Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The War Doctor Vol.2: Infernal Devices - Legion of the Lost written by John Dorney and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: In a time of war, every means of victory must be explored. In the Time War, the unthinkable must be thought, and neither side can afford to be squeamish about their methods. When the destruction of an obscene weapon leads to the Time Lord once known as the Doctor uncovering a secret Gallifreyan initiative, he cannot believe what is being considered. Should victory be sought at any cost? Or are there worse possibilities than losing to the Daleks..?

Damaged: John Hurt is just so good as the War Doctor that he automatically raises the quality of this series. Even if this entire set was a clich├ęd and underwritten as the first it would still be worth a listen to enjoy Hurt's perfectly measured performance. I always feel as if there are thoughts and feelings going on beneath the surface with Hurt in the role, that he has secrets. Fortunately this set is a huge improvement, just as I imagined it would be with the names attached to it and Big Finish have delivered some very worthy material for Hurt to deliver. The Doctor considers himself on the side of the innocents, the collateral. He might be under stress but a good cup of tea will still sort him out. He breaks down when Collis is revealed to him alive because the idea of having to sacrifice innocents weighs heavily on him. The fact that he had to wrestle with his conscience and make that call and the consequences of it where undone is too much for him. The Time Lords conjuring up new and ever more obscene ways to win this conflict is eroding his sense of loyalty and respect for his people. He's starting to realise that it doesn't matter how beautiful or technologically advanced or worthy a species is, in this fight they can all be swept aside in a second. The Doctor is still convinced that you can walk through this battlefield of raging galaxies and make moral choices and he very much stands up for what he considers right, refusing to accept the horror of what the Time Lords are doing to the dead. I love that Ollistra comes searching for the Doctor at the climax and the promise of more adventures together. At the end of this story the Doctor is officially a War Criminal. Must be Tuesday.

Standout Performance: Unlike the TV series there doesn't have to be the presence of a pretty young thing to keep the audience interested. Hurt, Warner and Pearce are all beautifully seasoned performers and the story is all the better for their presence. The idea of two older actors - Hurt and Pearce - heading off to stories unknown is something that could only occur on audio.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The sky was...made of dreams.'
'Death's the only certainty we have...why take it away? For some of us death is the only peace we can hope for.'

Great Ideas: The Daleks are all very good at preying on peoples guilt, surrender or they will kill more innocents. The weapons are getting more and more perverse as the Time War continues, there is a weapon in existence that can remove an entire species but keep the timelines in check. An entire civilisation, gone and forgotten, unmourned. Imagine that, the agony of being unwritten. The Daleks are not above cultivating their own obscene plant life on the worlds they have conquered, Varga plants have turned up in a fair few Big Finish stories in recent years and I can understand why. They are terrifying, both in prospect and in realisation. Plants that hunt and infect, vegetable matter overwhelming you and infecting you with a hunger. The opening ten minutes are quite gripping, getting us acquainted with the players in the Time War, giving us insight into the Doctor's role in the conflict and where his loyalties lie and offering us a potential new companion in Collis before bumping her off in graphic style. Technomancers, a society that blends magic and technology. The Time Lords must be getting desperate to seek out the help of such a dangerous race. The Horned Ones came to this world in its earliest days back when the universe was very young. They came to escape a dimension very different from ours. Their very presence twisted this world and caused it to transform. Violent and cruel Kings hounded from their world? They feed on death and offer out magic in return. Even death is not sacred in the Time War, the Time Lords are resurrecting fallen troops en masse in their endless bid to defeat the Daleks. To die over and over again makes the troops canon fodder rather than people. The Crypt of Non-Time is the place where the Mages can reach into worlds that no longer exist.

Isn't it Odd: John Dorney is using his time to bash out an awful lot of set up for the remaining two adventures to take and run with. It's something of a thankless task because the exposition means that the story gutters to a halt. Do we really need all that incessant technobabble to justify the idea of the dead returning to life? In a story that features actual real life magicians this could easily be covered in a line. They're back from the dead...because the Technomancers have the ability to do so. All this techno-doublespeak doesn't take the place of real drama.

Standout Scene: The news that every soldier that is returned to life contains a fragment of a Horned One. The Time Lords are playing a very dangerous game, offering a vessel to these creatures that have for so long been dormant and unable to act. Each time they are resurrected the Horned One takes more corporeal form and they get more and more aggressive before eventually they have taken them over completely. It shows you how far they are willing to go, to literally make a deal with the Devil. Potentially they could be unleashing something far worse than the Daleks onto the universe.

