Gallifrey VI

Posted in Audio by - December 09, 2017
Gallifrey VI

Released October 2013

As the sixth series of Big Finish’s Gallifrey begins, Romana’s adopted world in the alternate universe finds itself under siege from the Daleks who have forced their way through the Axis in a bid to conquer the entire multiverse. Exterminating anyone that stands in their way and relentlessly pursuing Romana, Narvin, and Leela no matter where they go, the Daleks are seeking something that only this particular universe can provide to aid with their attempted conquest. However, a mysterious figure a universe away has a unique plan, one that could prove to be the ultimate salvation or undoing for Romana.

Scott Handcock’s ‘Extermination’ opens the set boldly and emotionally with a series of monologues that reminds the audience of who survived the events of the preceding series while explaining the sheer horror that the Daleks have brought to this world. Davros has given the Daleks knowledge of other realities and worlds yet to be explored and conquered, and after establishing a coordinator within the Axis to predict what each universe may hold, the Daleks’ mission is now to discover the Time Lords’ many secrets from throughout the multiverse to eradicate all resistance in their ever-expanding dominion. The Daleks presented here are intended to be the versions from the modern television series, and the fierceness and determination they display is frighteningly effective, marking a welcome departure from the tepid politicking of the last series as lives are genuinely put at fatal risk.

Aside from mercifully bringing Romana and Leela back together as supportive comrades, ‘Extermination’ also portrays both superbly as individuals. Gone for Romana is the misguided slayer of planets, and it’s wonderful to hear elements of ‘The Apocalypse Element’ bleed through to explain her behaviour while cast as simply another victim beneath the might of the Daleks here. Without delusions of grandeur and all the while pining for a simpler life, Romana is unafraid of firing at the Daleks to save her life and shows no mercy when a single Dalek is in her grasp with a powerful scene of torture, claiming that the threat of Daleks in general is needed to bring out the best of the universe as a whole but that one individual Dalek is completely expendable. Leela, having put her differences with Romana aside because of the Dalek threat, is fearless as always, and her chemistry with Narvin who has changed enough to now willingly sacrifice his only remaining life to fight back is electric as the history of this world’s devotion to weaponry rather than time travel gains importance. Though Romana’s final goodbye to this world and its people who have risen so high doesn’t quite carry the impact probably intended, the sentiment behind the scene is incredibly strong and caps off a great story that uses iconic foes to bring the main cast back together and finally back into the true universe.

Returning to her original homeworld in James Goss’s ‘Renaissance,’ Romana finds Gallifrey desolate in the wake of the Pandora devastations and the plague that ate away the souls of its people. With the Capitol empty and the wastelands filled with only the occasional primitive monster, the ominous foreboding that the dogma virus created in the first three series of Gallifrey proves to be completely justified, at the very least giving some merit to the necessity of the reality-hopping of series four and the alternative world-building of series five. Had Romana and her friends stayed behind, they would have assuredly been reduced to the same mindless savages that form the only remnants of the once mighty Time Lord race. Unsurprisingly, the other temporal powers are acting more freely without Gallifrey as a regulating force, and the series wisely takes the necessary step of overtly tying its narrative into the travesty of the Time War itself. It will take Romana millennia to rebuild the Capitol, restore the Eye of Harmony and the transduction barriers, and develop a cure to the virus, but the next incarnation of Romana has decided to break the First Law of Time and erect the Citadel from the future in the past, placing them all in a temporal paradox but ensuring that Gallifrey appears mighty as they boldly declare that the planet is back and as strong as ever.

Two of the same Time Lords in the same location is never a long-term solution, and so it’s not surprising that one remains as President while the other is exiled. Nonetheless, both Lalla Ward and Juliet Landau give incredibly strong performances as their respective second and third incarnations both together and apart, the former making the momentous decision to go along with the paradox and literally hold the planet together despite the forces of causality working against her and the latter scarred from her damaged timeline and unafraid of taking any route necessary to better her own position and future outlook. There’s quite a touching moment when the second Romana says that her future incarnation is a portent of a time she is not willing to face, and staring her own mortality of sorts directly in the face puts a unique spin on the danger confronting her even as time is being rewritten around her. The companionship between the familiar Romana and Leela is also at its strongest, and Leela also trying to find a shred of her friend in the new incarnation is a sweet sentiment that only Leela would try to achieve and understand. With a thrilling cliffhanger following several nods to the past that thrusts the series in a new direction as this trilogy begins to draw to a close, ‘Renaissance’ is everything that the return to the true Gallifrey should have been after such a protracted time away, deftly introducing a new iteration of a beloved character in the process that will hopefully continue to develop in the future.

But then Justin Richards’s ‘Ascension’ arrives to close out the set by the most unexpected and surely controversial of means. With the dogma virus running rampant across a Gallifrey that had succumbed to civil war and a corrupted Matrix, President Matthias used Shada technology to imprison infected individuals within time-locked facilities. While this is undoubtedly a fearsome image that sadly is not explored within the story, the potential controversy stems from the fallout of that decision. When Romana died and was on the verge of regeneration at the end of the previous tale, she instead experienced a temporospatial shift and fell through a door into the Matrix. ‘Ascension’ unfortunately doesn’t do the best job of explaining itself, but it seems to be implied that all of ‘Annihilation’ was a fake, that the future incarnation of Romana was simply a Matrix projection, and that K-9 has been steering events through his own avatar of Talyn. Though there was no foreshadowing to this effect, the Daleks were apparently behind the dogma virus all along and were waiting within the Matrix for its effects to fully manifest and ravish the Time Lord population before re-emerging. The future Romana, knowing the Daleks’ plan, used the Matrix and the events of the preceding story to create a trap for the Daleks instead, a fact that takes even K-9 by surprise when the multilayered duplicity and resulting victory is ultimately revealed.

Regardless of individual thoughts about the prevalence of the Matrix in relation to previous stories and the reset button of sorts that returning the matrix to its factory settings affords Time Lords affected by the virus, it’s impossible to argue that ‘Ascension’ is not filled with grand ideas. Though the execution and explanations may be a bit muddled, Richards manages to provide a compelling conclusion to the events of the first six series that effectively and bravely retcons the end of the third series while providing adequate closure to Castellan Slyne who gained prominence at the beginning of the fifth before strangely shrinking away to insignificance. Though questions are left unanswered regarding how the Axis emptied into the Matrix, how Matthias will truly react to Romana being back in a position of power, and how the conflict between the Regenerators and Outsiders ultimately ended, ‘Ascension’ makes the most of its small cast and multiple locations to hold the narrative together in a manner that is absolutely anything but predictable and boring, even managing to tie in the accidental beginning of the Time War as Narvin sends the Fourth Doctor to Skaro to famously try to avert the very creation of the Daleks.

The sixth series of Gallifrey is another departure for the franchise, but one that gives greater meaning to the polarizing two sets that preceded it and that offers a satisfying- if polarizing in its own right- conclusion to the overarching themes and issues raised from the very beginning. Just as the third series was intended to be the end of this range, so, too, is this sixth series, and though the second trilogy was a bit bumpier than the first, the end result is another enjoyable trip without the direct viewpoint or bias of the Doctor as events unfold and familiar characters firmly tread into the unfamiliar.

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