The Eighth Doctor’s life, as told by audio drama supremos Big Finish, has been going down an increasingly dark path, and it’ll only get darker this month when the first of four Time War box sets is released. This latest Short Trip, itself set while the Doctor’s trying to avoid getting involved in that apocalyptic chronal conflict, acts as a teaser of what’s to come.
It also satisfies a very different fan pleasure, that of seeing a Doctor team up with a companion from another incarnation; A Heart on Both Sides is not told from the Doctor’s perspective but from Nyssa’s. She’s now in charge of the medical ship Traken, offering assistance to anyone and everyone affected by the war. But when a bomb is set off on board, Time Lord saboteurs are suspected and the Doctor himself – on board under an alias – is thrown into the midst of the chaos.
This story’s half-hour running time flies by; writer Rob Nisbet has a great handle on this Time War period, giving us atmospheric lashings of moral ambiguity and intergalactic helplessness – our favourite kind of helplessness – backed up by an exciting plot full of twists and turns. Nisbet’s also found a great place for Nyssa within the period, allowing her to use the medical skills and sense of authority that she’s developed over the previous Big Finish canon; like a true student of the Doctor’s, Nyssa sees a horrific war and sets out not to fight but to heal. If anything, we wanted more of the Eighth Doctor and Nyssa together, as his disguise means they never really spend time catching up, though the way this is paid off in the very final scene is particularly affecting.
It barely needs stating by this point that Big Finish have done as excellent a job as ever on the production quality, but we will particularly commend Sarah Sutton’s narration; charming and dramatic, she’s a gifted storyteller. A Heart on Both Sides is a very impressive look into this darker period of the Doctor Who universe, and leaves you wanting more – so it’s a good job that Time War box set is coming soon!
DOCTOR WHO – SHORT TRIPS – A HEART ON BOTH SIDES / WRITER: ROB NISBET/ DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN / STARRING: SARAH SUTTON / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW