“Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor – The Time War 2” Isn’t Quite as Good as the First Box Set, But Still Rather Enjoyable

DW8DTW02_slipcase_1417SQOverall, I’m just really, really pleased with these Eighth Doctor Time War sets. The Eighth Doctor is one of my favorite Doctors and the Time War is one of my favorite elements of Doctor Who mythology, so I’m really pleased to see it explored so well in these audios. Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor – The Time War Series 2 is the second Big Finish Productions box set in a series of four featuring the Eighth Doctor’s adventures during the Time War. Starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Rakhee Thakrar as Bliss, Jacqueline Pearce as Cardinal Ollistra, Nikki Amuka-Bird as Tamasan, and Julia McKenzie as the Twelve, The Time War 2 sees the Doctor and Bliss continue to fight for survival during the Time War. As the Time War gets more treacherous the Time Lords and Daleks become more desperate and they’ll use anything and anyone at their disposal… the Doctor and Bliss can only hope to avoid the crossfire. (NOTE: There may be spoilers in this review… read ahead at your own risk!) 

DW8DTW0201_thelordsofterror_1417The Lords of Terror by Jonathan Morris
As far as first stories of box sets go, this one is totally serviceable, but not the most exciting ever to exist. This first story seems to pick up shortly after the end of the previous box set as Bliss has the Doctor take her to her home planet. Naturally, he complies, but when they arrive, they find things aren’t quite as they anticipated. From Big Finish Productions: When the Doctor takes Bliss to her home colony, they discover that the Time War has got there first. Bliss finds her world altered beyond recognition, and the population working to serve new masters. No dissent is allowed. The Daleks are coming. The planet must be ready to fight them.

There’s a lot to like in this story. Bliss gets a lot of character development here, which is much appreciated after her fairly minor role in the previous box sets. The continued challenging of the Doctor’s moral stance against the Time War is also more than welcomed here; good science fiction should always challenge the morals of the main characters, and these Eighth Doctor Time War stories have done a superb job at that. I also really like how utterly brutal the Time Lords are in this story; they’re more like the ones we see in The End of Time than the ones we see throughout the classic run of the series, and it’s great. It’s important to have characters like these Time Lords – especially Carvil (Simon Slater) – to be the inverse of the Doctor. Carvil is deliciously corrupt and short minded and it’s a joy to see him spar with the Doctor. Tamasan (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is more likable in her newest regeneration, but still very much at odds with the Doctor, and that’s also nice. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable story, but I feel like it doesn’t do a great job at setting up the rest of the box set. The last set featured a story that was being told over all four episodes whereas this one seems to be a bit more loosely connected. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I just prefer these box sets to have a stronger story tying all the individual stories together, but that’s just me. (3.5 out of 5 wands)

DW8DTW0202_planetoftheogrons_1417Planet of the Ogrons by Guy Adams
It’s worth noting that I’m really not a particularly big fan of the Ogrons from the Classic series. They were always right on the edge of being really distasteful, even for that time period, and they haven’t aged any better. It’s a miracle they’re as good as they are in this audio. From Big Finish Productions: Avoiding the Time War, the Doctor and Bliss are found by an old acquaintance: the latest incarnation of a criminal mastermind the Doctor knows of old. But unlike her predecessors, the Twelve has a handle on her previous selves’ unruly minds. There is a mystery to solve involving the Doctor’s TARDIS and its unusual occupant – and answers will be found on the Planet of the Ogrons.

There’s a number of elements that make this story rather interesting. The first is how they use the Ogrons. For the most part, there’s only one Ogron who features heavily in the story, and he’s a result of Dalek experimentation (there’s a new mutant Dalek known as the Overseer). Said experiment involved the Overseer trying to merge the memories of a Time Lord with an Ogron; in this case, he merged the Doctor’s memories with an Ogron and created the Doctor Ogron. I always like it when Time War stories explore how the Daleks have mutated themselves in order to get the upper hand, and this particular mutation is really interesting and allows Nicholas Briggs the opportunity to voice something a bit deeper than the average Dalek. The other most interesting thing about this story is the way it reinterprets past episodes of Doctor Who. The Ogrons originally appeared in a handful of stories during the Third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) era and then never again. This story seems to suggest that the Ogrons only appeared in a version of those events that was changed by the Time War and not originally as the Doctor would have experienced them. It doesn’t really change anything in the vast scheme of things, but it’s a neat way in retroactively tying in elements from the revived series with stories from the original run. The story as a whole is sorta forgettable, but there’s a lot of fun interactions between the Twelve and the Doctor as well as between Bliss and the Doctor Ogron, so it’s still worthwhile. It also sets up a story arc that takes us through the rest of the box set, and that’s always nice. (3.5 out of 5)

