Lion Hearts

Posted in Audio by - June 23, 2021
Lion Hearts

Released June 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Seeking out Gallifrey’s newest warrior in Lou Morgan’s ‘Lion Hearts,’ Commodore Tamasan finds that the Doctor has invited himself onto a secret rescue mission. But with Biroc of the time-sensitive Tharils entrapped and information that could deal a significant blow to the Dalek war effort at stake, the Doctor and everyone involved soon learn just what kind of man this incarnation may be.

When the War Doctor was introduced on screen, it was implied that he had performed unspeakable deeds and that he could never be redeemed in the eyes of his other incarnations who chose to continue to battle against evils while maintaining the title of Doctor. However, actually writing a one-time hero who has sacrificed all sense of morality in order to reach the ends he feels are necessary is naturally a step into darkness that could never fully be realized for any sort of ongoing drama under the Doctor Who banner. Thus, while the ultimate conflict that continues to fuel this incarnation as his hopes and expectations are continually challenged by the crushing reality of the Time War is a brilliant source of internal and external drama, he has always retained a sense of honour and optimism despite all odds that ironically highlights how he is perhaps the most deserving of the title. This sort of disconnectedness has proven tricky for the audio adventures of the War Doctor to fully navigate as he is continually thrust into the role of hero rather than antihero or even villain as he himself might proclaim, and the final scene of this story only reinforces that that strange emotional divide is still going to be a sticking point for these earlier adventures as well.

Nonetheless, the journey that the War Doctor takes in ‘Lion Hearts’ is a suitably engaging one that itself emphasizes just how canny and cunning this incarnation is. The return of Biroc from “Warrior’s Gate” is a brilliant nod to classic continuity that allows a personal and immediate connection for this Doctor who is still coming to terms with his regenerative choice and the lines that he is willing and not willing to cross. The Tharils as a time-sensitive race certainly have a role to play within the Time War, one that will hopefully be expanded upon later on, and reintroducing their unique abilities and why they can be of such value here adds a welcome layer to one of the classic series’s more intriguing races. For his part, John Dorney suitably captures the power and theatricality that David Weston brought to the role of Biroc some forty years ago, and Marilyn Nnadebe as Valetta further fleshes out the honour and loyalty that defines the Tharil race even as mistrust of the Time Lords and Daleks alike remains at its highest.

Truly, the most intriguing aspect of ‘Lion Hearts’ is just how casually the War Doctor inserts himself into a secretive rescue mission, gaining the trust and respect of Amy Downhan’s Lorinus in the process, while furtively ensuring that his own goals are always within reach. The script is at its most powerful when it appears as though the Doctor has performed a truly unspeakable act to become the unscrupulous warrior that the Time Lords have been awaiting, and the reactions from Lorinus and Tamasan perfectly encapsulate just how much of an unknown quantity this Doctor remains at this time. And while the ultimate reveal that re-contextualizes earlier scenes is perfectly fitting for the Doctor as a character as a means to emerge victorious with others unaware of just what he has done to keep the Tharils safe, it strangely does devalue that same sense of mystery and danger that is supposed to be so defining for this man. This is a Seventh Doctor story at its finest given the long game being played, but it hardly serves as an example of why the War Doctor should be so hard on himself and so shunned by his other selves. Nevertheless, Jonathon Carley continues to absolutely excel in this role, and his voice and mannerisms wonderfully capture the nuances and gravitas that Sir John Hurt originally brought to this role, further solidifying the bright future that this incarnation should continue to have within the audio medium.

‘Lion Hearts’ doesn’t quite manage to reach the highs of its predecessor within this set, and although the Doctor’s manipulation of events to his own advantage is a definite strength that along with Lorinus’s debriefing scenes attempt to subvert the linearity of a rescue story, it nonetheless reiterates the breadth of storytelling opportunities that are available and willing to be explored within the Time War context. There is an incredible amount of promise for this range with Carley in the lead role, and the continued conflict boiling within the Doctor will hopefully continue to develop and challenge as the stakes continue to grow in a universe that has had choice all but taken away from it.

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