In the earliest days of Doctor Who back in the 1960s, everything about the Doctor was a complete mystery, from his name to his planet of origin. It is difficult to imagine now that back then people had no idea that the Doctor was even a Time Lord, and they certainly had no idea that they came from Gallifrey. In fact, one could argue that this was one of the main things that made the show so fascinating to viewers, the mystery of who and what the Doctor actually was.
However, over the course of Classic Who the many questions about the Doctor’s origins were answered one by one, to the extent that we not only know that the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, but also that he comes from the Prydonian Chapter, that he attended the Time Lord Academy, and that the TARDIS he stole is a Type 40 with a malfunctioning Chameleon circuit.
It goes without saying that the Time Lords are a powerful race, as they are responsible for assuming the role of custodians of time and space, protecting the established web of time, and maintaining the delicate fabric of the universe. The Time Lords are capable of wiping entire races from existence, retro-engineering the evolution of their enemies to ensure that they do not achieve sentience, and if necessary removing entire empires from history.
In recent years, however, the Time Lords have diminished in importance. Episodes set on Gallifrey, which were once a fascinating insight into the Doctor’s homeworld and history, became tedious slogs through dense lore and bureaucracy by the end of Classic Who. Russell T. Davies wisely side-stepped having to write Gallifrey episodes by destroying the entire Time Lord race in the Time War, which was controversial at the time but is now generally considered to have been a good decision in the long-run as it opened up new narrative opportunities for the show.
This was obviously done to provide some emotinoal weight to the Doctor’s story, but this proves just how disposable the Time Lords are as a plot device, as the entire species was wiped out – presumably for good – just to give the Doctor a tragic backstory for the revived series. This was definitely the right move, as it gave the Doctor a strong character arc the likes of which the series had never seen up until this point, and it meant that there was an aspect of mystery to the Doctor’s character once again.
By the time Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, the Time Lords were in an interesting narrative flux. Although they were essential to Doctor Who lore, with characters like Romana, the Master, the Rani, Rassilon and many others being closely linked to Gallifrey, the Time Lords also presented a massive amount of narrative baggage as they were so closely linked to the Doctor’s past, and with the effects of the Time War added into the mix the writers were backed into a tight corner when it came to expanding the show’s backstory and lore.
When the 50th Anniversary came around, the writers took the opportunity to do something potentially controversial in order to free future writers from the narrative weight of the Time War. Moffat was able to bring Gallifrey back in a way that did not invalidate Russell T. Davies’ earlier work, as the Doctor’s psychological scars from destroying Gallifrey at the end of the Time War remained even though the Time Lords were able to survive the war and hide Gallifrey away at the end of the universe. The fact that the War Doctor cannot retain the memories of saving Gallifrey means that the character development of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors was preserved whilst also restoring Gallifrey to the forefront of the series lore once again.
Nonetheless, it was clear that the Time Lords still presented a narrative problem, as Hell Bent proved that the Doctor held little nostalgia for his lost homeworld, particularly after the horrors that the Time Lords unleashed during the Time War. In fact, the Doctor banished Rassilon and the other members of the High Council and took the role of Lord President before promptly leaving the planet after rescuing Clara, demonstrating just how little attachment he had to Gallifrey at that point.
Chris Chibnall’s decision to once again remove the Time Lords from the equation by destroying Gallifrey and then revealing that the Doctor is actually far more than just another Time Lord restores an aspect of mystery to the character of the Doctor that has arguably been lacking since the 1960s. Though fans now will inevitably complain and cry heresey as the long-established lore of Doctor Who is ‘destroyed’, as we have seen from previous controversial decisions taken by showrunners this change can only be good for the franchise.
In the long run, the show can finally shed the narrative baggage that the Time Lords present after so many years of being tied to the same backstory and lore. Doctor Who has always been about change and this philosophy has kept it alive when so many other shows have finished or been cancelled. There are few shows out there that could theoretically go on forever, and Doctor Who is one of them. But in order to continue, it has to change, and the longer it stays on air, the bigger those changes will have to be. Fans can either accept the change and move on, or reject the change and be left behind.
The Daleks are the Doctor’s most fearsome enemies, and are well-known for their brutality, their ingenuity and above all, their survivability. The Daleks have survived everything from an attempt by a temporal race of demi-gods to avert their creation to a civil war that rendered the surface of their home-world a charred cinder, but one conflict that the Daleks seemingly could not escape was the Time War.
This huge temporal conflict saw the Daleks fight an all-out war with the Time Lords, a war that would destroy the Dalek race and leave only a few scattered survivors, including the Emperor and the Cult of Skaro. One by one, however, these survivors would be killed, usually due to the intervention of the Doctor.
The last Dalek drone known as the Metaltron would kill itself after absorbing Human DNA, as we see in the episode Dalek. In the Series 1 finale The Parting of the Ways we see that the Emperor Dalek was killed trying to invade Earth in the year 200,100. Finally, in Evolution of the Daleks, all but one member of the Cult of Skaro would die during the disastrous Final Experiment in New York in the 1930s.
The last member of the Cult of Skaro, Dalek Caan, went back into the Time War to rescue Davros and rebuild a New Dalek Empire, but in the process he saw the Dalek race for what it was and in the Series 4 finale Journey’s End we learn that we decided to wipe his own kind out, engineering the destruction of Davros’ empire to apparently ensure a final end for the Daleks.
However, just like every ‘final end’ the Daleks had suffered so far, the destruction of Davros’ empire would prove to not be the end of the Daleks, as three surviving Daleks would go on to uncover a lost Dalek Progenitor and create a New Dalek Paradigm, as seen in Series 5’s Victory of the Daleks. The new breed of Daleks created from the Progenitor would escape via time travel and begin rebuilding the Dalek Empire.
Exactly what happens next for the Daleks is a bit murky because each episode they feature in seems to tell its own story in terms of what the Daleks do next. The Paradigm Daleks essentially disappear after Series 7’s Asylum of the Daleks, and now the Daleks have established a Parliament, perhaps in order to keep peace. The Magician’s Apprentice implies that Davros has rebuilt a new Dalek race on Skaro, though the Dalek City is later destroyed.
Other Dalek appearances are even stranger. The fact that Bronze Daleks are attacking the Movellans in Series 10’s The Pilot seems to indicate that the Daleks are either interfering with their own history or resuming their past conflicts with post-Time War vigor. The fact that various Classic Daleks are present in the Asylum and Davros’ Dalek City on Skaro would seem to indicate some kind of temporal shenanigans, but it is unclear exactly what they are up to.
Other recent appearances for the Daleks in episodes like Into the Dalek, Resolution and Revolution of the Daleks state that the Daleks have a roaming fleet that serves as their headquarters, and as the Dalek saucer that was destroyed in The Time of the Doctor was apparently the Dalek Parliament, it could be that now the Daleks are ‘between empires’ at the moment and are instead rampaging around the Galaxy in a nomadic fleet. We can only wait and see what the future holds for the Daleks, but needless to say that after surviving the fires of the Time War they are now here to stay – and are more powerful than ever.
As the focus of the second episode of Series 8, Into the Dalek, Rusty was a one-of-a-kind, a character that initially seemed like it could be the universe’s only example of a Dalek that was morally good. That is, until the Twelfth Doctor discovered that it was simply suffering a malfunction, cured the problem, and instead accidentally taught Rusty to hate the Daleks. At the end of Into the Dalek, we see Rusty leave for parts unknown, but what happened to this unique Dalek?
Escaping the Dalek Fleet
At the end of Into the Dalek, Rusty leaves the Human hospital ship Aristotle and joins the rest of his kind in their saucer, and he then presumably stays undercover until he reaches a strategic position. Interestingly, early drafts for Into the Dalek depict Rusty self-destructing to destroy the saucer in a manner similar to the Metaltron from Dalek, though this was cut from the final episode.
What we do know is that Rusty would survive and live among for the Daleks for a while before defecting and waging an unending war against his own race. Rusty would go on to destroy countless Daleks, and he became somewhat of a legend both among his own people and in the wider universe in general. According to the Twelfth Doctor, Rusty would go on to live for billions of years, slaughtering Daleks and becoming a quasi-mythical figure.
Waging War against the Daleks
After meeting the First Doctor in Twice Upon a Time, the Twelfth Doctor would eventually reunite with Rusty after travelling to his fortress on Villengard. Rusty has clearly been busy since his last encounter with the Doctor, as there are dead Daleks strewn around the entrance to his tower, and he has been living there for so long that the scattered Dalek survivors have adapted to live outside their casings and latch onto the faces of humanoids in order to feed, implying that Rusty had been there for hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions.
