It’s odd to think that it was December of last year when the illustrious War Doctor made his Big Finish debut in Only The Monstrous; it’s three stories The Innocent, The Thousand Worlds and The Heart of The Battle were all superb for a vast array of reasons; now, a mere three months after that amazing box set, it’s time to rejoin the War Doctor during the Time War in the second box set, Infernal Devices. Comprised of another three stories, this review will focus on the second story, A Thing of Guile.
The Daleks are developing a secret weapon on Asteroid Theta 12. It is imperative that their plans are uncovered.
Cardinal Ollistra has her hands full studying the range of ancient and mysterious armaments the universe has to offer, but she makes it a personal mission to investigate the Dalek project.
On this dangerous assignment, there is one particular Time Lord she wants at her side – and he will be accompanying her whether he wants to or not.
Guile (noun)- Clever or crafty person or behaviour.
Now we all know what guile means, let’s start the review! After the events at the end of Legion of The Lost, the Doctor is now the prisoner of Cardinal Ollistra for war crimes (which is extremely ironic). The Time Lords are still seemingly losing the Time War and Ollistra’s new favourite prisoner, Prisoner 101 has hatched a plan to try and win some sort of advantage. Like in Only The Monstrous, Infernal Devices seems to fit the mould that the first story doesn’t heavily feature Daleks whereas the latter two stories feature them heavily; you can tell that from the covers alone, so I can’t say I’ve spoiled you yet.
The idea that the Doctor has had to hatch a nefarious plan for both himself and a small team of Time Lords to try and win the advantage goes to show the great range of the War Doctor, especially when you compare his pacifistic nature in Legion of The Lost to his actions in the opening chapter of this release; I think it’s great that after over 50 years, we get to see what the Doctor would be like should he ever use his intellect and his cunning to purposefully cause havoc.
After the titles, we get to hear something I really didn’t expect to hear anytime soon; we get to hear Ollistra’s seemingly softer side, even if it is only to try and sweet talk the Doctor into working alongside her and pilot his TARDIS into battle. Yet again, we get to witness the War Doctor get pissed off at someone, this time his best frenemy in the Time War, Cardinal Ollistra, as she wants him to do a task that even he thinks is too evil. John Hurt’s pissed off yelling is absolutely great.
There’s news of a Dalek faction that seems to be extremely secret, with apparently no other Dalek, regardless of rank knowing of their existence and seemingly building a new kind of weapon that the Time Lords want to procure for themselves. I find it really interesting that in these box sets, the writers aren’t afraid to make the Time Lords look inferior to the Daleks during the Time War; I don’t think in the previous four stories there’s ever been a moment where the Time Lords seem to have a clear advantage over the Daleks; I can’t help but wonder if at any point during the four box sets it’ll ever look like the Time Lords might stand a chance of winning.
I know I talk a lot about the little things that I really enjoy in the Big Finish releases, and in A Thing Of Guile, my first favourite little thing had to be the bickering between the Time Lords who are escorting the Doctor and Ollistra to Asteroid Theta 12, saying that the Doctor shouldn’t go and he should be sent back to Gallifrey, then another one saying he wishes he could go back to Gallifrey; it’s the little moments I think that ground Doctor Who in as much realism as possible. Sure, you can pretend that everyone is happy being a soldier, but chances are there’ll be a lot of people who are absolutely bloody petrified by the idea, which is something that the writer of this story, Phil Mulryne uses to great effect.
Doctor Who has never been shy of having characters swallowed up by creatures from the ground, and it works extremely well on audio, as a lot of the horror is left to the listeners imagination. Thankfully (or sadly) for me, when I listen; the imagination is of a rather dark, sick and twisted person who can conjure up mental images that would be way too dark for Doctor Who, and probably be even too dark for Torchwood. God bless the power of a strong imagination.
The Day of The Doctor gave the impression that the War Doctor was a hardened man who caused some of the universes greatest atrocities in the Time War; and, until Only The Monstrous was released, I had no real reason to doubt that assumption. Since then though, I’ve come to learn that the Doctor is a much more weary and way more reluctant to do anything that would be considered unDoctorly. John Hurt portrays the War Doctor in such a way that makes you realise he’s not a different man to the eight previous incarnations of the Time Lord or the following four; he just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The idea that we get to see a Doctor who is tired of living, who has given up on trying to see the beauty in the universe and who, at some of his lowest points, wants to die to save others just goes to show just how much like the Doctor this Doctor is.
There are themes in this story that are somewhat reminiscent of Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of The Daleks, and I’m sure you’ll be able to work out what I’m talking about; however before you go jumping to conclusions, I shall say that whilst they’re slightly similar, they’re not the same at all; there’s just a slight whiff of familiarity.
Towards the end of the episode, there’s a somewhat civil war that breaks out that I really didn’t see coming, and I have a feeling that a lot of people won’t be too fond of what happens; you’d have thought that in the middle of The Last Great Time War, there wouldn’t be enough time to have petty arguments amongst yourselves, but apparently there is enough time; Phil Mulryne really milks the novelty of this civil war and makes it extremely humorous, which is a very bold and daring move which pays off excellently.
A lot of very spoilery things happen in A Thing Of Guile that I really don’t want to ruin for any readers who’ve yet to experience the story; so apologies for being so vague in this review. At time of writing this review, I haven’t listened to the concluding story, The Neverwhen, so I can’t be completely sure if the things that I’m omitting for the readers sake will pay off in the finale, but I have a sense that they will. What I can say is that A Thing of Guile is rather peculiar in the sense it’s got an epic scale of events, however a lot of the story and the action seems extremely claustrophobic and cramped; I have to admit though that I like it a lot.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For A Thing of Guile, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to buy The War Doctor: Infernal Devices (and I highly recommend you do) then you can purchase it from the Big Finish website for £20 for either the download or the physical CD. Make sure you check back tomorrow for my review of the final story in the box set, The Neverwhen!