‘Doctor Who – The Eternal Battle’ reviewed

❉ Cavan Scott & Mark Wright’s Fourth Doctor Adventure “embodies the best of Big Finish’s take on ‘Doctor Who’”.

“A battle-weary Sontaran; that is novel.”

That single line from Romana could very well have been the starting point for The Eternal Battle, Big Finish Productions’ latest release in The Fourth Doctor Adventures. It also neatly encapsulates the essence of this particular series. More than any of Big Finish’s other ‘Doctor Who’ ranges, the stories with Tom Baker are characterized by an effort to recapture the specific eras of televised ‘Doctor Who’ in which they’re set. Though the remit seems to have broadened somewhat from the initial tag-line of “It’s Saturday Teatime in 1977 All Over Again…”, there remains an undeniable strand of nostalgia running through them.

In itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Tom Baker remains the most popular of all the “Classic Doctors”, with more stories in the top 10 in ‘Doctor Who Magazine’s’ comprehensive 2014 survey than any other Doctor. That each of those stories comes from a different season points to an enduring fondness for his overall tenure in the role. With that in mind, the measure of success has been how well the production team has managed to recapture the aesthetic of its equivalent TV season while still giving fans a reason to listen to these new stories instead of just re-watching The Horror of Fang Rock.

That tension has been especially apparent in stories featuring established antagonists and settings. While Geoffrey Beevers’ appearances as the Master have generally been entertaining, stories like The Exxilons and Return to Telos felt like continuity for continuity’s sake. For its part, The Eternal Battle is a step in the right direction. Writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, whose contributions to Big Finish’s ‘Doctor Who’ ranges extends back to some of the earliest releases, have devised an intriguing story where –  rather than being just a throwback for fans – the Sontarans are thoroughly essential  to the story’s themes.

Of all the alien races in ‘Doctor Who’, there’s no better choice for a story dealing with the futility of war than the Sontarans. Warfare is simply a means to an end for Daleks and Cybermen. For Sontarans the prospect of a glorious death in combat is intrinsic to their identity. But how much of a Sontaran’s passion for dying in battle is tied to their ability to actually die in battle? The Eternal Battle doesn’t fully answer that question, but this particular application of nature vs nurture adds more dimension to the race than virtually any story in any medium since their debut.

When the setting is a war-torn planet and the real enemy is a form of living death, one might expect humour to be in short supply. To their credit, though, Scott and Wright understand that lighter moments are necessary for the weightier ones to make their full impact. They also seem to appreciate that both slapstick and wit have a place in ‘Doctor Who’. As a result, we find the Doctor jumping up and down to check for gravity or a Sontaran reacting to “pacifism” as a swear word and they both fit the story nicely.

There’s also plenty of humour courtesy of K-9. The robot dog may have presented production challenges on TV, but he’s a godsend here. Because he’s established as a character who routinely comments on events, he can provide both humorous interjections and clarity to the events in action sequences. When he does both simultaneously with lines like “please return this unit to horizontal axis”, it’s a wonderful reminder of how valuable John Leeson’s contribution to ‘Doctor Who’ has been over the years.

That’s not to say the humanoid TARDIS travellers aren’t also in good form. Baker always sounds right at home as the Doctor, making the listener almost forget that nearly four decades have passed since his initial run, especially in his delivery of a classic piece of circuitous logic to confound an opponent. As for Lalla Ward, the scenes opposite Dan Starkey as Field Major Lenk are among her best for Big Finish. We don’t typically associate Romana with toughness, at least at this point in her story, but the fortitude displayed here ties nicely to the older version of the character depicted in the ‘Gallifrey’ audio series.  Connecting these different eras is just one way in which The Eternal Battle embodies the best of Big Finish’s take on ‘Doctor Who’.

This title was released on 15 February 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.

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