The War Doctor – Infernal Devices

February 29, 2016

Released February 2016

Infernal Devices, the second of Big Finish’s box sets to explore the shrouded and darker incarnation of the titular Time Lord, picks up his tale at an undetermined time following the conclusion of Only the Monstrous with the Time War at or near its height and with Time Lords and Daleks alike willing to do whatever it takes to win outright.

Infernal Devices features a slightly different format and tone than the preceding release in that the stories, although connected, are much more standalone, each focusing on a unique and powerful weapon as well as the consequences- both intended and not- that such power can have. The Tenth Doctor briefly but emotionally recalled some of the travesties of the Time War in his final episode, but it is during this set of three stories that listeners are afforded a glimpse of just what types of schemes and powers are truly involved. The Time Lords have forsaken their stance on non-intervention and are actively spearheading counterattacks and pre-emptive attacks against the Daleks, seemingly unconcerned about any repercussions the universe at large may feel and in a very real sense mirroring the Daleks themselves.

John Dorney’s ‘Legion of the Lost’ starts off the box set, and it is here that the Time Lords are considering just what lengths they can go to in order to assure victory. The Annihilator, a weapon that can stop anything from ever existing while keeping the time line intact and allowing retention of memory of the erased object/person/race/etc, is quickly introduced and is just as promptly disabled by the Doctor. The events that follow, however, land him on the Technomancer mage planet where he soon discovers the very dark secret that the leader Shadovar has offered the Time Lords. He has the means to bring defeated Time Lords back to life, allowing for a potentially infinite warrior force in the ongoing battle against the Daleks but, as always, there is a hidden cost.

The events are morally hazy to say the least, but it’s fascinating to hear the Time Lords- for so long such champions of doing good and being morally superior- justify their actions and prove just how serious the situation is and just how committed they are. Here they must decide if there is an ultimate line that should never be crossed and if victory is worth sacrificing the very fabric and moral fortitude of what makes a Time Lord a Time Lord. The Doctor, despite disowning that name, remains the one beacon of light in this sinister moment and takes it upon himself to stop this plan because of the mounting costs, even if that means he himself must be complicit in a genocide of his own.

Phil Mulryne’s ‘A Thing of Guile’ flips the preceding scenario, focusing not on Time Lords losing humanity but rather on Daleks trying to recapture their own. Cardinal Ollistra has declared the Doctor a war criminal following his actions against the Time Lords in the previous story and forces him to go to the secret Dalek research base on Asteroid Theta 12 and to figure out the function of the Omega Arsenal’s Anima Device. This is very much a bleak episode that slowly builds before reaching a fantastic climax, again showing the extremes that both side are willing to go to in the name of achieving victory. Even the Doctor is not immune to wartime change, and his decision he makes to save the day is surely one he will wrestle with for some time.

Matt Fitton’s ‘The Neverwhen’ is tasked with rounding off the set. A truly terrifying weapon, the Neverwhen Flux traps anyone in its field in a time bubble and condemns them to an eternity of battle while evolving and devolving sporadically and no chance of death as an escape. This is a truly harrowing tale and one that quite firmly delineates the main characters. For Cardinal Ollistra, who orchestrated the Doctor’s arrival at the Neverwhen Flux to forward her own agenda, this weapon represents the ultimate chance for victory; for the Doctor, it represents a fleeting chance at redemption in his own eyes as he attempts to create some semblance of peace using the Anima. While his plan ultimately fails, he at least manages to keep Ollistra’s from coming to fruition; it’s telling that, despite everything going on around him and the fact that he no longer identifies as the Doctor, there is still that desire to find peace above all somewhere within him. ‘The Neverwhen’ is a very high-concept tale that performs exceedingly well as a standalone tale, but it also provides a superb ending to this weaponry trilogy as the Time War continues to rage on with no end in sight.

This is a very daring set of stories that isn’t afraid to deal with the effects of war on both sides and the corruption of the mighty Time Lord race, exemplified so perfectly by Jacqueline Pearce’s Ollistra. The tone of the tales is by necessity grim and bleak as everything in the universe is essentially at its lowest point, and so this is not a light-hearted and easy listen. Fortunately, the caliber of the actors as well as of the scripting somehow still manage to make Infernal Devices an absolute joy.

John Hurt continues to dominate every scene as the nuanced and self-loathing War Doctor. The scripts allow him to display a greater level of compassion and pity to counter the coldness and bleakness that defines him. This is a man that knows what needs to be done and is often forced to do it, but he still retains the burning desire to hold onto the values and ethics that make him the Doctor even if the circumstances do not allow that to happen. It’s a precarious balancing act but one that Hurt performs and sells admirably. It’s hard to imagine any other actor pulling off the role quite so believably, and itès exciting to imagine where Hurt may take the War Doctor as the third box set and its promise of even darker times looms ahead. He has performed some terrible acts- although all in the name of the greater good and some even against the Time Lords themselves- and it will be interesting to see if there are worse actions ahead that make his future incarnations disavow him so tragically as the inevitability of the Moment approaches.

Wrap Up

The War Doctor - Infernal Devices

Pros

  • + Joh Hurt superbly mixes hoplessness and grit with optimism and hope
  • + Both sides showing just how far they are willing to go to win
  • + Strong supporting cast and production values

Cons

  • - The Doctor has not yet performed any truly horrific actions that cannot be justified that would warrant his future selves disavowing this incarnation
  • - Stories a little too loosely connected without a really strong connecting narrative

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