The War to End All Wars

Posted in Audio by - July 29, 2019
The War to End All Wars

Released April 2014

As one of Doctor Who’s many serials with its visual component all but lost, ‘The Savages’ remains one of the franchise’s lesser-known instalments despite it marking the end of Steven Taylor’s tenure aboard the TARDIS as he opted to stay behind to help mediate a society facing a crossroads. Picking up that narrative thread in ‘The War to End All Wars,’ writer Simon Guerrier flashes forward to present Steven as a deposed king who is keen to share one particular story that will forever stay with him.

While The Companion Chronicles seemed for a time to opt to forego any sort of framing device, this format has now proven absolutely crucial to two consecutive stories. Without taking away from the immensely engaging tale of an unending war, Steven in his present is in quick order able to reveal a tremendous amount about not only his own family and the tensions that his status and apparent downfall caused but also about this society as a whole. Steven is a man who has known much loss even within his new family, and Peter Purves gives a resounding performance as this more vulnerable but wholly determined version of an elder Steven that meshes perfectly with Alice Haig’s gentler inquisitiveness as Steven’s granddaughter, Sida. The context in which Steven can frame his actions on this world as being the result of his travels with the Doctor wherein he learned that people who instigate change cannot simply leave a society behind to figure it all out is masterfully executed and provides a fitting coda to his impressive actions alongside the Doctor while likewise opening up a wealth of storytelling opportunities for the future.

Of course, Steven’s claims would be somewhat less impactful without a strong example in support, and his account of a world wholly consumed by war in which each and every person is sent to a particular part of the war effort based on intelligence and skill provides the necessary backdrop for just such a breakthrough claim. Not turning away from the more gruesome and darker aspects of warfare, Guerrier has Steven and Dodo quickly conscripted apart from each other and, through Steven’s eyes, brings to life the grim and palpable horror of trench warfare and the fascinating combination of the feelings of inevitable defeat, helplessness, determination to change the narrative, and even pride. Shocked by how easy it is for him to return to the military lifestyle, Steven knows that training with and learning from his fellow soldiers would normally provide him with the best means of escape, but he has also learned from the Doctor that sometimes the best way to catch the attention of those in charge is to make as much noise as possible, something he hopes to do by running for election when he realises the truth behind this most dangerous scenario. Having Steven act in such a Doctor-like fashion while simultaneously solidifying and developing his very close-knit friendship with Dodo only lends further support to his actions far in the future on this world where he chose to stay and take up the genuine challenge he had been looking for and explains why he has chosen to set up schools for history and just why he gave up his political fight when his own daughter lovingly named Dodo died.

The actual outcome of this wartime story is quite deftly handled away from the main action as the Doctor makes his presence known, but it’s that whirlwind feeling and then departure that proves crucial to turning Steven into the man he has become as illustrated here. Wartime efforts are often compared to cogs in a machine, and never has that been quite so true as with the guiding force and history behind this fight. Still, ‘The War to End All Wars’ is an absolutely brilliant character study of unquestionably one of the franchise’s great companions, and the prospect of a copy of the Doctor’s brain still existing on Steven’s planet is a continuing link to Steven’s former life that assuredly has had and will continue to have a tremendous impact in its own right. The music might not quite fit in with the intended era, but the writing, acting, direction, and sound design are absolutely magnificent and bring the inanity of war and the attempts to spur change to the forefront brilliantly.

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