Dark Gallifrey: The War Master Part One

Posted in Audio by - July 05, 2024
Dark Gallifrey: The War Master Part One

Released July 2024

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Hoping to make a name for herself by making the most momentous discovery, Bernice Summerfield looks to uncover the truth behind mythical rumours of a hidden Gallifrey in James Goss’s ‘The War Master Part One’ that reportedly serves as part of the coda to the fledgling Dark Gallifrey series as a whole.

While the extras make it clear that it was just a coincidence that this story was written in reverse chronology at the same time as ‘What Just Happened?’ in the Eighth Doctor’s Stranded series, it’s such a unique format that Big Finish had not attempted previously that it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the two no matter how close or far apart their releases. Admittedly, this is a much bolder step to take in the first story of a new trilogy rather than in one paying off long-standing storylines, but the core concept of Dark Gallifrey being an actual entity that can be found and the resulting exploration of the weight of every moment and decision in time is immense as the secrets that any and every door may hold come to light.

Of course, the pairing of Lisa Bowerman’s Bernice and David Warner’s Unbound incarnation of the Doctor has quickly become one of Big Finish’s most fascinating, the two characters very much being on equal footing and this Doctor’s detachedness from this universe providing him an intriguing and irascible unpredictability. Bernice is driven by a desire to make her mark on history, and she is profoundly insightful as she pieces together so many disparate legends and warnings to add credence to her theory about the possible location of a myth that could rewrite everything. Alongside her, the Doctor can’t help but allow his curiosity to get the best of him even as his own universe’s legends of Dark Gallifrey and its relationship with the multiverse linger in his mind. This sequence perfectly highlights the brilliant relationship between the two that revolves around pride, impulse, and genuine affection, and while this particular story puts Bernice into a more traditional role as the emotional weight of events and decisions from her own life very much come into focus, the unique dynamic sparkles throughout. There are plenty of fleeting references to Bernice’s long history both in the written and audio mediums as well, but these moments with Bernice at the fore are intensely powerful and allow Bowerman to delve into a very raw and emotional exploration of her beloved character that foregoes any of her typical bluster and flippancy as she explores personal stories both lived and yet to be lived that traverse the universe from familial past to Gallifrey’s grand panopticon itself.

At the centre of this is the immensely fascinating Imbomination representing one of the most audacious concepts and figures Doctor Who has ever introduced. Tariyé Peterside gives an immense vocal performance that somehow manages to provide a genuine sense of danger and malice wrapped in a sense of trustworthiness and at times even frailty as a guiding and goading force shrouded in mystery that seems to know no bounds. While likewise offering a uniquely insightful look into the individuality of TARDISes and the reputation that the Doctor in any incarnation holds, the beginning to this War Master trilogy is an altogether different experience from the existential paranoia that bolstered the previous Morbius tales’ setup. And while this narrative format that by necessity must be somewhat disjointed does again mean that some of the traditional momentum and buildup of cause and effect is lost as events play out before the events leading up to them are revealed, the incredible emotional displays and introspection as well as the astounding ideas central to the story capably maintain its own sense of momentum as the mystery is slowly slotted together to make sense of the opening scene and the unique fragility of time and the Time Lords’ purported power and control over it. While the distinct lack of the War Master’s direct presence within ‘The War Master Part One’ is a glaring anomaly, one that certainly may be addressed in the subsequent stories, this is a brilliant showcase for both Bowerman and Warner that sets forth a bold new element for this sprawling saga that appears to be unafraid of tackling any idea and figure in any order.

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