Gallifrey IV

Posted in Audio by - December 04, 2017
Gallifrey IV

Released March 2011

With the conclusion of the third series of Gallifrey in 2006 ending on a cliffhanger as Romana continued her search for a cure to the Free Time virus that ravaged her war-torn homeworld, it seemed as though no definitive resolution would ever arrive. Almost five years later, however, Big Finish decided to revisit its intense and emotional world of politics and machinations, but in a decidedly different approach to what had come previously, a move that was sure to alienate as many fans as it appeased.

Following a short burst of weighty information to familiarize both newcomers and long-term fans with the events that have led up to this point, Gary Hopkins’s ‘Reborn’ surprisingly does not see the triumphant team of Romana, Leela, K-9, Narvin, and Braxiatel returning to Gallifrey with cure in tow. Instead, Braxiatel lands them squarely in the Axis, returning from Big Finish’s ‘Axis of Insanity’ as the place where divergent realities are shunted and monitored. Setting the precedent for what appears to be a set composed of short trips to alternate Gallifreys as they try to find their proper universe by tracking portal apperances, presented here is a dark world in which regenerations themselves have become a currency for desperate and downtrodden Time Lords and a drug of sorts for those in positions of power. With even TARDISes being sold by the great Gallifrey Inc, all core values of the vaunted Time Lord society are completely absent, creating for an intriguing look at what may have been had all sense of pompous and honourable pretense been dropped.

The alternate universe approach obviously allows for the return of old characters and the exploration of familiar characters in a new light, but it does come with the consequence of the supporting characters and their thought processes seeming almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. That is sadly true in ‘Reborn’ because all of the drama does involve these secondary characters with the main characters not learning anything especially novel about themselves before they quickly leave without making any sort of meaningful mark on this world. This is all the more surprising given that Leela accepts the position of President under duress in order to secure protection for her friends and names K-9 her acting Castellan. Still, beneath the frequent nods to continuity lies some solid characterization, and Romana returning to a version of her family home of Heartshaven that is run by her first incarnation who was married to Andred certainly forms the strongest emotional core of ‘Reborn’ and once more allows both incarnations of Romana to coexist alongside each other while allowing Mary Tamm to play a much more relaxed and shrewd character in the process following her earlier turn as Pandora’s vessel. Unfortunately, while inherently interesting, ‘Reborn’ marks a drastic departure from the heavily serialized nature of the franchise and isn’t necessarily the most effective welcome back after such a long time of dormancy.

Justin Richards’s ‘Disassembled’ continues the standalone nature of this fourth series but avoids the mistake of simply showing alternate versions of the characters without divulging any new information about the true versions. The Gallifrey presented here is easily one of the most fearsome conceivable, one in which the Time Lords are not afraid to use their control of time and space to their own advantage as the Temporal Intervention Agency tries to condense timelines into a single monoverse that follows a specific history as selected by President Romana. Should any person, group, or planet dare to challenge Romana’s will, they risk total elimination from the timelines to keep her precious balance in check.

While the story itself proves to be a simple run-around of capture, escape, and mistaken identities, the dramatic force that the exploration of the darker aspects of the main characters provides is superb. Of course, the biggest draw is the inclusion of Colin Baker as a Doctor who has returned to Gallifrey following his wanderings to accept rank and position within Time Lord society. Baker is masterful in putting dangerous undercurrents into his initial amiable persona, but once it is revealed that Lord Burner actually refers to his position as Presidential assassin rather than just another pseudonym, all pretenses are dropped and the sheer loyalty to his office and ambition to take his murderous work into the Axis and beyond are mesmerizing. It is with the Burner position that everyone present learns of Braxiatel’s own dark past, having held the position himself, as well as the controversial actions he took to craft Gallifrey’s history and to unknowingly begin the known adventures of the Doctor before his heroic actions here eventually bring himself alongside one Bernice Summerfield. At the same time, Louise Jameson excels at playing two versions of Leela on opposite ends of the moral spectrum, and her brutally believable role as torturer on this alternative world shows just how differently Leela could have turned out in different circumstances, a fact made all the more glaring when the two interact together and the subtle nuances of her dual performances shine.

