The most illustrious Doctor ever; the War Doctor has been in one full episode, the amazing fiftieth anniversary special The Day of The Doctor, he made a cameo at the end of the Series 7 finale, The Name of The Doctor and we’ve had an amazing novel dedicated to him in Engines of War. Sadly, for Whovians, that’s all we really expected we’d get of John Hurt’s incarnation of our favourite Time Lord, but thankfully Big Finish banished those nightmarish scenarios and has brought him back and flung him into the depths of the Time War itself. With four box sets announced, each with three hour long stories, we can expect at least twelve hours of the War Doctor.
The Innocent is the first part in the first box set, entitled Only The Monstrous. The question is, will these stories meet the exceptionally high expectations of the Doctor Who community?
As the Daleks mass their time fleet for a final assault on Gallifrey, something ancient is waiting for them at Omega One. And a sacrifice must be made.
Arch-manipulator and Time Lord strategist, Cardinal Ollistra receives shock news of the Doctor’s death.
Meanwhile, on the planet Keska, a parochial war has returned to plague a peaceful civilisation after decades of tranquillity. But how can such a war have any connection with the great Time War which, at any one moment in the whole of eternity, could threaten to tear the universe apart?
If only the Doctor were still alive.
It’s a bold move to start a saga with the death of the main character. A bold move that writer of the entire box set, the wonderful Nicholas Briggs, decided to do. The Doctor rescues two fellow Time Lords just before they execute their orders of Cardinal Ollistra of a suicide mission to rid the universe of a Dalek fleet, supposedly setting the Daleks back a few millennia. After this explosive, huge scale opening, we get to hear an incredible new rendition of the Doctor Who theme. One that I like a lot. A hell of a lot. Anyway, after the exciting, large scale opening, it appears that this story goes rather small scale. Getting over his injuries, we see the Doctor stay on the planet Keska where he befriends one of the local people called Rejoice who aids him with his recovery.
If theres a televisual episode of Doctor Who that I think reminds me of The Innocent, it would probably be The Time of The Doctor as the Doctor is in no obligation to stay on a planet, whether it be Trenzalore in The Time of The Doctor or Keksa in The Innocent, but he is compelled to stay due to him wanting to help this less technologically advanced race (even though in both of the cases, their technology is far superior to anything we have here on Earth) and ensuring everyone is safe. For me, I really like this idea of starting off this, what I’m sure is going to be epic saga, with a smaller story and a more character driven piece. I’m sure this is intentional as it helps us get to know and attempt to understand the motivations of the War Doctor; an incarnation a lot of people would have known for only 77 minutes from the fiftieth anniversary.
For me, John Hurt as the War Doctor is an absolute delight, if there were any Doctor’s from the modern era I doubted would come over to Big Finish, it was John Hurt and Christopher Eccleston (never say never). The fact that one of my favourite writers of Doctor Who, Nicholas Briggs, gets to flesh out his character a lot more in this box set is a joy, and even in the first hour we learn a lot about this incarnation. Personally, I feel that the War Doctor is portrayed towards the much spikier end of the Doctor’s scale; he occasionally shows the lack of compassion that we saw with the Sixth and Twelfth Doctor’s early in their tenure, we see his more cunning and manipulative side from Seven and we see his crotchetiness from the First Doctor. Nicholas Briggs has managed to encapsulate exactly who I thought the War Doctor would be, and I applaud him for that. It would have been so easy to just keep him as similar to the man he is in The Day of The Doctor as possible, but Briggs understands that every character has layers and layers that are just waiting to be peeled back; I can’t wait to see how the War Doctor develops.
In this story, we almost get a companion to join the War Doctor in the form of Rejoice. Drawing parallels from the TV adventures again, she seemed to me to be a bit like Martha in the beginning; she had a soft spot for the Doctor (though in Rejoice’s case, not a romantic one) and, despite the Doctor’s efforts to try and shake her off, he eventually gives in to his feelings of warmth for the companion and lets them join in. I mean, how many ‘one more trip’ trips did Martha get before the Doctor officially made her a companion? Rejoice was the anchor in this story for anyone who was still unsure about how dark this version of the Doctor could be, in a way I would go as far as saying that Rejoice acted more like the Doctor we know than the Doctor did, a perfect example of how the Time War has changed him. Rejoice showed the Doctor care and compassion whilst the Doctor tried his best to resist it. This is a man who doesn’t want to be known as the Doctor anymore, and for understandable reasons. He’s gone against his moral code so many times between the events of The Night of The Doctor and The Innocent, events we may never get to see or hear, and it leaves the listener asking the question, just how far has the Doctor already gone?
My favourite scenes in this story are the scenes on the boat between the Doctor and Rejoice; this is the time in which the Doctor can open up a bit to his could-be-companion. Not only do we get to hear from the Doctor himself exactly what’s going on in the universe, but we also get examples of just how battle worn and fragile he has become. He struggles to help paddle the boat, he gets tired easily. This is a man who has literally been through the wars.
The end of the story is bittersweet for me, we see the Doctor’s softer side again as he lets Rejoice join him in the TARDIS, but Cardinal Ollistra’s actions are heartbreaking, and it shows the listener just how heartless she can be. I’m sure that we’re going to see her character get a lot darker in the coming stories…
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Innocent, I will give a rating of: