ALAN BARNES (1,4,14), STEPHEN COLE (2,6,10), JUSTIN RICHARDS (3,7,13, 16), GARY RUSSELL (5,17), STEVE LYONS (8), STEWART SHEARGOLD (9,11), PAUL SUTTON (12), GARY HOPKINS (15), SCOTT HANDCOCK (17) & DAVID WISE (18)
BIG FINISH GALLIFREY CDS 1.1 - 4.4 (ISBNS 1-84435-088-6, 1-84435-089-4, 1-84435-090-8, 1-84435-091-6, 1-8435-121-1, 1-8435-122-X, 1-84435-123-8, 1-84435-124-6, 1-84435-125-4, 1-84435-204-8, 1-84435-205-6, 1-84435-206-4, 1-84435-207-2, 1-84435-208-0 & 1-84435-556-3) RELEASED BETWEEN MARCH 2004 AND MARCH 2011.
(18 FEATURE-LENGTH EPISODES)
MARCH 2004 - MAY 2004
give credence to Doctor Who books and the “War in Heaven” that they allude to. The ancestral seat of the Time Lords has been portrayed as a darkened, haunting place occupied by god-like beings with terrifying mind-powers; a rotting cesspit of almost human corruption and ambivalence; an elaborate network of cavernous family houses and progenerative looms; a majestic world with continents of “Wild Endeavour”, mountains of “Solace and Solitude”, and a “burnt orange sky”; even as a burning mass of rock desperate to escape its immolation in the war to end all wars. “The Shining World of the Seven Systems” has been destroyed (at least) twice, has a history as conflicting and as grandiose as one would expect from the planet that begat the self-professed Lords of Time, and even – no, especially – in its absence it has projected as much might and majesty as any other force in the Whoniverse.
Above: Enter the Time Lords... The Doctor’s people make
their first appearance in The War Games (1969)
Every fan of Doctor Who hungers to know more of the Doctor’s planet and its people, but this insatiable appetite has always been hampered, at least in part, by a fear of tarnishing the mystique. For every Deadly Assassin out there, there’s an Invasion of Time; for every Marc Platt paperback, there’s a Time Tots tale. Thus it was with great reluctance and even greater expectations that I approached Big Finish’s acclaimed spin-off series set almost exclusively on the Time Lords’ home planet.
Alan Barnes and Gary Russell epics such as Neverland and Zagreus still rank amongst my favourite Big Finish audio dramas; Neverland in particular. In those stories, the authors seemed to fuse all the most successful elements of others’ interpretations of the Time Lords, without any of the fat. Gallifrey, likewise, does much the same.
Above: Pomp and circumstance - and utter decadence.
The Time Lords of The Deadly Assassin (1976)
Those expecting the series to be suffused with Time Lord pomp and circumstance will no doubt be surprised by David Darlington’s ultra-modern theme tune, which sounds uncannily like Murray Gold’s Torchwood riff, despite pre-dating it by a good two years. This cutting-edge feel permeates each and every Gallifrey play; this series isn’t about some dusty, ancient civilisation that fuels legends, but a living, breathing and inordinately complex political society – something that could be seen as the series’ greatest strength or fatal flaw, depending on your viewpoint.
The first season opens with the Alan Barnes-penned Weapon of Choice, which sets up the pieces and put the key players in place. The series is constructed around the manoeuvrings of President Romana (Lalla Ward), her loyal advisor and occasional bodyguard Leela (Louise Jameson), and their respective K-9 units (John Leeson, both). The intriguing Romana / Leela dichotomy is only the tip of the iceberg, however: Miles Richardson’ Cardinal Braxiatel (Bernice Summerfield) is also afforded a starring role, as is Sean Carlsen’s Narvin – the wily and inscrutable head of Gallifrey’s Celestial Intervention Agency. Lynda Bellingham’s Inquisitor Darkel, who infamously presided over the Doctor’s trial in The Trial of a Time Lord, also enjoys as a recurring role, as does Leela’s Time Lord husband Andred, whose whereabouts fuels much of the first season’s intrigue.
Above: Sagacity herself - Inquisitor Darkel presides
over the Doctor’s trial in The Trial of a Time Lord (1986)
Barnes’ story introduces us to Gallifrey some time after the events of the Doctor Who audio drama Zagreus. The Doctor is gone, exiled to another universe, and his former companion, President Romanadvoratrelundar of the House of Heartshaven, is presiding over the reform of Gallifrey’s antiquated statutory framework. Most notably, Romana is seeking to form a coalition with a number of the emerging temporal powers - the Monan Host, the Nekkistani and the Warpsmiths of Phaidon. Inevitably, not everyone on Gallifrey welcomes Romana’s sweeping reforms, and to make matters worse many outside the transduction barriers are distrustful of the Time Lords and their reputation for duplicity. Weapon of Choice tells of the terrorist group Free Time and their rumoured acquisition of a timonic fusion device – a temporal weapon so very dangerous that the Time Lords haven’t even retained any knowledge of it. Allegory is very much the order of the day, as the Time Lords fret over the threat posed by a weapon that may or may not exist, and Romana faces the impossible task of measuring her response accordingly.
