Gallifrey- Time War Volume Three

Posted in Audio by - February 22, 2020
Gallifrey- Time War Volume Three

Released February 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

No Big Finish franchise has undergone as much change as Gallifrey, beginning as an immersive and fascinating exploration of the internal politics and machinations of those Time Lords vying for power on their own planet and going on to tackle more and more expansive schemes and locales throughout this universe and beyond. With the Time War itself now in focus for the third consecutive set of four stories, Romana and Narvin find themselves exiles from Gallifrey and Rassilon’s dangerous regime. With unimaginable and inexplicable horrors surrounding them as the fabric of time and space threatens to tear at every turn, their last vestige of hope is to find Leela who was likewise lost in the turmoil of war.

Seeking refuge on the derelict wreck of the dreadnaught Septima in David Llewellyn’s ‘Hostiles,’ Romana and Narvin quickly discover just how invasive the Time War and the efforts of the Time Lords to emerge victorious have become. Given everything these two strong one-time enemies have been through over the years, ‘Hostiles’ wisely takes the opportunity to put a very intimate focus on them within these claustrophobic confines, reaffirming their mutual respect for each other but not shying away from exploring their very different viewpoints about any responsibility they as a people and as individuals must shoulder for the war and its effects. Lalla Ward and Seán Carlsen are implicitly familiar with their characters at this point, and the incredible nuance each puts into the performance here brilliantly brings the layered relationship to life as a sole surviving Time Lord’s current plight and previous actions come into focus as a mirror of their own.

The Septima setting is dripping with atmosphere, and a gravity core caught in the middle of its collapse and a bay filled with TARDISes that apparently don’t work perfectly entrench this ship within the intense visuals of the Time War’s dangers and mysteries. What begins as a seemingly straightforward tale about a woman entrapped by a dangerous creature aboard the ship, however, quickly turns into something far more complex as these two beings caught in the middle of the biggest bloodbath ever seen each refuse to draw blood despite ample opportunity. As the truth of a dangerous experiment becomes known, the childlike naivete but incredible power behind the temporally adept Qatal become all the more developed, and the true nature of his actions that initially seemed so overbearing and malicious take on an entirely new meaning that perfectly complement the increasing danger attributed to him as he responds to further attacks. While this plotline could have easily been one-dimensional in many circumstances, this unimaginable creature and the motivations driving both Trellick and Qatal vividly create a dynamic look into the fringes of the Time War and its unexpected ramifications, Leah Harvey and Mark Elstob playing off the leads perfectly to provide an emotional and surprisingly intimate start to this latest series of adventures.

Lou Morgan brings out more of the implicit horrors of the Time War on the planet of Njagilheim in ‘Nevernor’ as Romana and Narvin continue their search for Leela. On a world that is no longer visited, the two travelers come upon a rarity in a genuinely kind couple willing to offer food and shelter before they continue their journey into the intensifying conditions further along their path outside. Selflessness is all but nonexistent within the Time War setting no matter how far removed from Gallifrey and the many fronts of battle, and slowing down the pace to truly introduce this warmer and welcoming respite offers not only a glimmer of hope and decency amid such despair and deceit but also a means to heartbreakingly set up the merciless and unrelenting approach of the ever-expanding effects of the eternal battle between the Time Lords and Daleks and the perils of those caught in its wake.

‘Nevernor’ is certainly not a story that shies away from the temporal convolutions that this setting affords, and the stunning visuals of a temporal storm that should only be present on Gallifrey set the scene perfectly for the rare sense of genuine fear that Romana experiences as she hears voices and feels figures that don’t seem to be present. With warnings of such voices looming large with Romana sure that something is watching and approaching, the soundscape perfectly captures the sense of unease and dread to ensure the audience is every bit as nervous as Romana who is usually so calm and collected no matter what is thrown her way. Brilliantly, however, the gradual discovery of a time loop and the paradox at its core that threatens to ensnare the Time Lords as well is told on a very personal level, and the replaying of previous events as the past, present, and future intertwine with the stories of those caught outside the loop as the ever-hunting Orrovix works perfectly to keep the very weighty ideas on display grounded in genuine emotions and all the more relatable as a result. This at first glance seems to be another story that won’t necessarily advance the Time War narrative on a significant scale, but this more intimate storytelling style again delivers a strong story as Wilf Scolding, Suzanne Bertish, and Lucy Reynolds turn in sterling performances alongside Ward and Carlsen to amplify the very human drama on display.

