‘ONLY THE MONSTROUS’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Where Daleks and Time Lords Dare with the War Doctor
For John Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce
It’s time to look deeper into the Time War with the War Doctor!
In 2013, the 50th anniversary TV special of ‘Doctor Who’ called ‘The Day of the Doctor’ introduced a brand-new kind of Doctor called the War Doctor, played by John Hurt. This was the Doctor that fought in the Time War and not Paul McGann or Christopher Eccleston as many fans had presumed.
I think I’ve stated in my reviews for ‘The Day of the Doctor’ that I’m not a fan of the War Doctor as a concept. That’s not to say I don’t think John Hurt is a bad actor to play the Doctor. On the contrary, he’s very good. It’s just I’m not that keen on a Doctor abandoning his principles to fight in some war.
I’m of the opinion that the Time War should never be touched upon and it should remain a mystery. Russell T. Davies handled it well in his era of the TV series with a few hints on what might have been and whether it was the Paul McGann or Christopher Eccleston Doctors that fought in the Time War.
When Steven Moffat introduced the War Doctor for his ‘Day of the Doctor’ TV episode in the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’, the mystery was ruined. It also spoiled the continuity as Christopher Eccleston is no longer the Ninth Doctor and has now become the tenth incarnation of the character.
However, whilst I’m not keen about the concept of the War Doctor in the history of ‘Doctor Who’, it was probably for the best that this was done for the show’s 50th anniversary on TV. It certainly reinvigorated people’s interest in the Time War and it started a new sense of mythos to the Doctor.
It’s not an approach I would’ve gone with in terms of celebrating 50 years of ‘Doctor Who’, but that’s how things go. I also hoped that the War Doctor concept wouldn’t be wasted and would just feature in ‘The Day of the Doctor’, as I would’ve liked there to be more stories with John Hurt as the War Doctor.
How fortunate then that Big Finish were able to acquire the licence to do new series-related ‘Doctor Who’ stories and create new audio adventures for the War Doctor. And how fortunate that John Hurt was able to say “Yes!” and reprise his role as the War Doctor, as I am sure it pleased many fans.
I’m glad Big Finish did these audio adventures of the War Doctor sooner rather than later. Had these audio adventures been made twenty years later, Big Finish would never have been able to do them with John Hurt as he sadly passed away in January 2017 right before the fourth box set was released.
But anyway, let’s talk about the first box set of ‘The War Doctor’ audio series. The first box set is entitled ‘Only The Monstrous’. It is a collection of three linked episodes, all written and directed by Nicholas Briggs. I’m pleased Nick Briggs wrote and directed these episodes as he’s incredibly good.
‘Only The Monstrous’ stars John Hurt as the War Doctor and Jacqueline Pearce as Cardinal Ollistra. I purchased the CD box set of ‘Only The Monstrous’ from the ‘Doctor Who Experience’ in November 2016 before it closed down in 2017. I’m really pleased I purchased it before the Experience closed.
This is a 4-disc CD set with the three episodes of ‘Only The Monstrous’ on the first three discs. The episodes are ‘The Innocent’, ‘The Thousand Worlds’ and ‘The Heart of the Battle’. Disc 4 is a behind-the-scenes disc which focuses on the making of ‘Only The Monstrous’ with cast and crew interviews.
1. ‘THE INNOCENT’
The first episode begins with the Daleks about to mass their time fleet for a final assault on Gallifrey. The Time Lords however are ready for them. They’re to fight back using a Time Destructor on them.
It’s interesting how the Time Lords use a Time Destructor weapon on the Daleks, similar to the one the Daleks used in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’. It’s poetic especially when the Daleks find out about it.
The Time Lords are under the command of Jacqueline Pearce as Cardinal Ollistra, who is a manipulative Time Lord strategist. Jacqueline is pretty well-known for playing Servalan in ‘Blake’s 7’.
She also played Chessene in the ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Two Doctors’. I’ve also heard Jacqueline in the ‘Soldiers of Love’ audio series. Jacqueline is spellbinding to listen to as Cardinal Ollistra in ‘Doctor Who’.