Square One by Stephen Cole continues the season’s loose-fitting arc, as Leela and her K-9 are dispatched to the site of Romana’s historic temporal summit to look for evidence of Free Time activity. However, whereas Weapon of Choice was very much Romana’s tale, this story allows Leela to take centre stage when she finds herself trapped inside an engineered temporal aberration – each time that one of the summit’s delegates “cheats” (i.e. tries to assassinate or frame another delegate, or both…), time is wound back to square one, and the summit begins again.
The play’s strong central premise is buoyed by some wonderfully detailed world-building, which Weapon of Choice didn’t really have time to do, busy as it was with the broad strokes. The repartee between the two K-9 units might be a little cattish for my tastes, but this is more than made up for by Cole’s deft handling of the unlikely, budding Romana / Leela friendship and his fleshing out of the temporal powers. The very blue Monan Host and their astounding back story are particularly well-drawn, Cole conjuring some awesome imagery as he describes the stellar catastrophe that saw them stumble upon their mastery of time.
The season’s third offering, Justin Richards’ Inquisition, is another metaphoric piece, not to mention a remarkably prescient one, given Sir John Chilcot’s recent Iraq Inquiry. Fair dues, in real life our erstwhile prime minister wasn’t technically placed on trial, but here Gallifrey’s incumbent president is, her planet’s Court of Enquiry having been convened to decide whether her response to the crisis depicted in Weapon of Choice was justified. It seems that the construction of a timonic fusion device (such as that thought to be in the possession of Free Time activists) is beyond Free Time’s limited technological capabilities, and even the Time Lords have neither the raw materials nor the know-how to forge such a devastating weapon, begging the question as to whether such a weapon ever existed at all. The resultant tale is tense and twisting as Romana is forced to turn to Narvin and the CIA for assistance, as well as a certain Cardinal who knows a lot more about his own future than he should…
Barnes returns to script the final instalment of the run, A Blind Eye – the first (and thus far only) Gallifrey story to be set on Earth. As one would infer from the title, the season finale is a rueful tale that explores what happens when someone turns a blind eye, be it to a Time Lord’s flagrant and continual breaches of the laws of time, the crimes of a silver-tongued desperado, or even the paradoxical survival of a girl fated to die aboard the wreck of the airship R101. It’s a pleasantly harrowing tale, particularly for those listening that have a fondness for Big Finish’s in-house eighth Doctor companion, Charley Pollard. Here we are confronted not only with the unpleasant truth that Charley’s wayward sister, Sissy (played by India Fisher herself), is a fascist sympathiser, but that her naïve choices would lead to a tragic suicide which would then be exploited by those seeking to “make a point” about the web of time.
A Blind Eye also ties up the first season story’s arc in inspired fashion, breaking away from the parable of the first few stories and instead beginning to make full use of the toys that this series has to play with. The mystery of Andred’s disappearance, for instance, is dealt with sublimely, prompting one of Louise Jameson’s finest performances as the noble savage and setting up one of the second season’s most absorbing threads.
Overall then, Gallifrey’s first season is more intriguing than engrossing - only right at the death does it even come close to touching upon its potential. Many have likened Gallifrey to television series such as Spooks and 24, and it certainly shares their edgy vibe, but in these first four stories at least, it really lacks the speed and slickness of such shows. That would all change, however, with the next season…
APRIL 2005 - AUGUST 2005
so after I’d listened to A Blind Eye, and I was absolutely astonished by the abrupt rise in quality. It may not be quite on a par with the soar from Dragonfire to Remembrance of the Daleks, but it is there to be heard in every scene. This isn’t a series trying to find itself anymore – this is a series at its pinnacle.
Much like the previous season, the stories that comprise this run segue into each other to form a larger narrative. However, this time around the stories are much more intertwined, each feeling like an episode of a five-part story rather than a stand-alone slice of audio drama. This allowed the season’s writers to weave a story that was not only much more ambitious than the one that they had the year before, but much more riveting too.
Written and directed by former Big Finish chief Gary Russell, “2.1” or “Chapter 5” (dependant on whether you believe the CD’s cover or spine) immediately sets out its stall with an enchanting flashback sequence that sees Mary Tamm’s young Romana wander down into the Citadel’s ancient vaults, where she hears a voice calling to her. “Imperiatrix,” it whispers…
The season’s storyline is evocative of Alan Barnes’ superlative Neverland in how it encompasses Gallifrey’s past, present and future and injects all three with a supreme sense of scale and splendour. Rather than focus exclusively on threats of terrorism and arraignment, Lies turns to the dark days of Gallifrey’s Old Time for its principal threat: the malevolent Imperiatrix Pandora, the one-time president of the Time Lords who was dispersed for her crimes against the universe, her mind imprisoned within a Matrix partition. A Matrix partition stumbled upon by the young Romana, setting in motion a chain of events that would have far-reaching consequences for her and for the planet that she would one day rule.
