Almost three years after we saw her accept the summons to the Time War in All Hands on Deck, Susan returns in this boxset of four all-new adventures. Seeing the titular character go up against Daleks, Ogrons, Sensorites and more, as well as reuniting with her grandfather, Susan’s War has an incredibly thrilling premise. But is it a premise that the individual stories live up to? Read on to find out!
1. “Sphere of Influence” by Eddie Robson
This first story, Eddie Robson‘s Sphere of Influence, takes Susan back to the Sense Sphere, where the native Sensorites might hold the key to the Time Lords winning the war. It’s a Time War story with a 60s twist, full of exciting action and political intrigue, and this is what makes it such a success.
Before listening to this, I hadn’t heard any of the older Susan stories that Big Finish have done, and I must say that they’ve done a great job in pushing the character in interesting new directions. More independent and headstrong, this Susan is ripe for exploration, and this story does just that, delving into her psychic abilities and connection with the Sensorites, as well as giving time to explore her unique perspective on the Time War as a whole.
William Russell returns as Ian Chesterton, summoned by the Time Lords to help Susan out on this mission. It’s wonderful as always to hear Russell back in the role; he may be 95, but his voice still perfectly captures the youthful Ian Chesterton we know and love. We get to learn a little more about what Ian has been up to since leaving the Doctor all the way back in 1965’s The Chase, which is lovely, and we also get to hear his reaction to what Susan’s been through since The Dalek Invasion of Earth too.
Joining Susan and Ian on this adventure is Veklin (Beth Chalmers), who has previously appeared in the War Doctor and Doom Coalition series. Not only does her presence here help to link this boxset to the wider Time War narrative, but she’s also a very interesting character in her own right, even more so now that she has a little more focus.
Hugh Fraser, Claire Vousden and Ian Brooker bring the Sensorites to life, and they do a marvellous job. Bringing the Sensorites into the Time War is a stroke of genius; as Carole Ann Ford points out on the Behind the Scenes track, a war fought telepathically is such a great idea, and so quintessentially Doctor Who.
Howard Carter‘s sound design is on point here, with particular highlights being the explosive energy of the Dalek space battle that opens the story, and the horrific Dalek-Sensorite hybrid whose infiltration of the Sense-Sphere sets this story’s events into motion.
Overall, Sphere of Influence is an incredibly strong opener to the boxset, bringing the classic and new eras of Doctor Who together in an exciting, creative fashion that leaves the listener itching to listen to the next story.
2. “The Uncertain Shore” by Simon Guerrier
Simon Guerrier‘s The Uncertain Shore sees Susan and Veklin travel to the planet Florana in order to track down the Dalek spy responsible for the events of the previous episode. Susan and Velkin form a great duo, with Ford and Chalmers playing off of one another extremely well. The emotional pragmatism of the former mixed with the ruthless efficiency of the latter makes for an interesting dichotomy, and allows for different sides of each character to come to the fore.
The guest characters in this story are well-written and performed, particularly Laura Aikman‘s Lootsa and Trudie Goodwin‘s Faith, both of whom are suspects in Susan and Veklin’s investigations and keep the listener guessing with suitably nuanced performances. Dan Starkey and Simon Ludders also do a great job; they play both human characters and give life to the alien Ogrons, and are just as impressive in both roles.
Overall, The Uncertain Shore is another very strong installment in the set.
3. “Assets of War” by Lou Morgan
The third installment in the set, Assets of War, follows Susan as she is taken to a secret Time Lord base to assess their latest weapons project. As she butts heads with those in charge, the deadly Orrovix attack the base
This is a great character showcase for Susan, with writer Lou Morgan exploring her unique perspective on the war. An interesting mix of the Doctor’s pacifism and the Time Lords’ warlike zeal, Susan’s attitude towards the Time War is fascinating subject matter for a story, and so it’s great to have a whole boxset like this.
Damian Lynch, having featured briefly in the first two stories of the set, makes a more substantial appearance here as Rasmus, the Time Lord Cardinal overseeing Susan’s missions in the Time War. He puts in a great performance, and it’s a shame he doesn’t feature a little more heavily in the other stories in the set, as I feel the character has great potential.
Of the guest cast, the standout is Roly Botha as Rennis: a character whose life has been turned upside-down by the Time War. He’s the emotional core of the story, and does a great job portraying the lighter and darker aspects of his character, allowing the listener to both sympathise with and criticise his actions at once.
Overall, Assets of War is probably the weakest story in the set, but it’s not without merit, delving into Susan’s character a little more, and exploring the impact that the Time War has on the other civilisations it affects.
4. “The Shoreditch Intervention” by Alan Barnes
The Shoreditch Intervention by Alan Barnes is the final story in the boxset, and it sees Susan once again collide with her past as she returns to London in 1963. Featuring Daleks, the Doctor, and a whole host of other callbacks, this closing instalment to the set is packed with nostalgia, making for an interesting listen.
The main draw of this story is that it reunites Carole Ann Ford with Paul McGann‘s Eighth Doctor, and this reunion is just as poignant as one might hope. It’s great to hear how, even though he’s a completely different man to the First Doctor, the Eighth Doctor still treats Susan just the same, calling her ‘child’ and fussing over her wellbeing.
In terms of the guest cast, Becky Wright does a fantastic job in her dual role as Alex and Lehena, while Tom Mahy and Louis Davison put in compelling performances as JP and Franko respectively. Nicholas Briggs returns as the Daleks, and is brilliant as ever.
Overall, The Shoreditch Intervention is a relatively strong story, making up for its sometimes-slow plot with some really great character work for both Susan and the Eighth Doctor and rounding off the set well.
All in all, Susan’s War is a very impressive release, effortlessly advancing the titular character’s story in new and exciting ways, and plunging the listener once again into the excitement of the Time War. While the first half of the boxset is undeniably far stronger than the second half, each of the stories is equally as creative and exciting, making for a listen that is constantly satisfying. More Susan’s War in the future, please! Highly recommended.
Susan’s War is available now on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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