The War Doctor is returning for a brand new series of adventures with Big Finish. But what can we expect from these stories, which are set during one of the most turbulent periods in the Doctor’s life?
The War Doctor, for those of you who don’t know, is a ‘forgotten’ incarnation of the famous Time Lord. Played by John Hurt – and debuting in ‘The Night of the Doctor’ – this version of the Doctor was borne out of a special elixir, concocted by the Sisterhood of Karn. With the Eighth Doctor having perished in a crashed spaceship, he was brought back momentarily to trigger his regeneration – and the Doctor ordered the Sisterhood to give him a warrior’s body.
In the time that followed, he disowned the title of ‘the Doctor,’ although others still used it. Some referred to him as the War Doctor – others, the Doctor of War, or the Renegade. When we join him in ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ he is nearing the end of his life. War-torn and battle-weary, this incarnation is close to despair. He steals a forbidden weapon from the Omega Arsenal on Gallifrey – known as the Moment – and threatens to use it to wipe out both the Time Lords and the Daleks.
But the War Doctor experienced many troubling events prior to this, and the production company Big Finish is addressing these missing periods in a collection of prequel box sets. With John Hurt having passed away in 2017, the War Doctor will now be played by the actor Jonathon Carley.
In the teaser trailer for the first of these new volumes – titled ‘The War Doctor Begins – Forged in Fire‘ – we hear the newly-regenerated Doctor struggling to come to terms with his identity. The trailer picks up where ‘The Night of the Doctor’ left off, immediately after the Eighth Doctor drank the elixir and transformed into a warrior.
In the trailer, the War Doctor is angry, and embittered. He balks at the use of his name, and refuses to attend the funeral of his recently-deceased friend, Cass. And in the trailer’s closing moments, he ominously hisses that he is “the Doctor no more.” Clearly, he is a hardened man – ready to face the horrors of the relentless conflict.
Indeed, it looks as if ‘The War Doctor Begins’ will make for (somewhat) uncomfortable listening. The artwork for the first story is reminiscent of gritty war movies such as Saving Private Ryan and 1917, depicting a troubled-looking Doctor against a backdrop of Daleks and smoke, pictured as if staring through broken glass, or prison bars. But, intriguingly, the first release also teases the return of Biroc, the Tharil – a time-sensitive creature that first appeared in the Fourth Doctor story ‘Warriors’ Gate.’
Big Finish’s writer and script editor Matt Fitton says: “Picking up after ‘Night of the Doctor,’ this is our first glimpse of our hero transformed into something he thought he would never become: a warrior. These tales of the War Doctor’s first actions – testing his boundaries, still trying to protect the innocent, and taking the fight to the Daleks – are the first steps into a new era. It’s a thrilling and fascinating journey as the War Doctor begins to discover who he really is…”
Indeed, it looks like these new adventures will draw on many aspects of Doctor Who canon across the twelve, hour-long episodes. The first three are titled ‘Light of the Flame,’ ‘Lion Hearts’ and ‘The Shadow Squad,’ with the third story having been penned by Andrew Smith, who wrote the Fourth Doctor adventure ‘Full Circle.’
And whilst we wait for the first of ‘The War Doctor Begins’ box sets to be released, there is a whole archive of other stories to enjoy.
For example, you could dive into the official BBC novel ‘Engines of War,’ which was the very first War Doctor adventure to be released. It takes place close to the events of ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ and sees the Time Lord and his companion Cinder journey to a familiar location from Gallifrey’s past.
Then there are the previous Big Finish box sets, starring John Hurt and the great Jacqueline Pearce, who played Servalan in Blake’s 7. This is a collection of four trilogies, starting with 2015’s ‘Only the Monstrous‘ and concluding with ‘Casualties of War,’ which features Louise Jameson as the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela.
But if you’re still anxious to hear the War Doctor’s earlier adventures, you don’t have much longer to wait. The first box set is due to be released in June 2021, followed by a further three trilogies which have yet to be named. However, the last of these is slated to be released in December 2022, so mark your 500 year diaries.
In the meantime, what are you most looking forward to from ‘The War Doctor Begins’? And which former friends (and enemies) would you like this incarnation to meet? Let me know in the comments below.
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