Result: The trouble with the Time War is that has had such a momentous build up over seven seasons of televised Who that unless it was something pretty bloody spectacular and dazzlingly creative it couldn't help but feel like the creators were making a lot of fuss about nothing. When we finally got to see the Time War in The Day of the Doctor it lacked the temporal insanity that Russell T Davies seemed to imply throughout his tenure and became a game of cowboys and Indians in space en masse. There was a lack of imagination but it was so well realised that it really didn't matter. When Big Finish announced that they had secured John Hurt and were going to produce Time War audios I was hoping that it would be a chance to redress the balance, creatively speaking. Nicholas Briggs' first set was largely unmemorable and treading over previous glories, not at all what I was hoping but kind of what I was expecting. It seems that Infernal Devices is going to be much more in the vein of what  was promised; high concept ideas, desperate measures and a universe that has gone to hell. But not quite yet... John Dorney has scored the bum deal of this box set, being the one responsible for putting all the pieces in place for the others to capitalise on. He introduces two very juicy ideas; the Technomancers and the idea of resurrecting an army of dead Gallifreyans but because he has to add some substance to both notions there isn't a great deal of time to indulge in a plot. Much of Legion of the Lost reminded me of the Gallifrey series, an awful lot of waffle and very little in the way of pace or set pieces. Fortunately it is decent waffle, the dialogue a huge improvement on Only the Monstrous. The first and last ten minutes are the best of the story, sufficiently dramatic to keep my interest but aside from the concepts I did get a little bored in the middle. Legion of the Lost promises interesting times ahead. And, oh yeah, John Hurt is in it. So you've got to listen to it anyway: 6/10


Matthew Goodacre said...

Great review (as always) Joe. I was just wondering on what your opinion is of the new season of X-Files as I thoroughly enjoyed your previous X-Files reviews. Keep up the great work.

Joe Ford said...

Oh yes, absolutely. Many thanks for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment.

Ed Azad said...

"making a lot of fuss about nothing."

Speaking of waffle, It seems like Doctor Who can never make its mind up about Gallifrey. They are plain villains. They've been the Doctor's greatest enemy since the series first began 50+ years ago. I've lost track of how many times the Doctor has found his way back to terra firma and been accepted into their ranks again. And then he rediscovers how monstrous the Time Lords truly are and runs away again.

The Time War was Davies' "hail mary", and insurance policy to prevent the Gallifrey from returning in some fashion. It took some notes from Lawrence Miles' Faction Paradox, as I understand it, but it was wholly worse than the Faction because the planet itself was teeming with Lovecraftian monsters.

Moffat does away with all that, a) because he trivially disagrees with the direction Davies has taken the Doctor, and b) because he wants the show restored to factory settings when he leaves.

Now watch all of Moffat's hard work and original characters vanish into the ether when Chibnall, or whoever, takes over. And then we start to process all over again, with the Doctor having his obligatory Time Lord and Dalek stories and failing, inexplicably, to shut the lid on them once and for all.

It's like the Joker and Batman...only less interesting, because the Joker and Batman constantly change as different writers try for the 'definitive' Batman, and the Time Lords and Daleks are utterly static. Which may be a strength in the Daleks' case, but not so much for Davros or Rassilon or any of the 'major players' in the Time War. They have no personality, no color, no depth, no goal apart from evil for evil's sake.

(That all said, I still plan to check out this audio. Harumph.)

Lisa said...

I think Davis intention when he created the Time War was not having to deal with all the accumulated and dusty Gallifrey continuity and stuff. Avoid new viewers being alienated and I think this was a very good idea. Since then Moffat has destroyed a lot of what RTD created (even going to the extreme to create a new incarnation out of the blue.) Having said that, I'm glad we can have sir John Hurt for a load of audio stories. If only they bothered to do something more imaginative with the TW...
I like your opinions Ed Azad, very insightful
Best wishes

Lisa said...

I suppose we can be grateful he didn't insert another incarnation between Doctors Two and Three, LOL

Ed Azad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Azad said...

Amen, Lisa.

(Actually, I don't give Moffat enough credit. I think he's saving his political capital for something big, like casting a minority Doctor Who, so he doesn't want to upset the rest of the show too much.)

Urlance Woolsbane said...

"I suppose we can be grateful he didn't insert another incarnation between Doctors Two and Three, LOL"
Imagine fandom's reaction! That would have been rather... Devious of Mr. Moffat. =P

Anonymous said...

JNT, the one who declared "no hanky panky in the TARDIS" and removed the sonic screwdriver from the show must be revolving in his grave with the sex the Moff introduced in DW and the trillion uses of the sonic(perform medical scans, hacking computers, etc etc etc)

Anonymous said...

The 8the Doctor did a chaste kiss. His 10the and 11the incarnations shag their way through Mme Pompadour, egiptyian queens and daughters of companions

Tango said...

To Anonymous: Everything that you complain, RTD started it (and worse in Torchwood and the oral sex joke in Love & Monsters), no Moffat. JNT was revolving in his grave when Rose kiss the Doctor in "Doomsday" (Even Doc Oho mention it in his review)
And oh come on, JNT is a weirdo nerd. Even Carole Ann Ford considers its policy pathetic and absurd in the filming of "The Five Doctors".

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of JNT just comparing how different approaches to the show this showrunners had
I find RTD had a more subtle way with this stuff. Moffat was the one who wrote the Doc shaging Pompadour, Queen Elizabeth, the doctor hiding under women's skirts, River Song etc

Anonymous said...

And yes, CAF was right about how ridiculous was that Susan couldn't call the Doctor "grandfather"...