Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Gallifrey: Time War: Celestial Intervention written by David Llewellyn and directed by Scott Handcock
President Romana: There is a notable difference between the Romana of the Gallifrey sets and the Romana of the 4DAs and it’s not in the way that you might imagine. Here Romana is caught up in a terrifying temporal struggle that threatens the extinction of her people. The 4DAs see Romana having jolly adventures in time and space with a space vagabond known as the Doctor. So, which would you imagine would feature Lalla Ward at her peppiest and most agreeable and which would feature her as a grumpy, angry harridan that is struggling to control her mood? Because if you’ve figured this out it should quite the reverse. Ward is back on form here, sounding thoroughly engaged with the material. Regardless of what I have thought about Big Finish’s handling of the Time War (not a lot so far, I’m reserving judgement on this set until I have completed it), it certainly seems to be bringing the best out of the performers. Like they are happy to take their place in new series canon. Sure, there are moments in this where Romana loses her cool (especially when she sees an injustice of humanity in the Time Lord response to seeking aid from them) but there is a huge difference in how Ward plays those scenes (bold and sassy) than how she plays her grumpiness when acting alongside Tim Baker (which really feels like she doesn’t want to be there). I love the idea that Romana has been deposed as President (a role she has held in spin off media for some considerable time now) and has taken place as the Head of the CIA. It’s true that there is an element of humour in the notion of the CIA accusing the War Council of secrecy when that appears to be their stock and trade. Something that Romana learnt when she was president was never make promises that you can’t keep. It’s nice to see Romana can still step into action when she needs to, with the twofold motive of heading to the Death Zone of rescuing Leela and wanting to know what the War Council is up to. Romana is going to fight the Time War in her own way. The War Council might gather an army but she is going to gather information and intelligence.
Noble Savage: It’s fantastic how far Leela has gone up in Narvin’s reputation over the years. Once bitter enemies, they are now close allies and trust one another because of the hardships they have been through together. I really like how you can watch the development of this relationship across the entire Gallifrey series. It was one of the few salvaging features during those tricky fourth and fifth seasons. When Romana asks her to careful in the Death Zone, she answers where is the fun in that? Given she was one of a few companions not to wind up on the Death Zone, it feels appropriate that this should be her chance and given her USP as a warrior I can’t think of a place on Gallifrey where she would be better suited.
Narvin: The last time ha asked Leela to go on a mission for him she pinned him to the wall with his ow chair. Nice to see they are still getting on so well.
Standout Performance: Is Louise Jameson ageing backwards or something? I can’t detect the age in her voice at all. Lalla Ward acting all bossy and moralistic is always fantastic value.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘War has not been declared!’ ‘With all due respect that is pretty much a formality.’
‘You make it sound like I am the one bartering with lives!’
‘It may come as a surprise to you Narvin but the people appointed to the War Council are rarely the most generous and kind hearted of Time Lords.’
Great Ideas: Earth has been added to a list of planets that cannot protect themselves. Gallifrey setting itself up as the grand protector of all the lesser planets is about to become embroiled in a conflict where they join them. Only half the quantum shields on Gallifrey have activated but then at this point it is hoped that they will never be needed. Ever since it was established, the War Council has been doing its damndest to operate behind closed doors. Gallifrey has avoided all out war with the Daleks for so long, despite skirmished, but now it feels inevitable. One of their drones has picked up security images of a facility hidden deep within the Loom forest, and only because it malfunctioned. The Daleks have annexed Monan and are gearing up for War. The facilities that have been uncovered are part of the response to the upcoming conflict. A Dalek relic has been discovered drifting through space near Phaedon and it is soon announced that Gallifrey has lost all contact with the Warpsmiths. Is this their first move? I loved Romana taking the piss out of whatever ridiculous Time Lord superweapon that the War Council might be working on because that is exactly the sort of (old hat) McGuffin that inspired the Doom Coalition and eighth Doctor Time War stories. 5000 is all that’s left of the Warpsmiths and their planet has been completely destroyed by the Daleks. This development has real impact because this species has appeared in Gallifrey based Big Finish releases going back as far as The Apocalypse Element in their opening salvo of main range audios. If the Time War wanted to get my attention, this was the way to do it. Fascinating to see Gallifrey discussing granting the Warpsmiths asylum, questioning whether that would be worthwhile because they will be taking in their weakest elements. I only hope that the rest of the universe is as kind when Gallifrey flees and requires help. Livia, for all her leadership qualities during peacetime, lacks the nerve for War. Because their vote counts, the War Council demand that their projects remain secret in order to grant their permission for the Warpsmiths access to Gallifrey. Typical Time Lord duplicity. In the Death Zone they find an interdimensional gateway and cargo ships filled with Time Lord caskets. Gallifrey needs the best minds working towards a solution, peaceful or otherwise. Imagine an army ten times larger than any they have ever known, led by the greatest military strategists in Time Lord history. Or a society populated by their greatest scientists and philosophists. Project Revenance is raising the best of the Time Lords from the past back from the dead. A desperate measure for a desperate people.
Musical Cues: Top marks to Ioan Morris for his score throughout this story, which never overpowers the action but really helps to build that feeling of dread that gathers momentum. I’m fascinated to see what he might do with a more action-oriented release.
Standout Scene: Listening to the exile Warpsmiths begging the Time Lords to take mercy on them and grant asylum is a humbling experience. Once a temporal superpower, reduced to such handouts, it’s a vivid way of showing the effects of the Daleks now they are mobilised for war. Rather than simply show mercy, the Time Lords bureaucratic in their response.
Result: ‘Why would the War Council need to make multiple trips into the Death Zone?’ God bless Scott Handcock, who has managed to do two things simultaneously with this box set. Not only has he managed to make the Gallifrey series feel hugely relevant again, but he’s also managed to do a take on the Time War that is both interesting and worth investing in. The two things compliment each other very well; a series that was long starting to run out of steam since its fourth season and a tapestry of backstory from the new series that (rightly or wrongly) hasn’t been explored in any great depth. With the previous two Gallifrey sets Handcock has established a strong and extensive cast of characters and now they can be utilised across a four-story box set in a narrative that feels appropriately epic and dramatic thanks to the Time War backstory. There’s a lot of detail in the world building on Gallifrey and the surrounding universe and vivid cast of characters that gives this series substance. It has all the relevance that the recent eighth Doctor Time War series lacked. What’s more it has Handcock himself directing, which automatically gives this series weight and punch. I’m not just praising him for the sake of it, go check out his credits. He’s a proven asset to Big Finish, creating their superlative Dorian Gray and Torchwood ranges, which have both received terrific acclaim. There’s a genuinely ominous feel to Celestial Intervention with the Time War feeling that it is about to kick off big style. It reminded me a lot of Call to Arms from Star Trek DS9, the feeling of inevitability of an oncoming war that our heroes cannot hold back any longer, despite their efforts. Given that this is mostly a lot of chatter and very little action, the feeling of momentum is all the more impressive and we have David Llewellyn to thank for a script that introduces a lot of the players and the main conflict but doesn’t lose track of anybody. It’s a return to the politicking of old, which was always a series strength, with efforts to depose the latest President and replace her with somebody more able to guide the planet through warfare. If this is the standard of the set, we’re going to be in great shape indeed. For the successful blending of Big Finish and New Series continuity in such a seamless way, I’m very impressed. And ultimately Gallifrey Time War practically promotes itself with the lead performances of Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, Sean Carlsen, Miles Richardson and Derek Jacobi. A phenomenally talented cast: 8/10