Gallifrey: War Room- Manoeuvres

Posted in Audio by - October 03, 2023
Gallifrey: War Room- Manoeuvres

Released September 2023


With the Time Lords and Daleks now fully engaged in the Time War in Gallifrey: War Room- Manoeuvres, a battle for control is underway that sees rival Cardinals Rasmus and Ollistra using Leela, Veklin, and the General to ingratiate themselves to Rassilon while Narvin and the Resistance try against all odds to find a way to stop this all-encompassing conflict. Of course, Gallifrey as a series has long since transitioned from simmering political intrigue to more overt action with political undertones, but the competition both on and off of Gallifrey as Time Lords of every rank try to establish themselves and their allegiances within this new paradigm that presents the race as a whole as being much more sinister and aggressive is a great undercurrent for Katharine Armitage’s opening story to this set, ‘Collaborators.’ Here, Gallifrey and the Resistance are both pursuing a vital alliance with a people who have always been shrouded and protected from unwanted visitors and who benefit greatly from a substance that in the Time Lords’ hands could cause untold destruction. However, Leela wisely realizes that any gain by the Time Lords in terms of weaponry will only be met and amplified by the Daleks as a result, feeding into a perpetual cycle that will ultimately benefit nobody. Indeed, as Leela carefully chooses each and every one of her words to try to walk the fine line of remaining true to herself without alienating her colleagues as she refuses to give up on Romana, Louise Jameson quickly becomes the anchor for this particular story as she perfectly portrays the anguish of a strong leader by nature who understands implicitly who the Time Lords as a whole are at this point and the threat they pose to this world even under the façade of true friendship. The threat of the Time War is palpably visceral, and so it’s not wholly surprising that conflicting alliances are made with fear the true motivator, but the ultimate change of heart that pulls this world and its resources away from Gallifrey is nonetheless a shocking one that is sure to have great ramifications going forward. As much as tradition and first impressions may guide deliberations and conversations about the best path together, ‘Collaborators’ never relents in making the very real emotions driving the characters on all fronts a primary focal point, deftly creating a layered experience that expertly reintroduces its leads and their motivations while creating a particularly intriguing pathway for Leela going forward now that she has diverged from the script given to her and welcomed untold consequences.

In ‘Remnants’ by Georgia Cook, the General, Veklin, and Rasmus respond to a distress call emanating from a Gallifreyan outpost that brings them into contact with a relentless foe amid advanced weaponry from both sides of the Time War. Compared to the first story of this set, ‘Remnants’ is a much more claustrophobic story, the isolated space station setting amplified all the more effectively by the inclusion of a Berserker Dalek that the Dalek Science Division has sent to test its abilities and effectiveness. Within Doctor Who as a whole, this class of enemy that can amalgamate with anything in its environment- potentially including experimental Time Lord weaponry here- to bolster its defensive and offensive capabilities alike is relatively new and ripe with potential; though the immediate threat doesn’t quite reach the immense highs of earlier appearances, there’s still little denying the fearsome power it possesses here at a time when Berserkers are little more than whispers and stories the Time Lords have not yet confirmed as being real, especially as it turns on its own kind. Anchored around the central element of experimental preservation technology that can temporarily freeze the Berserker’s organic component, ‘Remnants’ is all the more important due to its introduction of the General’s niece, Cresta, bringing forth a bright, energetic, and optimistic individual that simultaneously peels back several layers of the General’s necessarily tough façade to show a man still very much driven by compassion which is in increasingly little supply around him. Indeed, while Cresta in particular highlights the good and even noble intentions that can form the foundation for a fight against tyranny and even for one’s metaphorical soul and literal survival, she also serves as a devastatingly effective counterpoint as part of a group of such young Gallifreyans to how even the best of intentions can become warped into something altogether darker and more vengeful as the conflict continues and losses mount. In a more nuanced and measured sense, these potential divergences in morality are discussed and explored quite well as the General and Rasmus converse, touching on the power of information for personal gain, on the necessity of compassion in such a bleak and enduring conflict, and on the obligation to always look for a better option going forward than the status quo no matter any conflicting issues in the past, combining to create an exciting narrative thread that shows that Gallifrey’s War Room is anything but static and set in its ways.

