Big Finish Productions
Gallifrey: Weapon of Choice

Written by Alan Barnes Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004

Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson
Also featuring Miles Richardson, Sean Carlsen, Andy Coleman, Lynda Bellingham, Hugo Myatt, Helen Goldwyn, Daniel Hogarth, Stephen Mansfield, Trevor Littledale

Synopsis: The Time Lords of Gallifrey were the first to map the Web of Time. Now, under the reforming gaze of President Romanadvoratrelundar, the oldest civilisation is ready to shed its monopoly, sharing its secrets with a coalition of Temporal Powers. But the coalition is a fragile one, and despised in some quarters. Has a terrorist group really acquired a temporal weapon so terrible the Time Lords forgot about its existence?


Weapon of Mild Distraction by Andrew Wixon 6/5/04

And so we come to it at last, the great Big Finish brand extension of this spring. These BF mini-series strike me as having the same merits and flaws as all the other DW spin-offs, actual and projected, that we've seen down the years: the chance to take a setting or style from a particular story and really thoroughly explore it. This can be fine, up to a point - there are quite a few settings in DW that arguably weren't fully gone into. But on the other hand, the great thing about the show at its best is that if you don't like a particular story, don't worry - there'll be a totally new and different one along in a few weeks.

So whether or not you should buy Dalek Empire, for example, really depends on how much you like space-opera Dalek stories. Whether or not you buy the Sarah Jane CDs depends on how much you like the character. And whether or not you should buy the Gallifrey quartet depends on... er, how much you like Star Trek or Babylon 5. Funny old world, isn't it?

Because it looks like the Gallifrey series is going to have more in common with those, or maybe even mid-period Blake's 7, than it will with our show. Diplomacy and intrigue and sneaky missions are the order of the day rather than monsters or interesting new SF ideas, so you could probably argue that for all that half the characters are Time Lords, this is the least TV Who-ish spin-off to date. It's definitely set in the BF-subset of the Whoniverse - there's a passing mention of the Daleks but for the rest of the time we're dealing with guys like the Monan Host.

It's breezily written with an acceptable amount of twisty-turniness given the relatively brief running-time. (Perhaps a bit too breezy - some of the jokes are perhaps rather too broad for something aspiring to be a taut political thriller.) Of the two leads, I think Louise J gets the better of it in terms of reprising her TV performance - Lalla W just does rather a lot of posh shouting. But John Leeson has fun as the K9 twins, and Lynda Bellingham (a small role this episode, but one that seems likely to grow in future installments) recaptures the spirit of '86 so fully I instantly pictured her wearing a silly hat and playing with a biro. The other parts are played with typical briskness by the Big Finish rep company - the sole exception is the marvellously named rogue Mephistopheles Arkadian, a very ripe performance from Hugo Myatt (whom members of my generation may recall playing Treguard the Dungeon Master in the kids' gameshow Knightmare).

All in all, though, the only thing that makes it at all distinctive is a mild flirtation with political relevance: the plot is structured to tackle several topical concerns - the Time Lords' rather callous way of dealing with asylum seekers, the moral correctness of pre-emptive self-defence, a judicial inquiry into this, and political tensions within the Temporal Powers (for which read the UN). (Plus Romana gets the mildly amusing but crashingly unsubtle line 'I don't have a reverse gear' - BF's tendency to lay things on with a trowel shows no sign of diminishing.) I don't have a problem with this, but this particular installment just uses them as set-dressing - it really has nothing to say about them, which just makes Barnesy and Russell look craven and/or opportunistic.

So a bit of a mixed bag, and not a great incentive to stick with the series, even if it does suggest that an answer to one of the great mysteries of Who-lore - what in the name of bloody hell did Leela ever see in Andred?!? - may be revealed. It has the potential for considerable achievement - fingers crossed some of that gets realised.

