I’ve not even started listening to this release yet, and I already know that reviewing this fourth and final trilogy of John Hurt’s War Doctor adventures, entitled Casualties of War, is going to be tricky with the passing of the man himself, John Hurt. Knowing that these three stories are the last we’ll ever get of the War Doctor makes me hope that they will end on a high note; luckily, if this release is anything like the past three sets, I’m sure it will be.
Now, without any further ado, shall we get cracking?
Trapped and desperate, light years from their armies at the heart of the Time War, the War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra discover that wherever they go, destruction follows. A war reporter named Schandel may provide the key to their escape, but it is often said that the first casualty of war is the truth. When the choice between grim reality and a hero’s story means life or death, will the Doctor allow Schandel to print the legend?
There seems to be a precedent for having Doctors being trapped in some kind of vessel being hurled through space with no sense of hope as cliffhangers to releases; not only is that where we find ourselves at the beginning of this story, after the events of Eye of Harmony, but that’s also what happened with the Eighth Doctor, most recently at the climax of The Crucible of Souls but also during Dark Eyes 3 in Masterplan. Luckily for us, the listener, the Doctor and his companions (this time it’s good ol’ Ollistra) tend to escape these capsules and go out having more adventures.
After the still amazing titles, we rejoin the universes least/most loved pepper-pot fascists, the Daleks. Unsurprisingly, mercy isn’t a trait they’ve developed between box sets.
Considering we’ve already spent quite a while in the Time War (about nine hours with Big Finish and the glimpse we get in The Day of The Doctor), I’m surprised it’s taken up to this point to discover journalists prowling about, looking for a story. Trust Guy Adams to satirise this extremely dangerous job, and do it so well within the first few minutes. Schandel, the reporter is an absolutely brilliant character, having foreknowledge of the events of the Time War and being so fanboyish about meeting the Doctor. This is exactly what it would be like if I met the Time Lord too; and, being a kind-of journalist, in the sense I review things, I can really relate to him. The rapport between Schandel and the Doctor is great; they really are chalk and cheese, which makes for extremely humorous dialogue.
There’s a rather interesting scene which focusses on how sometimes in journalism, there’s a lack of tact and ethics; especially when the Doctor reluctantly gives Schandel a heart(s)felt snippet about his reluctance to be seen as a hero, and Schandel edits it to change the message completely, right in front of him. You can guess how well the Doctor reacts.
If you’re a regular reader of GallifreyArchive (if you are, did I ever tell you how amazing you look today? Really digging this look), you’ll know that myself and Guy Adams, the writer of this tale, have a rapport, a friendship, a similar way of thinking, and the same odd sense of humour. One of the many aspects of Guy’s writing that I consistently enjoy is the fact he gives actors lines that I didn’t know I needed in my life until I hear them. Pretty Lies also has one of these lines, with John Hurt saying “I don’t have time for photo opportunities”. It’s a brilliant line performed expertly, if you’ve heard this story, you’ll know what I mean.
The character of the Old Man, played by Mark Elstob, (who also plays the Editor) is yet another brilliant character. He’s nothing remarkable at all; just an old man in the street waiting for inevitable to happen whilst he watches other hurry away in fear of the imminent Dalek attack. There’s a beautiful speech about how, as you get older, you seem to fade to the world, almost into obscurity. I know this wasn’t intentional at all, but for me, it’s even more heart wrenching with John Hurt’s passing.
Once the Daleks do attack the planet, it’s a race against time for the Doctor to try and save as many people as possible; even though he realises that it’s probably unlikely that he’ll save anyone. For me, just that realisation alone shows how different the War Doctor is to the other incarnations of the Time Lord; whereas other Doctor’s would try their upmost best to save everyone from an attack, the War Doctor tries to be realistically optimistic, and realises that he’ll probably lose a few innocent bystanders.
Towards the end of the episode, we get a really interesting insight as to how hellbent the Daleks are to winning the Time War, as well as a glimpse as to how their hierarchy works; one Dalek makes what is decided to be a “bad decision” and the other Daleks have no problem wiping it from existence and taking its place. It really goes to show just how un-compassionate they are.
Schandel gets a nice redemptive story-arc within Pretty Lies, going from being fanboying about the Doctor and being immoral in his job, to using it to his advantage (even if it does mean bending the rules a little) to help his hero try and help save the day from the Daleks. Good job, Schandel.
The conclusion to Pretty Lies, like most of Guy Adams’ work, is extremely bittersweet. The final revelation as it were, is somewhat predictable if you know how Guy works, but is still emotionally impactful. The way that the Doctor and Ollistra move onto their next story is really interesting too; especially seen as neither of them have a TARDIS.
Overall, Pretty Lies is an exemplary story to kick off this box set, and just sets the stakes even higher whilst making you curious as hell as to what’s going to happen next. Guy Adams, as smug as I know he’ll be when he reads this, really is one of Big Finish’s crowning jewels, especially with this script. The performances too were stellar as always; especially John Hurt’s and Mark Elstob’s. Roll on The Lady of Obsidian.
Should you want to purchase The War Doctor: Casualties of War, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for a limited time on both digital download, and the CD box set.