The Conscript

Posted in Audio by - March 25, 2018
The Conscript

Released October 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

‘The Night of the Doctor’ was momentous not only for finally revealing the long-shrouded regeneration of the Eighth Doctor but for also proclaiming that he saw himself as a steadfastly moral individual who simply could not fully engage in the atrocities and horrors of the Time Lords in his current incarnation. However, that brief vignette also revealed that the Time War was in full swing and that both the Time Lords and Daleks were seen as equally vile and malevolent forces, a fact that The Time War 1 has already started to elucidate and develop. With ‘The Conscript’ by Matt Fitton, the saga takes the necessary step of showing the Doctor forced to undertake a Gallifreyan military boot camp under orders from Cardinal Ollistra with his friends locked away, a task that unsurprisingly fails to turn the Doctor into the obeying warrior that Ollistra hopes but that nonetheless proves crucial in reinforcing his own sense of individuality and self-assuredness even as the Time War reaches new heights.

With Commandant Harlan a harsh, by-the-books leader who thrives on order and attention to detail, the dissident Doctor unsurprisingly provides a unique challenge that is anything but welcome in the camp. Yet while the first half of ‘The Conscript’ initially seems like a surprisingly light-hearted romp as the Doctor continues to mock authority and to bend the rules while secretly trying to reach his friends, it nonetheless manages to highlight the Doctor’s persevering sense of fairness and once more shows just how to make him fall in line through pressuring his colleagues, an aspect his true enemies continue to exploit through his travels to this day. Part of this lightness seems to stem from the fact that the Doctor is very much the authority on how to take the fight to the Daleks given his vast experience through seven-plus lifetimes and should be in charge, but it also emphasises that there is always a different way of thinking that can be equally or even more effective than the accepted norms and trains of thought.

The second half turns much darker, however, as the recruits take to training with the Doctor locked away for insubordination. When a mistake in orienteering reveals the presence of a Dalek drone that has managed to breach the Gallifreyan defenses, the inspiration that the Doctor’s actions have unknowingly produced results in the death of a young recruit who tries to distract the drone before it can transmit its reconnaissance information. Though he was in no way oblivious to how serious the Time War and the Daleks were before, this death hits the Doctor hard and brings about a grimmer and more determined side of the character than has yet been seen in this set, resulting in a surprisingly powerful confrontation with Ollistra when he again refuses to follow her orders. By its end, ‘The Conscript’ becomes a harrowing story of war that examines the general Time Lord views that are beginning to align with the Daleks’ sense of the absolute while also progressing the personal involvement of the Doctor who still advocates for pacifism, efficiently setting the scene for this first quarter of the saga’s finale.

Unfortunately, as important as ‘The Conscript’ is from the viewpoint of the Doctor, it does feel more like a necessary stepping stone or intermediary story for The Time War that has a list of general tasks to achieve, contrasting the military mindset with the Doctor’s being the most paramount. Through no fault of Nick Brimble or Karina Fernandez, the respective commanding presences of Commander Harlan and Captain Tamasan are filled with clichés, and the prospect of war has revealed Gallifrey to be more similar to Earth than ever before, a quick fall from grace for one of the most powerful societies the universe has ever known. This isn’t a story that deals with the unspeakable or incomprehensible effects of this devastating war as Russell T Davies so evocatively described during his tenure on television, but it’s a very personal conflict for the Doctor that draws him ever more inexorably into its path with new companion Bliss still very much an unknown and undeveloped quantity.

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