If the star of the first Big Finish War Doctor box set, Only the Monstrous, is the War (don’t call me) Doctor, then the star of their second, Infernal Devices, is probably the Time War itself. And while that centre stage has been a long time coming – for, which of us hasn’t yearned for the true stories of the likes of the Nightmare Child and the Neverweres? – let me tell you, it’s been worth the wait.
The first box set had a job to do in creating an introduction to the War Doctor for those who didn’t know him, and generating greater depth to him for those of us who did. And that job the boxset, and specifically the non-Doctor’s portrayer, John Hurt, did very well. But it left a gap: what exactly was this thing, this Time War, that had caused that man to stray so far from the morals of those who shared his body if not his name? What induced the Machiavellia, and all the self-loathing? It can’t just be any old war; it must be something special.
With Infernal Devices we at last get a glimpse of what sets the TimeWar apart from all those other conflicts to which the Doctors have been party – and the slow reveal is expertly done across the three stories.
The set opens with John Dorney’s Legion of the Lost, in which the Time Lords call upon the arcane knowledge of the Technomancers – who’s name really tells you all you need to know about where this is going – to create the most obscene of weapons. Phil Mulryne’s A Thing of Guile is the jam in the sandwich, and shows an unexpected side of both Daleks and Time Lords that leaves the listener feeling no great deal better about either. And the set closes with Matt Fitton’s The Neverwhen, in which the reality of the Time War and its effect on its combatants is at last realised in full, horrific colour.
The thing I love about this series is that it sets the bar high at the outset, and then continues to better it. Obviously I mean this about sound design – as good as ever – and performance. And indeed, there are stand-out performances from Zoe Tapper, Jaye Griffiths and new stalwart of the Big Finish rep, David Warner, as well as John Hurt upping the ante even further with his apoplectic disgust and loathing at the moral weakness of his own people’s warmongering.
But I also, less obviously I guess, mean it about the way the Time War is revealed. Since its inception by Russell T back on the telly in the olden days (2006), it has been a thing of magical mystery – I mean, seriously, how can anyone hear the words Nightmare Child without wondering what perversion of normalcy it implies? And the Whoniverse’s definition of normalcy at that! And for years, those things were left unrevealed, and were all the better for it.
But here, as the curtain is drawn back… well, the reveal doesn’t detract from that magical mystery, is the best way of putting it, I think. Every little twist – Dorney’s mix of magic and science with the Technomancers, Fitton’s never-ending battle and super/supra-evolutionary solders, and Mulryne’s simple, simple story hiding perplexing complexity underneath – comes in from out of left field without ever undermining the basic conceit. For all that the Time War becomes a little better known in Infernal Devices, it never once loses its Technicolor, psychedelic air of unknowable bonkers horror. And that, I would say, is no mean feat.
Written By: John Dorney, Phil Mulryne, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
John Hurt (The War Doctor), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra), David Warner(Shadovar), Jamie Newall (Co-ordinator Jarad), Zoë Tapper (Collis), Robert Hands(Captain Solex), Oliver Dimsdale (Commander Trelon), Laura Harding (Navigator Valis), Barnaby Kay (Commander Thrakken), Jaye Griffiths (Daylin), Tim Bentinck(General Kallix), Tracy Wiles (Commander Barnac), and Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks. Other parts played by the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Infernal Devices is available from BigFinish.com.