Enjoy... by Joe Ford 1/6/04

In my humble opinion Gallifrey is one of the worst places the Doctor Who writers have invented, a total betrayal of the series' mysterious aura. The series is called Doctor Who? for Godsakes, not Doctor We'll Reveal His Origins At The End Of Season Six. Although that is pretty catchy too. I understand and appreciate the dramatic purpose of revealing the Doctor's home planet and the mysterious and deadly world conjured up at the end of The War Games is everything we could have ever hoped for but I still think it should have been left there. We would have been spared the constant re-vamping of the planet where it gets glitzier and more and more mundane, lots of talk of super powers by a bunch of senile old dodderers. To think that the Doctor, the finest hero in the universe was originated from this tedious backwater is heartbreaking, it makes total sense that he would want to escape because its such a bore but it makes subsequent visits there (Arc of Infinity, The Five Doctors, The Invasion of Time) some of the worst stories in the series' canon.

A reason why the series was so exciting in the first six years was because the Doctor was such a mysterious character and I have to admit it did lose some of its capriciousness when the answers started spilling out (recent years have seen the BBC books returning the shows roots of trying to make the Doctor an unpredictable force again by wiping his memory and having HIM rather than us discover his roots). Of course even with Doctor Who off the air (so to speak) we are still inundated with Gallifrey references and stories (Lungbarrow, The Apocalypse Element, The Infinity Doctors, Neverland, The Ancestor Cell, Zagreus...) and for myself it feels as though we will never escape this deathly dull planet of politics. It doesn't help that so many of the Doctor's people we have met on and off Gallifrey have turned out to be corrupt and that every story set on the planet involves a handful of really stupid Gallifreyans giving the illusion that the population is crooked and unworthy of the powers vested upon them. It makes you wonder how they manage to keep the Web of Time in check given so many of them are out to shatter it.

Given this highly economic introduction, you can imagine a CD set on Gallifrey might not be the first story I would pick off the shelf. To my relief it happens to be the best thing Big Finish have released this year (although Axis of Insanity, released after, was better) and to my dismay it has proven to very unpopular. Maybe it is because it doesn't do what it says on the tin, less than half the story is set on Gallifreyan capitol and is instead more involved with the far more interesting Enclave of Gryben, a place where the busybody Time Lords enslave all unlicensed travellers who have attempted to travel in time without their permission. And maybe I like so much because it takes the very best of the Doctor Who and Benny universe and brings them together in their won series.

One the reasons I have never found Gallifrey a very believable planet is because of how terribly contrived it is. Rassilon and Omega helped capture a black hole and thus enabled the Time Lords to travel through time. The foundation of Gallifreyan society is based on a number of objects that all have the word 'Rassilon' in them (the Rod of..., the Seal of..., the Sash of..., etc) and many of the stories based there are centred around myth (The Five Doctors with its spooky Tomb of Rassilon). It feels as though Gallifrey has been living in the past for far too long. You never get a feeling of what it is like to be there on a day-to-day basis, dealing with all the temporal incursions and galactic superpowers. Okay so this would demystify the series even more but at least it wouldn't feel so much like a bad fairytale planet. If the Time Lords deal with tricky, desperately dangerous situations then let's see it! Hell there might be a bit more drama than another mythic figure back from the grave to wreck havoc! The Infinity Doctors works so well because you get to see the difficulties that happen when holding the universe together is your first line of business, the attempted peace between the Sontarans and the Rutans is a practical demonstration of the GOOD they do.

And it's also why Weapon of Choice actually WORKS as a Gallifrey story. When the possibility of a Timonic Fusion Device (it deserves capitals given the stress that is placed upon it in this story) is revealed (and nobody seems to know what it is but just that it is a catastrophic weapon) everybody wants a piece of it. It throws Gallifrey in instant conflict with its fellow time-travelling powers, the Monan Host, the Warpsmiths of Phaidon, etc. It is down to President Romana to try and defuse the situation but this proves increasingly difficult when it appears that the cult of Free Time, a group who believes that Time should not be studied and guided but Free (obviously), have the device and are willing to set off in the Enclave of Gryben unless the temporal powers submit to their demands. For once it appears that being President of Gallifrey is extremely responsible but, even better, difficult.

