The Eighth Doctor: Time War Volume Three continues Big Finish’s Time War adventures for the Eighth Doctor, leading up to the events of Night of the Doctor, complete with companion Bliss. This range’s first two volumes failed to win me over, a big chunk of my lack of enjoyment being Bliss. Rakhee Thakrar plays her with enthusiasm, but it’s hard to shake the feeling we’re listening to the most generic of companions — a fact surely heightened by the fact that the Time War ought to call for a different style of storytelling, but at Big Finish, it’s basically business as usual.
State of Bliss aims to provide some much-needed backstory and depth for Bliss… but so did The Lords of Terror in the second set. We get a lot of snippets of Bliss’s life across various timelines… and honestly, I still had trouble with her character. She’s plucky, she’s been locked into a dull life, but she wants a better one. We’ve heard it all before, and writer Matt Fitton is unable to bring anything new to the table, aside from some temporal shenanigans that get increasingly incomprehensible as the hour proceeds, so much so that when I discussed the story on Gallifrey Base, I discovered I had got basic facts about it wrong. She’s still pretty much a blank slate.
The middle of the set moves the focus away from Daleks-versus-Time Lords to give us a sense of how this war is affecting the galaxy at large. Lisa McMullin’s The Famished Lands goes to a nonaligned planet whose supply lines have been disrupted by war, while Roland Moore’s Fugitive in Time sends the Doctor and Bliss on yet another Time Lord commando mission. Both I thought were probably good ideas in principle that were completely uninteresting in practice. Famished Lands, in particular, felt like some weird ideas jammed together in a not very compelling way; it was far too superficial in its treatment of food crises to really work. Fugitive in Time felt overused — between this series and The War Doctor, we’ve had way too many stories where the Doctor goes on a Time Lord mission and bickers with his fellow participants over methodology, yet never takes a genuine stand.
I was prepared to not get much out of The War Valeyard, yet another nostalgic character revival from Big Finish… but to my surprise, John Dorney’s script was the best of the set. Like the best writers of the Doctor’s “darker side”, Dorney gets that the Valeyard wants to be the Doctor, which is what sets him apart from, say, the Master. The War Valeyard is a neat, clever story about what the Valeyard got up to during the Time War, with a number of surprises, and surely features the best performance that Michael Jayston — usually good value to begin with — has ever given in the role. I never expected to be moved by a Valeyard story!
The end of The War Valeyard sets up the beginning of the next set. It seems to me that every one of these Eighth Doctor Time War sets has had some potential, but not really nailed it; one good disc out of four is not really a great ratio. Hopefully Big Finish figure out how to make use of the dramatic potential of the noblest Time Lord’s darkest hour soon.
The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Volume Three (by Matt Fitton, Lisa McMullin, Roland Moore, John Dorney; starring Paul McGann, Rakhee Thakrar) was released by Big Finish Productions in August 2019.