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Doctor Who - The War Doctor 1: Only the Monstrous Audio CD – Audiobook, February 29, 2016
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However, I listened to the CD while doing another project. This is not for first-time Doctor Who watchers/listeners. You have to be a die-hard "Who-er", my term. I go back to the 70's
While listening my imagination took me back to the early DW shows, and to the time when I listened to radio as a child, often under the covers of my bed. We kids were made to go to bed early. Old time radio was better than this Doctor Who audio adaptation. Sound effects were poor and what sound effects they had, were overpowered by the background music, or foreground music.
This was mediocre for MY tastes given my experience with old-time radio. Acting was very good however.
I will not be buying the other editions.
PS: I am 75 years old and still a Doctor Who fan. My family can't fathom why. Always a child.
On the surface, Only The Monstrous promised two things. The first of which was the return of John Hurt's War Doctor who had only appeared onscreen back in 2013. Listening to the opening minutes of the set, you'd never known Hurt had ever been away. Having appeared fully formed and afire in The Day Of The Doctor, this story picks some time before that with a Doctor who willingly tries to sacrifice himself in its opening moments. This is a War Doctor who has fought the Time War for a long time though he isn't quite the man we meet in the midst of the fall of Arcadia. Hurt plays this darker, more mournful man excellently and his best moments are when he at his darkest. The scripts from Nicholas Briggs does offer him some lighter moments in the opening disc which Hurt plays admirably and there's echoes of the Doctor we're more used to there. At its heart though, this is a war story and Hurt plays the bitter warrior who is sick of fighting but knows there is no other way beautifully. It's Hurt's performance that makes this release a must listen for fans.
The second thing it promised was a major look into the Time War. Between Day Of The Doctor and the 2014 novel Engines Of War (as well as the unofficial for charity anthology Seasons Of War), we've had very few glimpses into the conflict that has played a major role in shaping the back story of the 21st incarnation of Doctor Who on television. Only The Monstrous promised to change that by offering a view into the Time War itself. It's a promise that is delivered upon but perhaps in not quite the satisfactory manor that fans were expecting.
What it delivers is a look at the Time War from both the front lines and sidelines to some extent. We're introduced to Cardinal Ollistra (played by Blake's 7 Jacqueline Pearce) and a number of agents of hers including Veklin (played by Big Finish stalwart Beth Chalmers) who deal initially with the aftermath of the box-set's opening minutes before embarking on a larger convert mission in which the War Doctor is drawn in. Briggs paints an interesting picture of Time Lord society at war that draws upon and expands on what we've been presented to date while also adding a new portion to the Time War story which comes to the fore in the back half of the release. All of which is immensely satisfying it must be said.
What isn't so satisfying is what the story really boils down to. Following the opening disc which acts as an interlude of sorts before the main story kicks in which finds the War Doctor recuperating on Keska with the help of a nursemaid (played by Lucy Briggs-Owen), the story takes the listener and War Doctor alike into what appears to be a Dalek stratagem. It's this part of the story which is perhaps a tad underwhelming due to it being perhaps overly familiar as Briggs script draws not just on past Dalek stories including The Dalek Invasion Of Earth but his own previous Big Finish series Dalek Empire for inspiration. For those expecting a full-on Time War story, you might just be in for a bit of a disappointment as this is perhaps more akin to traditional Dalek stories. If you don't mind that, and perhaps if you can accept that, then Briggs presents a tale of a very different kind of Doctor in a rather traditional story which gives the box-set a boost as well as something that helps to separate it from much of Big Finish's other output.
Moving on from Hurt and Briggs' script, there is plenty else to find to enjoy in Only The Monstrous. Pearce's Ollistra is a delight to listen to with the right mix of seriousness and wit while also not echoing too much Pearce's more famous role from Blake's 7. The War Doctor's pseudo-companions, Briggs-Owens Nursemaid and Carolyn Seymour's Slave, are both interesting and both give interesting performances as they bounce off Hurt and react to his almost vicious temper at times while also bringing out the best in him. The supporting cast also includes a large number of Big Finish stalwarts including the aforementioned Chalmers, Barnaby Edwards, John Banks and Mark McDonnell all help to populate the world of the Time War. Rounding off the cast is Nicholas Briggs who is, of course, playing the Daleks and brings the usual amount of menace and anger to his readings of the various Daleks. Only The Monstrous has a solid cast both in Hurt and its supporting players.
Last but not definitely not least is the music and sound design of Howard Carter. From the new version of the show's signature theme to the score of some of the biggest moments, Carter's score is nothing short of cinematic. Listening to the music suite at the end of the third disc, it's hard not to hear echoes of John Debney's score for the 1996 TV Movie at times, something which helps this to act as the bridge between the different TV incarnations of the series. Carter's sound design is just as impressive as it takes in Gallifrey, Keska, and a Dalek slave labor facility along the way. The results are nothing short of impressive.
Despite some reservations about the almost traditional storytelling that Briggs' script employs, it is hard not to think of Only The Monstrous as a success. From Hurt's triumphant return to a solid supporting cast and strong production values, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. Congratulations then are due to all involved for bringing this section of the Last Great Time War to life.