Spread over five seventy-minute plus plays, the beguiling narrative is afforded ample time to breathe, the season’s writers taking divergent threads of the same tapestry and elaborating upon them in all manner of mesmerising ways. One such thread is regeneration, and the many issues that go hand in hand with it. In Lies, for instance, the crux of Russell’s main plot examines why Romana force-regenerated herself at the beginning of Destiny of the Daleks, whilst his subplot sees Leela struggle to reconcile herself to her husband’s traumatic regeneration and its consequences. Each aspect is as well-played as the other, the prospect of two Romanas face to face perfectly matched by that of a savage trying to come to terms with a mate who hasn’t just changed his face, but his soul too.
Another such thread is politics, as Lynda Bellingham’s Darkel and Miles Richardson’s would-be Chancellor Braxiatel each seek to stealthily accumulate power; one through deceit and treachery of the most Machiavellian kind, the other through sycophancy and obsequiousness. It’s a credit to both the writers and performers that these two characters remain tantalisingly inscrutable until the moment that they decisively play their respective hands. Brax especially is delightfully opaque.
Stephen Cole pens the season’s second instalment, Spirit, which comprises the run’s only off-world tale. Following the events of Lies, both Romana and Leela are in very dark places. The ageless savage feels lonely and dejected without her husband, and the president of the Time Lords feels equally isolated, her allies and enemies beginning to blur into one unfathomable patch of grey. As a result, Romana decides that they need a holiday on Davidia, her presidential retreat. The inevitable quarrels that ensue are both stimulating and heartening, as these two very different women come to understand each other that much better and begin to forge a powerful friendship. However, their newfound empathy is then taken to a whole new level when in a shared dreamlike state, their respective traits become jumbled. Suddenly Leela’s mind is bursting with knowledge that she doesn’t know how to use, and Romana’s body is tingling with acute senses and instincts that threaten to overwhelm her. When they emerge in reality, each woman is stronger; Leela finds the strength to hope that Andred’s personality will one day be restored, while Romana’s newfound faith in dreams prevents her unleashing a terrible plague upon Gallifrey.
However, though it is, for the most part, a fascinating two-hand character piece, Cole’s story does continue to drive the larger narrative forwards, introducing a moribund future version of one of the season’s regular characters who refuses to regenerate despite horrific injuries. This discovery dovetails straight into Justin Richards’ Pandora, which is arguably the highlight of the season.
When I purchased this series, I did so in the hope of hearing stories like Pandora. Temporally-twisting tales about naïve Castellans desperately trying to identify mutilated bodies that ultimately turn out to be their own from just a couple of days in the future; about would-be chancellors and presidents, who have as many faces as they do hearts, scheming and manipulating their way towards office; about a dark veil falling over the future of the eponymous planet; about a civilisation on the edge of an abyss.
I think what stands out the most about Pandora is its capacity for surprise. Having greedily consumed so much Doctor Who over the years, only the most exceptional stories are able to astound me, but the labyrinthine twists and turns of Gallifrey’s second season lend it a real sense of jeopardy that is genuinely reminiscent of the likes of 24. This is a series that thinks nothing of building up a character over a number of stories only to condemn him to the most gruesome of deaths; a series that in the space of a single scene can exile of one in its staunchest protagonists, seemingly forever.
The season’s penultimate adventure sees Steve Lyons provide his first script for the series. Although it lacks the punch of the previous instalment, Insurgency is remarkable in that it shifts the emphasis onto a compelling bunch of the academy’s off-world students, allowing us to witness the story’s turbulent events from their lowly perspective. I found the prospect of a Scotsman training to be a Time Lord particularly endearing.
Insurgency is also an interesting tale in that it sees Romana slowly succumbing to Pandora’s persuasions, while Darkel rattles her sabre in readiness for her imminent coup d’état. Clearly we’re meant to champion Romana and revile the inquisitor prime, yet with interracial violence erupting all over the citadel and Romana’s own position prejudiced by her genetic link to Pandora, matters suddenly become that much more uncertain, to the extent that even Leela – now the academy’s token off-world lecturer! – fleetingly questions some of Romana’s more contentious decisions.
The hundred-minute season finale, Imperiatrix, is written by Stewart Sheargold, who had previously penned a number of Bernice Summerfield plays and would go on to create the Dar Traders for Big Finish’s flagship Doctor Who range. It’s a much more measured affair than I had expected, the climactic cataclysm coming, but not until the last half hour of the adventure, which is found on the release’s second disc along with an enlightening Making of Gallifrey documentary. That’s not to say that the production is dull by any means; indeed, almost every scene is balanced on a knife-edge as Romana rages against the inevitable future, and Leela employs all the calmness and reason that she can muster in order to track down the Free Time terrorists at work in the Capitol and seek to avenge the most personal of losses.
