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 final story, The Neverwhen.
On an isolated world ravaged by battle, time itself has become a weapon, laying waste to all who live and die there. Arms and technology are in a state of flux – and it seems that everlasting war is their only option.
The arrival of one battered Type Forty TARDIS inside this nightmare offers hope to the combatants trapped within.
But when he discovers the truth, the horrors of the Neverwhen will shock even the War Doctor…
I think this is the first Big Finish story I’ve listened to where we get essentially a direct continuation and slight revisitation from and to the previous story, A Thing of Guile; and it really does give the impression that these stories are set directly after each other as opposed to other releases where there’s always a sense that there’s been an unspecified amount of time between stories.
One thing that really intrigued me is that fact that Cardinal Ollistra believes that the Doctor himself is Gallifrey’s greatest weapon, as, like I’ve said in all my Big Finish War Doctor reviews, even if the Doctor doesn’t go by that name anymore, he certainly stills acts like him.
The fact that Ollistra has essentially hijacked the Doctor’s TARDIS and sent him to what appears to be a fairly primitive battlefield in comparison to what else is going on during the Time War is really interesting, as I honestly had no idea why Ollistra would feel it necessary to send him there; even though it did hook me, trying to work out what Ollistra’s motives might have been.
When it transpires exactly what Ollistra’s plan was, it doesn’t really answer many questions, instead it just asks more and more. Like in all of my Big Finish reviews, I try my best to keep anything that I feel would ruin the enjoyment of anyone who’s reading these reviews (you’re a good looking bunch, the lot of you) and have yet to listen to the stories, as I know that my opinions are a good indicator as to whether to buy a certain release or not. All I will say is, The Neverwhen might well be the most intriguing and gripping story that the War Doctor has had so far.
Conceptually, the idea of the Neverwhen is really interesting and timey-wimey; giving the impression that this story would easily fit into New-Who lore as well as Classic Who, which if you think about it, is exactly what the War Doctor is. The premise of a planet that’s time is constantly in flux and the soldiers have to quickly adapt to fight with whatever technology is available is superb. I have to applaud Matt Fitton for his creativity and the way in which he explains to the listener exactly how the Neverwhen works. I also have to say that the way that he casually just name-drops ‘The Sisterhood’ being unable to help harks back to both of their appearances in The Night of The Doctor, in which the Sisterhood of Karn triggered the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration into the War Doctor as well as The Brain of Morbius.
If there’s one story that I am reminded of by the concept of the Neverwhen, it’s the Second Doctor’s final story, The War Games, although this time, the Doctor is witnessing every period of war in timey-wimey ripples. I think that if Steven Moffat wanted the Twelfth Doctor to have a story similar to The War Games, The Neverwhen would be the perfect starting point.
The revelation of the people who the Doctor is trying to help on Neverwhen is a turn that I really didn’t expect to happen at all, and it takes a lot to really surprise me in a show where I know anything is possible. The Doctor’s reaction is also absolutely priceless at the revelation that ensues, as it’s not that often that he gets something so wrong.
I think that it’s in The Neverwhen that we really get to see how manipulative and single-minded Cardinal Ollistra can be; using the Doctor’s TARDIS just so she can too enter the Neverwhen and use the anomalous power of the Neverwhen to resurrect Time Lords much more efficiently than they could using the Technomancer’s help. The scene where Cardinal Ollistra basically abandons all of the Time Lords that have been perpetually stuck on the Neverwhen for seemingly an eternity shows just how cold her character can be, and just how warm the Doctor is in comparison. In some ways, I think that Cardinal Ollistra is worse than the Master has ever been; whilst the Master seems to just thrive in chaos and seeing the Doctor squirm, Ollistra is just plain sadistic too him when she needs to be and has no signs of remorse or forgiveness, which the Master seems to have deep down.
The ending few minutes of The Neverwhen, and by extension, the ending of Infernal Devices is somewhat bittersweet; we are seemingly witnessing a broken Doctor who’s given up fighting and defying Cardinal Ollistra, who is becoming more and more sadistic and downright torturing the Doctor. The Time Lords seem to be getting more cocky and self-assured whereas the Daleks are just being the Daleks. It just goes to show that in warfare, there are no real winners.
The closing spat between the Doctor and Ollistra is brilliantly low-key, brilliantly quiet, calm and contained and goes to show just to what unDoctorish lengths he’s willing to go to do what he feels is right; for younger listeners it might knock them aback slightly, but for us older listeners it’s a brilliant piece of writing that really goes to show how damaging the Time War is.
One possibility that I really hope we get to see in the upcoming Big Finish release, Eighth Doctor: The Time War is seeing who Cardinal Ollistra was before the devastation and brutality of the Time War had corrupted and hardened her character, making her only reason to live being to defeat the Daleks and win the Time War.
Personally, I think Matt Fitton is one of the unsung heroes of both Big Finish and Doctor Who; some of the best Big Finish stories have been penned by him, I’d love to see him write a televised episode of Doctor Who, although I wouldn’t want the budget of the BBC to constrain his brilliant writing mind.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Neverwhen, 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.