The War Valeyard

Posted in Audio by - August 16, 2019
The War Valeyard

Released August 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

With the collected stories of Time War invariably leading to the Eighth Doctor’s decision upon regeneration to become the warrior whom his future selves would refuse to speak of, writer John Dorney boldly reintroduces the Valeyard- introduced long ago as an amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker aspects from somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations- as the universal conflict rages on in the aptly-titled ‘The War Valeyard’ to culminate this third series of adventures. Yet when the Doctor discovers that his cruel future self has been conscripted to find and deploy a truly all-powerful weapon in Dalek-occupied territory, assumptions and facts are anything but within these time-locked and war-ravaged confines.

From the moment the Valeyard appeared to antagonize the Sixth Doctor during his famed trial, Michael Jayston made an impact with a combination of menace and confidence that would come to include a certain glee and even desperation as his true identity and desire to take the Doctor’s remaining lives became known. Wisely, however, Big Finish has only sparingly revisited this character who admittedly is something of a canonical miscreant, gloriously bringing him to the forefront to confront the Sixth Doctor in both ‘The Trial of the Valeyard’ and The Last Adventure, to lead an alternative life in the Unbound serial ‘He Jests at Scars…’ and to show him briefly crossing paths with Bernice Summerfield in ‘Every Dark Thought.’ Each of these stories has continued to develop and add further nuance to this foe and his desire to live, and Jayston has seemingly relished every opportunity to reprise his role and further define his own niche in the Doctor’s timeline. The Time War is a wholly unique setting, however, and with reality itself constantly in flux, Jayston gives unquestionably his most powerful and haunting performance yet as the Valeyard whose very existence the Time Lords have stabilized and who now finds himself the hero on a world ravaged by Dalek forces.

The Valeyard’s constant mantra has always been that he wants to be the Doctor, but those words take on a wholly more resonant tone as this man truly believes himself to be the Doctor and is fighting with his every fibre to retain that title in a fascinating counterpoint to the War Doctor who would fight so hard to drop it. Fighting through hundreds of Daleks to save this world’s civilization and to prevent the Daleks from using a weapon that will eradicate the Time Lords from ever having existed except in the Daleks’ memories, dreadful flashes of his pride and glee while standing triumphant over the destruction he wrought cause something of a crisis of conscience for this man who is sure he is a figure of peace. The pain, confusion, and determination Jayston pours into his character’s attempted reconciliation with memories, images, and reality are all pitched perfectly, and the Valeyard spectacularly makes the leap from villain and antihero to genuine hero with a graceful ease that becomes only more poignant when the truth around him is revealed and he ultimately chooses his own penance of secluded imprisonment that allows him to continue to be the man he so wishes to be rather than enter the universe at large and become the man of the Doctor’s memories.

In a story featuring a weapon that fixes recollection and memory until they are one and the same, the unreliable narration and unexpected jumps in time make for a truly engrossing experience that constantly subverts expectations. Nicholas Briggs once more gives a strong performance as the Daleks and their Time Strategist in a vision with poignant origins that refuses to leave the Valeyard, but it’s the fate that Tamasan and the Time Lords have concocted initially for the man who retains the Doctor’s knowledge but not scruples and ultimately for the man who just might have ended the war but can never know that makes the story of this Valeyard and his companion all the more successful both heroically and tragically on this world where he has a purpose and can truly be the Doctor. With Paul McGann and Rakhee Thakrar once more proving how brilliant this lead pairing is as the truth around them becomes ever more bizarre and harrowing, ‘The War Valeyard’ succeeds on every level dramatically and technically and confidently ends this third set on an immense high that unequivocally proves how much the Time War still has to offer.

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