I was especially impressed with Sheargold’s characterisation here. It’s gripping to see Romana writhe in such a compromised position and the uncharacteristic recklessness that this provokes in her. Similarly, the events of the story see Leela lose not only her husband, with whom she was just starting to make peace, but her beloved K-9 unit too, leaving her with nothing to tie her to this timeforsaken world save for her friendship with Romana and the prospect of an even more protracted life. For her part, Darkel remains thoroughly reprehensible, yet apparently motivated by a desire to do what she thinks is best for her planet, but even her cloudiness is outshined by that of the wily Narvin, who reveals his true colours here, and – astonishingly - they’re more white than grey. I couldn’t praise the performances of Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, Lynda Bellingham and especially Sean Carlsen enough. The script may be impressive, but what they make of is something else entirely.
The play’s final act is particularly satisfying, managing to be both surprising and inescapable all at once. As Darkel makes her bid for power and in response Romana declares herself a dictator, unassailable thanks to the recently-unearthed Great Key, Pandora escapes from the Matrix and triggers the Imperiatrix imprimatur buried deep within Romana’s genes. Stealing Romana’s biodata from the Matrix, Pandora is then able to manifest herself in the form of Romana’s first incarnation and assume the “Imperiatrix” title from her murderer.
The final showdown between the two Romanas is well worth waiting a season for. The first Romana’s accusations that the second “murdered” her are fascinating, if not wholly original (they call to mind the widely-held theory concerning the seventh Doctor’s early coming that was posited in the 1990s' New Adventures novels) and allow Tamm to play the character with an air of seductive spite befitting an “Imperiatrix”, leaving the listener quite literally salivating for the third season.
Indeed, Imperiatrix concludes Gallifrey’s second run in traditionally cruel serial style, with each of the four remaining main characters that we’ve followed for nine plays utterly defeated in their own, unique way, and the prospect of a tumultuous civil war looming large…
MAY 2006 - AUGUST 2006
1 OF 2)
s been energetic and emotional, but it’s
it took less than a day for me to dive headlong into its third, and - at the time of writing - final season.
Picking up not long after where Imperiatrix left off, Stephen Cole’s season-opener casts the listener right into the heart of the civil war that is carving up Gallifrey. Lalla Ward’s ex-president, Romana, is fighting a guerrilla war, backed only by Leela, Narvin and a handful of loyalists, whilst Imperiatrix Pandora manipulates the populace from Gallifrey’s highest office, all the while clothed in the body of Romana’s past self. And as Gallifrey almost destroys itself, the rest of the nascent temporal powers watch from orbit…
In marked contrast to the preceding chapter, Fractures is fast-moving and incredibly action-packed. Cole dexterously manages to set up the season’s characters and their respective allegiances and agendas without losing any time at all, before - to coin a phrase from Russell T Davies - “melting them”. Romana despairs as an adapted form of the dogma virus force-regenerates her supporters into Pandora’s acolytes. Leela is blinded. Narvin barely survives the blast from a bomb that he planted himself. Even the devious Darkel finds herself on an uncomfortably tight leash, as the Imperiatrix that she serves, but surreptitiously seeks to depose, remains one step of ahead of her throughout.
I think what I like most about Fractures and about Stewart Sheargold’s Warfare that follows it is that they do a fantastic job of making what could have been quite an abstract conflict feel extremely real. Naturally, the authors seize the opportunity to have their protagonists rummage around in Gallifrey’s “anomaly vaults” and make full use of their civilisation’s great technological prowess, but ultimately this is a war of attrition, fought with guns and bombs as opposed to invincible Battle TARDISes and almighty stellar manipulators. We are even afforded a telling glimpse of Time Lord tactics, which are far less constrictive than one might imagine, at least superficially. Romana would be only too happy to pop back to last week and pre-empt Pandora’s emergence from the Matrix, but she can’t for reasons that the authors eloquently and plausibly explain. But, just in case Pandora isn’t as sensible as Romana, Romana scrambles the imprimaturs of every TARDIS on Gallifrey, effectively grounding them and depriving her opponent of the ability to re-write the defining moments of the war in her favour.
The civil war is over with far more swiftly than I would have expected, Warfare culminating in the destruction of the Matrix and Pandora with it. Part of me can’t help but lament the loss of further scenes between Lalla Ward and Mary Tamm, but in retrospect the swift wrapping up of the war and the substantive destruction of Pandora would allow the writers to embark on an even more appealing arc; one that would see the series match, and perhaps even surpass, the dizzy heights of its second year.
Appropriation by Paul Sutton heralds a new beginning for Gallifrey; some might say the beginning of the end. With the planet in ruins and its hegemony in tatters, the emergent temporal powers arrive en masse, ostensibly to recover their native students who had been trapped on Gallifrey during the war, but in truth their purpose is much darker. With Romana recuperating from her recent battle within Pandora, she is unceremoniously ousted from office, Chancellor Valyez (Steven Wickham) assuming the role of acting president whilst the newly-appointed Cardinal Matthias (Stephen Perring - better known to Big Finish listeners as the voice of Rassilon’s fawning lackey, Kro’ka) desperately seeks to appease Gallifrey’s increasingly belligerent former allies.
