparked as to what that might mean. But inevitably human curiosity with an appetite for licensed material forces somebody to decide what a Time War might actually look like and somewhat inevitably similar to the Clone Wars, it's like any other war albeit with much larger stakes, the whole of history rather than some nation states and portions of land.

Same elements too.  Battle Tardises for Tanks.  Massive weapons designed to speed up the natural evolution of a corner of space with devastating consequences instead of H-bombs or something even worse.  Morally ambiguous decisions which cause a people to become just a shade different from their enemy with civilians caught in the crossfire.  Narratively the ability to tell war stories within the Doctor Who universe which have consequences and can't simply be forgotten once the TARDIS doors are closed.  The Doctor can't leave this mess behind.  It's his people.  However much he wants to avoid becoming entangled, it's impossible.

Up until the anniversary special, most of us guessed the Eighth Doctor had a pivotal role in ending the Time War, that the destruction of Gallifrey was once again at his hand, having already previous done something similar in the BBC Books.  RTD assumed as much and noted how unfortunate it was that having destroyed his home planet once, having worked to hard to resurrect it, he would be forced to destroy it again.  Lance Parkin's AHistory even speculated that they were the same event from a different point of view and even included the same description of the explosion from The Ancestor Cell in his Tenth Doctor novel The Eyeless.

Now we know that he's more of a conscientious objector, keeping to the fringes of events as much as possible, helping out were he can, trying not to become directly involved, ultimately having to regenerate into a figure with a more flexible moral code in order to justify taking part.  That allows for acres of flexibility, so that as we've seen in the short prose, comics and one off stories, we're able to enjoy the kinds of Doctor Who stories we're generally used to, albeit with the slightly melancholy undercurrent that we're seeing and hearing the Eighth Doctor's final battles.  Although they're unlikely to ever tie-in directly with Night of the Doctor, these are still the last of his days.

Although this boxed set was originally going to stand alone, we now know it's to be one for four in the standard formation, with annual releases, which means this story won't be finished until 2019.  I'll be in my mid-forties by the time this is over.  Big Finish are now pushing hard on these Time War releases with a Master and Gallifrey boxed sets coming soon.  Hopefully they won't all be tied together directly -- there's only so much money in the world.  Given The Doom Coalition ended on a cliffhanger, we have to assume that there'll be some other story set in that era which will run concurrently, although that hasn't been confirmed.  Yet.

Placement:  In the "behind the scenes" material, the producers suggest all of this is happening near the start of the Time War but for various reasons it feels more bedded in and even though they're also clear that it won't be tying in directly with the regeneration episode, I'm bunging it before - unless something in a later story suggests otherwise.  Once this era is really brimming with adventures, hopefully a clearer structure will reveal itself.

The Starship of Theseus

The set opens incredibly strongly with this clever evocation of what the Time War means for the fabric of reality.  McGann's in effervescent mood, with a tiggerish performance we haven't heard from him in nearly a decade, bouncing brilliantly off new companion Emma whose deliberately in the Sam, Izzy or Lucie mould.  But those listening carefully will be unnerved and after numerous shocking twists we're plunged straight into the war.  There's not a single predictable element in Dorney's script, the listener wrong footed throughout.  One for the ages, as good as the Eighth Doctor audios have ever been.

Echoes of War

A welcome addition to the I, Dalek genre of story (see also Dalek, Jubilee, Into The Dalek and Asylum of the Daleks), this asks whether an individual is inherently evil or if its their memories and experiences which cause them to be that way.  Nick Briggs relishes to chance to give his favourite monster some individuality and you genuinely care about its fate by the end.  Matt Fitton's descriptions of time shifts around his protagonists recalls Justin Richards's short story Natural Regression, as well as the imagery from George Pal's film adaptation of The Time Machine (or Besson's Lucy if you'd like a contemporary reference).  Why do I feel like I've said some of these things before?

The Conscript

From Lord High President of Gallifrey to grunt.  It's startling to find this Doctor discarded into a lowly position in contrast to how he's treated in the other boxed sets but Fitton makes full use of the opportunity to show how the Time Lord copes with trying to exist within a rules based hierarchy.  Not very well.  There are plenty of laugh out loud moments as the Doctor is forced to navigate a Full Metal Jacket scenario, recalling military anti-heroes like Hawkeye or Yossarian.  As a whole the boxed set manages to feel like a unified story with four discrete parts more successfully than some installments of either Dark Eyes or Doom Coalition.

One Life

Rather like Moffat's tv work, at just the moment when we might be expecting an epic battle, instead we're given a much smaller, more intimate story.  Not for the first time, Who recycles one of its more emotional television moments in audio form but more ambitiously than might have been possible on screen.  As with his award winning Absent Friends, Dorney transplants the realistic tone of a Radio 4 drama into a science fiction scenario, on this occasion utilising a flashback structure to increase the poignancy.  A really strong conclusion to one of the best Eighth Doctor boxed sets in years and a great continuation of this new epoch for the character.

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