The potential for this series to run on is phenomenal, especially with this set of regulars. Romana is a much-loved ex-companion of the Doctor's and played here by her better half, Lalla Ward, she is a formidable and extremely engaging protagonist. Next to her is the equally loved Leela, another ex-companion and one who had tons of unexplored potential. A bloodthirsty savage is just the sort of person to spice up events on a planet as dreary as Gallifrey. Together they make a team you would not want to come against, intelligence, instinct, muscle and beauty, they might be worlds apart culturally but differences are the spice of drama and their scenes sparkle of delicious dialogue and electrical tension. Toadying up in all the best ways is Irving Braxiatel from the Bernice series, I'm a huge fan of this character, here a reserved, cautious man, clearly hiding much but on the surface devoted to his planet. This is set before his time with Benny so it would be interesting to see why he left Gallifrey. And popping up for one scene (but to later take on a greater role in subsequent releases) is the Inquisitor from Trial of a Timelord, Lynda Bellingham might sound a little older but the quality of her performance is just as good as it was in the 80's. K.9. is back too, both versions and John Lesson remains the definitive version.

It never gets bogged down in too much politics, writer Alan Barnes (once again producing magic now he has cut his authorial ties with Gary Russell) remembers we want to have some fun too so he introduces Arkadian, a Glitz replacement who excels at playing the lovable rogue. I loved it when he was called in before Romana and is treated shabbily until he reveals he knows more about the Timonic Fusion Device than they do. His role in the story, kidnapping the President and playing both sides keeps him interesting and amusing, I was saddened to see that his presence was restricted to this disc. Oh and there are some quality gags with the Monan Host too, their infiltrator's line to Romana when she is close to being killed is priceless.

Another reason this disc succeeds where others fail is the length. 75 gorgeous minutes and no time to get bogged down in padding. The story has a purpose, to introduce the key elements and ideas and to tell a mini story in the process, and it sticks to it with no frivolities or unnecessary diversions. It proves Big Finish can do economical storytelling well and makes you wonder why so many of their stories are five hundred minutes long (he exaggerates).

One flaw, not too major considering the strength of the writing and acting, is the underwhelming direction. I seems to be on a Gary Russell hate campaign recently and honestly nothing could be further than the truth (his treatment of The Axis of Insanity was extraordinary) but the reason people might find this a boring is that it is a bit wordy and paceless. David Darlington's dreary music doesn't help, where he should be boosting scenes of terrorism and kidnap he is content to bop, bop, bop with the same beat that has come to typify his work. It is fortunate that the dialogue is so hot otherwise this could have been incredibly dull. Let's see what the rest of the series give us because these two are responsible for the direction and music for the rest too.

But I refuse to finish this review on a sour note, I very much enjoyed Weapon of Choice but then with Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson giving such wild performances how could I not be? It feels like DS9 in all the best ways, political intrigue, character drama and great twists.

A good start.

Gallifreyan Gallimaufry by Rob Matthews 2/8/04

Here's an ominous notion: were I to compare the Gallifrey of Big Finish's recent miniseries to the various Gallifreys (Gallifri??) we've seen in Doctor Who's past, the most apt point of comparison would not be the rotten-in-the-state-of-Denmark boy's club of The Deadly Assassin, nor the mysterious and rather surreal celestial judgement arena glimpsed in The War Games; not the yummily bizarre English-eccentric-cum -English-Demented mythic quirkyland favoured by Marc Platt, or even the randy capitalist dump of The Ancestor Cell. And certainly not the universe-encompassing Lawrence Milesville of, er, Lawrence Miles.

No, BF appear to have taken as their model the Gallifrey of the Graham Williams era. Yes, that's right, the one from The Invasion of Time. A rather cheesy sort of place with a terrible theme tune and not much sense of grandeur or mystery. You know, that rubbish plastic corridor place where Leela went.

Even though it's on audio this Gallifrey comes across as a small environmenment; for example, people seeming to just wander in and out of the offices of the most powerful woman in the universe, the Inquisitor from Trial of a Timelord popping by at one point just to casually mention there'll be an inquiry in a couple of weeks and then bugger off, as if passing by on her way to the photocopier. It's missing the requisite echoey sound effects, perhaps, and is certainly damaged by the lack of a suitably grandiose theme tune like the one Dominic Glynn came up with for the Trial ship in TOATL. David Darlington's bland 'bop-bop' (ta Joe) music is totally unsuitable, sounding more like the accompaniment to some kind of jungle adventure story, like a ringtone version of John Wiliams' disappointing score for The Lost World or something.