A former weapons production facility, Villengard was perfect for Rusty’s purposes, and he not only installed himself atop a tower with external weapons, but he also tapped into huge Dalek databases in a bid to become one of the most intelligent life forms in the universe. The Doctor would tap into this knowledge to learn more information about the Testimony, eventually discovering its benevolent nature. The Twelfth Doctor was then teleported away and Rusty is left alone once again.
Twice Upon a Time is the last time we see Rusty, so what he gets up to after this and what eventually becomes of this Dalek is unknown. His unending hatred of the Daleks that has lasted for billions of years will undoubtedly motivate Rusty to continue his crusade against his own kind, and perhaps he will appear in a story in the future and shed some light on how he has managed to evade destruction and wreak havoc on the Daleks for so long.
In all of Dalek history there are few individual Daleks save perhaps the Emperor himself who can claim to be as important or influential as the Cult of Skaro, as they are some of the most interesting Dalek characters ever created and were the first Daleks to reappear across multiple episodes. These four Daleks were created by Russell T. Davies for the Series 2 finale Army of Ghosts / Doomsday and went on to become the first individual Daleks to have names and unique personalities.
We are introduced to the Cult of Skaro during the climactic cliff-hanger ending of Army of Ghosts and their names and personalities are expanded on more in Doomsday, in which they are revealed to have escaped the Time War in a Void Ship along with a mysterious Time Lord artefact called the Genesis Ark. These four Daleks are capable of imagination, something that most standard Daleks lack, and as such they are able to out-think their enemies and made exceptional tacticians during the Time War.
Each member of the Cult can be identified in several ways. The first and most difficult way of identifying each member is by their unique tag located underneath their eyestalk, as in theory each Cult member has an associated tag that is printed onto their prop. Unfortunately, however, during filming of the two main episodes in which the Cult of Skaro appear, the props were routinely switched up, sometimes even between shots, so this method is all but useless in practicality.
The easiest way to tell the Cult members apart is by their voices, as Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs gave each member of the Cult their own unique voice and personality. Dalek Sec has a standard Dalek voice with an authoritative tone, Dalek Caan’s voice is very deep and rasping, Dalek Thay has a low-pitched voice with a nasal croak, and Dalek Jast has a high-pitched, staccato voice with a very fast line delivery.
Who is Dalek Jast?
Jast is perhaps the least developed member of the Cult, as he has the fewest lines of the group and does not get any notable scenes on his own. He is the Dalek that first notices that the Doctor is present at Torchwood by analysing the communication with the Cyber-Leader, and he is seemingly the one in charge of directing where the Genesis Ark should move.
Dalek Jast’s greatest claim to fame is assisting Dalek Caan in the aerial attack on Hooverville in Evolution of the Daleks, and then later accompanying Dalek Thay to the theatre where he is later killed by the Human-Dalek hybrids. Jast is identifiable by his high-pitched voice and fast, energetic line delivery. Dalek Jast’s reserved nature is due to more than just Nick Briggs wanting to minimize the amount of squeaky Dalek dialogue, however, as Jast comes across as one who only comments when he feels his eye for detail is necessary, to voice a concern that the other members of the Cult may have missed.
Who is Dalek Thay?
Thay is the most prominent Cult member early on, as he is the first of the group to be introduced by name and is also the Dalek that starts the war with the Cybermen in Doomsday. He is identified by his medium-pitched voice that has a distinct nasal croak, and he is often the first Cult member to speak his mind during group discussions.
After starting the war with the Cybermen, Thay doesn’t do much for the rest of Doomsday, but he becomes prominent again in Daleks in Manhattan as he is the Dalek who sacrifices his three back panels for the Final Experiment, making him the only Cult of Skaro member other than Sec who can be easily identified from a distance.
After spending most of the two-parter skulking around in the sewers, Dalek Thay accidentally kills the hybrid Dalek Sec before being destroyed by the Human-Daleks. Overall, Dalek Thay is quick to voice his mind and also quick to fire his weapon, and this more often than not ends up getting the Cult into fights, either with the Cybermen or with the Human-Dalek hybrids, which eventually ends up getting Thay killed.
Who is Dalek Caan?
Caan gets only one line in Doomsday, his booming announcement of his own name. As the Cult member with the deepest voice, Nicholas Briggs chose to limit Caan’s lines early on when voicing the Daleks, but in Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks Caan becomes more prominent.
He is the Dalek who liasons with Mr Diagoras on behalf of the Cult, and in Daleks in Manhattan he laments that his planet has been destroyed and that the Daleks must now look to the Humans for inspiration. It seems as though he is in favour of the Final Experiment at first, as he does not participate in the debate before Sec absorbs Diagoras and he later gives the speech about the Daleks needing to evolve in the climax of the story before the Hybrid emerges.
Caan clearly begins to show doubts about Sec, and he even asks Dalek Thay if he shares those feelings in a great little scene between the two in one of the sewer corridors. The two Daleks guiltily swapping treasonous thoughts in what passes as a Dalek whisper illustrates how the Cult members are more individual and less drone-like than standard Daleks. Caan eventually takes over the Cult when the other members deem Sec to be inferior, designating himself Controller.
Dalek Caan’s voice changes from deep to high-pitched when he takes on the role of Controller in Evolution of the Daleks, as Nicholas Briggs wanted to take advantage of Caan’s new role to justify a voice change. Dalek Caan was given a guttural, rasping voice in Doomsday because he had only one line, but Briggs began to find the voice difficult to maintain after the extended conversations between Caan and Diagoras followed by a speech Caan gives to Martha and the other Humans in Daleks in Manhattan.
After being left as the final surviving Cult member at the end of Evolution of the Daleks, Caan goes insane when he rescues Davros from the Time War. Seeing the Daleks for what they truly are, Caan betrays Davros by instigating the fall of the New Dalek Empire in Journey’s End.
Who is Dalek Sec?
Arguably the most famous member of the Cult of Skaro, Sec is immediately recognizable because of his jet black casing that sets him apart from the other Daleks. Sec is the one who exchanges verbal quips with the Cyber-Leader over the comms in Doomsday in an iconic scene which illustrates his razor-sharp wit and sense of humour, which is unusual for a Dalek, even a high-ranking one. After losing the Battle of Canary Wharf, Sec and the other members of the Cult travel to 1930s’ New York and there Sec merges with the Human Diagoras and becomes the Dalek Sec Hybrid.
Evolution of the Daleks deals with Sec coming to terms with his Human emotions following his transformation, and he eventually develops into a kind and pacifistic man who genuinely wants to save the Daleks from their constant cycle of death and destruction. The other Daleks see Sec as impure, however, and betray him. Sec is demoted and treated as little more than a pet by the Daleks, but he continues in his efforts to convince them to change their ways. In the end, Sec sacrifices himself to save the Doctor’s life by standing in the way of a blast from Dalek Thay that was meant for the Doctor, proving in the end that he was a good man despite his Dalek nature.
Before his death, Dalek Sec tells his Daleks that their efforts to spread death and destruction will inevitably turn against them, and he is proven right mere minutes after his death as the remaining Human-Dalek hybrids choose to turn against their masters and destroy Dalek Thay and Dalek Jast, leaving Dalek Caan as the last surviving member of the Cult.
Why were the Cult of Skaro created?
According to Dalek Sec during his conversation with the Doctor in Doomsday, the Cult of Skaro was created by the Emperor in the latter years of the Time War to ensure the survival of the Dalek race at all costs by imagining new ways to survive. This explains why Dalek Sec is willing to go to such extreme lengths during the two stories in which he appears as he risks corrupting the timeline by invading 21st century London, and then he chooses to alter Dalek DNA during the Final Experiment.
The creation of the Cult of Skaro proves how desperate the Dalek Emperor was getting towards the end of the Time War, as the Cult are given authority above anything within the existing Dalek hierarchy and Dalek Sec uses this authority to justify the radical alterations to Dalek DNA during the Final Experiment. The other members of the Cult are less convinced that Humans are a species that Daleks should learn from, but we already know that the Emperor himself reached the same conclusion.
The Daleks created by the so-called ‘God of all Daleks’ that we see in Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways are created from cells harvested from Human bodies, and the Dalek Emperor builds an entire army of impure, Human-bred Daleks that he uses to invade Earth. Whilst the Emperor is clearly insane, it is interesting to note that Dalek Sec and the Emperor both reach similar conclusions of how to perpetuate the Dalek race.
