‘Doctor Who – The War Doctor: Casualties of War’ reviewed

Casualties of War is a fitting end to Big Finish’s War Doctor series and an essential piece of ‘Doctor Who’ for all, writes Ian McCann.

I can rememeber the night I watched The Name of the Doctor in early 2013. When John Hurt turned around and *that* caption appeared I threw my boot at the television. Seriously, I did. Mostly out of shock and being bit a miffed with Moffat’s major retcon, but also because we would never see this Doctor’s tenure on the show. I felt cheated. The Day of the Doctor came and went but I was still left with that feeling…

…Enter Big Finish Productions! Purveyors of fine audio drama and fandom dreams coming true. In October 2015, the impossible was announced. Sir John Hurt was coming back to play the War Doctor in not one but four boxsets. There was no boot slinging that night!

Which leads us here on the arrival of the fourth and unfortunately terribly final boxset ‘Casualties of War’. It’s all very bittersweet. But wipe away that tear, Sarah Jane and let’s see what’s left to enjoy:

Pretty Lies by Guy Adams

This one plays like a war story, which seems to be the idea around most of Big Finish’s War Doctor installments. The War Doctor and Ollistra are on the run and they have to think on their feet to save a small town. Really damn fine acting by the main cast here. I like seeing Cardinal Ollistra soften up a bit around him. The story has some topical things to say about news and how it may be altered. It all ends on a dark note but that’s pretty fitting for a story set during the Time War. The easiest listen in the set, but jolly good fun.

The Lady of Obsidian by Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith has quite a knack for Time War stories doesn’t he? Here the War Doctor seeks out the eponymous Lady, who is SPOILER ALERT…Leela. The reunion scene is heartbreaking. Two friends, companions to each other both damaged and torn by a war that both were unwillingly swept up in. It adds such new layers to both characters. Seeing this incarnation of the Doctor with a figure of his past really hones in how he’s so different, yet…still the same man underneath it all. The self-proclaimed warrior meets the warrior he tried to change himself many years ago…

The Enigma Dimension by Nicholas Briggs

A much quieter affair from the last two episodes, which is a bit unexpected considering this is the big finale we’ve been leading to. Here the War Doctor, Leela, and Cardinal Ollistra must team up to save Gallifrey… AFTER it’s too late. The episode ends up pretty much where the character is left at the beginning of Day of the Doctor. He’s right at the verge of blasting ‘No More’ on the side of a wall. Sure BF could shoehorn another box set in between here and that point. But why? Thematically, his story is finished. In fact I’d much rather see a ‘Gallifrey’ box set with Cardinal Ollistra and Leela now. Their stories aren’t quite over, methinks…

The War Doctor is tired now, his old body is wearing a bit thin…

Casualties of War is a character-rich set with plenty of moments for the leads to soak up their environments and play off of each other. The reunion scene in The Lady of Obsidian is a particular stand out. Sir John Hurt gives a magnificent final performance as the man we all know and love who’s forced to do what is neccessary. Not a single line of his is underdone or wasted. Jacqueline Pearce is wonderful as well, and perhaps not given as much recognition or acclaim as she should in these sets. (I didn’t realise it until it was brought up a few times in story, but she is the de facto companion here, isn’t she?) Cardinal Ollistra is a super character and I’d love, love, love to see more of her in BF’s future. (Besides what happens to her between this and Day of the Doctor? I need answers, people!) Louise Jameson knows Leela up and down and here she is given a new angle to play with. She does a great job of vocalising this older and weary version of Leela. Also a special shout out to Big Finish renaissance man Nick Briggs who plays the Dalek Time Strategist. Easily the best Dalek creation ever and why it hasn’t been stolen to use in the show proper is beyond me. coughChibnallcough

You must enter this boxset with any preconceived notions at the door. That way lies disappointment. Fans tend to do this and it hampers the enjoyment of such things. So do remember that.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ‘Doctor Who’ fans are part of the world’s luckiest fandom. We are genuinely spoiled. To have SIR John Hurt come back and portray this one off character he did so late in his career for a few audio plays? That’s nothing but luck.

In the end we’re left with thirteen hours of War Doctor material performed by John Hurt. Not bad for a character that was never supposed to live outside an anniversary special. These boxsets aren’t perfect. Nothing ever is. But as long as people remember ‘Doctor Who’ these audios will be something special. Something to hold dear and treat as preciously as you can. No matter what books are written or comics that are drawn, they’ll never have Sir John Hurt there to twinkle his eyes and grumble a line that will just effortlessly breathe life into a 54 year old character that we care for so much.

Big Finish had the opportunity to make these sets and they ran with it. Casualties of War is a fitting end to their War Doctor series. Expertly acted, lovingly written, and it ends the story where it began for all of us in 2013. You simply won’t get this anywhere else. An essential piece of ‘Doctor Who’ for all.

Thank you Big Finish Productions and thank YOU Sir John Hurt.

And to address this incarnation’s penchant for forgoing his name I shall shamelessly steal from Logopolis 

“He was the Doctor all along.”

10/10 (What else could I give it?)

 ❉ ‘Casualties of War’ was released on 23 February 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2017, and on general sale after this date.


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1 Comment

  1. Sam Riley (currently in the new BBC series ‘SS-GB) would be great to continue the War Doctor range, he sounds incredibly like the late, great John Hurt.

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