Released August 2016
‘Casualties of Time’ brings to a close the fifth series of Big Finish’s The Fourth Doctor Adventures, in the process giving a sense of closure to Cuthbert’s storyline that has intermittently spanned three years of releases in the range. It’s clear that Cuthbert, Mr Dorrick, and the Conglomerate are important creations to Big Finish, and it’s impressive that the company now has such a library of its own available that it can revisit its own creations, but it’s also quite telling that the script brings in such a plethora of new and returning characters to help spur events to their logical and surprisingly happy ending.
Yet while the sense of absurdity as the talking Ecidien Cerebus parrot-like creature gains prominence in a story that spans everywhere from Iron Age Scotland to a space station in 2071 fits in perfectly with Douglas Adams’s tenure on the programme, there is a style and tonality that meshes much better with later eras. Indeed, this tale- even more than because of the appearance of the Black Guardian after so much discussion throughout the previous releases- would quite seamlessly fit in with Peter Davison’s era, a time when the potential of time was explored a bit more thoroughly. Again, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the prospect of another paradox, the timing is a bit unfortunate since this series’s previous two-part story offered its own version of a paradox in a more unique and engaging manner. As it is, while the presence of the Black Guardian certainly adds an added dimension to events and it is genuinely surprising to see just how intimately involved he has started to become over time, the evil plan in motion unfortunately simply comes off as needlessly overcomplicated and unnecessary.
It doesn’t seem as though Nicholas Briggs set out to change the rules and mythology of Doctor Who with this finale, and ‘Casualties of Time’ certainly holds up well when taking away the preconceptions of what a finale might or should entail, resolving the questions raised and the plight of the Oortag and Laan discovered in ‘The Pursuit of History’ efficiently and admirably. Still, while there have always been plenty of really good ideas strewn about through the entire Cuthbert and Laan narrative over the years, few of them ever truly reached their full potential in this culminating segment, leaving a sense of yearning for what could have possibly been. It likely goes without saying, but both David Warner and David Troughton are absolutely spectacular in their respective guest roles; it’s sadly that the material can’t quite reach the acting caliber on display. Still, particularly with Warner’s Cuthbert, the script does afford him so tremendous scenes along with Tom Baker, and both quite believably show a more open and vulnerable side to their characters than is normally displayed.
Ultimately, this is a script that just couldn’t quite meet its own ambition. As a piece of enjoyable entertainment that somehow remains very welcoming and straightforward, it is perfectly satisfactory; however, when combined with its intention of bringing to a close the Cuthbert storyline three years in the making as well as intertwining the continued machinations of the Guardians with the progressing relationship of the Fourth Doctor and the second Romana, ‘Casualties of Time’ doesn’t quite manage to dedicate enough time to each. The end result is a mixed one to be sure, but a mixed Doctor Who is still miles better than a mixed installment of most other programmes available. Although it’s not an instant classic, the imagination and ambition on display are absolutely second to none, and it’s an enjoyable if ultimately forgettable ending to rather strong series overall.