What Happened to the Cult of Skaro?
Following the disastrous Final Experiment, three members of the Cult of Skaro were dead and the last surviving member of the group, Dalek Caan, was sent hurtling into the Time War by his own Emergency Temporal Shift. Caan intended to rescue Davros and save the Dalek race, but in the process of falling through the Time War the last member of the Cult of Skaro saw his race for what they were – genocidal killers.
Caan chose to rebel against the Daleks and eventually brought about the downfall of Davros’ new Dalek Empire by tricking his creator into gathering the Doctor and his friends on the Crucible to ensure the Daleks’ destruction. Caan was presumed killed during the destruction of the Dalek Crucible but Davros suffered the same fate and was later revealed to be still alive, leading many to question if Caan did truly die.
Whether Caan died in the fires of the Crucible or not, it is safe to say that the Cult of Skaro itself is dead. Their ultimate goal was to out-think their enemies by imagining, but unfortunately their imagination made them enemies of each other. Both Dalek Sec and Dalek Caan both individually reach the conclusion that the Dalek way of life is wrong, and the two members of the Cult who remained loyal Daleks to the end, Thay and Jast, were destroyed by their own hubris.
The Cult of Skaro arc is probably one of the most insightful Dalek storylines both for fans and potential writers for the show, as it not only delves into an interesting aspect of Dalek lore, but it also illustrates the folly of the Dalek race as each member of the Cult is destroyed by their efforts to either uphold or influence Dalek doctrine.
Why did the Cult of Skaro fail?
Although Dalek Thay and Dalek Jast make the point that the Final Experiment was contrary to Dalek doctrine and would ultimately have weakened them, the fact that the other Daleks in the Cult of Skaro chose to use their powers of imagination to rebel against Sec exposes the fatal flaw in the very concept of the Cult of Skaro, in that four Daleks with the power to imagine will inevitably turn on each other when any one of them imagines something a bit too far outside the Dalek sphere of thought.
The ultimate tragedy of the Cult of Skaro is that the only two Daleks of the four to actually utilize their imagination to the extent that they break free of Dalek conditioning only manage to do so once they are corrupted in the eyes of other Daleks. Dalek Sec becomes a compassionate man by fusing his DNA with Humans but is cast out by his comrades as a result. Dalek Caan learns the truth of the Dalek race but in doing so is blinded and deemed an insane abomination by the Supreme Dalek.
Into the Dalek would later give us a natural evolution of the Cult of Skaro, the essence of the two best Daleks of the Cult galvanized into one Dalek. Rusty experiences similar epiphanies to Dalek Sec and Dalek Caan, in that he learns the value of humanoid life and also fosters a growing hatred of other Daleks. However, Rusty retains his Dalek casing and weapons, and is able to not only rebel against his own kind but also establish his own sanctuary on Villengard, slaughtering any Daleks that come to destroy him.
The Eighth Doctor is perhaps one of the least appreciated Doctors of them all, as in the entire tenure of this Doctor there has only been one major TV production, that is the TV Movie from 1996 that has a mixed reception in the fanbase to say the least. Nonetheless, The Eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann had a romantic charm and swashbuckling confidence that stole the hearts of many would-be fans of Doctor Who in the 90s, and he continues to amass a legion of loyal fans to this day with his impression collection of audio productions that Big Finish have been producing since 2004.
However, during the 50th Anniversary celebrations that took place in 2013, Steven Moffat graced the fandom with a one-off mini-episode released online that featured the Eighth Doctor in a live-action role for the first time since the TV Movie in 1996. Paul McGann returned to the role of the Eighth Doctor once again for this short webisode, entitled The Night of the Doctor, which depicts the final moments of the Eighth incarnation of the Doctor during the Time War.
This special proves that Paul McGann can slip easily into the role of the Doctor as if he never left, as he effortlessly plays the role after more than 15 years away from the role on-screen. Fans of the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audios will know that he has been playing the Eighth Doctor continuously since 2004, and as such has had more than enough practice in characterising the Doctor. The Eighth Doctor has had many different eras during his reign, but The Night of the Doctor ushered in a whole new universe of stories for the Eighth Doctor, as it established that he had been active in the Time War for a while now, and this led to Big Finish’s range of Eighth Doctor: The Time War audio stories with his new companion, Bliss.
The Night of the Doctor takes place at the very end of the Eighth Doctor’s life, however, long after his adventures with Bliss have concluded. Judging from the state of not only the TARDIS but the Doctor himself, who despite sporting a new outfit is looking considerably bedraggled, it is clear that the Time War has been continuing for some time. The story begins with a ship spiralling uncontrollably towards Karn, as the final remaining crewmember, Cass, is rescued from certain death by the Eighth Doctor who promises her a trip through Time and Space in a ship that is bigger on the inside. Cass, however, recognises the Doctor’s ship as a TARDIS, and immediately recoils in horror as she realises that the Doctor is a Time Lord.
This subversion of the classic revelation of the Doctor’s alien nature from throughout the show’s history makes The Night of the Doctor notable in itself, but Cass’s reaction to the Doctor’s Time Lord nature serves another purpose, as it shows just how far the Time Lords have fallen this far into the war. The Doctor’s attempts to reassure Cass that he isn’t a Dalek, and her rebuke that there is no way to tell the difference between a Time Lord and a Dalek anymore proves how the universe has come to view the Time Lords during their destructive conflict with the Daleks that has come to affect almost all of Time and Space.
The Eighth Doctor’s death is quite a small-scale affair, as he dies refusing to abandon Cass even as she practically condemns him to die with her. The ship crashes on Karn, and the Sisterhood of Karn from the Fourth Doctor story The Brain of Morbius recover the bodies of the Doctor and Cass and temporarily revive the Doctor to ensure his regeneration. This is where Paul McGann’s acting ability comes to the forefront, as in the Eighth Doctor’s last moments we are treated to some great dialogue, some really poignant moments and a great final line: “Physician, Heal Thyself”, as the Eighth Doctor finally accepts his death and embraces his role as a warrior in the Time War, regenerating into John Hurt, the War Doctor.
The Night of the Doctor serves as a prelude to the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, as it shows how the War Doctor came to be and also illustrates just how terrible the Time Lords have become as the odds of the Time War turn against them. However, it also serves as a prelude to the Twelfth Doctor story The Magician’s Apprentice, the opening story to Series 9, as the Sisterhood of Karn is led by Ohila who returns in Series 9. This mysterious character seems to know more about the Doctor than most, and it is implied that she has a history with the Doctor that extends beyond her introduction in The Night of the Doctor.
Overall, this short ‘minisode’ proves just how much potential the Eighth Doctor has on-screen. Paul McGann is incredible in the role and there is still a lot of potential for an Eighth Doctor Time War TV Series later down the line. In the meantime, there are dozens of Eighth Doctor Big Finish audios to enjoy, which depict the adventures of the Eighth Doctor with his companions Charley Pollard, C’rizz, Lucie Miller, Molly O’Sullivan, Liv Chenka, Helen Sinclair and Bliss. The best part is, many of these companions that are exclusive to audio are actually named in the The Night of the Doctor by the Eighth Doctor before he regenerates, which solidify their status as true companions of the Doctor despite the fact that they only appear in audio dramas.
The Night of the Doctor is a wonderful treat for Eighth Doctor fans, and it makes great bookend for his era that completes the set of Doctor regenerations from incarnations 1-11, just in time for the 50th Anniversary. Not only is this short story a great addition to the Doctor Who universe, but it is also a great study for future Eighth Doctor TV stories, if the BBC is planning on making any expanded universe Doctor Who TV shows in a shared cinematic universe then the Eighth Doctor is a great place to start, as Paul McGann slips into the role easily and his there is a huge gap for potential storytelling in the Eighth Doctor’s life that Big Finish have already taken advantage of. If nothing else, The Night of the Doctor proves that there is still huge potential in the character of the Eighth Doctor.
Having recently discussed Geoffrey Beevers’ incarnation of the Master in Planet of Dust during our Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Ravenous 4, it seems fitting to review his most prominent audio appearance in Master, a Seventh Doctor story from Big Finish’s Main Range. This story forms part of the villains trilogy with Omega and Davros, and like those audios it explores the character of a Classic Doctor Who villain – in this case, the Master. This audio is undoubtedly controversial as it sheds light on the nature of the old friendship between the Doctor and the Master and also adds some interesting ideas of its own to the Doctor Who universe. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most celebrated audios in Big Finish’s back-catalogue, and one of Geoffrey Beevers’ best performances as the Master.
