Gallifrey Series 01

Posted in Audio by - November 19, 2017
Gallifrey Series 01

Released March – May 2004

The Time Lords of Gallifrey have long been the stalwarts of travel in time and space within the confines of Doctor Who, using their vast power to- aside from some notable exceptions- observe and to interact only when absolutely necessary. Though the majority of events related to Gallifrey have been revealed through the Doctor’s eyes or narrations, Big Finish’s Gallifrey series revisits the planet under the rule of Romana to offer a wholly new perspective in a fairly unexplored era.

Alan Barnes’s ‘Weapon of Choice’ opens this first series at a time when Gallifrey as a whole seems to still be adjusting to the fact that it no longer holds a monopoly on time travel. With a fragile coalition in place among the Time Lords, the Nekkistani, the Monan Host, the Warpsmiths of Phaidon, and others, Time Technology Assessors discover that enemies of the alliance may be hatching an attack with a Timonic Fusion Device so ancient and so theoretically unspeakable in its power that the Time Lords have apparently forgotten about its actual existence. As K-9 masquerades as an intergalactic slave trader with Leela in tow to allow Gallifrey to infiltrate the temporal traveler processing planet of Gryben without arising suspicion, a dangerous game of politics slowly unfolds that steers Romana toward ordering a pre-emptive strike against this hapless world of asylum seekers.

The opening scenes are a bit timid in their execution, and ‘Weapon of Choice’ quickly foregoes creating any sense of atmosphere in order to focus on the political machinations of its plot. Fortunately, Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson deftly carry every scene they are in, both together and separately. Leela had perhaps one of the more abrupt endings to her travels in the TARDIS, and so it’s refreshing to see that she still finds herself an outsider among the Time Lords as she struggles with the unknown truth of her husband Andred’s disappearance. She is proud to have been appointed Presidential Bodyguard but easily fits in among the people of Gryben, and Jameson plays that disparity perfectly. In short order, Romana quickly proves what a capable leader she is even as fear of CIA infiltration and theft of one of Gallifrey’s own weapons sinks in, and she subtly imbues unstated menace to her conversations with other powerful figures while thinking quickly to always put Gallifrey in the best position no matter what the outcome of events may be. Though the Free Time movement ends up being a bit underdeveloped here, the intriguing ideas introduced throughout the script and strong chemistry of its cast members help Gallifrey to quickly establish an identity and create a great sense of momentum going forward.

Stephen Cole’s ‘Square One’ picks up some time later as the time traveling powers convene for a monumental temporal summit upon a specifically-designed planetoid impervious to outside influence or attack. The political intrigue continues as tensions run high in this climate of mistrust, and as Romana balances Gallifrey’s reputation and future on a knife’s edge, Leela and K9 search for Free Time activity but soon find a much greater threat as the flow of time itself is called into question.

‘Square One’ features a nice bit of cross-range continuity that references the powers’ fears of another summit after the events of ‘The Apocalyspe Element,’ but it’s even more important in the sense that it begins to flesh out the mysterious Monan Host, a world caught in various moments of its own evolution after a harrowing temporal disaster in the past. The random time that ravages the world is used as a source of power, and the fact that more advanced Monans stabilised the world while conquering their ancestors to create a unified Host is both frightening and fascinating. When time at the summit resets and only Leela can remember the previous occurrences, an investigation soon uncovers a Free Time agent trying to sabotage the meeting in the name of the Monans because of potentially disastrous entropic equations Gallifrey had inserted into the foundation of the world when helping with earlier recovery efforts.

This is another strong story for Leela who must balance her more instinctive nature with the furtiveness that Romana’s task for her demands. However, the second half of ‘Square One’ is truly dominated by Romana who is afforded some degree of trust following her lack of attack in the preceding serial and is able to showcase her political cunning by appeasing egos while still demanding the respect of those around her and slowly helping to uncover the truth behind the surrounding events. In a poignant moment, she declares to Narvin that she will never sanction genocide no matter the argument, and it’s this type of moral righteousness from both leads that anchors this dangerous universe of meaningful consequences in which even time is not as it seems.

