The War Doctor Volume 02: Infernal Devices
Written By: John Dorney, Phil Mulryne, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
John Hurt (The War Doctor), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra), David Warner (Shadovar), Jamie Newall (Co-ordinator Jarad), Zoë Tapper (Collis), Robert Hands (Captain Solex), Oliver Dimsdale (Commander Trelon), Laura Harding (Navigator Valis), Barnaby Kay (Commander Thrakken), Jaye Griffiths (Daylin), Tim Bentinck (General Kallix), Tracy Wiles (Commander Barnac), and Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks. Other parts played by the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Once again, it is difficult to give a proper review of the set without giving too much away. Do I review individual stories or as the box set as a whole? Here, I will try the latter, so as to give much less of the individual stories themselves. That is not to say there will be no indication of what is in the stories, but I am going to try to be vague when I can, and deal with my general impressions of the set as a whole. Those impressions, moreover, come from a few things: the general idea of the “infernal devices” which is used to connect the stories together, the characterization of the Doctor and those he is with, and the way the set actually works as a kind of insight into a part of the “Time-War” itself.
First, I will begin with my general impression: this set is superior to the first set. While I liked the first set, it did not give what I was expecting and looking for, and I feel others probably felt the same. I wanted something which made the Hurt Doctor, the War Doctor, so striking and different, that it was obvious as to why he himself questioned his own identity. As I explained before, I really did not get that with the first set. With that “shock” somewhat out of the way, I came in expecting less with the second set, and that probably helped, but more than that, I think the diversity of authors here helped give more than with Briggs’ one-man writing team for the first set, because it allowed for some slight variations in the theme and style, allowing for the War Doctor to have a bit more character show up as a result.
This is not to say the second set gives the kind of variety I would have liked. It does, in a way, but it does not, because the Doctor still feels tamer than I would like. The set has a particular theme which runs across all the disks, the kinds of “infernal devices” which the Times Lords are willing to use in the Time War, devices which will have disastrous effects on the universe if the Doctor does not find a way to stop them, and this theme helps really bring the story around and feel like it is a part of a war more than the first set. And yet… it often feels like we are at the outskirts of the war, and what is happening elsewhere would be interesting to know here, to make the connections between the events here and the rest of the Time War more evident.
Now, in this set, the Doctor finds himself forced to work more directly for the Time Lords, first by himself, but then with Cardinal Ollistra. It is clear that Ollistra has a lot of respect for the Doctor, even if she also is extremely annoyed by him. She trusts, in the bigger picture, he is on her side, though his ways and hers differ. She thinks he had the insight from his own travel to do things which no one else can, but yet she also thinks he lacks the bigger vision and needs guidance from her to help keep his actions helpful for the overall success of the Time Lords. She doesn’t want him running loose in the universe, handling the Time War in his own fashion, because she believes it will end up hurting the Time Lords and their success, that he would be a wild card that could ruin everything, but if kept under control, he could be the ace up her sleeve (so to speak).
The Doctor remains quite similar to what he was in the first set. For most of the story it is hard to see what differentiates him from what we have seen before, why he isn’t “the Doctor” anymore. A lot of this, it would seem, is a matter of perspective. The Doctor is more pragmatic than usual, and more willing to do things which will have far-ranging impact, but it still feels like the Seventh Doctor would be very similar to the War Doctor in that account. And yet – there is something new, I would say, at the very end, in the way he finally finds a way to overcome Cardinal Ollistra’s control on him. What the control is, and how he works with it to undermine her power over him – is one of the better parts of his characterization here, and as such, the less said to spoil it the better. The only thing I would say is that it almost shows a cruel streak lying underneath the Hurt Doctor, and if that is the case, I would like to see that played out more in future stories (and maybe even be told of something he did in the past where it came out full force, which is why he seemingly hates himself and his way new way of life).
The actual “infernal devices,” and there are a few of them, are interesting and generally well thought out, although I would say, there remains a bit of a question of the value some would have, if one considers the Time War as capable of rewriting time as it is waged. But that is a minor point. There is a lot of experimentation going on with them, from the perspective of the Time Lords, and as such, it is easy to believe that, not used to a Time War themselves, they would try and use anything, even things which give them a minor advantage, with the belief that the ends justify the means.
The first story involves a “foreign power” helping the Time Lords create a potential weapon the Time Lords think can be used to create an unending supply of warriors; however, what the Time Lords do not know is that the power of the device is fueled by a cultic organization with insidious plans of their own. I really thought that the cult would turn out to involve the Nimon, and was disappointed this was not the case (for if it did, it could in many ways connect with and engage an Eighth Doctor Story, Seasons of Fear, and show how the Time War spilled out and affected the Doctor before it “begun” ). Despite that, I enjoyed the story and it helped get me in the mood for the rest of the set.
The second and third connect more together, with Cardinal Ollista taking control of the Doctor and his TARDIS. Here, we see she takes the Doctor to the aftermath of an experiment, where a new weapon has been used, and she wants the Doctor’s help to gauge its results. The Doctor, on the other hand, finds his concern is more with the risks and dangers the weapon has on the rest of the universe, and he wants to find a way to have its use stopped and never considered again. The trouble for him is that he has to decide what to do with those who are caught in its first use, if he can find a way to save them, and if not, if he can justify what happens to them when he sets about overturning its use. There are some “surprises’ in this story, though when listening to the story advance they are sort of hinted at so not as shocking when they are revealed and yet, to keep the spoilers to a minimum, the most I will say is that the Doctor accidently finds himself with some interesting allies in this one.
I am really enjoying these stories, if for no other reason than John Hurt and his Doctor is, though a bit “one-note” at times, played greatly and enjoyable. And here, he has a wonderful counterbalance with Jacqueline Pearce’s Cardinal Ollistra. She feels like a Time Lord version of Servalan, and that is the kind of character this Doctor needs as a foil, to keep him going on, fighting in the Time War – but always fighting for the sake of peace, to help not the Daleks or the Time Lords, but those caught in their crosshairs. We can feel the impact this has on the Doctor later, such as when we see the ninth Doctor telling the Autons he tried to save them and their planets (it would be great if, in a future set, there is a story with the Autons and their homeworld where we see this happen, to really connect to the first story of New Who, but it is not necessary). The Doctor is still the Doctor, but he really has come to hate himself and his mission. He sees the impact of the war around him, all the harm his people and the Daleks have caused. It’s why he ends with what we saw in Day of the Doctor – he is the Doctor, but only once does he allow himself to acknowledge it. Here, everyone else sees he is still himself but the Doctor always fights them when they tell him so..
I would give this 8/10 – a solid, non-questionable 8. While I like what is going on in these, I do wish we saw something earlier first, to see the Doctor do something disastrous, explaining even more what has made him so cynical.
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