There’s an oddly 1980s vibe to this final instalment in the fifth series of Fourth Doctor Adventures. Without wishing to reveal the big twist, what we have here is the unveiling of a familiar character who has effectively been slumming it by getting his own hands dirty, in disguise and embroiled throughout much more than simply these two climactic episodes.
Casualties of Time involves the culmination of a terrifically over-complicated plan that the lead villain has been hatching ever since his first encounter with the Doctor. It’s a plan involving considerable temporal paradox shenanigans, one that if you think about it probably doesn’t quite add up, and one that the villain should have known better than to instigate. It’s also one that involves said character devolving a certain amount of responsibility to potentially unreliable subordinates, while simultaneously taking a much more hands-on personal approach than really ought to have been necessary.
It is, therefore, so very Doctor Who.
With the gist of ideas that have found homes in everything from Time-Flight to Mawdryn Undead, but which probably make more sense here in Nicholas Briggs’ story, there’s an appropriately forwards looking vibe to this ostensibly 1970s set adventure. What marks it out – like its precursor The Pursuit of History – as a relative of the period it is designed to reflect, is the Douglas Adams sense of the absurd, especially in relation to the unlikely but perfectly logical happy ending for a character we probably wouldn’t have expected to think deserved as much. Casualties of Time takes place everywhere from an Iron Age settlement to the year 2071, via Quantum Gates and Time Engines, and includes a very important talking parrot (or Ecidien Cerebus, as it were). The author of The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy would be proud.
There are a couple of dei ex machina thrown in for good measure, one that begins the plot by ending it and one that finishes the story having been involved in its start. But that’s par for the course with this kind of thing, and if each of them are inexplicable and incongruous then that’s a measure of their aptness. Because the real story of Casualties of Time is the reverse character trajectories of its two main guests, and it’s terrific to hear both David Troughton and especially David Warner playing to type and then against it. The evolution that brings us there is tremendously arch and, particularly in the latter’s case, rather lovely.
This isn’t a paradigm-shifting season finale nor is it quite as satirical as it probably intended being. But it’s a satisfying, entertaining Doctor Who story that is by turns over-ambitious and ostentatiously artificial. The perfect match for 1979, then.
DOCTOR WHO, THE FOURTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: CASUALTIES OF TIME / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / AUTHOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / STARRING: TOM BAKER, LALLA WARD, JOHN LEESON, DAVID WARNER, DAVID TROUGHTON, TOBY HADOKE / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (BIG FINISH), OCTOBER (ON GENERAL SALE)