Justin Richards’s ‘The Inquiry’ finds Romana called to answer for her recent actions and at the mercy of the testimony of the same people who would love to see her removed from office. With the only evidence that she responded to a clear danger having disappeared, however, she must form an uneasy truce with the CIA as an investigation looking into the depths of Gallifrey’s past is launched and Leela undertakes a fact-finding mission of her own. Despite no recollection, it transpires that Gallifrey did, in fact, build a Timonic Fusion Device and detonated it against Braxiatel’s warnings, collapsing the planet’s transduction barriers and leading to the instant destruction of the 100 million inhabitants of Minyos. Members of a mysterious power traveled back in time to steal the device before it was detonated, however, and only the Matrix and Braxiatel’s data bomb offer any proof that the device and its actions did once exist, thus triggering Romana’s plan to right past wrongs.

‘The Inquiry’ is quite a wordy script and takes a while to find its pacing, but the end result is a thrilling one that again brings together some of Big Finish’s different ranges and also offers an epilogue of sorts to the television serial ‘Underworld.’ Richards is clearly unafraid of bringing big concepts into his scripts, but the twisting nature of what did and did not occur always flows seamlessly without ever becoming confusing or overbearing. Though this is primarily a story of the Time Lords as Romana takes an active role and highlights her own loyalty and compassion, Richards still manages to progress Leela’s story as well as she discovers from the secretive Narvin during her attempted Matrix research that Torvald killed Andred, priming her for a dangerous encounter in the future and bringing a dynamic sense of consequence on all fronts as this first series nears its close.

Alan Barnes’s ‘A Blind Eye’ takes a slightly different course than its predecessors, bringing events aboard the Transcontinental Express train in 1939 Earth as Europe finds itself on the precipice of war. Still searching for answers about what exactly occurred on Gryben, Romana arrives and strikes a deal with intergalactic secrets broker Mephistopheles Arkadian as he cozies up to fascist sympathiser Cecilia Pollard, striving to uncover the truth no matter the cost incurred to herself, Leela, and even Gallifrey itself.

Barnes also casually implements grand ideas into his script, and this being an embargoed time zone in which a parallel timeline’s train has manifested in the same space-time coordinates helps to create an atmospheric sense of danger as the party soon finds itself split in two. With the two timelines firmly engaged with Leela in the dominant one, the conman, Arcadian, soon finds himself on the other end of a long con as his ally, Erich, reveals himself to be Torvald in the incarnation prior to the Torvald that has been involved in the events to this point. With Charley’s paradox resolved, Torvald is scheming to use Celcilia and her relation to Charley’s anti-time to expose Romana’s hands in the events of ‘Neverland’ and to erase her and her presidency from history. Andred long ago discovered this plan and involved Torvald in a shootout that proved fatal to his foe, allowing him to take Torvald’s place once he regenerated with no witness. Though the earlier Torvald uses the sanctity of timeline preservation to ensure Romana does not end him here, time is fortunately returned to normal as Cecilia commits suicide.

This is the story where Romana truly comes into her own, admonishing those around her and wielding the haughtiness and authority that her personage and position afford her to full effect while still showing her trademark brazenness and compassion. Likewise, Leela continues to hold on to her innocence and morality as those around her continue to chastise and look down upon her, and Jameson is stunning as her character tries to come to terms with the fact that her husband is not dead but has been lying to her for so long. Though each of the supporting cast members is superb and brings this intelligent, twisting, and ultimately heartbreaking tale to life wonderfully, special mention must be given to India Fisher who manages to play an atrocious version of her beloved Charlotte Pollard so wonderfully well.

The notion of setting a series on Gallifrey without the Doctor is inherently exciting and obviously filled with so much potential beyond anything that has been seen or heard up to this point. Fortunately, the first four stories take giant leaps instead of baby steps and show no fear in integrating mature and high-brow concepts into their very character-driven dramas. Though there are occasionally pacing issues and the score doesn’t always suggest the grand scope of the events alongside it, this first series is an unqualified success and maintains a great energy that should easily lead into further adventures as the range continues to develop and expand along with Romana, Leela, and all of the denizens of Gallifrey as they interact with an increasingly dangerous universe.

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