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 penultimate story in the first Time War box set, The Conscript by Matt Fitton.
Cardinal Ollistra has a new tactic to persuade the Doctor to join his people’s fight. With his friends locked away, he has been conscripted alongside fellow Gallifreyans to train for the front lines of battle.
Commandant Harlan has a reputation – his camp’s regime is harsh. He believes the Time Lords must adapt to win this war, but the Doctor is not easily intimidated.
Can there be any place for dissent when the Time War looms so close?
Guess who’s back, back again, Ollistra’s back, trying to make the Doc her friend.
Ollistra clearly knows that the Time Lords need the Doctor to fight if they have a chance of winning the Time War; but how do you force a conscientious objector to fight in the bloodiest and most barbaric battle of all time and space? Kidnap by the sounds of things.
The Doctor has been forced to join a Time Lord Training Camp, and, as you can imagine, he’s incredibly dry with his wit. What’s the point of shiny boots if you’re being shot at by a Dalek?
Matt Fitton references some real deep cuts pertaining to the Time War in The Conscript; there’s a somewhat throwaway line that directly references information in the minisode The Last Day that was released a couple of days before The Day of The Doctor, talking about the outpost on Arcadia. I know it comes as no surprise, but I do love it when writers do some digging and allude to the smaller details.
Now, I don’t know about you, but personally I find Ollistra to be somewhat intimidating; if she was interrogating me, I’d be the first to buckle under both nerves and pressure. It’s why I probably wouldn’t be a good companion to the Doctor. Bliss, on the other hand, manages to keep her cool, and her stubbornness may indeed be a benefit for her.
What I’ve realised I’m loving about this Time War box set is that it’s clear how much fun Paul McGann is having playing the Doctor. I’m not saying that I think he didn’t have fun doing Doom Coalition, but knowing that McGann has a keen interest in the World Wars, giving his Doctor more war-based stories seems to be a dream come true for him. Hearing the Eighth Doctor parody militaristic soldiers with his voice is a delight to listen to, and I hope that we got more of this kind of thing in the future Time War boxsets.
I have a question for you, dear reader; if you were forced against your will to enrol into an army that you didn’t agree with, how would you protest? Would you be silent? Would you unwillingly comply? Or would you, like the Doctor, act like a child and start a food fight? I adored this scene, because it was the Doctor being what the Doctor should always be; silly. He could easily have trounced around, or held someone hostage, but no. He’s throwing food at people. Take that, Time Lord society.
In the final act, things begin to pick up in pace; there’s a death or two of the innocents, and it’s not long before the Time Lords pin the blame on the Doctor. We then get a brilliant two hander scene which puts the Doctor’s thoughts on the Time War at the fore. Matt Fitton manages to write a beautifully eloquent mini-speech about the pros and cons of bloodshed.
The conclusion of The Conscript is somewhat unexpected, with a final showdown between the Doctor and Ollistra which is tense and has some of the highest stakes thus far. The cliffhanger raises a lot of questions, especially because we know the overall outcome, but it’s still got that shock factor.
Personally, I feel as if The Conscript will be the story in this box set that will be known mainly for it’s change of pace. Both The Starship of Theseus and Echoes of War were fairly high-octane action romps, with lots of whizzes and bangs and extermination, but for the majority of The Conscript, it’s a lot slower paced, and much more character driven until the final five minutes or so. I’ve not read any reviews of The Conscript myself, but I have a feeling that this episode will be the polarising one of the set; regardless of that though, I think it’s safe to say that Matt Fitton has once again delivered on a great story with some unexpected but very welcomed moments of comedy.
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.