REVIEW | The War Doctor Begins: Warbringer

The War Doctor returns in the second instalment of The War Doctor Begins series! Forged in Fire was one of the best releases of this year, serving as an excellent debut for Jonathon Carley‘s new interpretation of John Hurt‘s iconic character, so it’s safe to say Warbringer has been highly anticipated. But does it hold up to its predecessor? Read on to find out!


1. “Consequences” by Timothy X Atack

Case, a cyborg, wakes up on the wartorn planet of Tharius with no memory of who she is or how she got there. After an encounter with a particularly belligerent Dalek, she meets the Doctor and Commander Veklin, both of whom seem to recognise her. Before too long, the three are thrust into the local goings-on, encountering a variety of bloodthirsty characters who revel in warfare. But why has the Doctor come to Tharius? And what is the truth behind Case’s past?

Consequences is an excellent opener to the set, relatively light on incident but brimming with fantastic characters and evocative worldbuilding. While the story begins in media res, the listener never feels thrown in at the deep end thanks to the character of Case, who, due to her memory loss, serves as the perfect audience surrogate as she uncovers the truth behind what’s happening at the same pace as us.

Writer Timothy X Atack characterises her perfectly, while Ajjaz Awad puts in a wonderful performance, bringing to life both the streetwise, headstrong ‘organic’ side of her character, and the cool, collected artificial intelligence inside her head. She’s such a novel character, and it’s impressive how Atack uses the AI side of her to describe action sequences without falling into the usual trap of characters unnaturally narrating what they’re seeing.

Beth Chalmers also impresses as Veklin, who gets some particularly strong material in this story; Jonathon Carley‘s War Doctor, who is performed as brilliantly as ever, doesn’t have quite such a prominent role here as usual, so Veklin gets a lot more to do, which is great. Her rapport with Awad’s Case is particularly well-executed, and the general ruthless slyness of the character is refreshing compared to the Doctor’s more traditional righteousness.

The various denizens of Tharius are also well-written and performed, which helps flesh out this new location in the Whoniverse. Jessica Temple is great as friendly local Iansa, while John Banks puts in a compelling performance as the slimy Germinal Princeps Belus. The standout, however, has got to be the inimitable Angela Bruce in her dual role as the Southern American accented, weapons-obsessive Oya, and the soft-spoken Incipient Mother Andarta.

Overall, Consequences is an outstanding opener to the set, with excellent performances from all involved enhancing an evocative, creative script from Timothy X Atack.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

2. “Destroyer” by Andrew Smith

As a Dalek spaceship falls from the sky, threatening all life on Tharius, the Doctor must race against time to stop his enemies. But when the Time Lords arrive on the planet, and begin to get in in the way of his mission, how far will the Doctor go to ensure he succeeds?

Following directly on from Consequences, Destroyer sees the Daleks properly enter the fray, lurking beneath Tharius and shaping events. As the Doctor’s mission is compromised by Commodore Tamasan (Adèle Anderson), Case works with Belus’s associate Faren (Nigel Fairs) to uncover what the Daleks are planning. It’s a fairly simple story, but is as action-packed as the boxset’s opener, making it just as effective.

Ajjaz Awad continues to impress as Case, as she learns more about her past, while Jonathon Carley gets a little more to sink his teeth into as the Doctor during his faceoffs with Tamasan and Veklin. Meanwhile, Nicholas Briggs puts in an excellent performance as the Daleks, who are at their ruthless, menacing best in this story.

Overall, while not quite as strong as the other two stories in the set, Destroyer is another excellent instalment in the Warbringer adventure. Good stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3. “Saviour” by Jonathan Morris

For the final story in the set, we travel back to before the events of Consequences to learn how the Doctor, Veklin and Case ended up on Tharius. While reading the synopses for this set before release, I was a little confused as to why the story was being told out of order like this- after all, surely it would be easier to just do it chronologically? Upon listening, however, it makes perfect sense; the entire set is told from Case’s point-of-view, and this episode is the Doctor telling her about her forgotten past.

This is another really strong tale, with the same perfect blend of action and character moments as in the previous two episodes. I know I’ve said this about the previous two episodes, but Jonathon Carley, Ajjaz Awad and Beth Chalmers are firing on all cylinders here; seriously, their performances are one of the best parts of this set.

We’re introduced here to Lance Corporal Albert Brown, an ANZAC soldier turned companion of the War Doctor, who accompanies the team on this mission. Given he’s not in the previous two stories, which are set before this one, it’s pretty obvious from the start that things won’t work out well for Albert, but he’s an interesting character nonetheless, and Timothy Hofmeier portrays him well. Here’s hoping we’ll here more of Albert and his earlier adventures with the Doctor in the future; pairing this particular incarnation with a longer-running companion would definitely be an interesting direction in which to take the character.

The cast is rounded off with Stephen Frost as Rondig and Janet Prince as Mo, a married pair of scrap merchants who have found themselves caught up in the Time War. They’re strong characters too, and Morris’s script gives Frost and Prince the opportunity to explore lots of different facets of their characters. Kudos to Louise Jameson for casting an actual married couple in these roles too; their real-life chemistry really pays off here, and we totally buy into their relationshipé

Overall, this is a gripping conclusion to the set which, if not for a slightly weaker ending, would certainly have got full marks.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Overall

Warbringer is another outstanding collection of stories, absolutely living up to (and possibly even exceeding) the high standard set by Forged in Fire. Told from the point of view of compelling new character Case, who is brought to life with a layered performance from Ajjaz Awad, each of these three stories is both action-packed and character-based- the perfect combination for a successful Doctor Who adventure. Jonathon Carley and Beth Chalmers reprise their roles as the Doctor and Veklin with flair, while Nicholas Briggs is reliable as usual in his role as the Daleks. Complete with evocative sound design and music from Jack Townley and Howard Carter, as well as stunning cover art from Claudia Gironi, this set comes highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The War Doctor Begins: Warbringer is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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