Light the Flame

To celebrate 10 years since the 50th Anniversary, and the introduction of the War Doctor to the Doctor Who mythos, we now welcome the War Doctor to the Impossible Blog!

Lithea, leave our guest. Something tells me that he is not yet ready for visitors.

Ohila

Synopsis

The Sisterhood of Karn have a guest, recovering from his traumatic regeneration. To do what is asked of him, the Doctor has rejected his name and his code.

The Time Lords have plans for him and for Karn. Is he ready to light the flame of war?

Review

Big Finish’s The War Doctor Begins range sees brings us to the beginning of the War Doctor’s life, shortly after the events of the webisode The Night of the Doctor and sees another Doctor recast following Sir John Hurt’s death in January 2017. Recasting is a bit of a thorny issue amongst Big Finish listeners but for my money, they certainly haven’t put a foot wrong, with actors like Tim Treloar and Michael Troughton stepping in and doing their predecessors justice. Jonathon Carley is certainly a worthy successor.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t save you. I tried. He tried. I couldn’t save him either. Did he really think he could stay apart from the War? Play the dashing romantic hero forever. How full of hope he was. How naive. How foolish.

The War Doctor

The story is more character-focused and deals with the repercussions with the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration, aided by the Sisterhood of Karn, as well as the relationship between Karn and Gallifrey and how the Last Great Time War has impacted on this. As a result, the plot is relatively light, with a simple story about the Time Lords attempting to get the Doctor and his TARDIS involved in the War, along with Rassilon’s plan to get hold of the Sacred Flame at the heart of Karn. Matt Fitton has, instead, written a character-driven piece which focuses on the impact of this very different incarnation of the Doctor and his coming to terms with the idea of being the individual assigned as destined to end the Time War. It’s well worth remembering the traumatic nature of the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the War Doctor so it is unsurprising that, having regenerated into the man destined to end the Time War, he has some struggles. Fitton does this well, giving us a clear insight into the Doctor’s conflict to turn away from the man he has been previously into something else entirely to end this seemingly endless war.

The story is also interesting for what it tells us about the relationship between the Sisterhood of Karn and the Time Lords. Rassilon sees Karn as a planet of importance, due to Time Lord science being heightened there, and so naturally, the Time Lords feel obliged to protect it, something that the Sisterhood themselves rail against. The story also tells us that there are cults of zealots building up around Rassilon, who doesn’t not appear, but his appearance is certainly felt. The mission of Commander Sanmar, a former adventuress, herself a cautionary tale to the Doctor of the damaging effect this war could have on Time Lords of a similar disposition, as well as showing how far from their non-interventionist policy they have fallen. The Time Lords of the original series would not have considered something like removing the Eternal Flame from Karn. Despite the fact that the Sisterhood know things about Time Lord science, it is interesting that Rassilon and his zealots seem to regard them as primitives and witches. Contrary to this, Ohila and the Sisterhood are powerful enough to take Karn off the board completely by the end of the story, evading the Time Lords’ attempts to put them into a Time Lock until the war is over.

Doctor no more.

The War Doctor

The biggest compliment I can pay Jonathon Carley is the fact that his voice is indistinguishable from a young John Hurt’s, to the point that you can forget that this is not just an audio that John Hurt recorded back in the 1980s that has only just been found. I have listened to a number of audio stories with Carley now and am always slightly surprised when he starts speaking with his usual voice in the behind-the-scenes documentaries. It is a testament to his hard work carried out under the guidance of director Louise Jameson, who has done a great deal of coaching to ensure that this is not just an impersonation but a complete acting performance, and Carley is commended for never letting that performance slip for a second. Carley certainly makes you feel the conflict within the Doctor throughout the story, even when he is doing things that we are unaccustomed to seeing him do. The fact that he is willing to leave Commander Sanmar to her fate feels jarring but works really well. The Doctor recognises how far removed he is from his previous incarnations, noting he’s not sure whether they’re afraid of his new personality or ashamed, not being able to hear the voices of his predecessors in his head. There are still moments that are recognisable as something one of the previous Doctors would have done, like when he frees one of the races of aliens who have crashed on Karn from reliving the moments before their death. This is contrasted with his willingness to destroy Karn in order to force the Time Lords hands marks this as a potentially different Doctor to the ones seen before.

Verdict: Whilst it has a light plot, Light the Flame sets up the War Doctor for his adventures fighting in the Time War. Jonathon Carley impresses in the role as the younger War Doctor, and there are some interesting developments about how far the Time Lords have fallen by this point in the war. 8/10

Cast: Jonathan Carley (The War Doctor), Veronica Roberts (Ohila), Chris Jarman (Cardinal Rasmus), Helen Goldwyn (Commander Sanmar), Anna Andresen (Lithea/Elementals) & Adèle Anderson (Commodore Tamasan).

Writer: Matt Fitton

Director: Louise Jameson

Producer: David Richardson

Composer: Howard Carter

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first post-regeneration story for Big Finish as the first moments of the War Doctor were not shown on television.

Cast Notes

  • Veronica Roberts played Relly in The Fate of Krelos/Return to Telos opposite the Fourth Doctor.
  • Chris Jarman has played Rasmus in Dreadshade and Restoration of the Daleks, Dancer in The Curse of the Black Spot and has also appeared in other roles in The Fourth Doctor Adventures, Charlotte Pollard: The Further Adventuress, Ravenous and UNIT: The New Series for Big Finish.
  • Helen Goldwyn is a writer, director and actor for Big Finish. She has appeared in a number of audio plays, including Storm Warning, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor and Paradise 5.
  • Anna Andresen played Alexandra Fydorovna in The Power of the Doctor.
  • Adele Anderson has played Tamasan across the Eighth Doctor: Time War and War Doctor ranges. She has played a number of roles for Big Finish, in ranges including Classic Doctors, New Monsters and Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter.

Best Quote

Haven’t you learned, Commander? How many regenerations and you still don’t know. Gallifrey only protects you so long as you’re useful!

The War Doctor

Light the Flame is available to purchase as part of the boxset The War Doctor Begins: Forged in Fire from the Big Finish website.

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