Since 2021, the highly talented Jonathon Carley has played the young War Doctor at Big Finish, and after a successful first run of four boxsets his take on the character returns with The War Doctor Begins: Comrades-in-Arms. The first four sets alternated between three standalone stories and big, three-part epics, and Comrades-in-Arms falls somewhere in between that, giving us three different tales united by an overarching storyline.
A Mother’s Love by Big Finish newcomer Noga Flaishon introduces the threads which continue throughout the boxset, taking us to a Time Lord medical station where the War Doctor is reunited with an old friend. The friend in question is streetwise cyborg Case (Ajjaz Awad), who we first met in 2021’s Warbringer (review here) and who has joined Veklin (Beth Chalmers), working with her on behalf of the Time Lords.
It’s great to hear Awad back; as a creation of the Daleks turned against them, Case has such an interesting backstory and Awad brings her to life so well. She also shares great chemistry with both Carley and Chalmers, testing both the Doctor and Veklin in different ways, while serving as the emotional core of the boxset in the face of their colder, more detached attitudes towards the War.
Joining Carley, Awad and Chalmers for this opening story are Tiegan Byrne as young Time Lord Runa and Georgia Mackenzie as M.O.M., the Medbay Operation Mainframe governing over the hospital. Both are well-performed, and the latter makes for an effective, if a little clichéd, villain, which is a reflection on the story at large: an enjoyable but simple listen, but with very few new or interesting ideas at its core.
Timothy X Atack‘s Berserker, from the off, has a little more meat on its bones, following the Doctor and Case as they embark upon a mission to save a species from extinction. To do so, they must break into a bunker occupied by a Berserker Dalek driven mad (well, even more mad) by years of isolation, a mission which is presented to us in real-time, kind of like a one-shot movie on audio. This means the events constantly feel immediate and the threat of the Berserker is urgent throughout, making for a pacy, exihilirating listen.
As you might expect, Nicholas Briggs takes on the role of the Berserker, and does so with aplomb, somehow making it seem even crazier and even more terrifying than your regular Dalek. If I remember rightly, we first heard the Berserker Daleks back in last year’s Rewind (review here), and I thought they were a great idea, so I’m thrilled that Atack has brought them back here and fleshed them out some more.
Ajjaz Awad continues to impress as Case, particularly through her interactions with the Berserker. This is a very personal story for her character, and Awad ups her game accordingly, giving a raw and emotional performance throughout. It’s because of this performance that the cliffhanger leading into the finale is so effective; we really care about what happens to Case and what this change to the status quo will bring. Overall, a very solid story.
Rounding off the set is Memnos by Phil Mulryne, which sees the Doctor take Case to a space station where everything lost to the Time War is recorded. This concept, while unique and interesting, isn’t used as much as it could be, though, with much of the story instead being given over to the Doctor’s battle with the Dalek Time Controller over Case.
We get some nice character work in the opening moments of the story, with Case entering a simulation of her homeworld before it was destroyed and seeing what it would have been like to live a normal life, but apart from that Memnos doesn’t quite hit the emotional heights of Berserker. Still, it’s an effective finale to the set, with a great little twist at the end which, I presume, is setting up December’s Enemy Mine.
While there are no classics here (though Berserker comes close), this is a solid collection of stories, giving us more of the excellent pairing of the War Doctor and Case and exploring the latter in some really effective ways. Here’s hoping we get to hear more of them in the future. Recommended.
Comrades-in-Arms is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
Leave a Reply