Once and Future: Time Lord Immemorial

Posted in Audio by - October 05, 2023
Once and Future: Time Lord Immemorial

Released October 2023


Now in his Ninth incarnation, the Doctor is caught between universes as all of the multiverse begins to crumble and collapse in the latest Once and Future instalment, ‘Time Lord Immemorial.’ With the legendary Hall of the Time Lord Immemorial desecrated and the sands of time running out, the unlikely combination of two Doctors, the Lumiat, and Liv Chenka must race against time to maintain and sustain the very fabric of reality.

To this point, Christopher Eccleston has steadfastly proclaimed that he will not be participating in any multi-Doctor stories, and so the unexpected teaming of his Ninth Doctor with David Warner’s Unbound iteration- fueled at least in part from their genuine friendship- is a most welcome development that lays the foundation for an incredibly strong Big Finish-centric celebration within this sixtieth anniversary context. Though this was not intended in any way to be the final adventure for David Warner who sadly passed away in July of last year, his passion for this role is evident from the start as his Doctor asserts his own importance while piecing together the dangerous mystery around him and the nuances of the three unique individuals around him. His Doctor is equally kind and irascible, and he provides a fantastic reflection to Eccleston who is equally capable of conveying the true horrors of the threat to the multiverse here and who has crafted a slightly lighter and more open incarnation than the battle-scarred Ninth Doctor was often written and portrayed as during his limited time on screen. The two incarnations rather easily posit and accept that they are from alternate universes given how many other explanations the lapses of memory inherent to this degeneration process may allow, but this particular pairing is a masterstroke that highlights the strengths of the Doctor in any face and universe.

Interestingly, whereas the degeneration concept has to this point only led to brief flits between incarnations to set up or bookend narratives, there is no cameo from any other version of either universe’s Doctor here. Indeed, the Hall of the Time Lord Immemorial somehow stabilizes the mysterious process to make it little more than a talking point as the Doctor learns that the Union he is searching for is a person rather than a locale. Unfortunately, while the plot itself is filled with immense ideas and visuals as the Doctors discover the singularity where all of time exists and see futures unlived, universes collapsing, and the literal sands of time running out around them, the narrative itself amounts to little more than subsets of the main characters witnessing these and then regrouping. This creates something of a disjointed experience rather than one of progressive and coherent building, and while an all-powerful being authorized to speak on behalf of all Time Lords who have ever existed and will ever exist is incredible and powerfully voiced by Robert Powell, the ultimate resolution amounting to little more than linking hands and demanding that the problem resolve itself is deeply unsatisfying and robs the story of any emotional impact.

However, in a story that unfolds as part of a foretold prophecy which in itself in interesting given how the character of the Doctor so often fights against any sort of predestination, the resolution is only the culmination of several missed opportunities. No real exploration is given for why Liv Chenka of all companions is selected for this story alongside these two Doctors, though Nicola Walker and Big Finish have indisputably made her one of the strongest and most well-rounded to ever travel along the Doctor. Likewise, while the Lumiat is brilliant as a concept to show the very best side of the Master as a contrast to the Valeyard showing the darkest elements of the Doctor, featuring both of these audio-only characters alongside an audio-only alternate Doctor is sure to alienate listeners joining for the anniversary celebration or even for the Ninth Doctor who are not fully attuned to the audio adventures of Missy, the Eighth Doctor, and Bernice Summerfield. Given that the Lumiat is also able to serve as both the best friend and foe within the foretelling of five distinct individuals rather than positioning Liv Chenka as more than the witness or even elevating the present TARDIS to the role of best friend, there are simply too many unexplained conveniences and jumps between ideas to allow these events to fully resonate. As it stands, Missy who underwent such a profound journey alongside the Twelfth Doctor on screen may have better encapsulated the best friend and enemy duality since the Lumiat is unabashedly good and is unknown by every other character here. Still, Walker and Gina McKee round out a truly superb cast that is among Big Finish’s best ever assembled, but the problems that have plagued so many of this anniversary set’s stories continue to rear their heads here with little true progress made toward uncovering the truth beyond the sands of time being involved in the weapon’s creation.

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