Ollistra sends Leela to investigate when the young scientist Helico in injured to the point of regeneration and his promising technology that will enhance communication and integration with the Matrix is stolen in Fio Trethewey’s ‘Transference.’ Anything but blinded by the tragedy, Ollistra senses that everything may not be as obvious as it seems when she tries to find a motive connecting the alleged murderer’s flee to Low Town outside of the Citadel and Helico’s own origins from that same locale. Ollistra on many occasions previously has been shown to have no qualms acting against perceived foes in any capacity regardless of origin, but seeing her relentlessly pursue the truth from another Time Lord to the point of employing torturous methods is particularly brutal and truly exemplifies just how much the Time Lords as a whole have changed during this endless conflict with the Daleks. And while the revealed desire to escape the war effort and conscription are completely understandable and even justifiable given the almost-inevitable outcome, the merging of these particular figures and events with Narvin’s extended family that has remained completely separate from Narvin’s countless and momentous actions and interactions in Gallifrey to this point is particularly shocking, bringing out a very personal and emotional element in this beloved character that has rarely been so prominently displayed. Sam Gittins and Pepter Lunkuse are both wholly effective as Helico and Lenaris, respectively, as they slowly reveal the strength of the bonds crafted by family and love, and Seán Carlsen is likewise superb both in guiding Lenaris through the tumultuous ramifications of the audacious scheme and in confronting Leela who is acting more by logic while Narvin is acting more by emotion. This presents a subtle twist on these two long-standing characters’ typical interactions that neatly ties in Gallifrey’s class system that is so often ignored, and it works exceptionally well and continues to add more layers to the narrative as a whole before Ollistra’s dedication and lack of remorse completely upend any expected outcome or even modicum of happiness for Narvin. The wedge between Gallifrey and the Resistance has obviously been present for some time, but it’s hard to believe that Ollistra’s actions here will not have even more profound consequences regarding the Resistance going forward, and Leela’s precarious position between the two will assuredly become all the more important and dangerous now that Ollistra has truly shown just how motivated she is to find each and every truth around her no matter the collateral damage.

Whereas Gallifrey as a series was for a long time the only source through which to explore the many conflicts and motivations of Time Lords of import, the Time War and even some of these main characters within the Time War setting have received ample exploration across multiple series for Big Finish, the consequence being that sometimes Gallifrey within this particular setting has had trouble truly distinguishing itself from the epic ideas and costs shown elsewhere no matter how strong any individual story may be. However, Katharine Armitage expertly reaffirms just how unique this particular franchise can continue to be with “Ambition’s Debt” which expertly ties together the many threads that have been building throughout this set and the last to boldly set forth a new trajectory with Ollistra all but definitively calling the shots. Given that Ollistra has been pulled from the Matrix at Rassilon’s request to act- as so was so succinctly stated- as a Time Lord without her hearts and without being able to leave the premises to experience the Time War firsthand, her apparent disregard for individual Time Lord lives within her grand battle plans narratively makes a cold and calculating sense, albeit a sense that turns her into a wholly untrustworthy and dishonourable character in the eyes of the General, Rasmus, and Leela once they uncover this particular truth. Veklin, on the other hand, is completely loyal to Ollistra, perhaps seeing in her something of a surrogate parental figure even as Ollistra bluntly states that she only cares about her because of her use, and this continued sense of unease driving the increasingly overt fight for control of the War Room operations pays immense dividends both on Gallifrey and afar as Leela helps to uncover a link to the world of the first story that has furtively been moved through space and time, allowing Gallifrey the opportunity to fight back against the Daleks without the immeasurable cost Ollistra’s plan proposed. Truly, the scene at the other end of the path Leela finds is one of the most unsettling that Doctor Who has ever shown, taking Dalek imprisonment and experimentation to an entirely new level of ruthlessness that makes the ensuing scenes of madness and pleas for obliteration all the more momentous. What begins as a perceived scare tactic with five of the nearly-indestructible Berserker Daleks in close proximity culminates with one of the greatest emotional gut punches Gallifrey has yet produced, brilliantly highlighting the horrors of the Time War both from the Dalek side directly and from the Time Lord side indirectly as events play out exactly as Ollistra intends to both stop this particular Dalek threat while also securing her own position of power as this second set of War Room concludes. “Ambition’s Debt” brilliantly highlights the grandiose narrative as well as the personal motivations and ambitions driving each of its characters, and the actors, sound design, music, and direction perfectly comine to bring these many thoughts and emotions to life vividly to end Manoeuvres on an incredible high that bodes extremely well for the continuing War Room saga.

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