Big Finish Review: Gallifrey: Time War – Volume One (Doctor Who spinoff)


Big Finish

We’ve seen how the Time War ended in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Now we get to hear how it began in ‘Gallifrey: Time War’!

Gallifrey: Time War is a release that I’ve been excited about for a long time. Before it had been officially announced, it was a release that I had always hoped for but didn’t think would happen.

For our regular characters, we always knew that this was coming. Previous seasons of Gallifrey had been hinting at the Time War since season three, at least. Season six especially made it feel inevitable.

More from Winter is Coming

But season six also felt like a natural end to the series. Especially since, at the time, Big Finish didn’t have the license for anything related to the New Series. So when the announcement was made that we would get to hear the Time War from Gallifrey’s perspective, I was both surprised and excited to hear it.

As you could probably tell from my earlier article on the reasons why you should listen to Gallifrey, I’m a massive fan of the series. I’ve enjoyed the political intrigue, complex characters and serial storytelling in the Doctor Who universe.

Because the Time War is such a major event, and because of the exceptional standard of previous seasons, expectations were high with Gallifrey: Time War. Would it be able to live up to them?

Big Finish

‘Celestial Intervention’

The series begins some time after the events of the previous series, Enemy Lines. Things have changed on Gallifrey, and not for the better. Tensions between the Time Lords and the Daleks are higher than they’ve ever been. War seems inevitable.

You read that right. Celestial Intervention begins Gallifrey: Time War with the beginning of the War itself. This is the first time we’ve seen the definitive beginning of it in any media. Even The Eighth Doctor: The Time War 1 was set some time after it had begun.

But it also makes a lot of sense, too. We know from The Night of the Doctor that the Doctor didn’t have any part in the War itself, at least not an active one, until his regeneration into the War Doctor. Until then, the main participants had been the Time Lords and the Daleks.

So it makes sense that to see the true beginning of the Time War, we would need to see it from Gallifrey’s perspective. Even if Gallifrey hadn’t existed as a spinoff already. So the fact that one such series had in fact been around for almost fourteen years is perfect. It allows Big Finish to tell the story of the Time War from a much larger perspective.

The CIA and the War Council

We also get to catch up with some of our favorite characters in this episode. Romana, Leela and Narvin are all working for the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency). They are doing their best to work with the recently formed War Council.

But the War Council has secrets, and Romana no longer has the power she once had. With war looming over Gallifrey, it looks like the War Council are about to be given more power than ever.

It’s fantastic that, even in war or just before it, Gallifrey still finds interesting ways of giving us plenty of political intrigue. The tensions between the CIA and the War Council are perfect examples of that.

I also love the approach that the War didn’t just start out of nowhere. When it truly begins, it’s something everyone had been expecting for a long time. This doesn’t just tie in to what the Doctor had described in Heaven Sent. (Specifically, about how they had always known it was coming.) It also ties in to other series, particularly Dark Eyes (which Narvin actually appears in) and Doom Coalition. So when war is finally declared, it comes as a surprise to no one.

With Celestial Intervention, writer David Llewellyn had several difficult tasks to complete. Not only did he have to show the very beginning of the Time War, a huge event in Doctor Who mythology.

He also had to make this episode feel like a natural continuation of what came before. At the same time, he also had to make it a great jumping-on point for fans of the New Series who want to find out about the War.

With each and every one of these key points, he succeeded absolutely brilliantly with Celestial Intervention.

Big Finish

‘Soldier Obscura’

We’re given a very different perspective in Soldier Obscura, as Ace and Irving Braxiatel go on a mission. Braxiatel has something hidden in the Obscura, an area of spacetime so deadly that it’s dangerous to even look at it. He has a plan to use a very dangerous weapon. But is he telling the whole truth? (Fans of Braxiatel, you know the answer. People who don’t know Brax, the answer to this question is always, always “no”.)

Tim Foley is quite a new writer for Big Finish, but he’s also an incredibly gifted one. Both of his episodes of Torchwood: Aliens Among Us, specifically The Empty Hand and Poker Face, are simply amazing stories. So it’s fantastic that he gets to write for Gallifrey. Especially an episode that’s so heavily focused on both character and relationships.

Braxiatel and Ace

You can tell that Foley is a big fan of the character of Braxiatel, as he’s particularly the focus for this episode. Braxiatel has always been a very dangerous man with a large focus on “the bigger picture”. He’s not afraid of using people as pawns in his grand plans and schemes. So finding out exactly what he’s prepared to do in the Time War is exciting to hear.

While Ace has met and worked with him before, she discovers exactly what kind of man he is in Soldier Obscura. And even she’s surprised at the lengths he’d go. Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Ace had to put up with a grand chessmaster. She even learned to accept it from her Doctor, at least. But Brax is on a different level altogether.

As such, the focus on this episode is less on grand battles and more on personal conflict. Which is one of the reasons why Gallifrey has always been as successful as it is. Once again, Tim Foley has given us a wonderfully written story that’s a perfect fit for the series he’s writing for.

Big Finish

‘The Devil You Know’

For the third episode of this set, we have a very special guest appearance from a very old enemy. With the Doctor refusing to take part in the Time War, Romana needs the help of another renegade Time Lord: the Master.

Scott Handcock tried something very ambitious when he wrote this episode. He didn’t just want the War Master to make an appearance in The Devil You Know. As the producer and director of Gallifrey: Time War and The War Master: Only the Good, he wanted the two series to effectively crossover. And it’s done in a pretty direct way too.

I think he handled it just right. As someone who’s listened to and enjoyed both series, it’s interesting to hear how the events of one series impacts the other, and vice versa. But, while it’s nice to know the larger picture, you can enjoy each series separately. Still, it’s nice to discover the ways that these separate Time War series connect with each other.

But it’s how well the episode works as a character piece that makes it so interesting. Once again, the tale we hear isn’t that of a battle. But it does explore how war can change people. In this case, quite literally.

I have to say that Bryan Dick gives a brilliant performance in the role of Finnian Valentine. Without giving too much away, he’s given a very impressive challenge as an actor. He’s able to portray that brilliantly. Especially in a drama that features the high caliber of both Louise Jameson and Derek Jacobi.

Leela and the Master

To keep an eye on him on this mission, Leela is paired with the Master. What’s really fascinating about The Devil You Know is hearing the reunion between these two characters. While the two never met on TV, Big Finish have given us plenty of stories of Leela and the Master in the Fourth Doctor Adventures. So it’s nice to hear the two reunited after such a long time, at least chronologically.

Leela’s reaction to him is especially great to hear. The Master she knew (as played by Geoffrey Beevers,) was horrifically injured. As such, he had no problem showing just how gloriously evil he could really be.

With Jacobi’s Master, he’s very different. He’s more charming, pleasant, even coming across at times as a rather sweet old man. And of course, Leela knows that that’s what makes him more dangerous. Because he’s just as evil as he’s ever been, and she knows that. But is that enough for her to remain careful?

The Devil You Know is a great character drama, and a brilliant three-hander by Scott Handcock. Yes, it’s nice to hear two fantastic ranges crossover like they do here, but it’s the performances and the writing that really make this such a fantastic listen.

Big Finish

‘Desperate Measures’

It’s only a few months into the Time War, and yet, Desperate Measures are already required. Romana tries her best to resolve the war through a controversial solution. The War Council, meanwhile, has other, more horrifying plans…

It’s really difficult for me to talk too much about this episode. Out of all the episodes, Desperate Measures probably has the most surprises. (And honestly, that’s saying something!)

What I can say is that writer and script editor Matt Fitton does a fantastic job. Compared to the other episodes of Gallifrey: Time War, Desperate Measures feels the most political. Considering that’s how Gallifrey started as, a return to those political roots is definitely welcome to hear. Not that the rest of the box set isn’t brilliant. In fact, there’s been a nice bit of variation of this series, while also remaining close to Gallifrey’s roots.

But it’s nice to hear something more politically driven. Especially as the War gives things a different perspective. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Gallifrey go through war. But it’s still intriguing to hear how some Time Lords use the Time War to their own political advantage.

History of the Time War (and beyond)

There’s also a nice amount of continuity throughout Desperate Measures. But it feels very natural, too. References are made to when Romana was once a prisoner of the Daleks, all the way back in Sixth Doctor story The Apocalypse Element.

There are a lot of references to other Big Finish stories to, both set before and during the Time War. It always feels like a natural part of the story, too. Overall, it helps to make the Time War, as well as the events surrounding it, more cohesive.

Setting this episode a few months in also helps Gallifrey: Time War to tell a larger, grander story. Both The War Master and The Eighth Doctor: Time War 1 can easily take place in the gaps between the episodes. (Particularly the former, where it’s particularly explicit with The Devil You Know.)

And best of all, Desperate Measures makes sure to end the first volume on a real high. When you hear the final word, you know that things are going to change on Gallifrey in a big way…


Gallifrey: Time War had some really high expectations to match. It had to tell the very start of the Time War, and explore some major mythology. It had to continue the high standard that fans of the series had come to expect. But it also had to represent a fresh start for new listeners, and take the series in a bold new direction.

Gallifrey: Time War did that perfectly. I cannot praise this series enough. In terms of mythology, this series deals with a lot of it. In fact, it may even be the most important release of Big Finish’s multiple Time War series so far. It not only covers some major moments that really shake things up for both Gallifrey and the Doctor Who universe. It also provides plenty of nice little references that tie the whole thing together.

Even more important than that, however, is the fact that it’s a great box set of pure drama. Across all four stories, there are so many great performances. Gallifrey: Time War has been well worth the wait, and I am so happy that this is only the first volume. I’m eagerly anticipating volume two already.

Next: Gallifrey: 5 reasons why you should listen to the Doctor Who spinoff