Ollistra is a rather bitter, manipulative Time Lady who seems to want the war to continue rather than wanting it to end. She soon hears the news that the Doctor is dead and is greatly shocked by it.
Speaking of which, the War Doctor rescues two Time Lords, Arverton and Bennus, during their mission to destroy the Daleks with the Time Destructor. The Doctor takes their places in the mission.
While I’m at it, let’s talk about the theme music for the War Doctor era of ‘Doctor Who’ composed by Howard Carter. I’m not really a fan of it myself. It’s supposed to reflect a more militaristic Doctor.
But honestly, I didn’t find the theme music exciting enough. It served its purpose as a theme tune, but it felt like listening to another version of the Seventh Doctor theme music for ‘Damaged Goods’.
Anyway, back to the story. The Doctor eventually ends up on the planet Keska where he’s found by a young innocent nursemaid, Lucy Briggs-Owen as Rejoice. I really liked Rejoice for this first episode.
John Hurt steals the show as the War Doctor in these audios. He’s playing a Doctor who’s chosen to not use his title since he abandoned it when deciding to become a soldier. He calls himself ‘No-One’.
I like how Rejoice finds him and treats him to his wounds from the effects of the Time Destructor weapon. The War Doctor at first seems to be a bitter old man who doesn’t seem to very caring at all.
But as the episode progresses, it turns out the War Doctor is very compassionate and helps people wherever he can. He even helps to save Rejoice’s people and her planet during their parochial war.
I liked the interaction between Rejoice and the War Doctor in this episode. Rejoice is curious about who the Doctor is and despite his claims to being a monster, she seems to be rather taken with him.
Had this been a proper ‘Doctor Who’ series, Rejoice could easily become the War Doctor’s companion. But sadly, that isn’t to be since the War Doctor denies and is denied having a companion.
I enjoyed Nicholas Briggs voicing the Daleks in these ‘Doctor Who’ audios especially for the War Doctor. It was intriguing how the Daleks fought in the war and I looked forward to hear more of them.
The episode concludes with Cardinal Ollistra finding the Doctor on Keska and attempting to summon his TARDIS back to Gallifrey. Rejoice manages to get into the TARDIS with the Doctor once he leaves.
But Rejoice is denied accompanying the Doctor back to Gallifrey and she gets sent back to Keska by Ollistra. The Doctor is bitter about returning to Gallifrey against his will by Ollistra. I don’t blame him.
‘The Innocent’ is a good beginning to the War Doctor series of audios by Big Finish. I was looking forward to what happened next and why Cardinal Ollistra was desperate to have the Doctor return to Gallifrey.
‘The Innocent’ rating – 9/10
2. ‘THE THOUSAND WORLDS’
The second episode begins with Lucy Briggs-Owen as Rejoice returning to her father on Keska after being sent back by Cardinal Ollistra from the War Doctor’s TARDIS. Rejoice is greatly saddened here.
After the opening titles music, we cut to the War Doctor brought to meet Cardinal Ollistra with a strike team that is led by Veklin. Ollistra wants the Doctor to go behind enemy lines in the Null Zone.
I found those scenes where John Hurt’s Doctor confronted Jacqueline Pearce’s Ollistra mesmerising to listen to. John Hurt balances both the flippancy and the anger in his performance well in these scenes.
The Doctor remarks how the Time Lords have become like Daleks. Time Lords like Ollistra and Veklin don’t seem to listen to the Doctor as they presume to be above themselves and justified in this war.
Beth Chalmers stars as Veklin in this audio story. Veklin is in charge of the strike team sent into the Null Zone. She’s very ruthless and bitter, taking no nonsense. She is fiercely loyal to Cardinal Ollistra.
Also in the strike team are Kieran Hodgson as Bennus and Barnaby Edwards as Arverton. These two are the Time Lords that the Doctor rescued in the first episode during their Time Destructor mission.
The mission itself is to find Seratrix, a military Time Lord strategist who went missing and got captured by the Daleks. The Doctor agrees to go on the rescue mission but he decides to go in alone.
