Back in 2013, we were introduced to a special kind of Doctor that was unique from his other twelve incarnations. This was a Doctor who turned his back on the name in order to do what had to be done, and that man was the War Doctor. Played outstandingly by the legendary Sir John Hurt, this enigmatic version of the Time Lord stole the entire 50th Anniversary (best Doctor Who episode) right from under both Matt Smith and David Tennant’s noses, and just like Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor, Hurt’s War Doctor was no longer confined to just one episode thanks to Big Finish. The first of a new series of audio adventures set during the Time War, this 3-part story, Only The Monstrous, sees the War Doctor trying to stop the Daleks alliance with the war-hungry Taalyens.
Nicholas Briggs clearly had a tall mountain to climb when tackling this story, because setting it within the Time War itself means it has to stand as a compelling war story with the stakes and scale being massive enough to take place across time and space. Also, it had to tackle the prospect of the Doctor not wanting to be the Doctor: a Doctor who makes the most difficult of decisions, decisions of which no other Doctor would’ve have dared to make. Briggs manages to succeed on both of those levels with flying colours, and what his story manages to do extremely well is offer a more deeper and personal insight into John Hurt’s Doctor and explore the inner emotional turmoil that is clearly going on within him. This is a man, who hates himself for what he’s become and what he was forced to do during the Time War, yet despite how tragic and bitter he’s become, he still manages to be the Doctor when he chooses to defend the planet of Keska from the Dalek/Taalyen faction.
John Hurt is still phenomenal as the War Doctor, still capturing the dark complexity and world-weariness he embodied in the 50th Anniversary. More brilliant is that, despite coming across as rude or abrasive, Hurt never makes his Doctor come across as a cold and calculating warrior who wasn’t any different to both the Time Lords and Daleks, instead making him more of a tragic and sympathetic figure. Even though Hurt is clearly the star of the show, the rest of the performances were still incredibly solid and worked well with the tone of the story. Lucy Briggs-Owen was brilliant as Rejoice and comes across as great companion material, whilst Beth Chalmers is hilariously stubborn as Time Lord lackey Veklin. Jacqueline Pearce (previously Chessene in 1985’s The Two Doctors) is simply sublime as the manipulative Cardinal Ollistra, who definitely comes across as not your typical friendly Time Lord of old, but more of an ice queen in waiting and who knows what antics she’ll get up to in future stories.
As it stands, Only The Monstrous was an epic war story in more ways than one. Instead of starting off at break-neck speed, Briggs makes this more of a character study with action-packed interludes, as well as being bold enough to tackle heavy and weightier themes, such as the importance of peace at a time of war, or accepting the loss of someone or something you’ve been fighting for. Despite a stellar cast, John Hurt easily steals the show and out-acts everyone, proving that he is just as iconic as the other twelve actors that have been lucky enough to play the infamous Time Lord. A strong beginning for what is shaping out to be an epic series, which brilliantly carries on the legend of the War Doctor.
DOCTOR WHO- THE WAR DOCTOR VOL. 1: ONLY THE MONSTROUS / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / AUTHOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: JOHN HURT, JACQUELINE PEARCE, BETH CHALMERS, LUCY BRIGGS-OWEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW