Where Palindrome and Dreadshade looked at the (temporary) aftermath of the Time War, hostilities are resumed with the final story in the set – Matt Fitton’s Restoration of the Daleks. Davros and the Daleks are back in the “prime” universe and are seemingly unstoppable. Whilst the Doctor and Bliss go to the aid of a helpless planet caught in the Daleks’ path, the Timelords scramble to see off their immortal enemies once and for all.
Landing amongst a civilisation operating a mixture of primitive and advanced technology, the Doctor and Bliss really shouldn’t be too surprised to find Davros pulling the strings at the heart of it. Left behind by his creations once again, he’s seeking a way to win them back and end the war on his terms. Also looking to end the war is the Dalek Time Controller, who continues to scan the multiverse for ways to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion. Fitton makes a virtue of the idea of multiple different Daleks and, without spoiling the plane, firmly bonds Dalek mythology from the classic series with the Time War mythology from the new.
There’s a lot going on in Restoration, with multiple nefarious plots, the temptation of the Doctor and multiple skirmishes. This means that the listening experience can often feel quite gruelling. On-screen, massive battles between Dalek saucers and Battle TARDISes would look amazing. On audio, however, it translates into an absolute racket. This is by no means the first Time War story to suffer from this and maybe it just comes down to personal preference, but I feel dialling down the battle sequences puts more of a focus on both plotting and character. This is the strength of audio drama, there’s an intimacy to having these characters inside your head. Paul McGann, Terry Molloy and Nicholas Briggs have some really great moments above the din of Dalek gunfire. It’s the scenes where the Dalek Time Controller and the Doctor try to agree on how to end the war, or where Davros converses with the Timelords that this story really sings. It’s surely deliberate but these weighty moral discussions and the mixture of old and new technology on the planet Koska recalls Genesis of the Daleks – which started off this whole brutal conflict in the first place.
Overall, these scenes where characters sit down and talk are the strongest elements of Time War 4. They afford us new insight into Davros and bring depth to the character of the Dalek Time Controller. And yet, for Davros at least, couldn’t this have been achieved outside of the Time War mythology? Indeed, Palindrome wouldn’t be out of place in those earlier, more creative and inquisitive years of Big Finish. Although, in the age where spin-offs, prequels and extended universes are a key part of any profitable intellectual property this is par for the course. Once you’ve sold an audience on “The Time War”, you can throw in more experimental and interesting character pieces alongside all the space battles.
Whilst this is the end of the scheduled Time War boxed sets for the Eighth Doctor, the war is set to continue for a good while yet both in-universe and for Big Finish. The Fifth Doctor is set to pop into the conflict later in the year and the Eighth will butt heads with Derek Jacobi’s War Master very soon. The ending of Restoration of the Daleks, meanwhile, heavily hints at future adventures in and around the conflict for the Eighth Doctor and Bliss whilst the impact of that cliffhanger will likely be felt in another ongoing series from the Time War range.
Fifteen years and multiple boxed sets later, the Time War as a period in Doctor Who mythology feels, paradoxically, both done to death and barely even beginning. On the one hand, there is a sense that we’ve got a pretty strong idea now of what happens to the hopefulness and curiosity of Doctor Who when it’s put on a war footing. On the other hand, it feels like the Divergent Universe era where, for whatever reasons, many of the writers never got a handle on the creative potential of the concepts involved. More often than not – and it’s certainly the case for the majority of Restoration of the Daleks – Time War stories boil down to yet another battle between the Doctor and the Daleks and they fail to add a fresh spin or enhance our understanding of either.
Maybe things will change now that Christopher Eccleston has joined the fold? As thin as the gaps between the Ninth Doctor’s adventures are, it does feel like a great leap forward for Big Finish – the ability to properly play around in the new series universe and tell brand new stories about that battle-scarred incarnation, learning how to be the Doctor all over again. This is the Doctor that walked away from the last great Time War and I hope that, in time, Big Finish will begin to do the same.