The War Doctor manages to acquire his TARDIS out of a time-lock put on by Veklin and he escapes to go into the Null Zone. Angered, Veklin takes Bennus and Arverton with her to chase after the Doctor.
Eventually, the Doctor ends up in the Null Zone to which he finds himself back on the planet Keska. The planet Keska has now been ravaged by war and is now a concentration camp for the inhabitants.
Keska is now under the control of the Daleks and the Taalyens, the aliens who tried to invade the planet in the previous episode. The War Doctor finds his way around in order to locate Seratrix here.
Before long, the War Doctor gets caught by a Taalyen before he’s rescued by a Keskan woman. This happens to be someone that had known the Doctor long ago. It’s Carolyn Seymour as an older Rejoice.
I like how the War Doctor and the older Rejoice reunite with each other in this episode. Rejoice isn’t bitter once the War Doctor returns, despite being a slave herself. She helps the Doctor in all she can.
On Keska, it seems that the Daleks have these massive drills to burrow into the planet. They plan to remove the planet’s core and this is similar to a plan the Daleks used in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’.
The Null Space also happens to be an area of space where the Daleks and the Taalyens have housed a thousand worlds, hence the episode’s title. The Daleks intend to drill all of these thousand worlds.
The Doctor and Rejoice sneak in to where the centre of operations is. It’s also where they find Alex Wyndham as Seratrix, who seems to be in cahoots with the Daleks. This surprises the Doctor greatly.
When the Doctor is revealed to be a Gallifreyan by the Daleks, Seratrix interrogates him, asking who sent him. The Doctor replies it was Cardinal Ollistra. Seratrix reveals what he’s up to with the Daleks.
Just as the drilling machine is launched into Keska’s planetary core, Seratrix insists he is working for the greater good. He says the plan utilized will lead to a peace with the Daleks. This shocks the Doctor.
‘The Thousand Worlds’ is a thrilling continuation of the ‘Only The Monstrous’ story. I can only guess as to what’s going to happen next. Will the Doctor and Rejoice work together and defeat the Daleks?
‘The Thousand Worlds’ rating – 8/10
3. ‘THE HEART OF THE BATTLE’
In the third episode, we begin with a flashback where Carolyn Seymour as Rejoice argues with her father out of negotiating with the Taalyens and the Daleks during Keska’s invasion. This is of no use.
We then continue where we left off in the previous episode as the War Doctor, Rejoice and Seratrix go off to talk somewhere private out of the Daleks’ reach. They go off to Rejoice’s father’s quarters.
Seratrix reveals his plans to the Doctor and Rejoice as he seems serious about the Time Lord’s secret mission to make peace with the Daleks. It may seem that Seratrix is either mad or so clearly deluded.
The War Doctor of course is appalled by the plan that Seratrix reveals to him. Despite Seratrix’s arguments, the Doctor and Rejoice are unconvinced that the Daleks will ever establish a peace here.
Very soon, Veklin and Bennus enter the room to try and rescue the Doctor, Rejoice and Seratrix. But Seratrix is determined to stay and not be rescued, which completely befuddles Veklin very greatly.
According to Seratrix, he believes Cardinal Ollistra sent him to the Null Zone to negotiate a peace with the Daleks. This is so contrary to what the Doctor, Veklin and Bennus were ordered to do by Ollistra.
Oh yeah, Arverton is dead by this point since he was killed in the second episode. Sorry, I forgot to mention that. Anyway, the Doctor persuades Seratrix to see things differently to what his beliefs are.
He persuades Seratrix to follow and discover whether the Daleks’ true intentions are peaceful. Seratrix agrees before he, the Doctor, Rejoice, Veklin and Bennus escape as Daleks enter the room.
I like how Rejoice’s bitterness towards the Daleks is addressed in this episode since she shares with Seratrix how they killed her father and his diplomatic team. She also has an amazing faith in the Doctor.
Once the Doctor’s group is inside the Dalek control room on Keska, the Doctor pulls a schematic to show the Daleks’ real plan. The Daleks are going to use their ‘thousand worlds’…to destroy Gallifrey.
