War has come to time. The Eighth Doctor, whether he likes it or not, has become part of these events. We saw how the Eighth Doctor bowed out of his time in the Time War in The Night of the Doctor, but now it’s time to hear how he fought through it. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story in the first Time War box set, The Starship of Theseus by John Dorney.
The Doctor and his companion, Sheena, land the TARDIS on the glamorous luxury space-liner Theseus just as it’s about to leave the Jupiter space-port. An opportunity for a holiday presents itself – and it’s one they’re very glad to take.
But when a disturbance catches their attention, they realise sinister events are taking place on board. Passengers are vanishing on every trip. And unless they’re careful they may be next.
Can the Doctor and Emma solve the mystery? Or is there something else they should be worrying about?
The Time War box sets featuring the Eighth Doctor have a hell of a lot of hype to live up to; not just because I’m a huge Eighth Doctor fanboy (and unashamedly so), but because since the shows revival in 2005, the Time War has been an event that has been so legendary and monumental, that it seems like nothing can match the audiences expectations. I remember watching The Day of The Doctor, and getting those brief glimpses of the Time War, and there didn’t seem to be anything overly spectacular about it. Sure, there were Daleks on Gallifrey, but that was nothing we hadn’t seen before, and the time aspect of the Time War never really played a part. In the four box sets featuring the War Doctor, played by the late John Hurt, we got to hear a Doctor who had relinquished his title, and now, we’re going to hear a Doctor who’s adamant that he wants to keep it and be the peace loving hero we know. In theory, if Big Finish can pull this off, the Time War box sets should be some of the best work produced in the world of Doctor Who.
The pre-title sequence of The Starship of Theseus sets the tone of the Time War perfectly; the Time Lords are quickly becoming incredibly cold towards one another, and the lives of the soldiers mean nothing to those higher in command. The Time Lords are at war, they have a mission to do, and it must be done; no matter the cost.
After the titles, we get a Doctor in a much more light-hearted tone than his Time Lord counterpart from earlier, and there’s a scene that’s reminiscent of arguably the best scene in Fear Her. (I can honestly say I didn’t expect to mention Fear Her in a Time War story review, but there we are.)
We’re introduced to the Eighth Doctor’s new companion, Sheena, and from the off, she’s brilliant. Think of a cross between Bill Potts and Donna Noble, and you’ve pretty much summed her up. Olivia Vinall manages to portray a companion that’s instantly loveable like no other. Genuinely, I think John Dorney may have penned one of the best Big Finish companions ever, and I’ve only known her for less than three minutes.
The rapport between the Doctor and Sheena is second to none, and it’s great to hear a much more upbeat and positive Eighth Doctor, especially after being used to his antics in the Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition sagas.
John Dorney brilliantly manages to weave in humour throughout, with a great allusion to the Psychic Paper, and I don’t know about you, but hearing Paul McGann laugh makes everything seem okay. Even though you know, especially in the real world and in a box set about the Time War, that it’s not.
There’s an aspect of the story, that for the first twenty minutes made me suspect I was being somewhat slow, and not picking up on something, but the Doctor eventually picks up on it too, and it quickly became one of those moments where you realise that there’s no such thing as an oversight or a mistake in a Big Finish script; if something seems slightly off, it’s probably because it is.
I know at the beginning of review I talked about how much I wanted the time aspect of the Time War to come into play, and this release doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The sense of confusion is both jarring and extremely satisfying to someone like me. Could it potentially alienate a new Big Finish listener? Absolutely. Is it likely that this story may be somebodies first? Possibly. Do I think people like me, who listen to Big Finish regularly will enjoy it? Without a shadow of a doubt.
When the Time War catches up with the Eighth Doctor, the tone of the story shifts, and we see a Doctor who is so reluctant to have any part of it. He even lets a Time Lord do something completely out of the norm so he doesn’t have to fight. Hearing a Doctor so desperate to be peaceful is brilliant.
It’s a somewhat daring move to have a Time War story, especially the first story set in the Time War (in terms of timelines) to not feature a single mention or voice of a Dalek until three quarters of the way through; but it makes their entrance so much more powerful. It seems like an age since the Daleks truly felt like a formidable foe.
The Daleks’ sheer determination to find the Doctor in this story is really intimidating, I can’t remember the last time the pepper pots from Skaro were this unrelenting and ruthless. This is exactly what the Daleks should be; exterminating anyone and everyone that is in their way without a second thought.
The conclusion of this story appears to lead straight into Echoes of War, with the Doctor and his new friend Bliss stranded on an alien world with a bunch of human refugees who are attempting to escape the Time War. The cliffhanger is somewhat predictable, but it seems as if the abnormality that is presented to us may have interesting consequences in the next story; there’s only one way to find out…
If you had to ask me, I’d say that The Starship of Theseus is like a cross of some of the best Tenth Doctor episodes; it has an overall feel of Voyage of The Damned, with some of the mystery from Planet of The Ood, and the terrifying aspects of Midnight. Perfection.
Overall, I believe that The Starship of Theseus is the perfect opening for a Time War box set; it seems as if it was mainly the calm before the (oncoming) storm; this may well be my favourite John Dorney script so far, and the most fun I’ve had listening to the Eighth Doctor in a long while.
Should you want to purchase The Eighth Doctor: The Time War 1, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £23 on CD or £20 for a digital download for a limited time.