Damaged: What a coup for Big Finish. I mean the New Series licence is one hell of a coup anyway and will probably see the company in business for many years to come (I imagine the revenue from these box sets will soar). To book a name like John Hurt and to be able to continue to explore his backstory after his single appearance in the TV series - when this was advertised I thought 'they've got it made.' He's a actor of rare gravitas and status and a huge figure in the cult world, I can imagine there are all kinds of crowds that would want to seek this set out. No pressure, Nick. Topping that with the revelation that the Doctor is dead is the next best thing and it provides a decent gasp before the title music - although I already sussed that they were talking about the eighth Doctor taking his life in Night of the Doctor. He's a dangerous man, that's clear from the outset. He states that he is ready to die because he has seen too much of the War already but it is not made clear if that is really the case or just his tag line to clear the Time Lords out so he can do a better job of saving the day. Dangerous but still likeable, Hurt's Doctor might have seen some terrible things but he hasn't committed his ultimate atrocity yet. He's still redeemable. The universe would be a far more dangerous place without him. The Doctor is paranoid that the War is following him everywhere to the point where he is genuinely surprised to land somewhere that hasn't been touched by the fighting. It's worrying that this Doctor comes armed with so much knowledge of warfare tactics, he can reel them off without batting an eyelid. He's clearly seen a great deal of conflict. What he lacks is the humanity to spare peoples feelings, he simply states what is happening without a care for the populace he might be terrifying. 'It's standard genocidal procedure...' The Doctor will help on Keska because he wasn't forced, a rarity these days. He doesn't state his name anymore, perhaps because he doesn't think he deserves it. But when he is done on Keska he is reminded that he is a good man, something he has forgotten. The only reward he wants for his assistance is peace and quiet and no mention of his name. The Doctor thinks his part in this conflict is to do the unthinkable to bring it to a conclusion. What he has forgotten is that he always used to do that anyway but by ingenious means that saved as many lives as possible. Now the War has escalated he doesn't factor in the lives, just the consequences. He describes himself as a monster. I don't know what he has done...but he is being too harsh on himself. Monsters don't feel remorse. You want to see a monster then check out Capaldi in The Girl Who Died - playing God and justifying it to himself.
Standout Performance: I want to wax lyrical about John Hurt whose performance it goes without saying is exceptional but the performer I want to focus on is Jacqueline Pearce. The ultimate pulp villainess, Pearce brings a wonderful presence to every story that she takes part in. Servalan both terrified and turned on the audience in equal measure and Chesseneye was cut from the same cloth in the delightful dual Doctor epic The Two Doctors and she chewed the scenery with gorgeous abandon in The Fearmonger for Big Finish. I'm pleased to see an actress of such abundance secure such a pivotal role in what is possibly the most important range that Big Finish are bringing out now. Her gravelly tones give me chills.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'What is war if not the embodiment of hypocrisy?'
Great Ideas: Opening on the final assault on Gallifrey is quite a bold statement to make right at the beginning of this range but if you are trying to get peoples attention then I guess this is the way to do it. It certainly doesn't get much bigger than this. The Time Lords haven't beaten the Daleks by any means but they did have a breathing space in which to lick their wounds and try and fight back. They use compassion as a weapon, utilising the people from the planets that are caught up in this war as a shield against further attacks. Let's give them some credit, when it comes to psychological warfare they are the masters.
Audio Landscape: If you're going to hand an epic soundscape like this to anybody then Howard Carter is probably the first name I would pull out of a hat. He's proven himself time and again both with intimate stories and ones with massive scope and he really doesn't disappoint. Dalek fleet screaming into view, Daleks screaming in unison, a Dalek succumbing the pressures and time contraction of the Time Destructor, birds flying and singing, the TARDIS hissing with steam, trickling water, alarms going off, mass extermination blasts, the Doctor's twinkly headaches, lapping waves.
Musical Cues: Ooh I like the theme tune, another Howard Carter thumbs up. Bombastic, dramatic, a little bit scary...just like the War Doctor. It has the music hall feel of the TV Movie and the energy of Murray Gold's original theme so it bridges the gap between them nicely.
Isn't it Odd: After the initial scenes were in place setting up the major players in this box set the story moves to the planet Keska and things get a lot more predictable. It is a standard Doctor Who story of a man turning up on a world in conflict and chipping in to help them. I was tapping my foot waiting for the moment when Keska was linked to the Time War, it was inevitable given that is precisely where this story is leading. To pretend otherwise was practically pointless but Briggs has a go anyway. I might not have mentioned Bennus in this review...there is a reason for that. She isn't a particularly memorable character. Beth Chalmers, again? They are going to have to start using a voice synthesizer soon to disguise the fact that she turns up in everything. Reliable she might be but surely there are an awful lot of actors who would enjoy audio work that haven't had the opportunity because she is being invited back every other day. She's played a companion for goodness sakes. You cannot expose the actress so publicly and then expect fans of this stuff to not recognise her in every other story. I'm not entirely sure what happened on the boat between Rejoice (bizarre name) and the Doctor on the boat. But having a paddy doesn't make you a monster.
Standout Scene: If you are going to use the ultimate Doctor Who weapon against the Daleks then you could do no better than to seek out the Time Destructor from The Daleks' Masterplan. You can keep your Reality Bombs and Plague Planets, this is still the most awe-inspiringly devastating piece of hardware the show has ever produced.