The setting for this story is odd indeed, as the Master is living as a Human called John Smith on an Earth colony from the future called Perfugium with seemingly no memory of his previous life. He invites his friends Victor and Jacqueline Schaeffer for a dinner party, during which the friends discuss death, murder and other macabre things. There is a constant talk of death in this story, from local murders that are a talking point among the colonists to the motivations that drive people to commit terrible crimes. The small-scale nature of this story is somewhat reminiscent of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, as each of the characters are duplicitous and superstitious which creates some interesting dynamics for conversation.
This is where the choice to include Geoffrey Beevers’ incarnation in this story becomes clear, as he is a phenomenal voice actor who gives a very distinctive performance. His incarnation is immediately recognisable to most people because of his burned or rotten appearance, as Beevers’ first appearance in the role was as the decaying Master in The Keeper of Traken in 1981. On audio, however, he is distinctive for a completely different reason, as Beevers’ voice has almost become the definitive voice of the Master as he is the last living actor who played the Master in Classic Doctor Who. His delivery of classic cackling villain dialogue is excellent, but in this story what really shines is his range as an actor as he plays a much more reserved character here.
Another aspect of this story that comes into play often are the mentions to Zagreus, Doctor Who’s 40th Anniversary Special, which is the audio that the villains trilogy leads up to. We reviewed this story in our Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – EDAs Series 4, Part 2, and discussed its reputation for being inaccessible to those who are not versed in the lore of early Big Finish and Classic Doctor Who. Small references to the Time Lord nursery rhyme about Zagreus appear throughout Master, which seems somewhat incongruous, but this doesn’t impact the story. It also makes some sense considering the controversial revelations that this audio contains, though to explore that too much would delve into spoilers.
Some people might have already noticed the comparison between this story and the New Series TV story The Family of Blood / Human Nature, despite this audio being released over four years earlier. Both stories feature a Time Lord seemingly becoming Human and forgetting their previous life, almost taking on a completely different personality in this new form. Both this audio and that TV story are loosely based on a novel called Human Nature, which also features the Seventh Doctor. The key aspect of this story is that the Master takes on a completely new persona, and the Doctor has some fascinating conversations with ‘Doctor John Smith’ about the nature of evil, adding to the richness of this story’s repertoire of interesting dialogue.
Sylvester McCoy is fantastic in this audio as always, and his distinctive performance lends itself really well to the subtle and withdrawn nature of this story. Combatting malevolent forces and dealing with schemes thousands of years in the making are two of the Seventh Doctor’s favourite things to do, and so he is on form in this audio. The iconic scene of the Doctor appearing at the window in a bolt of lightning, disrupting the dinner party with an ear-splitting scream, is certainly one of the most unexpected and dramatic cliff-hangars in a Big Finish audio to date.
Some of the discussions between the Doctor and the Master delve into some quite serious psychological topics, from intrusive thoughts to what could make someone completely forget their identity. John Smith’s situation as a Human who is haunted by the spectre of the Master’s evil yet is devoted to saving lives and discovering his true self makes for a tragic setup for a story, as the nature-versus-nurture argument of what makes the Master who he is drives the narrative to an unexpected conclusion. Overall Master is an atmospheric listen that is great for die-hard fans of the character. This audio delves into the character of the Master like no other and provides insights into his history with the Doctor that puts the fan backlash to the lore-heavy nature of The Timeless Children into perspective.
The final box set of the Ravenous series features a plethora of psychopathic Time Lords, from the Eleven to various incarnations of the Master. At the time of release, Ravenous 4 featured more incarnations of the Master in one story than any other piece of Doctor Who media, with Geoffrey Beevers, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi and Michelle Gomez all making an appearance as their respective incarnations. The Ravenous series was initially marketed as a saga revolving around monsters, and there are few monsters in the Doctor Who universe who can rival the Master, let alone four Masters in one box set. The eponymous Ravenous also make a return, and we are finally given some explanation as to their origins way back in the early history of Gallifrey.
4.1 – Whisper
Despite this box set’s obvious focus on the Master, the first story focuses primarily on the Eleven. Unlike in the previous box set, we as the audience are aware of his ultimate intention to betray the Doctor, so Liv’s continuous mistrust of him is now more sympathetic than in the previous box set. Whilst Ravenous 3 was focused around the question of whether the Eleven could be an ally to the Doctor, Ravenous 4 has no such pretence following the ending of the previous story, so whilst Liv’s hostile attitude towards the Eleven could have come across as unwarranted in the previous box set, here we are rooting for Liv because we as the audience know that she is right. Nonetheless, the Eleven being his usual devious and deceptive self desperately trying to keep a lid on his previous incarnations is great to listen to. Over the course of the Ravenous saga the Eleven has developed a lot as a character since his early days as a manic villain, as here he takes on a much more subtle, sinister approach and it is interesting to see how much control he has over his other selves when he unites them in a singular purpose.
The premise of this story is relatively simple, yet it is an ingenious concept for an audio story. The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven to the Still Foundation in response to a distress call, only to find that the facility is under siege by predators who hunt by sound. As such, the characters have to communicate in whispers whenever the creatures are near, and this combined with the exceptional ambient sound design makes for some really atmospheric listening. Whisper is unique in that it is a base-under-siege horror story but with a very small main cast, with just a handful of supporting characters. The primary focus is on the Eleven and Liv’s volatile relationship as they try to work together to survive the situation. Helen is appalled as Liv chooses to carry a firearm when travelling with the Eleven, and she desperately tries to reason with her friend as she threatens to kill the Eleven to prevent him from killing anyone else. This audio tests Liv in a way that no story in the series so far has, as the Eleven almost goads her on and Helen has to hold her back.
The Doctor spends most of the runtime exploring the facility and attempting to understand exactly what the creature is and why it is attacking the facility. The fact that Liv has brought a gun to the party does not go down well at all, and this audio gives us a rare example of the Eighth Doctor being genuinely disappointed, perhaps even angry, with one of his companions. This is made even worse by the fact that, due to the monster hunting them by sound, the TARDIS team have to work out their differences in a whisper. The Doctor finally realises that the time has come to cut ties with the Eleven, as his altruistic desire to help the Eleven puts his companions in constant danger. The Doctor agrees to take the Eleven on one final trip, to a place where he can meditate and heal. The Eleven, however, has other ideas.
4.2 – Planet of Dust
This audio features the return of the Master, who hasn’t been in an Eighth Doctor audio story since all the way back in the Dark Eyes saga. This is also the first appearance of Geoffrey Beevers as the Master in an Eighth Doctor audio, for those who don’t know Beevers played the Master in one TV story of Classic Who, The Keeper of Traken, in which he played the decayed version of the Master who steals a new body to become Anthony Ainley at the end of the story. Despite only appearing once in the Classic series, Geoffrey Beevers has returned to the role for multiple Big Finish audios and his interpretation of the Master has since gone on to become a fan-favourite incarnation. Beevers’ Master is sly, cunning and manipulative, but also vulnerable and at times desperate, and no audio exemplifies this more than Planet of Dust.
The Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven arrive on the planet after the Eleven is finally allowed to fly the TARDIS by the Doctor. He claims he wants to come to the desert planet Parrak to meditate but all is not as it seems. The population of the planet is being controlled by the ‘Provider’, who seems to be the only being on the planet capable of giving the residents water. Robotic Rangers patrol the deserts and supply the population with a meagre supply of water in exchange for their co-operation on dig sites throughout the desert. The Master attempts to force the population into abject slavery in order to scour the desert for an ancient tomb. There is a great scene midway through this audio where the Master and the Eleven discuss the Master’s knack for escaping death, and the Master quite frankly tells the Eleven that he is no longer sure how long he has lived, and the Eleven gradually realises that the Master is finally dying.
It is great to hear the Eleven and the Master finally meet, but one of the best moments in this audio is between the Doctor and the Master, though to explain too much about it would spoil the plot. Needless to say the critical condition that the Master has found himself in makes him desperate, and he is more vulnerable now than ever. The ever-compassionate Eighth Doctor seems to genuinely want to help his old friend, and there is a great moment between the two near the end of this story that proves that the two are still friends in a strange, twisted sort of way, despite everything that has happened between them. In the end though, it is the Doctor’s old friends Helen and Liv who pull though for him in this story, as they both show their independence and self-determination by assisting the citizens of Parrak while the Doctor and the Eleven go tomb raiding. Planet of Dust is one of those audios that needs to be listened to, as for fans of Geoffrey Beevers’ Master and the relationship between him and the Doctor this audio is a real treat.