And aside from smallness and lack of decent atmosphere it all feels rather silly. Gallifrey's allies like the Monan Host or the Warpsmiths of wotsit are represented by standard-issue wibbly voices - unavoidable, I guess, if you're trying to represent aliens via audio alone; nevertheless, if I were listening to this on a train journey I suspect I'd be keeping the volume well down. And the plot revolves around something called a Timonic Fusion Device. I mean really - Timonic Fusion Device? just repeat that to yourself in that lofty quizzical tone Colin Baker would adopt when Peri used an Americanism: 'Timonic Fusion Device?!' What is this, silly science fiction or something? (ahem) Even for technobabble, that's hackneyed. What next, a Dimensiofractal Vortex Disseminator? I mean, when you think of all the mindboggling temporal weaponry Larry Miles and co came up with in The Book of the War, this kind of 'bomb that sort of blows up time' notion doesn't make much impact.

You probably think I'm heading in the general direction of saying this miniseries sucks, but no. I'm glad to say the accumulated tackiness matters not one whit, for who gives a tinker's toss about Gallifrey itself when you have a cast like this? IMO this miniseries represents not so much a chance to look at backstabbing Panoptical shenanigans as an opportunity to enjoy 'The New Adventures of Romana, Leela and K9. And K9'; three - or is that four - of the best companions Doctor Who has given us, and each of them reprising their performances so perfectly you'd think Ward, Jameson and Leeson had only departed the TV series Thursday last.

Now, I should probably issue the disclaimer here that I'm a drooling Romana freak who'd happily listen to Lalla Ward reading from a Jamie Oliver cookbook for an hour, and as such am perhaps not the most objective source you could consult - but I reckon were it not for our beloved regulars, all the plot convolutions of this here series would count for nought; we just wouldn't be interested.

As it stands though, this is the fabulous Romanadvoratrelundar - that wonderful woman capable of breezing into the TARDIS saying 'Sounds like a type D oligarchy, typical use of propaganda' as casually as you'd comment on inclement weather - as president of Gallifrey, making just the funky and occasionally unpopular changes to to the Time Lord homeworld we'd expect, and probably collecting a fair few grumpy auld enemies along the way (Time Lords from the ominous-sounding 'Older Houses' - brr). Naturally we're with her, she's a really good friend.

Gosh, she's good here. I almost felt like lighting up a cigarette afterwards - the delivery of totally run-of-the-mill lines like 'K9 is a vicious criminal from the Fifth Galaxy. Aren't you, K9?' and 'You've been used, you fool!' really sparkles. There's something not often commented upon about Romana II, because of her always being seen as 'haughty and intellectual', and that's the passion she actually brings to the role, the love or the rage she can invest in the odd line here and there, without overdoing it. But that's what really brings the character alive.

Then there's Leela, a character who was superb under the direction Hinchcliffe and Holmes, then unfairly sidelined and turned into a cartoonish appendage by Graham Williams. Such a crap, contrived exit for her in Invasion of Time, but I think it was in Lungbarrow where we first realised that the idea of Leela having to spend her life on the most dull and meticulously ordered planet in the universe was actually a rather interesting idea. Just so long as we don't have to see much of Andred. And what do you know - Andred's gone missing from Gallifrey before Weapon of Choice even begins! Very wise.

As mentioned, Louise Jameson slips back into the Leela persona with ease, pairing her up with Romana is a self-evidently brilliant idea anyway; add to that the extended family of Braxiatel and the two K9s, and you have a group that works as well as any Doctor-companion team.

Haven't heard Braxiatel in the Benny audios, but I know him from the books and this is more or less how I expected him, sounding compassionate, wise and enigmatic, kind of like a Doctor surrogate, but without the forcefulness, happier to stay in the background. Almost as if he had something to hide...

