Released April 2015
‘The Well-Mannered War’ is the final of Gareth Roberts’s season seventeen The Missing Adventures trilogy to be adapted for Big Finish. With some of the more overt humour toned down and a greater focus on a very imaginative and vivid plot, it’s also quite tonally distinct and helps give nuance and greater depth to the events surrounding the titular 200-year war between humans and Chelonians in which not a single shot has been fired. Yet as the Doctor, Romana, and K9 arrive, they soon find something sinister lurking in the shadows, amplifying tensions and heralding a most unwelcome change.
The story wonderfully goes to great lengths to describe just how strange this supposed war is, highlighting a tea lady that caters to both sides and leaders of both factions making increasingly tenuous excuses to avoid any sign of hostility. Even as strange deaths amass and tensions begin to boil over as a dark presence slowly makes itself known in a most unassuming and invasive manner, there always seems to be a lingering desire to return to the peaceful armistice of normality, a fascinating backdrop for a story centred around the very serious prospect of war and its consequences. Of course, being an adaptation of a novel, there is much more going on as well, the upcoming election between Harmock and K9 who utilizes his constitutional privilege to gain further information to assist the Doctor a superb plot in its own right. As K9 fully invests himself into bettering the environment to soothe the intensifying riots, along the way riffing on political norms just as the war between the Chelonians and humans riffs on warfare norms, yet another series of unexpected twists and truths slowly comes to light that once more calls the entire war and conflict into question.
These two meaty plotlines as well as Roberts’s usual well-rounded characterization of everyone involved means that substantial portions of the original novel had to be cut to fit into the extended running time of just four episodes. Adapter John Dorney does incredibly well in keeping Roberts’s voice present despite the alterations, but some of the threat of the parasitic menace is lost because of necessary cuts of areas of the novel that simply couldn’t transition to audio. Still, as unlikelihoods and coincidences continue to mount even as the Doctor feels he is getting a firmer grasp on what is at hand, Dorney bravely keeps the original cliffhanger ending intact, one that was incredibly controversial at the time of publication and created its own set of conspiracy theories regarding what its true intent was as the final moment of The Missing Adventures range. While it does leave a lingering sense of a lack of closure, the return of an old foe and the extreme measures the Doctor employs to escape is handled very well, indeed.
Aside from certain aspects of the source material needing to be cut for time, it’s hard to find fault with Big Finish’s adaptation of ‘The Well-Mannered War.’ The cast is uniformly excellent, and John Leeson excels as K9 is once more given a tremendous amount of time in the spotlight. With neither the Doctor nor Romana able to fully comprehend what is going on even as pieces of the puzzle slowly slot into place alongside wonderful sound design and a sparkling plot that revels in absurdity while delivering an immensely poignant and serious story, ‘The Well-Mannered War’ is a superb addition to the audio medium and again highlights just how important the novels were in keeping the programme alive while the television series was in hiatus.