Scott Handcock and Garry Russell co-wrote the third story in the set, ‘Annihilation,’ finding Romana and company in the deserted wastelands of Gallifrey in the middle of an ancient war that strikes at the very heart of Time Lord history. The story tries to hide the fact for quite some time, but the musical homage to ‘State of Decay’ quite explicitly hints that this is a Gallifrey that has been taken to the brink by the Vampires with whom Rassilon chose to ally himself in this reality. While this premise is genuinely exciting and offers countless potential scenarios, though, ‘Annihilation’ sadly fails to inject any sort of interest into these beings, writing them as rather mundane threats and failing to capture either the gothic inspirings of the their television precursors or to bring about any sort of emotion in those around them. While Geoffrey Beevers gives perhaps his most menacing performance as the leading foe, Lord Prydon, even he cannot salvage a dialogue-laden story where every battle and remotely interesting event leading to Gallifrey’s victory occurs in the unheard background.

Ultimately, this is a story that is too obsessed with excessive continuity to focus on the characterization and action it truly needs to redeem itself. ‘Zagreus’ remains one of the most polarizing Big Finish releases for this very reason, and even the familiar casting of Katy Manning who gives an exceptionally strong performance as a female Borusa speaks to the true intention of this story. The chief issue, however, is that the leading characters hardly interact with this world at all, everyone on every side spending so much time just talking that little is physically accomplished before arriving at an underwhelming climax that makes sense thematically but achieves little emotionally because of the flatness of what preceded it. The background information and the stellar assembled cast could have and should have led to a crown jewel in this set, but the labouring pace and constant preaching waste any potential that may have been and instead create a dour note heading into the finale.

David Wise’s ‘Forever’ finishes off the set, taking the heroes to a Gallifrey where Time Lords have never existed and Gallifrey’s secrets have seemingly been lost to time. With Romana able to assume the Presidency following her counterpart’s sudden assassination, she must discover the truth behind this universe’s Rassilon’s aborted attempts at creating an Eye of Harmony as Gallifrey’s slaves rise up to confront their brutal and barbaric overlords. Beneath the excessive technobabble and frequent grandiloquence of its dialogue lies the very intriguing core concept that Rassilon purposefully withheld the creation of the Eye of Harmony from his people in order to turn it into an ever-evolving prison for sentient ethereal beings who could bring destruction down upon everything in the multiverse. In the process making ‘Forever’ the only story in this set to explicitly state why its world was shunted in the Axis, the desire of this universe’s Gallifreyans to achieve time travel initially aligns with Romana’s desire to escape with her companions before the scope of the danger exceeds the simple political machinations of those seeking positions of power.

Unfortunately, the Krilik fail to deliver its intended impact as a powerful threat to the multiverse simply because the concept has been used before and their inclusion only in the latter half of the final story comes too late without allowing them to affect this or the true universe in any fashion whatsoever. Resolving this threat admittedly does thrust the characters in a new direction due to the loss of K9 and Leela’s resulting hatred of Romana, but ending the set without a return- triumphant or otherwise- to the real Gallifrey creates an unavoidably disappointing sentiment that no degree of drama and emotion stemming from the Krilik can overcome. Following a strange characterization of Romana that sees her as an aggressive and willing time meddler and an abandonment of the gradual themes that had been seemingly building throughout the set, ‘Forever’ is sadly a story that could have been something special but that is instead burdened by its overreliance on dialogue and completely disparate nature from the work put into the characters earlier, ending this fourth set on an unresolved and disappointing note.

Ultimately, this series of Gallifrey will be notable simply for its willingness to completely experiment with its format, but the weaker second half that fails to offer resolution undermines any goodwill the first half may have created and suggests that this set was composed purely for spectacle rather than for story with one overarching idea in mind, a sentiment that even the seeming losses of Braxiatel and K9 cannot overcome.

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