Other cast members are a little bit derivative, really. Comfortably familiar, if you're feeling generous, and I guess I am. Narven is the usual variety of odious little shit native to the higher Time Lord ranks - you know, a bit like the weaselly Castellan Kelner and the intolerably smug Vansell; and Mephistopheles Arkadian (!) is a blatant lump of ersatz Robert Holmes, a rascally rogue who you have to keep reminding yourself you can't really trust. Unoriginal, yeah, but he gives an enjoyable performance nevertheless (sounding a little like John 'Shockeye' Stratton), and spars nicely with the totally untrusting Romana. Seems like old times, but in an enjoyable way.

Nepenthe, meanwhile, is unintentionally funny; her chant of 'Free Time!' - though obviously written as a pun anyway - sounds overly earnest and thus ridiculous, and every time she squeals it at the highest note she can manage it's very easy to imagine her suddenly bursting into song ('It's Time...! For a change! The Time Lords...! Are very strange!' ... I think it's the girl from The Pirates, so it's quite feasible).

The plot of this opening chapter - or rather, the outlining of the mysterious tangle of agendas that will ulimately reveal itself as a plot - is solid if unexceptional - the Enclave of Gryben scenario puts its feelers out for asylum-seeker topicality but doesn't quite manage to hit on anything -, and the whole is nevertheless fairly involving in a familiar, conspiratorial-potboiler kind of way. Ultimately, I'd recommend this series more for the 'chance of remeeting old friends' than anything - you want far-out temporal plot twists, I'd imagine the Faction Paradox audios to be a better bet. You want lotsa Lalla/Louise/Leeson, you won't be disappointed.

A Review by Jamas Enright 7/4/05

This is the fourth spin-off audio series Big Finish have done from Doctor Who (after Professor Bernice Summerfield, Dalek Empire and Sarah Jane Smith), focussing on the adventures of Romana and Leela, set after the events of Zagreus.

First up is Weapon of Choice. This series needs a strong story to open it. Yes, we have the return of Romana and Leela, but this will mean nothing unless the plot delivers something worthy of starring them. Unfortunately, this isn't that story. The plot revolves around a "timonic fusion device" and its role as a weapon of threat to precipitate unwarranted action.

The problem here is the word "timonic" (and not just because it's meaningless). This is the only real indication in the audio that this story features the Time Lords, and events on a galactic scale. Remove that one word, leaving just "fusion device", and this audio could play as a political thriller set in any universe. And not a very original one at that. (In fact, I doubt even the likes of Tom Clancey or Robert Ludlum would consider it usable.)

Still, that aside, we do, as I've mentioned, have the return of Romana and Leela, and K9 and K9 (there's a lovely 'one-up-dog-ship' scene which Braxiatel undercuts wonderfully with one line). Though their voices have aged, some more noticeably than others, Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson slip back into their roles with ease. And, it has to be said, it's great to hear them. Lalla Ward invests Romana with a lot of frustration and dignity as Romana is pressed from all sides to do what everyone else wants her to. Louise Jameson is still the Savage, completely belying any idea that Leela has mentally matured in the slightest (which is obviously the decision of the writer and director, rather than the actress), but there are very nice moments with Leela mourning for Andred (and what happens to Andred is a mystery that this story doesn't answer). John Leeson is the same K9 (K9s) as ever, and you have to wonder if he still scuttles around on all fours.

Joining them is Miles Richardson, reprising his role as (Cardinal) Braxiatel, but it isn't clear yet just when these adventures take place in relation to the Benny audios. Two other Time Lords of import are Coordinator Narvin of the CIA and his stoolie Commander Torvald, played by Sean Carlsen and Andy Coleman respectively, both of whom bring a suitable amount of sliminess to their scenes. (Although relistening to the audio after hearing the rest of the series, some scenes play a little differently.)

The day players in this story are Hugo Myatt (doing a Strattford Jones impersonation as Arkadian), BF-regular Helen Goldwyn as Nepenthe, Daniel Hogarth as alien-voice-of-the-week (otherwise known as Ba'aruk), Trevor Littledale as the Outsider and, hinting at her larger role later, Lynda Bellingham as the Inquisitor.

The links between this story and later ones are quite strong, and lots of mysteries are set-up, but this isn't the best start to the series...