There are certainly echoes of ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ and ‘The Stolen Earth’/’Journey’s End’ in this ‘War Doctor’ story. I certainly utilised the concepts from this in my ‘Doom of the Daleks’ story.
John Hurt does brilliantly with the material he’s been given as the War Doctor. This is especially when he goads warmongers like the Daleks as well as Mark McDonnell as Traanus the Taalyen leader.
When the Daleks enter and their plan is exposed by the War Doctor, Seratrix is shocked with astonishment. He soon gets exterminated by the Daleks before the Doctor and Veklin destroy them.
Meanwhile, the drill burrowing to the core of Keska contains John Banks as Garv, whom the Doctor met in the previous episode. Garv reveals the only way to stop the drill is by destroying it completely.
The Doctor is dismayed by the choice he makes as he wants to save Garv and his crew but can’t. After some prompting from the ghastly Traanus and the reassuring Rejoice, the Doctor presses the button.
The drill blows up with Garv aboard. Traanus tries to kill the Doctor with a knife before Rejoice saves him and takes the blow instead. It was very shocking to hear the Doctor lose a dear friend in Rejoice.
Eventually, the Doctor and Veklin (Bennus gets killed) are saved by Cardinal Ollistra in a Battle TARDIS and they’re whisked away from Keska. This is during the Time Lord’s epic battle with the Daleks in the Null Zone.
The episode ends with an intriguing conversation between the War Doctor and Ollistra about what’s been happening in this ‘War Doctor’ story. The Doctor soon gets his TARDIS from Keska and he leaves.
‘The Heart of the Battle’ is a thrilling conclusion to ‘Only The Monstrous’. There’s a lot to take in and there are a lot of complexities to the plot. But I’ve enjoyed it and feel satisfied with how it all wraps itself up.
At the end of Disc 3, there is a suite of incidental music to enjoy!
‘The Heart of the Battle’ rating – 8/10
Disc 4 of the ‘Only The Monstrous’ CD box set contains an in-depth behind-the-scenes documentary looking into the making of the three-part epic adventure. It contains behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew of this box set. I greatly enjoyed listening to these interviews in the documentary.
The documentary begins with an introduction on how this box set with the War Doctor came about. There are interviews with executive producer/writer/director Nicholas Briggs and producer David Richardson who explain how they acquired the rights to make the new ‘War Doctor’ audio adventures.
There are also interviews with John Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce featured in this documentary. It was nice to hear how John Hurt felt enthusiastic about playing the War Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’ again for Big Finish and how he explained his approach with playing his Doctor compared to the other actors.
There are then interviews with Lucy Briggs-Owen and Carolyn Seymour, the two actresses who play Rejoice in ‘Only The Monstrous’. I like how Lucy and Carolyn share their fondness in working for Big Finish, enjoying the scripts they have and also sharing how much they enjoy working with John Hurt.
There are then interviews with the supporting cast like Beth Chalmers; Alex Wyndham; Kieran Hodgson; Barnaby Edwards; Mark McDonnell and John Banks. These actors share their insight into working on ‘The War Doctor’ audio series as well as share their admiration in working with John Hurt.
The documentary ends with a positive look into the future for ‘The War Doctor’ series, especially as David Richardson makes the point of mentioning that the new box set story called ‘Infernal Devices’ is on its way to be released. It sounds like a pretty promising preview into ‘The War Doctor’s future.
‘Only The Monstrous’ has been a wonderful beginning to ‘The War Doctor’ series of ‘Doctor Who’ by Big Finish. I’m really impressed with how Big Finish have taken John Hurt as the War Doctor and expanded him as a character compared to his few TV appearances including ‘The Day of the Doctor’.
The writing of the War Doctor and the Time War is very good so far. I wonder how this series will continue and what will happen next for the War Doctor. There will be hard choices for the War Doctor to make in his endeavours during the Time War. But I am sure they’ll be very exciting to hear.
‘Only The Monstrous’ box set rating – 9/10
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