4.3 / 4.4 – Day of the Master
Unusually for an Eighth Doctor audio story, Day of the Master is formatted as one story split into two parts, rather than two or more stories sharing one overarching narrative as is customary with Eighth Doctor saga finales. Whilst the previous audio focused on Geoffrey Beevers’ incarnation, Day of the Master includes three more Masters – the ‘Bruce’ incarnation, the War Master, and Missy, played by Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi and Michelle Gomez respectively. With three Masters comes three separate plotlines across three separate timelines, and the Doctor, Liv and Helen are separated for the majority of this two-part story with each character being paired up with a respective Master.
Following on from the events of the previous audio after being lured away by the sound of a vortex manipulator, Helen is kidnapped by Missy after initially mistaking her for River Song, and she is transported to a future Earth where the entire planet is a barren wasteland. Helen is seemingly the only one who can guide Missy to her goal by reading a prophetic book that writes out everything they do as they do it, which is an interesting setup that allows for some fun interplay between the characters. Missy’s habit of not taking anything seriously contrasts heavily with Helen’s caring and compassionate attitude, and the two clearly do not get along. Hattie Morahan and Michelle Gomez are clearly having great fun with this audio and it is really fun to hear these two characters trade quips with each other.
The Doctor arrives on the planet Kolstarn in search of the ancient proto-Time Lord Artron, who is unknowingly being assisted by an earlier version of the Master who has a personal history with the Eighth Doctor. This meetup of the Eighth Doctor and the Master from the TV Movie in a time period that predates the foundation of Time Lord society is a showdown that has been in the making since 1996, and this alone makes Day of the Master a worthy finale to the Ravenous saga. Hearing Paul McGann and Eric Roberts trade verbal spats once again is wonderful to hear, and both actors are on top form in this story.
Liv is dropped off by the Doctor on a Time Lord station against her will, as he intends on keeping her safe but accidentally abandons her in the middle of the Eleven’s attack on the Time Lord facility in orbit around Kolstarn. The War Master arrives in response to the death of his earlier self, and adopts Liv as his temporary companion as he pretends to be a Time Lord specialist sent to aid her against the Ravenous. The two initially spy on the Eleven, who has allied with the Ravenous and unleashed them on the unsuspecting Time Lord military personnel, and the true horror of the Ravenous is finally revealed as they feast on their Time Lord victims. As the War Doctor gleefully explains, when the Ravenous feasts on a Time Lord then they die an agonising death, one incarnation after the next, as their regenerations are devoured by the nightmarish creatures. Derek Jacobi and Nicola Walker play off each other really well, and when Liv finally discovers the Master’s true identity there is a real sense that the two characters have a lengthy history, as Liv previously faced a much younger incarnation of the Master played by Alex Macqueen in Dark Eyes.
The pacing of this story is surprisingly well-handled, as despite the myriad of plot elements the fact that this is a two-part story coupled with the strong script makes this audio a fantastic listen and a fitting finale for the Ravenous saga. This story has everything you could want from a series finale, there’s a fantastic cliff-hanger for Part One which comes out of nowhere, there’s an exploration into the history of some of the major plot elements that finally answer some of the main questions that have been running throughout the series, and it also gives a satisfying conclusion to the character arc of the Eleven, as his elaborate scheme that he has been planning throughout the series is given a satisfying ending that rounds off the character excellently.
There are also just some really fun moments in this story, and some interesting details that fans will enjoy. Each incarnation of the Master wields their own laser screwdriver, for example. No amnesia is involved with the Eighth Doctor in this story, for once, as he is given only vague descriptions of both the War Master and Missy and so mistakes them for Roger Delgado’s Master and the Rani, respectively. When the three Masters do finally meet, there are some great scenes with banter between the three of them, as the two Masters are constantly at odds and Missy mocks both of them. The meeting between the three Masters is certainly a highlight of the story, and the three of them facing off against the Ravenous and the Eleven is a wonderful ending to the saga.
The recurring theme throughout recent Eighth Doctor audios of the Doctor needing someone to pull the trigger becomes particularly relevant here as the Masters shows up to stop the Eleven from destroying the universe simply because they happen to be currently occupying it. Make no mistake though, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are as fantastic as ever in this story, and despite featuring the Ravenous, the Eleven and three Masters the main cast still manage to shine. It is particularly fitting that the next chronological story in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline is a small-scale character story in the Stranded series, as the trio of the Doctor, Liv and Helen have become a united, cohesive team that can deal with anything. Well, almost anything, as their next series of adventures strands them in 2020.
Remember to Like and Share for more content like this!
After dozens of audios spanning multiple eras, the Eighth Doctor’s tenure on audio has been vast indeed, and Ravenous 3 includes tributes to every era of Paul McGann’s audio adventures, including references to the eras of Charley Pollard and Lucie Miller, the return of River Song and the shadow of the Time War that is yet to come. The Ravenous creatures appear prominently in this series after their dramatic reveal in Seizure, the audio that concluded Ravenous 2, and they make a great impression as the main threat of this saga due to their terrifying sound design and clear, simple motive.
3.1 – Deeptime Frontier
This audio continues on directly from Seizure, establishing that the Time Lords are aware of the threat of the Ravenous after several attacks. The time-vortex space station, Deeptime Frontier, is managed by Time Lords but run by a Human, reflecting the desperate situation that the Gallifreyans find themselves in after encountering the natural predator of their race. The Doctor, Liv and Helen are rescued by the Time Lords after ending up on a planet full of Ravenous that is about to explode, and soon meet Under-Cardinal Rasmus (now regenerated into a new body) and Human scientist Daria Visteron, who are in charge of the station. The crew soon find the body of a Ravenous creature and attempt to take the opportunity to learn more about their foe from the corpse. However, the dead Ravenous soon turns out to be not so dead after all, and before long the loathsome creature is on the hunt again. Even after being dissected and incinerated, the Ravenous is still able to return to life and its horrific, clown-like face is twisted into a sickening smile.
Like Seizure, this audio does a good job of establishing the Ravenous as a species that all Time Lords, including the Doctor, fear by instinct. The Doctor explains that their clown-faced appearance is a result of their base fear influence, and that the fear of clowns that Humans experience is a result of the Ravenous themselves, and the Doctor references his bad experiences with circuses in the past such as the in the Seventh Doctor TV story The Happiness Patrol. Rasmus also explains that the Ravenous were banished into the Time Vortex during the early history of Gallifrey, and Helen soon makes the connection that the station is a natural staging ground for a Ravenous incursion due to its close proximity to the vortex. Liv also calls out the Time Lords for being frightened of their natural predator, as she has seen through the proud, high-and-mighty persona that the Time Lords present to Humans for years and now her long-standing impression of the Time Lords is made clear for all to see, offering her some degree of vindication in her views.
Just as in Ravenous 2, the sound design for this audio is excellent and the horrific voices and roars for the Ravenous make them a terrifying foe with a really intimidating presence. The legends and tales involving the Ravenous from different points in Time Lord history that are offered by various characters are a delight to listen to, and the soundtrack perfectly compliments the increasing fear and tension that elevates as the plot unfolds. The voice of the Ravenous, George Asprey, is on perfect form here and the Ravenous leader gets a fantastic monologue explaining his motivations and the innate desire of the creatures to feed and consume as much as they can. Paul McGann also does a great job of selling the Doctor in a fearful, panicked state, as the usually thoughtful, charismatic and charming Eighth Doctor is unusually snappish, tense and sometimes even slightly callous, which is very interesting to listen to after getting to know this incarnation so well over the dozens of audios he has had so far. Deeptime Frontier delivers an effective opener to the third series of Ravenous that gives the Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen some great character moments and delivering another great appearance of the Ravenous themselves.
3.2 – Companion Piece
Companion Piece begins with a nice call-back to Doom Coalition, as we pick up following the Nine as he is being pursued by the Chancellery Guard and encounters River Song, and given his kleptomaniacal nature he soon decides to start a collection. He rescues Liv and Helen from the Deeptime Frontier station, only to transport them to his facility where he is keeping many of the Doctor’s companions prisoner. This is a Doctor-lite story, but features cameo appearances from many of the Doctor’s companions including Jo Grant, Romana II, Jamie, Leela and Adric. Most notably, this audio features the return of India Fisher as Charley Pollard, and also the chronological debut of Rakhee Thakvar as Bliss who appears in the upcoming Time War audios. Hearing Charley interacting with the Nine, Liv, Helen and the other companions is a treat, and India Fisher makes a fantastic return to the role after so long.
