This. Means. War! This week, we’re being thrown back into the middle of the Time War with the War Doctor. Today, we look at the first release in the third box set with the War Doctor, Agents of Chaos, entitled The Shadow Vortex…
Cardinal Ollistra exploits the War Doctor’s affection for Earth to send him to East Berlin, 1961, on the trail of a Dalek agent. Lara Zannis has breached the planet’s quantum shield on a very special mission for the Dalek Time Strategist.
Caught between MI6 and the KGB, the War Doctor must first escape the Stasi before he can hope to stop Lara. Cold War scientists are about to make a breakthrough – the Daleks want control of the ‘Shadow Vortex’, and Agent Zannis can provide it.
We start this box set, as you’d expect from a War Doctor box set, amidst a war. Not the Time War though, but rather the Cold War. We meet two prisoners of the Russians; one who sounds an awful lot like Vastra (it isn’t, they’re called Lara) and an old man with a gravelly voice. The Doctor. It seems as if the Doctor has a plan whilst he’s captured; and he seems especially happy that Lara is also captured.
We seemingly go back in time to learn how the Doctor got himself caught up in the Cold War, and of course, Ollistra is involved. It seems that a Time Lord operation known as Brightstar has been compromised; and neither Ollistra nor her assistant, Helena know quite exactly how the compromise occurred. All they do know is that a Dalek operative; Lara Zannis, is on Earth.
The idea that the Daleks are so desperate to win the Time War that they’ve enlisted other species to try and aid them is really interesting to me, especially as, up to this point, it seemed as if the Time War was the Daleks vs. The Universe. Whilst Lara appears to be humanoid; I think that I would have preferred it if we saw the Ogrons. I miss the Ogrons; maybe have a Dalek engineered Orgron that could communicate better? Just a thought for any future releases Big Finish people!
The Daleks are wanting to assemble something known as the Shadow Vortex, and whilst the Dalek Time Strategist communicates with Lara, she offers to kill the Doctor. Something that I anticipate will play out later is that the Dalek Time Strategist informs her that the Doctor’s death isn’t necessary; meaning that he probably has something else planned for our favourite Time Lord…
It’s not long before Lara Zannis has managed to escape from her prison cell, and has seemingly overcome the guards who stood in her way. What I love about Zannis’ character is just how cold-hearted and direct she is about everything. She has a mission, so she’ll accomplish it. She gets told not to kill the Doctor, so she just leaves him in his cell. There’s no pomposity or theatricality to her character; she just wants to get results. I love it.
Now, I know that I can’t really assume, but personally, if the Doctor and a Dalek operative arrived and caused a scene in the middle of one of the tensest wars in history, I don’t think that I’d be up for letting them go about their business; especially with the amount of power and technology it’s evident that both parties have.
The second act of the story is essentially a game of cat and mouse between the Doctor and Lara. It seems that The Shadow Vortex has all the tropes of a Cold War Thriller with a dash of Doctor Who absurdity and sci-fi. We also get the glorious moment of hearing how the War Doctor introduces an outsider into his TARDIS; he doesn’t have time for marvelling. He’d rather just have everyone accept the fact that it’s bigger on the inside and move swiftly on.
Considering the Doctor has an aversion to soldiers, especially in this incarnation of himself, I’m surprised to find that he seems to have a soldier-like figure as his companion. The Doctor does give reasoning for his choice, and it reminded me just how much like the Doctor we’ve known since 1963 the War Doctor is. Whilst his title may give you the idea that he’s a warrior; he’s just a Time Lord who’s been dealt the worse possible cards for his character and morals, and has to adapt. In many ways, The Shadow Vortex has reminded me just how tragic the War Doctor’s life really is.
The final act of The Shadow Vortex is perhaps the most absurd of all; it reminded me of the of The Stolen Earth where you have the Daleks shouting in German (Sadly though, the Daleks in this release don’t speak German). The stereotype of Germans and the Daleks seem to go hand in hand. I wonder how Angela Merkel would face off against the tanks from Skaro…
Of course, it’s not a properly good Doctor Who story unless the Doctor does something so immeasurably brilliant that you have to pause for a moment to try and properly understand what’s just gone on. In an effort to make these reviews as spoiler-free as possible, whilst still delivering a review of substance, I’m not going to tell you what the Doctor does at the end of The Shadow Vortex, or how. Likewise, I’m not going to tell you what the Shadow Vortex even is; all I will say is that it’s obvious that this Doctor doesn’t necessarily play by the rules anymore. This is the closest I think we’ve seen (or heard) the War Doctor becoming the Time Lord Victorious.
Overall, The Shadow Vortex is a great story by David Llewellyn that establishes themes that I think are going to run throughout the Agents of Chaos box set; I’m sure if you’re a fan of Cold War films, you’d arguably have gotten more enjoyment out of this story than I did.
Should you want to purchase The Shadow Vortex, it’s currently available as part of The War Doctor: Agents of Chaos box set from Big Finish which can be purchased here for £20.00 for either the CD or the download.