The Abyss

Posted in Audio by - December 18, 2022
The Abyss

Released December 2022


Trailing the dangerous and seemingly omniscient Barber-Surgeon through the perils of the Time War and his own personal history with the Daleks close behind in Robert Valentine’s ‘The Abyss,’ the War Doctor realizes that this particular mission may just be one from which he cannot emerge victorious.

Knowing how acutely dangerous the Barber-Surgeon is, the Doctor fittingly travels to the heart of the Dalek empire itself to furtively gather more information about his foe by determining what the Daleks may know that the Time Lords do not. Shockingly, he ends up exposed and completely vulnerable when the Time Strategist corners him with complete knowledge about his reasons for being here; rather than exterminating the Daleks’ oldest foe on the spot, however, the Strategist rather intriguingly demands that the Doctor put his newly acquired information to good use while proclaiming that it would like the Barber-Surgeon’s weaponry for itself. When the Doctor attempts to clarify that the Strategist naturally means the technology will be for the Dalek cause in general, it’s intimated that the Strategist is working outside of the normal Dalek hierarchy, a fascinating revelation that becomes all the more apparent when it confirms to the Hunter-Killer that the assumed chain of command is currently not as resolute as it might otherwise be when it asks that the Doctor be trailed but not killed as he pursues the Barber-Surgeon. The Time Strategist’s operating procedures here will assumedly have a narrative payoff in the concluding story of He Who Fights with Monsters, but Nicholas Briggs plays this incisive rogue element incredibly well as the Strategist takes painstaking measures to assure the Doctor as he flees the Daleks while never revealing to the Daleks at large the actions it has taken to do so.

With the Doctor believing he is one step ahead of his Dalek pursuers, he discovers that the Barber-Surgeon once worked at the behest of the Time Lords before becoming a rogue element, a piece of information conveniently left out of the story he was told previously. Following a very specific set of coordinates and joined by Time Lord Commander Narthex on this journey that heads to the very familiar 10,000 B.C. on Earth, he also discovers that the Time Lords originally wanted an assassin to hunt down the Barber-Surgeon, sending the Master as their first choice but turning to the Doctor after losing contact with the Master and assuming him dead or converted to the Barber-Surgeon’s cause. This information is poignantly provided by a dramatic recording from Leela who steadfastly does not regret the path her life has taken to bring her into Gallifrey’s wartime efforts but who will never lose her respect and admiration for the Doctor and everything he has stood for and achieved over his many lives. Louise Jameson is wonderful in this brief and understated performance that brings with it so much unsaid emotions and memories, and Leela’s continued importance to the Doctor- especially as he finds himself drawn to a more savage nature- is the perfect vehicle through which to expand upon the foundation of the Doctor’s deadly course of action here and to allow Jonathon Carley to brilliantly tap into the Doctor’s current mindset by reflecting upon his past.

In a classic and chillingly effective example of less being more, the Doctor coming upon the remains of the Master only further punctuates how utterly dangerous and ruthless the Barber-Surgeon who seems to be toying with the Doctor truly is. For how immensely evil the Master has always been, the relationship between these two going back to childhood has always been an immeasurably complex one, and having that terminated so abruptly and callously again forces the Doctor to reflect upon just how much he has been through and just how personal the Barber-Surgeon is making the task of discovering the source of his weaponry that requires the words Theta Sigma to progress. The Master’s seeming demise is not belaboured in any way, but it’s a chilling and evocative warning of the Barber-Surgeon’s power that sets up the finale exceedingly well, a finale left to carry on from one of the more distressing cliffhangers this franchise has ever offered as different Dalek factions converge with the Doctor caught in the crosshairs.

While there is inevitably some padding throughout necessary to allow this three-part saga to keep the Barber-Surgeon a mystery heading into the final story, ‘The Abyss’ is a an immensely intriguing instalment that mixes reflection and action to tremendous effect while showcasing the immense talents of Carley in the lead role. Jason Merrells likewise gives a brutally effective performance again as the Dalek Hunter-Killer who must eventually work alongside the Doctor while filling the Strategist’s request in an unlikely pairing that reaffirms the fluidity that war brings to even the most established power structures, and the immense visuals and emotions throughout ensure that this middle chapter dedicated to moving pieces around is wholly memorable and anything but superfluous.

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