This audio is definitely a fan service story idea, but there is an important underlying premise to this audio, as River makes the excellent point that even without the Doctor present, the Doctor’s companions are among the most capable collection of individuals in the universe, and it doesn’t take long before the inmates begin hatching an escape plan. River manipulates the Nine into attempting to kidnap Katarina, who is portrayed by Ajjaz Awad taking over from Adrienne Hill, as part of a scheme to distract him long enough for Liv, Helen, Charley and Bliss to escape. Helen also finally gets to put her specialty, ancient languages, to some practical use as she attempts to decipher the Gallifreyan symbols that code the controls. Bliss is also great in this story, as she is able to pick up on the insane events of the story as they unfold despite the fact that this is set before the Time War so at this point she knows nothing about Gallifrey, Time Lords or the Doctor.
Although Companion Piece seems like an idea that was merely conceived to deliver fan service on the surface, it is actually a really fun ride with some brilliant twists and turns and excellent performances from all the returning characters. Hearing Charley meet and interact with Liv, Helen and River is really fun and her return is very well-executed. It is a pity that neither Lucie Miller nor Molly O’Sullivan make an appearance, particularly as they are also companions of the Eighth Doctor, but overall the condensed main cast of Liv, Helen, Charley, Bliss and River Song gives each character a chance to shine and they have plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. The fact that there are lots of references and easter eggs in this story makes it fun for those who keep up with Doctor Who lore, but ultimately the best thing about this audio is how it manages to tell a great story with substantial focus on the characters as well as deliver excellent fan service.
3.3 – L.E.G.E.N.D.
L.E.G.E.N.D. has an interesting premise, as the Eleven seemingly decides to aid the Doctor and his companions in their fight against the Ravenous. Although Liv and Helen are understandably mistrustful of the Eleven, the Doctor shows a genuine desire to reform him, and the Eleven’s earnest offers of information and assistance makes an interesting dynamic. The TARDIS team arrives in 19th century Germany in pursuit of a Professor Marathanga, who has arrived on Earth and disguised in humanoid form. She has arrived looking for the Brothers Grimm to collect folklore tales for her sentient computer, the eponymous L.E.G.E.N.D. which acts as a compendium for all the universe’s tales and stories. The Doctor must rely on the Eleven’s co-operation in order to extract information about the Ravenous from this computer, even though the two clearly do not trust each other.
Liv and Helen are great in this story, there are several funny scenes involving Helen being excited about meeting the Brothers Grimm, and Liv continuing the recurring joke of knowing absolutely nothing about Earth history as she has never heard of Snow White, Red Riding Hood or any of the other classic tales. The driving force behind this story is Liv and Helen’s distrust of the Eleven, which is fair as by this point he has terrorized them throughout their travels with the Doctor, and the Doctor does come across as somewhat naïve for apparently believing his sudden change of heart. Mark Bonnar does a fantastic job as the Eleven as always, by this point each of his different incarnations are well-established characters and listening to them interact with each other and the other characters, all done through Mark Bonnar’s exceptional acting skill, is something that never gets boring. He has some great scenes with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, including a hilarious sequence in which they have to eat their way into a Gingerbread House, and some of the Eleven’s previous incarnations like Gingerbread a bit more than the others.
Talking of which, Marathanga’s computer malfunctions and starts making aspects of Brothers Grimm tales come to life using plasm, and Helen is trapped in the forest with Wilhelm Grimm as monsters from the tales prowl through the trees around them. This audio also contains a bizarre yet funny sequence in which Helen is temporarily transformed into an eel, which pays off with the Doctor subverting the classic ‘prince kisses the frog’ trope. The reasoning that L.E.G.E.N.D. gives for its obsession with the Grimm tales is interesting, as it latches on to the themes of transformation that are prevalent throughout the tales and uses that to create a whole new philosophy, and uses the plasm to create avatars that represent parts of its consciousness. Although this audio goes to great lengths to establish the premise for having Brothers Grimm elements in a Doctor Who story, it has to be said that it doesn’t do much with the idea, instead focusing on Marathanga and Liv’s exasperated interactions with her as well the L.E.G.E.N.D. computer itself inevitably becoming a problem. Nonetheless, this story has some great character moments for Liv, Helen, the Doctor and the Eleven.
3.4 – The Odds Against
After a fantastic opening sequence where the Nine plays a game of eye-spy with his past selves, the Eighth Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven arrive at an abbey housing a dimensional gateway, and the Eleven begins to suffer some temporal side-effects of the crossing of his own timestream. The Odds Against focuses on the contentious relationship between the TARDIS team, as the Eleven and Liv are at each other’s throats while the Doctor and Helen attempt to keep the peace while the group hunt for the origin point of the Ravenous incursion. The Eleven gets more development as a character, as he is in a vulnerable position and is dependant on the Doctor and his friends for help in saving his past self from the Ravenous.
The Ravenous themselves are back in this story, after being absent from the previous two audios, and their origins are elaborated on a little more, though there are as many questions revealed in this story as answers. The abbey in which the Ravenous were allegedly first trapped is soon attacked by a horrific ‘Glitch’ – a partially-formed Ravenous that is murderously insane and shrieks its desire for death in a twisted, grating electronic voice. It didn’t seem possible to make the Ravenous voice sound even more terrifying, yet The Odds Against somehow manages it. Another interesting thing about this audio is that it manages to subvert the standard setup of a Doctor Who story and also deliver a great twist at the same time.
Having two versions of the same Time Lord meet is always a treat, but when the Eleven meets the Nine a whole wealth of untapped potential is unleashed, as the two begin to argue and, given their condition, things soon get out of hand as various other incarnations fight. A particularly funny sequence unfolds when both the Nine and the Eleven’s two versions of the Four bicker, leading to the two having an upfront conversation about their respective positions in the timeline which is quite interesting, and also gives some new insight into the nature of their condition. It is particularly morbid that the Eleven’s long-dead version of the Nine talks with his still-living counterpart, commenting on their former selves’ plans and reflecting on how they inevitably go wrong. Overall this audio is a fantastic treat for fans of the Eleven and his previous incarnations, as he takes a central role in this story as a neutral entity who is neither hero nor villain, which is always a fun direction to take a character.
With the conclusion of Ravenous 1, the Eighth Doctor’s audio adventures take a series of unexpected twists and turns. There is a lot that Ravenous 2 sets out to do, including setting up a spinoff series, introducing the saga’s main villain, and undertaking a horror-inspired Christmas-themed audio. From this set onwards, Big Finish use the updated branding for the 2018 TV series and the wider box design allows for more expansive and creative cover artwork, so it is fitting that the theme of Ravenous 2 is Monsters, though probably not the ones you were expecting. From deranged Robots to Killer Clowns to the Krampus itself, Ravenous 2 promises action, thrills and scares a plenty.
2.1 – Escape from Kaldor
The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive on Liv’s homeworld of Kaldor, which also happens to be where the Voc Robots (from the 1977 TV story The Robots of Death) are built. Fans of the Fourth Doctor era will immediately recognise these sinister-sounding droids as they are known for their murderous activities after being re-programmed to kill the crew of a Human Sandminer. This audio depicts a different side to the Robots as they are immediately presented as being a key element of society on Kaldor as Liv explains that they are integral to the economy and the upholding of the current system of power on the planet. It is worth mentioning that this audio mostly serves to set up Liv Chenka’s spinoff series, ‘The Robots’, so this one is a must-listen for fans of the character.
