In the closing moments of Time War 3, the Valeyard wiped the Daleks from existence and ended the Time War. Which was a bit awkward. We know that’s not how the Time War ends, a darker version of the Doctor does indeed push a big button and commit genocide but not him, not yet, or at all, now that I think of it. So, it’s a good job that Big Finish has commissioned one final entry in the Eighth Doctor’s Time War adventures to put history (or what’s left of it) back on track.
Of course, time can be rewritten, as Steven Moffat was always reminding us. This is especially true if you’re the Dalek Time Strategist who has an audacious plan to bring the Daleks back from their temporary erasure. This scheme leads him, closely followed by the Doctor and Bliss to an alternative Skaro where the Kaleds and Thals live in peaceful harmony and Davros is a respected scientist who has lived, laughed and loved and for whom hatred and xenophobia are alien emotions.
John Dorney’s Palindrome is a narratively tricksy, high concept and emotional two-part opener that finds a fascinating way with which to bring Davros into the Time War. It would be the easiest thing in the world for the creator of the Daleks to be brought out of mothballs in some cave or other to give his children a leg-up (that’s inappropriate, sorry) in their never-ending war with the Time Lords. What Dorney does instead is to tie various threads from spin-off media, the show itself and Terry Nation’s original draft of what became The Daleks to create a sort of ultimate Davros. More interesting still, his script gives Terry Molloy something weightier to tackle than the same old megalomaniacal ranting and raving that he’s usually called upon to do.
It’s the perfect follow up to his previous story The War Valeyard, presenting us with the reverse idea – a light side of Davros that retains that scientific curiosity but who has a capacity for good and positive change. He’s happily married to a Thal(!) and lives a peaceful life, bantering with his wife over the breakfast table and is horrified by the increasing violence against Thals that has begun to affect Skaro. These two sides of Davros are the emotional core of Palindrome and they anchor what could be a confusing plot involving multiverses and reverse chronologies. It’s a real testament to the writing of John Dorney and to Terry Molloy as a performer that the story is both emotionally affecting and easy to follow.
Meanwhile, Paul McGann and Rakhee Thakrar flit in and out of Davros’ life as the Doctor and Bliss trying to put a stop to the Time Controller’s plan. McGann gets some great moments, (“I’m no Cary Grant”) and his delight in finding a positive iteration of Davros is sweetly played. Bliss is getting increasingly trigger happy, much to the Doctor’s frustration and if this truly is the final boxed set for the Eighth Doctor and his companion then this may foreshadow their parting of the ways.
Fundamentally though, the Time War is mere background noise to this story of a benevolent Kaled scientist who is desperate to outrun his ultimate, tragic fate. It’s the sort of high concept character piece that we used to get in Big Finish’s early days, calling to mind Joseph Lidster’s terrific Master or Lance Parkin’s Davros. These are stories which interrogate our established knowledge of this main event Doctor Who baddies and breathe new life into them as a result. Palindrome does that in spades, it dares you to feel sympathy for Davros, not just the “nice” one, our Davros too. My only concern is that many potential listeners will be put off by the fact it’s tied into the ever-expanding Time War mythology. It’s unavoidable given the boxed set format, I suppose, but I’d implore you to give it a go. This is an accessible and engaging Davros story that’s up there with Genesis of the Daleks and The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar for nuanced and affecting portrayals of the creator of the Daleks. That being said, I expect he’ll go back to empty shouting and rasping when he comes back at the boxed set’s end.
You can buy Time War 4 from Big Finish.