DW8DTW0203_inthegardenofdeath_1417In The Garden of Death by Guy Adams
Long story short, In the Garden of Death is another one of those stories where the Doctor has none of his memories and he and his companion(s) have to figure out what’s going on, how to escape it, and how to get their memories back. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this; if not… well, hang in there. From Big Finish Productions: In a prison camp like no other, the Most Dangerous Man in the Universe is held in isolation. The rest of the inmates have no memory of who they were or what they might have done. No memory even of their captors. Until the interrogations begin.

I think this is probably my least favorite story on the set. It’s just a bit tedious, to be honest. It’s not, strictly speaking, bad or anything. I just really dislike episodes where the Doctor is without his memories for the majority of the story. Much of the heavy lifting in this episode is done by Julia McKenzie as the Twelve, and she’s really good. I think her portrayal of this character might be my favorite one. The story is just sorta mediocre. At the end of the previous episode, the Daleks have captured the Doctor, the Twelve, and Bliss and are now holding them in a prison camp while they interrogate them seeking information about some kind of weapon. If that seems a bit like the plot to The Conscript, the third episode of the first box set, you wouldn’t entirely be mistaken. By the end of the episode, we still don’t really know what it was the Daleks were trying to find, and naturally the Doctor, Bliss, and the Twelve all regain their memories and escape from the Daleks, so it ends up just feeling like the box set needed to tread water for a bit. Nothing of any real importance happens in the episode, outside of the final 5-10 minutes, and it’s utterly forgettable outside of Julia McKenzie. (3 out of 5 wands)

DW8DTW0204_jonah_1417Jonah by Timothy X Atack
I can’t help but feel like this story would’ve been better if it had been a two-part story and the first part had taken the spot of In The Garden of Death. But, alas, what we got was fine, I guess. A really ambitious idea hampered by a really standard base under siege story. From Big Finish Productions: In the depths of an ocean world ravaged by the Time War, the weary survivors are pressed into service by Cardinal Ollistra. Something is hidden beneath the sea: the Twelve knows the truth, if only she could drag it from her jumbled mind. And when the Doctor becomes the captain of a submarine boat, all omens spell disaster…

I wish I could say I liked this story more than I did. It had so many good ideas and much of the execution was very good, too. The problem is just that far too much time was spent treading water (somewhat literally) leaving little time left to actually explore the interesting elements of the story. It turns out that the Twelve knew of a “monster” deep beneath the ocean of a planet. This “monster” (whose name I couldn’t hope to try and spell) has the ability to see into all possible futures and pasts and the Daleks want it for obvious reasons. This is a really interesting idea. Too bad it takes over half the episode for the idea to even be introduced and we don’t get to meet the monster until the last 10 minutes or so. The rest of the time is spent on the Doctor trying to keep his submarine together in the face of ongoing Dalek attacks on it and the Twelve’s slow descent into madness. I feel like if the episode could’ve been longer/two episodes, it might have worked a bit better. As it is, I am left wanting so much more time with the monster and so much less time with everything else. The supporting cast for the episode was fine and it’s always nice to hear from Cardinal Ollistra again, but it ultimately just sorta didn’t work for me. Those last ten minutes are golden, though, and really are the highlight of the story (the “monster” is dying and can transfer its consciousness and abilities into any living receptacle but everyone has the good sense to not agree to it for various reasons).  (3 out of 5 wands)

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor – The Time War 2 is a bit disappointing on the whole. It’s never awful or anything, but it’s surprisingly mediocre. None of the stories are quite as good as the ones in the first Time War set and many of them just feel like Doctor Who as usual, just with a bit of extra darkness. There are some really good ideas, but they’re frequently underutilized in favor of more generic scenes and plotlines. The overarching storyline isn’t as strong as the first box set and the conclusion to it ends up not working all that well as the final episode devotes little time to actually exploring the idea it wants to explore. Much of the dialogue is good, but it’s all lot down by weak plotlines in the stories. The acting, sound design, directing, and score are great, but, ultimately, these audio box sets live and die based on how good the stories are, and these stories were just exceedingly average for me. Most will still like it; it’s certainly not a waste of time. But it doesn’t feel as special as the first Time War set did, and that’s disappointing.

3 out of 5 wands.

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