Liv is apprehensive about returning home, which the audience can sympathise with as we know enough about Liv’s backstory from her audios so far to know what she thinks of the planet. Built on a class-based society, Kaldor is ruled by its 20 founding families who make up the entitled social elite who look down on everyone else – Human and Robot alike. Liv explains her disgust at the system in place on the planet and we finally get to hear more about her young life, her father and why she chose to leave the planet to become a Med-Tec. In the meantime, the Doctor enters the Kaldor Company Headquarters after encountering a protest against the practices of the robot manufacturer. As it happens, Liv’s sister Tula (who the Doctor ‘coincidentally’ meets) is a senior figure in the manufacturing of the new ‘Super-Vocs’, an advanced android that speak with her voice. It isn’t long before things start to go wrong, however, as the suitably sinister Robots are set against the population of Kaldor for reasons unknown…
In essence this story is a classic Base-Under-Siege story with every criticism of capitalism that you would expect from a story set in a corporate dystopia. However, there is a more sophisticated element weaved into this story that stems from the character of Kit, a former friend of Liv’s who happens to be a member of one of the 20 founding families. The corporation vs consumer story is offset by the meddling of an entitled, naïve and immature member of the elite, and in many ways this story is a more thoughtful version of the 2018 TV story Kerblam! as it treats the saboteurs and the corporations as equally liable rather than shifting all the blame on the rogue element and letting the corporation get off scot-free. Overall, Escape from Kaldor is an exciting adventure that leads into the spinoff series ‘The Robots’, a full set of audio box sets starring Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka and Claire Rushbrook as Tula Chenka. Liv’s relationship with her sister takes centre stage in this story and the payoff is certainly worth it, as we finally get some closure to Liv’s backstory that has been slowly teased at throughout her time as a companion.
2.2 – Better Watch Out
The Doctor takes Liv and Helen to Salzberg to experience a traditional European Christmas, which Liv has never experienced having grown up in the far-future on Kaldor. In fact, Helen has to explain the concept of Christmas to Liv early on in the story. This audio has some great soundscapes that really invoke the Christmas feel, everything from carol singers to Christmas markets. But make no mistake – this audio is a monster story. The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in Salzburg not on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but December 5th – Krampusnacht, or the Feast of St Nicholas. The theme of the Krampus, a hideous goat-legged demon-like monster from Alpine mythology, runs throughout this audio, and the idea of virtues and sins being judged by a demonic entity that stands as the antithesis to Father Christmas is a bizarre yet brilliant idea for a Doctor Who story. In many ways, the Better Watch Out / Fairytale of Salzberg two-parter explores ideas that the TV Christmas Specials would never have been able to, and the fact that it draws from traditional Christmas legends makes it one of the richest Christmas-themed stories Doctor Who has ever fielded.
The story begins as the Doctor steps in to assist a woman who is being threatened with homelessness by her landlord, who the Doctor notices seems very eager to evict his tenants. The parallels to A Christmas Carol are referenced by the Doctor himself, who compares the landlord to Scrooge, and the Doctor’s attempts to convince the landlord to embrace the spirit of Christmas are rebuked. Meanwhile, Liv and Helen are attacked by Imps in the street, as physical manifestations of the Krampus’s demons begin abducting the residents of Salzberg. The Imps themselves are suitably bizarre to listen to, and there is a great scene where Helen slowly realises that the Imps are not part of the festivities and are actually taking people, and Liv discovers that they are actual creatures after knocking one out with a well-aimed right hook. The Imps represent the physical manifestations of the demons of hell, and as such are driven to round up and punish anyone who has committed any sin, and as such they begin to round up the entire population of the city.
Throughout this audio, the events of the story are analysed and commented on by two distinct sets of characters who are separate from the main narrative. The first set is the Doctor in the future, who has brought another character called Bruno to Salzberg in the future, which is engulfed in flames as a result of something that Bruno did in the past, seemingly the end result of the Imp’s attack on the city. Another pair, an elderly pilgrim and a Bishop, discuss the legend of the Krampus and how it ties into the story. This fragmented method of delivering story elements is interesting and is the kind of storytelling that an audio drama format lends itself well to. Clearly not all is as it seems with this story, there is plenty of intrigue abound as the various seemingly disconnected story elements gradually come together. Considering the fact that Ravenous 2 promised monsters a plenty, Better Watch Out fills the quota almost single-handed with not only an army of demons but also the Krampus itself, which is brought to life with incredible sound design with a terrifying roar. The story also ends on a great cliff-hanger that leads into the next story, Fairytale of Salzburg.
2.3 – Fairytale of Salzburg
After Better Watch Out presented a bizarre and intriguing story, Fairytale of Salzburg finally starts to explain things about the story and answer some of the most pressing questions from the previous audio – namely, how the Krampus and the Imps come to exist in the first place and how the disconnected elements of Better Watch Out link together. The structure of this audio is somewhat reminiscent of a Moffat story, as it holds its cards close to its chest for the majority of the runtime before finally sliding the last critical pieces into place to bring the whole story together. Overall, the Krampus two-parter is presented as an epic, and should be regarded as such as this is an ambitious undertaking that pays off excellently, cementing Ravenous 2 as a box set that delivers on its promise of scary monsters.
Unfortunately, revealing too much about the story of Fairytale of Salzburg will spoil crucial plot elements of not only this story but the previous one as well. It has to be said that these stories are among the strongest in the Eighth Doctor’s tenure, and both Liv and Helen really get a chance to shine as Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan do a fantastic job in their roles. Each character gets more than one great scene in this audio, as Liv demonstrates her ability to stand in for the Doctor as she leads her friends on a mission without him, and Helen is instrumental in resolving the story, making some incredible sacrifices to save her friends from a horrible fate and proving once again that she is a worthy addition to the TARDIS team.
This audio foregoes the Christmas theme completely in favour of a full-on monster story, with the Krampus condemning sinners to hell and casting them down with commands uttered with its booming voice. The ultimate conclusion to this story is satisfying and poignant, and hearing all the various splintered narratives from throughout this two-parter finally culminate as the plot unfolds makes Better Watch Out / Fairytale of Salzburg one of the best stories in the Ravenous saga. The ending showcases the best of all three main characters, with Liv, Helen and the Doctor all at their absolute best in this story, particularly Helen as she plays a critical role in this story and she gets some great moments with Liv that show just how much their friendship has grown during their time travelling together. Overall Fairytale of Salzberg delivers a brilliant conclusion to this two-part story that not only delivers on the monster factor but also gives us a wonderful story that is a strong outing for this TARDIS team.
2.4 – Seizure
After the incredible epic that was Better Watch Out / Fairytale of Salzburg, Ravenous 2 hits a home run with this finale. Seizure might well be one of the most atmospheric, exciting and scary audios that Big Finish have ever produced, and it is a testament to the imagination, skill and dedication of everyone involved in creating this production that even this far into the Eighth Doctor’s huge series of audios, Big Finish can still outdo themselves and create some truly incredible pieces of art. Seizure has one of the most interesting setups for a Doctor Who story ever devised, as the Doctor and his companions arrive in a dying, haunted TARDIS drifting in the vortex in response to a distress signal, and soon discover that the Gothic hallways are being stalked by several evil monsters, including the Eleven who returns once again, although this time as a reluctant ally to the Doctor, Liv and Helen. But there is something even more monstrous lurking among the endless empty hallways.
Spoilers – it’s one of the eponymous creatures that have thus far only been mentioned or hinted at in this saga, the Ravenous. These are disgusting monsters from the early legends of Gallifrey, creatures that all Time Lords, even the Doctor, fear on instinct as they feed on regeneration energy by draining the lives of any Time Lord they come across. This story has atmosphere and chills a-plenty, as a sinister spectre stalks the halls of the dying TARDIS as the internal geography begins to break down. The Doctor and Helen are soon separated from Liv, and soon meet the Eleven, who is terrified out of his mind and desperate to escape. With ghosts and monsters prowling about the hallways and the TARDIS itself collapsing in on itself, The Doctor and Helen must find Liv, save the Eleven and escape before they are devoured.
The introduction of the Ravenous creature itself is also excellent, as the sound design and voice work sells this monster as a terrifying entity. The design works best for audio, as the horrific screech, the music and the sound effects make the Ravenous an intimidating presence. They also have an interesting effect on the Doctor, who is usually calm and calculated during adventures but in this case he is driven almost mad with panic, even before the Ravenous appear he begins to show small out-of-character moments of annoyance and anger. This is an interesting aspect to a monster as there is a real sense that he is genuinely scared of the Ravenous, and it isn’t hard to see why as the cover art shows just how disgusting and horrifying these creatures are, but the sound effects is what really sells these creatures with their horrific roar and grating voice. Seizure has scares, chills and atmosphere that make it a fantastic finale to Ravenous 2, and it is a really strong introduction to the eponymous Ravenous creatures.