With Romana apparently deposed, the thrilling power plays that were the bread and butter of the first two seasons return with a vengeance as Gallifrey’s presidential merry-go-round begins (“They used to tell me at the Academy that anyone could become president,” says Narvin. “I’m beginning to believe it.”) On the page, the prospect of Gallifrey’s High Council debating the legality of Romana’s removal from office sounds awfully arid, but when brought alive by Lalla Ward, Lynda Bellingham, Steven Wickham and Stephen Perring such scenes are absolutely electrifying. I found myself scrabbling to unravel the legal loopholes as I listened, the story’s clever pacing allowing me to just grasp the significance of a submission a moment ahead of the characters.
Once again, however, the season is stole by a Justin Richards script. Mindbomb is a showcase for Gallifrey at its finest, as the planet’s first presidential election in millennia is held, bringing with it all the assassinations, arrests and impeachments that go hand in hand with such an auspicious event.
As one would expect, it is the three presidential candidates that carry this tale. Romana and Darkel are the clear favourites in the eyes of both the electorate and the listener, yet it is around Cardinal Matthias that events revolve. Introduced in Fractures, I hadn’t really taken to Perring’s character in the same way that I did Narvin, Braxiatel and Darkel. However, in this instalment Matthias really comes into his own, proving himself to be even more cunning that Gallifrey’s iniquitous inquisitor prime, despite being far less assuming. The way that he turns Darkel’s own intricate schemes against her is a delight to listen to, though he would ultimately be trumped in those stakes by Miles Richardson’s Braxiatel, who makes a surprising, but nonetheless welcome, appearance that sees him deal with Darkel once and for all.
Mindbomb’s gripping dénouement resolves the vast majority of the series’ ongoing story arcs. Wielding frightening guile and even greater gall, Braxiatel finally puts paid to both Darkel and the remnants of Pandora, claiming the presidency as he does so, only to bequeath it to Matthias and leave Gallifrey once more, for reasons that would be explained in the series’ final chapter. Darkel’s fate is really something to behold: gruesome, but proportionate to her evil and ambition. She would have appreciated its proportionality, being a lawyer and all.
It fell to Alan Barnes to script Gallifrey’s final chapter, Panacea. Originally intended to serve as a finale to the whole series, rather than just its third season, it isn’t difficult to see why many listeners have lambasted this production, and particularly its irresolute ending. Looking at Gallifrey in isolation, Panacea leaves the listener hanging on the most tormenting of cliffhangers; a cliffhanger that I can only surmise was deliberately engineered to be as exasperating as possible.
However, when enjoyed as part of the larger Doctor Who universe, Panacea is actually remarkably clever, not to mention rather satisfying. It’s no secret that Big Finish’s licence is limited to the classic series of Doctor Who and its spin-offs, and so as Gallifrey’s ultimate destruction in the Last Great Time War falls firmly within the boundaries of the new series it is therefore off limits. Big Finish could therefore have ended Gallifrey in one of two ways: (i) with all the toys back in the box, much as they’d found them, status quo restored; or (ii) with the planet in utter ruin, within touching distance of the conflict that would bring its end. When looked at in this way, Panacea’s cliffhanger ceases to be infuriating, and starts to feel really quite illicit.
Like many of the best season finales, Barnes’ defiant tale starts off small and then balloons colossally. Quite fittingly, Hugo Myatt’s “entrepreneur, adventurer and self-confessed swine” Mephistopheles Arkadian returns to bookend the series, proffering a cure-all for the “Free Time” virus that has spread all over Gallifrey in the weeks since the civil war ended. Naturally, the price that the Time Lords must pay for this cure is exorbitant: their stockpile of temporal weaponry, which – unbeknownst to all concerned - Arkadian has earmarked for sale to some “certain metal gentlemen” of his acquaintance.
Above: The House of Lungbarrow, former home of the Doctor.
Inspiration for the House of Heartshaven?
President Matthias finds himself facing a lose-lose situation. If he doesn’t make the deal, then the Time Lords will all be “zombified” by the virus and face extinction. If he does, then his people will survive, but they will be unable to regenerate - Arkadian’s “Panacea” destroys a Time Lord’s symbiotic nuclei, leaving him, essentially, human. The very essence of what a Time Lord is will be destroyed in any event. Either way, Free Time will have won.
But the plot thickens – Arkadian isn’t acting alone, he’s in cahoots with ‘Irving’ Braxiatel. With Arkadian’s help, Brax is able to steal Gallifrey’s entire biodata archive and secure it outside time and space, creating a Gallifreyan Ark and preserving the Time Lord race. Since leaving Gallifrey, Brax has learned of a terrible threat that will soon face it; a threat that only the Imperiatrix would have been strong enough to shepherd the Time Lords through. The future that Romana foresaw in Neverland – the future where she, as Imperiatrix, destroyed the Daleks – will now never come to pass, and it appears that the Time Lords will perish as a result.
