Light the Flame

Posted in Audio by - June 22, 2021
Light the Flame

Released June 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The modern iteration of Doctor Who was predicated upon the horrors of the Time War that seemingly saw the Time Lords and Daleks totally destroyed with the Doctor the sole survivor. And while it was initially and rightfully assumed that the Eighth or possibly the Ninth Doctor must have been the one to fight and take that ultimate and decisive action, ‘The Time of the Doctor’ revealed that a shrouded incarnation existed whom his future selves would never mention and who forsook his chosen moniker while taking part in the devastation, willingly or not. Exploiting a gap in continuity, ‘The Night of the Doctor’ finally revealed the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration- with the help of the Sisterhood of Karn- into this incarnation, and the fiftieth anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ allowed Sir John Hurt to gloriously bring this mysterious figure to vivid life just before his own regeneration. In short order, Big Finish produced four box sets of audios that allowed the War Doctor to continue to develop in the most dangerous of settings with the stakes at their highest, and although Hurt passing in 2017 seemed to bring the official story of the War Doctor to a close, Jonathon Carley now steps into the role to continue the saga in this incarnation’s earliest days.

Immediately following the events of ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ Matt Fitton opens The War Doctor Begins- Forged in Fire with ‘Light the Flame.’ Naturally, this new man is tasked with identifying himself and reconciling what he has chosen to become in this moment with the actions he has always chosen to take and the man he has always tried to be. He is already acutely aware that the shadows of his previous selves that always persist seem to be distancing themselves from him, and although he quickly realizes that he is certainly less patient and optimistic than his predecessor who assumed he would go on forever, he still finds himself torn as the inevitability of war and more direct actions stares him down in the form of a front of the Time War descending upon this world. Big Finish has never had the opportunity to delve into the nascent moments of a Doctor before, but Fitton superbly delves into the conflicted mindset of this particular incarnation who knows all too well what is expected of him to spectacularly highlight just how much the War Doctor still has to offer on the path to his final days that have already been explored. To this effect, Carley is absolutely spectacular in this role, capturing the intonations of Hurt almost perfectly throughout and highlighting a tremendous range of emotion that is sure to provided an incredible foundation for this fledgling series going forward. Big Finish and director Louise Jameson clearly put a tremendous amount of work into ensuring that the War Doctor’s legacy continued believably and honourably with Carley at the helm, and it certainly seems as though the rewards will far outweigh the risk of recasting such a beloved figure within this slightly altered context.

Of course, re-entering the saga of the Time War brings with it a necessary bevy of continuity, and Fitton is mostly able to address and contextualize the many returning figures without seeming too overly burdensome or unwelcoming for more casual fans. Karn, its Sisterhood, and its elixir have an important place in Doctor Who lore, and ‘Light the Flame’ does not shine away from the historically intertwined nature of Gallifrey and Karn and the continuing consternation and mutual suspicion that exists between the two populations. Nonetheless, the Doctor’s regeneration and the imminent danger facing Karn bring the two sides together once more, and an alleged plan to secure the planet’s safety reveals far more about just where the Time Lords stand at this point in time and what their priorities and willing sacrifices truly are. It’s already known that the Time Lords are more than willing to intervene and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their survival, but contrasting that more self-serving nature with the unique power and compassion of the Sisterhood is a striking narrative and a profound backdrop upon which the War Doctor must decide who he is going to be and what lines he is willing to cross. There is an undoubted menace and genuine sense of the unknown surrounding this figure, elements that his fellow Time Lords who knew his previous self so well clearly understand, and the continued reactions to his more decisive words and stated intentions perfectly emphasize the very consequential nature of every action being taken and discussed by all sides. Anna Andresen as the young and uniquely powerful acolyte Lithea is the perfect window and catalyst through which Doctor can find himself within these confines, and Veronica Roberts, Helen Goldwyn, Chris Jarman, and Adèle Anderson all expertly flesh out the nuances and conflicting thoughts as devastation approaches.

‘Light the Fire’ may ultimately not be the most revolutionary or deep production that Doctor Who has ever offered, but it provides a nearly flawless introduction and reintroduction to the world of the War Doctor and creates an incredible template upon which this series can continue to build. Jonathon Carley is utterly superb as the lead, and the typical strong performances, sound design, and direction that Big Finish is known for are all boldly on display to make this adventure every bit as visceral as John Hurt’s own at this incarnation’s end.

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