Review: Only the Monstrous

The War Doctor: a rather ambiguous character in the Doctor Who universe for most. While he produced an overwhelmingly positive reaction when he appeared in The Day of the Doctor, many fans saw him in that single episode and didn’t think anything else of him. 

Luckily, Big Finish wanted to know more. 

When the War Doctor box sets were first announced, I didn’t take much note. I tend to only buy audios that involve my favourite characters because let’s face it: as much as I love it, Big Finish is expensive. 

But when the War Doctor box sets all went on sale, I lamented that I didn’t have the money to buy them. Thank God that there are amazingly awesome people in this world! My friend John on Twitter offered to buy me the box sets simply out of kindness—so now I have all of them! (If you’re reading this, John, you rock!) 

That was how I ended up listening to Only the Monstrous, the first set of the War Doctor series featuring the stories The Innocent, The Thousand Worlds, and The Heart of the Battle. By the time I was finished, I was completely blown away. Suddenly the Doctor who I only casually liked before became “my poor, traumatised child!” 

So let’s take a look at what makes Only the Monstrous so amazing (with only very minor spoilers)!

In this box set, Big Finish takes up the seemingly impossible task of making us fall in love with a Doctor who isn’t the Doctor. Yet immediately in the first story you get a sense of the perfect balance in the War Doctor’s character. He’s a warrior, but he’s ashamed. He’s hardened, but he has a soft heart underneath. He kills, but he saves the innocent at all costs. The irony in all of this, of course, is that he is still the Doctor. To slightly alter a phrase from The Day of the Doctor, you could say that he was the Doctor during a time he couldn’t possibly get it right. 

The soft side of the War Doctor’s character really shines through interaction with the “companion” of the box set, Rejoice. Rejoice is the perfect antithesis of the Time War. She is innocent, kind, gentle, and patient. The War Doctor initially only grumbles at her, and still she loyally remains by his side to help him. The way she so faithfully loves the Doctor despite the terrible things that happen in the course of the overall narrative is really touching. 

These stories also bring to light the corruption of the time lords and explain why the Doctor distances himself from them even during this war. The current leader is Cardinal Ollistra, who seems to be in charge of everything related to the Time War. We are also introduced to the Veklin, Bennus, and Arverton, time lords who are sent on an important mission with the Doctor. Though they have a decent part in the stories and display different personalities, I never really became interested in any of them. Luckily the main focus is on the War Doctor and, to a lesser degree, Rejoice. 

I really enjoy the fact that all three stories are continuous, as most of the box sets I listen to have stories that are mostly individual with an overarching plot. There is an overall feeling of balance, even though the setting is obviously the Time War. Things never get too dark. In true Doctor Who fashion, there’s always humour and heartfelt moments to ease tension and hostility. (Luckily, even in the War Doctor incarnation, the Doctor retains his love of jokes!) 

The ending of the last story is rather bittersweet, which is fitting. I’m a sucker for Big Finish sets that end on excellent one-liners, and this box set is definitely in my top 3 for stories that nail that. When Cardinal Ollistra asks where she can find the Doctor when she needs him next, the Doctor replies: 

“At the heart of the battle, where the blood of the innocent flows…and only the monstrous survive.” 

(I got chills just writing that!)

This cracking exit line is followed by the harsh four-beat motif that kicks off the incredible theme tune composed for the Time War audios—an intense variation on the show’s traditional theme. 

I give Only the Monstrous four out of five stars—if this is only the beginning of the War Doctor series, I can’t wait to listen to the rest of them! I’d recommend this box set to any Doctor Who fan. I can almost guarantee that no matter what your thoughts on the War Doctor are, this box set will make you fall in love with him. 

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