As the play draws to its teasing climax, we learn that Brax has already dealt with the Free Time organisation itself, but to no avail - their dogma virus appears to have turned most of the population of Gallifrey into mindless zombies. Suddenly Brax’s reason for appointing Matthias as his successor becomes clear: he knew that Gallifrey was doomed, and so he named Matthias as the next President so that Romana might survive. Survive to make the most terrible choice for her people: life as a human, or death followed by re-extrapolation from the biodata archive. “Right,” Romana announces. “What we’re going to do is-”
Now I love the uncertainty of this ending. For all we know, Romana might allow Gallifrey to be destroyed, only to rebuild it nine times over - Matrix and all - and preside over the Nine Gallifreys as their War Queen, as portrayed in Doctor Who literature. She might decide to use the cure, humanising her people and leaving them vulnerable to the devastating future foreseen by Brax and abetted by the arms-dealing Arkadian. The decision might even be taken from her, as Rassilon returns from the divergent universe to reclaim his presidency and start the Intuitive Revelation anew, galvanising his people to meet the terrible, and as yet unknowable, threat. Who knows - Romana and Brax might even escape the fate of their people, Cult of Skaro-style, poised for some future return. All of these things could happen. Or none of them. I can only hope that the fourth season, when it emerges, continues to open up and explore incredible possibilities rather than narrow them too severely.
Above: Gallifrey, the centre of the Whoniverse...
I read a fascinating fan-authored article recently that placed the destruction of Gallifrey right at the centre of the Whoniverse, all its possible pasts and indecipherable futures splintering around it like cracks in ice. But irrespective of whether you look at the Whoniverse and see a myriad of parallel Gallifreys, one continuously fluctuating and paradox-riddled world, or even an increasingly illusory procession of realities, nestled one on top of the other like Russian dolls, one thing is for certain: Gallifrey matters. And therefore, by extension, Gallifrey matters.
And in the end, even with the weight of such almighty expectation brought to bear upon it, Gallifrey succeeds. It entertains. It inflames. It constantly confounds expectation and pushes the envelope. It satisfies many a pent-up fanboy craving without ever losing its sophistication or its sheen. At its best, it makes Doctor Who feel like the spin-off.
A finely-balanced, stylish, and compulsively compelling series, Gallifrey is a must.
s been energetic and emotional, but it’s
individually, Gallifrey IV has been released as a five-disc box set. Resplendent in burnt orange and luminous gold, the slipcase’s elegant artwork carries images of the Gallifrey conjured by the current television series, while inside it the four stories that make up the series are housed in jewel cases, the artwork of each conforming to the hitherto Gallifrey house-style. This suggests to the listener a bridge between two eras, belying the tumultuous, tangential tales that lie within.
Indeed, the title Gallifreys would have been more appropriate for this series, as rather than focus on how Romana and her allies restore the fallen Gallifrey, so that it may fall again, it sees Series 3’s surviving heroes use the Gallifreyan Axis (introduced in Simon Furman’s chilling 2004 Doctor Who play, The Axis of Insanity) as a means to meander through a multiverse of truncated timelines, looking for refuge, and, perhaps, an answer to the problem that has all but wiped out the Time Lord species in the “prime” reality.
Having quite deliberately shied away from all but the most rampant pre-season spoilers, all I knew about Gallifrey IV was that it would begin with an episode entitled Reborn; boast a fantastic array of talent; and Rassilon’s name would crop up in a major way towards the end. The fan in me instantly started writing the season in my head – Brax’s restoration of the Time Lord species from his already-established biodata archive; Rassilon’s long overdue return from the Divergent Universe, ascent to the presidency, and inevitable Free Time reprisal; Romana’s futile, liberalist rebellion; perhaps even an oblique dovetail into a certain temporal conflict. Poor Gary Hopkins never had a chance when faced with such colossal expectations.
Given the time that has elapsed since the release of the preceding chapter, Panacea, I expected neither an immediate resolution to that chapter’s conundrum nor even a direct continuation of that adventure, but when I started to listen to Hopkins’ opening instalment, I at least expected to hear something that played by the same rules as series past. In actuality though, Reborn is rather a pertinent title as everything about it feels as such. Gone is David Darlington’s distinctive electronic theme tune; in its place a more solemn, orchestral piece that is inevitably going to be compared - unfavourably - to Murray Gold’s television leitmotif. Gone is the political manoeuvring, intrigue and allegory that defined the preponderance of the first fourteen chapters; in its place a tale of paths not taken and corners not turned – “Gallifrey Unbound”, as returning producer Gary Russell labels it. If only it had said that on the box, I probably wouldn’t have felt quite so hard done by when I launched myself into the first episode.
In fairness to Hopkins, his portrayal of his timestream’s Time Lords is wonderfully innovative. They are probably best described as temporal Ferengi, predisposed to sell everything from their stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction to their future lives. Furthermore, his script does some very interesting things with the regular characters – they just aren’t where I’d wanted them to be. Narvin suffers a defining loss, while Leela becomes president and K-9 her castellan. Meanwhile, Brax’s many secrets start to slip, while Romana finds herself in a world where she never travelled with the Doctor and never regenerated, and instead married Andred, with whom she begat an evil son, played by former Doctor Who companion Conrad Westmaas. This paves the way for the return of Mary Tamm’s Romana, as well as Anthony Keetch’s Vansell, who in this world is a lowly servant of the House of Heartshaven. Such resurrections set the stall for the rest of the season, as the series turns to its glorious past for its inspiration, as opposed to its inexorable future.