Finally picking up on Leela’s chilling encounter with the War Master in ‘The Devil You Know,’ Helen Goldwyn steps away from Romana and Narvin to offer an entirely different form of personal exploration in ‘Mother Tongue.’ Lost in space and time after being thrown into an injured vortex, Leela has found mercy among the Trell on a shrouded world where she is shocked to find that she is also the mother of a man who will be integral to this world’s survival or destruction. This is another story that makes brilliant use of time and the impending arrival of the Time War, and a vast network of plantlife that can effectively hide a planet’s very existence is a fascinating conceit that would naturally have plenty of potential applications for a society at war looking for an edge to break the unending deadlock. Yet while the Trell have understandably dedicated their society to the upkeep of this unique lifeform with the job of caretaker one of ultimate prestige, just as integral and fascinating is the revelation that physical visitors are impossible here, rare instances of so-called travelers whose minds have taken over others while being subjected to the whims of time jumps the only recorded means of aliens interacting with this civilization.

Leela, of course, has been through an incredible amount within the Gallifrey series, her unwavering determination, morality, and pride resulting in alliances with and opposition to individual Time Lords and their society as a whole as their motivations continued to shift. Seemingly far removed from Gallifrey and protected here from the war, Louise Jameson is able to focus exclusively on the instinctual Leela as a person, and she perfectly portrays the torment of incredible emotions as she discovers first that she is a mother and then that every action has both intended and unintended consequences as she jumps through time while imparting her knowledge and seeing her son’s thoughts, actions, and influence change accordingly. However, the intrigue behind this traveler phenomenon is hardly limited to Leela as assumptions are quickly thrown into flux, and the rather straightforward manner by which the information about this planet is divulged is cast into an altogether more favourable light as those in the Time War attempt to take control of this world’s unique properties no matter the cost. This brings Leela back into the grander scheme of affairs with a heartbreaking sense of inevitability, and the small cast of Jameson, Sam Hallion, Will Kirk, Sarah Douglas, and Wilf Scolding bring out the most of this emotional tale that succeeds on both an intimate and a grandiose scale expertly.

David Llewellyn closes out this third volume with ‘Unity’ as Romana and Narvin finally find their lost friend on the eponymous dusty frontier world. As they soon learn, however, Leela is more than a little wary of rejoining their cause even as she learns of Rassilon’s return and the changes Gallifrey has endured since her forced departure, her long-conflicted stance about Time Lords in general only reinforcing her commitment to the life she has made for herself on this planet. Given what Leela experienced in the preceding story, it’s refreshing to see similar elements of her compassionate character bleed through here as she takes on something of a guardianship role while living with Lorna Brown’s widowed Veega who lost her husband to war and the son she is doing her best to raise. As her one-time companions make a surprise appearance, however, she also discovers that her current friend is dying from illness and quite possibly beyond the help of the medications that she would have to leave this family behind in order to retrieve.

The story of a child and a dying parent is always one brimming with emotions, but ‘Unity’ surprisingly- though perhaps necessarily- doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on this subject beyond a few brief moments. This is arguably more glaring given how prominently interpersonal relationships have focused in this box set, but the decision to focus more on the rekindling of the relationship between Leela and Romana as they head off to the world’s main hub is still an understandable one given how long these two have been apart. Jameson and Ward are perfect together as their contrasting viewpoints gradually find a common ground upon which to meet, and in just a few words each is able to convey the tremendous amount these two have been through together over the years and the mutual respect that remains unbroken despite the obvious tension that now exists. Fittingly, however, it’s the inadvertent loss of the TARDIS that brought Romana and Narvin to this world that allows Leela to discover that even this distant world is not safe from the Daleks and the approach of the Time War and to force her return to duty alongside Narvin with the young Rayo in tow.

Naturally, the biggest consequence of this sequence as the burden of guilt and responsibility hits each character differently is the decision of Romana to forsake her friends and to go it alone against the Daleks as she surrenders while stating her full identity, but this is only after a prolonged sequence that is wholly out of character. Romana has always been a fighter who has never backed down from a challenge or an injustice, and so even having her briefly contemplate using the chameleon arch to run away from the war and all it entails strains credulity and undermines everything the character has come to stand for even though this is clearly not the intent. The script is wise enough to at least show Romana having these same thoughts before making her ultimate decision to only pretend to use it, but it nonetheless is an odd bit of characterization to focus on in such detail even if the end result is a tantalizing cliffhanger for a future set to resolve. While still the weakest story of the four that at times oddly chooses where to place its focus, ‘Unity’ is nonetheless a necessary step filled with strong performances and the usual confident direction and stunning soundscape. Ward, Jameson, and Carlsen never fail to impress, and the future of this franchise with their current trajectories set but destinations unknown looks to be an incredibly bright one as the Time War proper looms large once again.

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