I’m onto the second War Doctor box set! I was really surprised at how different in tone this box set is. Now that they’ve already introduced us to this series, Big Finish isn’t afraid to go a little deeper and a little darker in the second installment.
Once again, this review will only contain minor spoilers, so feel free to read on even if you haven’t listened to it yet!
The title of the box set gives a hint as to the main theme of the stories. This set differs from the first in that all the stories stand individually and are only loosely connected by, you guessed it, infernal devices. Each story deals with a different terrible weapon or method the time lords are trying to use to win the Time War. If you thought you hated the time lords when you listened to the first box set, just wait until you see what they get up to in this one!
Of course, the interesting thing about the nature of these stories is seeing how the Doctor reacts. The atrocities he’s faced with in the first and last stories, specifically, are chilling. As I listened, I realised that these stories really pave the way to the Doctor making the final choice to destroy Gallifrey. There’s a terrible irony about it when you realise that the Doctor majorly disapproves of these weapons of mass destruction, but in the end is forced to use one himself. (Except not really, as we know!)
I really can’t say much more about the stories themselves without giving away spoilers, but I will say that the strength of this box set comes from watching the Doctor remaining true to who he is against overwhelming opposition. Though he still vehemently refuses to be called “the Doctor,” he certainly lives up to his name in the best way he can during this war.
Let’s talk about the characters. In the first story, Legion of the Lost, we are introduced to a new friend for the War Doctor. In contrast with Rejoice from the last box set, Collis is a matter-of-fact time lord soldier who is doing her best to follow orders–until she meets the Doctor, of course. As much as I loved Rejoice, I’m glad that they went with a different type of personality for the Doctor’s “companion.” They have a much different dynamic that allows the War Doctor’s sarcasm and wittiness to shine.
Speaking of sarcasm, Cardinal Ollistra is back in this box set and is somehow more terrible than ever. I really didn’t like her before, but this box set makes you want to send your fist through the time vortex just so you can punch her. Not only is she still the same callous woman who only cares for Gallifrey’s survival, but this time she treats the Doctor very poorly as well, ignoring his efforts to try and be a good man despite the madness of the Time War. (She does much worse than that, but once again, I don’t want to give anything away!)
Overall, in this box set the Doctor is met with higher stakes, tougher decisions, and more cruelty. While I will say that the first box set remains my favourite due to the fact that I prize characters, emotion, and connection most of all in stories, this set is still very enjoyable as it delves into the grittier aspects of the Time War. I give it a solid three out of five stars, and I’m excited to go onto the next set in the series!