I had hoped when I started Disassembled that in it our heroes would return to “our” Gallifrey, and so I had to suppress a pang of disappointment when instead Romana and company tumbled through an Axis portal into another truncated timeline’s neverland. This time around through, my exasperation was quickly dispelled as I found myself instantly swept up in Justin Richards’ enthralling plot. Disassembled may not be the Gallifrey, or indeed the Gallifrey, that I know, but it is certainly one hell of an episode.
Richards’ alternate Gallifrey is under Romana’s rule, but is otherwise vastly different from our own; so much so, in fact, that it could almost be termed a mirror universe. Recognising that they exist as just one of many alternatives, these gung-ho “interventionalist” Time Lords wish to collapse all other timelines and create one “monoverse”, the history of which would flow only according to their design. Their great interrogator is a fallen version of one of our heroes, whose soul has been lost “to the dark side of the forest”, and the Lord Burner is one who has fallen farther still. But these aren’t Inferno-style eye-patch sporters or even gentle Reborn reflections – they’re subtle, misleading characters with razor-sharp edges, masterfully portrayed by those who play them.
Disassembled is also a very strong story for Brax, who reveals more about himself here than he ever has before. In a touch of homage to Planet of Fire, the script strongly hints at Brax’s long-rumoured fraternal link to the Doctor, whose escape from Gallifrey we learn he abetted back in the days when he served as President Pandat’s personal assassin. Now I love this dark thread that runs through Brax’s character, but Richards is careful to complement it with some lighter touches too. Fans of Gallifrey’s sister series, Bernice Summerfield, will have to stifle a cheer when they hear the former chancellor’s final, playful scene.
Scott Handcock and Gary Russell’s hastily-scripted instalment, Annihilation, continues the fan service apace as Romana, Leela and Narvin find themselves on a skewed version of ancient Gallifrey. In this reality, the Great Vampires were not conquered by Rassilon but championed by him – he sold out his people for the promise of immortality, imprisoning the Shining World of the Seven Systems in a transduction barrier that would block out all light. Now the remaining “True Lords”, led by their majestrix, the Lady Borusa, are locked in a relentless trench war with their ancient enemies, forced to transform their own people into animalistic killing machines in order to survive.
As was the case with Disassembled, Annihilation bewitches the listener not just with its fan-pleasing hook but through its compelling characterisation. The blind savage Leela, her hair greying and her body failing now that she’s away from her Gallifrey’s entropy-quashing environment, suddenly finds herself in a position where she can not only regain her sight, but her strength and purpose too, becoming a quite literal dog of war. Romana, similarly, finds herself in a position where, once again, she can single-handedly shape the fate of a world - be it for better, or for worse. This leaves Narvin – isolated, dependant and more humble than we’ve ever seen him before, allowing Sean Carlsen to provide what may well be the most delicate performance of the season.
Annihilation is also remarkable for its cast, which is comprised of not only the incredible regulars at the height of their powers, but a number of Doctor Who and Big Finish legends in memorable new guises. Erstwhile TARDIS traveller and transtemporal adventuress Katy Manning gives an unusually understated performance as the pragmatic Borusa, whilst former Master Geoffrey Beevers sinks his teeth into the villainous Lord Prydon – leader of the Vampires on Gallifrey. Charlie Hayes, another veteran of the superlative Master, is similarly stunning as the soothsaying Lady Cassandra.
The last of our heroes’ ambles through the Axis’s alternatives comes from the prolific pen of David Wise, a man whose name followed the title of half the cartoons that I watched in my youth (and, if I’m honest, much more recently on DVD too). The experience Wise gained in sending Shredder and Krang’s Technodrome on its annual transdimensional trip is put to good use here as he shepherds our heroes into a dimension where Gallifrey is obsessed with weaponry and war; a world where unlocking the secrets of time has taken a backseat to slavery and oppression; a world under the harsh rule of President Romana and her callous chancellor, Narvin.
Wise’s riveting plot focuses on the final stages of “Project: Rassilon” – this world’s attempt to harness the power of the Eye of Harmony, which was constructed millennia ago by a leader assassinated before he could make his peers Lords of Time. However, unlike in the prime reality, the nucleus of this world’s Eye lies beneath the surface of Gallifrey itself, and rather than be a gateway to unlimited power it is in fact the prison of a “patient plague” of pure, malevolent thought – a plague intent on stealing the lives of every single Gallifreyan, should it ever be released.
This final instalment is made all the more special thanks to a few guest appearances. Sixth Doctor Colin Baker enjoys a brief cameo as mild-mannered journalist Theta Sigma, while the woman who played the Doctor’s first travelling companion, Carole Ann Ford, relishes the prospect of a part not punctuated with a plethora of “Grandfathers” – indeed, she’s a grandmother herself here, at least to Leela’s now-working eyes. Even former series regular Steven Wickham returns to the fray, breathing life into an interpretation of Valliers that couldn’t be any farther away from the pen-pusher that we all know and loathe.