The Doctor and Liv are in pursuit of Helen and the Eleven after the conclusion of the Doom Coalition series, and this brings us to the first of the Ravenous box sets. Separating Helen from the Doctor and Liv is an interesting series arc for this box set, and provides a more pressing reason for them to go searching for the Eleven following the events of Doom Coalition and it also allows for some interesting character development between Helen and the Eleven later on. Ravenous represents a new era for the Eighth Doctor in more ways than one – the first box set of this series is the last to use to the silver Classic Series logo as all audios from this point forward use the new branding for the 2018 rebranding of Doctor Who.
1.1 – Their Finest Hour
Set during World War 2, Their Finest Hour features Ian McNeice who reprises his role as Winston Churchill that he played in Victory of the Daleks, as Churchill calls the Doctor on the eve of the Battle of Britain after several RAF fighters mysteriously disappear. It is interesting to note that Liv Chenka has no idea who Churchill is, as although she is Human she is from another planet in the far future, and all of her information about Earth’s history comes from the other companions she meets such as Molly and Helen, and there is a nice reference to Molly early on as Liv compares the two World Wars that she has now experienced at two different points in her travels with the Doctor. Although World War 2 is a fairly well-used setting for Doctor Who stories at this point, this audio focuses on a very specific aspect of the war that has not been explored in Doctor Who much.
This audio prominently features the Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain, who in real-life history escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland and flew for the RAF in the Battle of Britain. This story’s two Polish pilots, Jan Ostowicz and Wilhelm Rozycki, are the two main pilot characters in the story, and honestly it is refreshing to have a World War 2 story that isn’t populated with over-the-top tally-ho British characters with faux-toff accents that are overused tropes of this historical era, and the pilot characters are very memorable and likeable in their characterisation which is a great surprise. After the sheer number of British pilot stereotype characters that have been featured in Big Finish’s early days, this audio comes as a breath of fresh air.
Their Finest Hour doesn’t shy away from a realistic depiction of war, and the characters are realistically depicted by a great cast. Paul McGann and Nicola Walker are great as always, Liv gets some great scenes as she is separated from the Doctor and trapped on an alien ship with one of the pilots and so must assume a Doctor-like role in order to escape. One of the most memorable things about this audio is its ending, which is suitably bleak given the setting and delivers a great gut-punch that hits home how horrible life was on the front line for those fighting in World War 2, particularly the Battle of Britain. As a series opener, Their Finest Hour does a great job, and it makes a really good first impression for the Ravenous saga.
1.2 – How to Make a Killing in Time Travel
This story begins with the much-maligned scientist Stralla Cushing attempting to invent time travel for her brutish boss, Cornelius Morningstar. Her experiments draw the attention of the TARDIS, and The Doctor and Liv are diverted in their search for Helen to the space station Scapegrace. Unfortunately, several other parties are aware of the developments in temporal technology taking place on the station and the cross-interferences of each group causes absolute chaos as the story progresses. This audio sometimes feels like a play, there are a few larger-than-life characters and bizarre creatures with enigmatic character traits, this is perhaps the closest this era gets to feeling like the Hartnell era, but at the same time it is also fast-paced and snappy like a New Series story. Liv is particularly funny in this story as she calls out the Doctor on his initial blasé approach to meddling, as his assurances that everything will be sorted in a jiffy are, of course, naively optimistic.
The story does take a few dark turns, however, and there are some great performances from the supporting cast that sell the grimmer scenes in this audio, and everyone from the comically deranged Morningstar to the charismatic duo of Gorl and Dron are memorable and give this story a very unique identity. The title is also fitting, as the invention of time travel and the string of crimes and blackmails that follow are the catalyst for a fascinating temporal murder mystery, with an interesting twist that the audience are aware of what is going on and yet all of the characters, including the Doctor and Liv, blunder through the story completely unawares. In a very Much Ado About Nothing-style series of mishaps and innuendos one murder causes a chain of events that threatens to destroy an entire civilisation.
Although this audio plays itself as somewhat of a comedic story, with the ending being played for laughs more than anything, this is a genuinely exciting listen and there are some great character moments between the Doctor and Liv. How to Make a Killing in Time Travel is a fun standalone story that has little to do with the wider story of the Ravenous series, but this is ideal as the next two stories return to the more pressing issue of Helen’s kidnapping. Nonetheless, some of Big Finish’s best earlier works are standalone audios, and this story continues that tradition with a fun run-around that makes for a nice diversion whilst also offering some funny and heart-warming character moments between the Doctor and Liv.
1.3 – World of Damnation
The tone shifts dramatically for the next story, World of Damnation, as the Eleven and Helen are trapped on Rykerzon, a maximum-security prison for the most dangerous criminals. To address the elephant in the room, this audio features the return of the Kandyman from the Seventh Doctor TV story The Happiness Patrol in 1988, who menaced the citizens of Terra Alpha with his deadly desserts. He is seemingly up to his old tricks in this audio after reconstituting himself with a new grotesque body, as he serves sickeningly sweet treats to the prisoners and officials alike on on Rykerzon. The Eleven is held prisoner, and Helen acts as a carer and emotional mentor for him, taking on an almost motherly role as the two characters are given months of time together to form a bizarre ‘friendship’. The scenes between these two characters throughout this audio are some of the most fascinating in the series, and it is good that the Ravenous series is doing more with the character of the Eleven as he is a really fun anti-villain to have around and there is a lot of potential with the character.
The Doctor and Liv finally arrive in pursuit of Helen and the Eleven, and are immediately separated, as is customary. Liv meets up with two of the best of the supporting cast, Ruzalla and Crabhead, who explain that the Kandyman has taken control of the prison and now treats the majority of the prisoners like animals, feeding them troughs of desserts to placate them as a form of crowd control. The setting of a decrepit prison being subverted by the Kandyman and transformed into a sickening sweet factory has some great potential that World of Damnation takes full advantage of.
Oddly enough, despite his notorious reputation in the fanbase, the return of the Kandyman is pulled off exceptionally in this audio as his completely reformatted body allows him to be reintroduced as almost a completely different character. Although the horrific, high-pitched voice of the Kandyman in the Classic Series was one of his defining features, the design of the creature caused several issues for the show and its appearance detracted from any potential explanation for its bizarre sugar-related philosophy. This audio sets up the Kandyman as an actual character rather than a monster, and without the insane voice and stomping costume the character has been changed for the better for audio. He even gets a great reunion scene with the Doctor as the two meet again after many years. The cliff-hanger ending to this story is also suitably gut-punching, though not for the reasons you might expect.
1.4 – Sweet Salvation
After finally meeting back up with Helen at the end of the last story, the Doctor senses that something isn’t right. As it happens, he is right, as the Eleven and the Kandyman have made an alliance to take over not only Rykerzon but the nearby Colony 23 as well, using pacifying sweets and fizzy drinks to take over the planet. As their plan is set into motion the Doctor, Liv and Helen as well as former prison occupant Ruzalla meet up at last and begin to unravel what is going on. This is somewhat of a low-key finale for the first series of Ravenous, though as with Doom Coalition before it lower-stakes finales allow for more room for character development. This story tests the trust between the Doctor and Helen as he suspects her of being manipulated by the Eleven and continues to question her motivations, much to the chagrin of Liv who trusts Helen implicitly. Overall the pairing of Helen and Liv has been a highlight of this era, and there is no better showcase of this than their relationship in the Ravenous series.
Speaking of great character pairings, the matchup of the Kandyman and the Eleven is an interesting choice to say the least, as both villains are suitably deranged and maniacal so the two complement each other quite well, though one has to wonder how anyone was fooled by their attempts to impersonate legitimate officials to deal with the people of Colony 23. The basic plan of influencing the population using particular flavours is interesting and fits with the character, as he is once again playing the role of enforcer for a tyrannical regime as he was in The Happiness Patrol. The Kandyman has some great interactions with some of the Eleven’s earlier personalities, particularly the child-like Three and animalistic Six, as their kid-in-a-candy-shop glee at being evil matches up well with an actual evil Kandyman.
Overall Sweet Salvation wraps up the first box set of the Ravenous series with a great character-focused finale and it sets up several plot threads for later in the series, including the Eleven’s developing character as well as the mysterious screeching entities that are pursuing him and the Doctor. Although this box set is only the first in the Ravenous series, it represents the end of an era in one crucial respect: this is the last box set to use the classic Doctor Who logo on its branding, as releases from this point onward use the new branding introduced in 2018 for the New Series under Chris Chibnall. There is a lot more to Ravenous 2 than a simple change of box art design, however, as from here things start to get spooky, as the next box set in the Ravenous series has one defining theme – Monsters.