The Shadow Vortex

Posted in Audio by - April 14, 2018
The Shadow Vortex

Released October 2016
SOME SPOILERS

Following Only the Monstrous, a successful but safe reintroduction to the mysterious incarnation of the Doctor who forsook his own name in a universe at a time when winning was the only option no matter the cost, Infernal Devices heightened the scope and focused on the dichotomy of the morality between the Doctor and both allies and enemies alike. With John Hurt instantly capturing the very unique internal conflict that motivates the War Doctor so struggling to remain true to himself against all odds and Jacqueline Pearce providing a powerful representation of a Time Lord society bent on victory, Big Finish’s foray into the Time War continues with Agents of Chaos.

‘The Shadow Vortex’ by David Llewellyn opens this third set during war, just not the war the Doctor expected to be involved in at this time. With news that the Time Lords’ Operation Brightstar has somehow been compromised, Cardinal Ollistra exploits the Doctor’s affinity for Earth and sends him to 1961 East Berlin to find Dalek agent Lara Zannis who has breached the planet’s quantum shield while working on a covert mission for the Dalek Time Strategist. With MI6 and the KGB both seeking information, the Doctor must first escape the Stasi to stop Lara from exploiting a local scientific breakthrough after killing fourteen soldiers during an impossible escape of her own with mysterious blueprints in hand. Her escape only serves to lend credence to the Doctor’s outlandish story about Time Lords and Daleks, allowing him to make an unlikely ally in the form of German Lieutenant Kruger who helps him out of his cell and on his journey that takes them to the other side of Checkpoint Charlie to find the particle accelerator that represents the peak of human technology at this time.

Lara never gets the chance to truly develop into a well-defined character in her own right despite a fine performance from Neve McIntosh, but the fact that the Daleks have begun to employ other species to do their bidding, in this case to turn the Allies’ particle accelerator into the titular shadow vortex to allow them to invade Earth and exterminate humanity to eliminate so many of the Doctor’s own allies, shows just how desperate the Daleks have become to turn the tide of battle in their favour as they also begin to very specifically target their oldest enemy in any way possible. Instead, it’s Timothy Speyer’s Kruger as the de facto companion who becomes the more fascinating character thanks to an intriguing backstory and the challenges to his own perception of reality he is suddenly subjected to while with the Doctor who has no time to cater to naivety or the wonder that he intrinsically brings in his wake. As the Soviets propose a convenient alliance that the Daleks could exploit to turn Earth into a new Skaro by sheer population numbers and the advent of nuclear weaponry, the Doctor comes up with his most audacious plan to save the day yet, in the process overriding all of the TARDIS’s protocols and going against his race’s oldest beliefs about non-intervention and the sanctity of time.

In whole, ‘The Shadow Vortex’ follows a very traditional Doctor Who plotline as it bounces between grittiness, Doctor Who absurdity, and wartime cliché until a stunningly bold climax that again hints at the seriousness of this conflict and the lengths even the Doctor will go to in order to ensure victory. However, setting this story within the confines of World War II does inherently minimise the overall tension that could otherwise be present since the outcome is all but assured from the start. Nonetheless, with a brilliant performance by John Hurt that bridges the two wars and times playing out concurrently, ‘The Shadow Vortex’ is a strong opening instalment that ends with the surprising news that Cardinal Ollistra has been captured and sends the War Doctor on his newest course of action.

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