Forever also does a lovely job of completing the character journeys begun in Reborn, and in doing so, offering listeners what feels like a more explicit ending than the oft-lambasted Italian Job homage that the narrative crashed into at the end of Series 3. After earning a familiar but unfavourable nomme de guerre in Annihilation, in stepping into her opposite number’s smoking shoes here Romana is able to finally exercise the ghosts of both “her” Gallifrey and the Gallifrey of the Vampires and True Lords, but in doing so she unwittingly drives away two of her closest friends, perhaps forever, while bringing her only remaining ally closer. And I must say, I love the poetry of who she’s left with. It had to be that way. Had to be.
Nevertheless, despite – and, indeed, due to - its uncertain conclusion, I feel that Panacea made for a much more fitting end to the series than Forever does. But then, Forever wasn’t intended to be an end to the series – I gather that there are already plans afoot for Gallifrey V. We can only guess, and hope, as to what those plans may be…
Last year, when I took a look back at Gallifrey’s first three seasons, I opined that Gallifrey IV should open up possibilities rather than narrow them, and it has certainly done just that. It’s not been what I expected, and it’s certainly not been what I wanted, but I can’t deny that it’s been an exhilarating ride. No matter what universe they are in, Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, John Leeson, and especially Miles Richardson and Sean Carlsen can’t fail to suck the listener into it, chaining their audience to their characters and their journeys – journeys that, I sincerely hope, are far from over.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010, 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
For Romana, the events of this series seem to take place after the events of the Doctor Who audio drama Zagreus. As things stand, it is conceivable (though no doubt in contravention of authorial intent) that following the events of Forever, Romana returns to her native Gallifrey to rebuild its people using Braxiatel’s Ark, and thereafter goes on to become the War Queen of the Nine Gallifreys, as portrayed in The Shadows of Avalon and thereafter in print. This would fit rather nicely with her character development in Gallifrey IV. Alternatively, these events could take place some time after the Doctor “restores” the Time Lords following The Gallifrey Chronicles, but prior to the ultimate destruction of Gallifrey. It seems reasonable to assume that, consciously or otherwise, the Doctor would somehow end up restoring “the noblest Romana of them all” rather than her War Queen successor. The latter explanation would allow the events of Gallifrey to eventually segue into the Last Great Time War, which is a tempting proposition, however the former placement is easier to reconcile with adventures told in other media. Take your pick…
Also of note, Gallifrey explains why Romana may have chosen to regenerate in Destiny of the Daleks. Subconsciously aware of Pandora’s manipulation of her bloodline and her first incarnation’s susceptibility to the Imperiatrix imprimatur lurking inside her (which if activated could make her a vessel for the Imperiatrix’s will) Romana allegedly force-regenerated herself. The later Doctor Who audio drama, The Chaos Pool, would offer an alternative explanation, suggesting that when the Doctor scattered the six segments of the Key to Time at the end of The Armageddon Factor, the sixth segment took up residence inside Romana’s first incarnation, immediately inducing regeneration without her knowledge. These two explanations are not mutually exclusive, however - as is the case with the sixth Doctor’s controversial renewal, it is impossible to know exactly what runs through a Time Lord’s subconscious in the moments leading up to regeneration.
For Leela, the events of this series seem to take place after the events of the Doctor Who audio drama Zagreus and prior to the bookending scenes of Nigel Fairs’ Companion Chronicles trilogy. This means that, at some point after the events of Forever, she must make her way back into her native reality (or at least one so close to it that the events of Fairs’ trilogy took place in it almost exactly as they did in Leela’s native reality). Interestingly, Gallifrey does not refer to Leela and Andred ever having a child, which is ostensibly at odds with Leela’s pregnancy established in Lungbarrow. However, given the difficulties that go hand in hand with inter-species procreation (particularly when one of those species has been barren for millennia) it is highly likely that Leela’s pregnancy didn’t come to term or, worse still, the child perished at some point prior to Weapon of Choice.
For Braxiatel, the events of this series up to and including Disassembled appear to take place between the events of the Doctor Who audio drama Zagreus and prior to his first appearance - from his point of view - in Bernice Summerfield. By the time of Panacea, Brax has assumed the forename ‘Irving’ and has sold off his acclaimed Collection in an attempt to save Gallifrey. He then meets Bernice for the first time - from his perspective, but not hers – at the end of Disassembled. We also learn in Disassembled that Brax was once the President of Gallifrey’s hired assassin (“the Lord Burner”), albeit an unwilling one, and that he likely turned his lethal prowess against the President that he was sworn to serve. More interesting still, Brax claims to have tipped off an old man and his granddaughter that a “burn edict” had been issued against them, the obvious implication being that he played an instrumental role in the Doctor’s decision to flee Gallifrey. This is, of course, at odds with the version of events set out in Lungbarrow, but those looking to reconcile the two should bear in mind that just because Brax makes a claim, that doesn’t make it true. Disassembled also heavily implies that the Doctor and Brax are brothers – or, if you prefer, “cousins” - though the decisive word is missing from every implicating sentence, again allowing listeners to believe what they will.
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