The War Doctor – Only the Monstrous

Posted in Audio by - February 03, 2016
The War Doctor – Only the Monstrous

Big Finish has had a fair share of important release over the years- recent notables including ‘The Light at the End’ to commemorate Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary and ‘The Last Adventure’ to finally give Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor a proper farewell- but perhaps none have carried such a weight of anticipation as the first box set of the War Doctor saga, Only the Monstrous.

With a truly mesmerizing performance in 2013’s ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ Sir John Hurt masterfully played the shrouded version of our Time Lord hero, in so doing almost demanding that he be brought back to further explore this character, the version that had gone to such lengths and done such deeds that his future incarnations chose to renounce him as if he never existed. Thanks to Big Finish, we are afforded that opportunity as the once untouchable Time War is entered as well.

In a risky and bold move given the anticipation of the project, writer Nicholas Briggs decides initially to avoid the core of the Time War conflict itself and instead to focus on a different war. There is a slow burn to the opening story, and several parts are essentially a two-handed act between the Doctor and his temporary companion, Rejoice. As the plot progresses, however, it is this approach that gives fantastic insight into both characters and their respective plights as well as demonstrating just how callous and cruel the Time Lords as a race had become at this point.

As it should be, however, the War Doctor is very much the focus of this set. Conceptually, the character seems quite clear-cut, but in theory it must have been quite difficult to bring him to life. For all of the talk of what this incarnation had done in his earlier days, he could not be portrayed in these stories as being too aggressive, flippant, and antagonistic as to cross into the wholly unlikable and irredeemable. Perhaps for the better, especially as an entry point to the character, the War Doctor we are presented with here is very clearly an amalgamation of his former selves, burdened by a sense of weariness from all that he has been through. While there is a certain hope that the character will be pushed further to the limits in future adventures, it was a good choice to pull back the reigns early on to make him a more approachable and sympathetic character overall.

The Daleks, of course, are the main antagonists here, and it is immensely satisfying to see their seemingly disjointed and disparate actions tie directly into the Time War. They are portrayed perfectly once more by Nicholas Briggs, and the plot thankfully plays them as a conniving, real threat rather than just expository one-note villains. While the guest cast is perfect and we glean information into just how far both the Daleks and Time Lords are willing to go, the ultimate ‘villain’ of the piece is truly heartbreaking, and perhaps a good metaphor for the Time War (and perhaps the universe as a whole at this time) entirely, as it is the one man willing to seek peace that set the whole sequence of events into motion.

While it was inevitable that Hurt would not get to portray a truly extremist version of the Doctor, especially at the beginning, he still sets the groundwork for another fantastic take on the character in a time so open for exploration and character study. The Daleks have been shown to be a worthy and menacing adversary, twisting the Thousand Worlds to their advantage and providing a great visual in the process, and the stage is set for the future box set releases that will hopefully continue to up the overall stakes and characterization.

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