With The Well-Mannered War, Big Finish takes the final leap, in this reviewer’s opinion, from uncertain steps to confident strides. Not in terms of their overall Doctor Who output, which is wonderful, but in the quality and effectiveness of their Virgin Missing Adventures audio conversions.
With this final segment in the Gareth Roberts ‘Fourth Doctor trilogy’, one is left with the satisfying conclusion that, should there be further conversions in the future, there will be nothing to worry about.
Here we have Tom Baker as confident and energetic as he’s ever been, and we have the excellent Lalla Ward effortlessly providing her subtle and exuberant take on Romana reminding us, as ever, why her Time Lady will always be the best. Together, these two fly through the adventure, grabbing the time they have together by the reigns and simply owning the whole adventure. John Leeson is given more to do in this story than in The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death and he thrives as K-9 steps up his political ambition (you read that correctly). In fact, the entirety of this particular adventure is incredibly apt with its timing; as the story’s release coincided with the UK general election, the parallels of underhand political machinations between real life events and the fictional creations is not only enjoyable but hugely relevant for anyone living in the UK this year. Don’t fret, however, if you’re an overseas listener: there’s still plenty to enjoy here, especially K-9’s bit for political power; one of the funnier elements of the story and a plot element that, really, only a writer such as Gareth Roberts could have conceived of and written so well.
But underneath Roberts’ final Fourth Doctor romp, there is an incredibly serious tone, a fiendish and gruesome monster leaving human cadavers walking around and living out life (or rotting from the inside out in this case) after death. It’s a nasty way to go, even by the standards of Doctor Who fiction, and the audio realisation of this particular death is well played indeed. The listener is left unsettled and intrigued at the same time.
Extra mention must be given to Tim McInnerny who starts the story off as a thoroughly likeable character and ends it with a completely different tome indeed. His performance will linger for quite some time and helps to move the story forward at a steady pace.
But the main selling point of The Well-Mannered War is that it can appeal to Big Finish listeners of all appetites. For Doctor Who long-termers this is a spot-on chunk of nostalgia and a wonderful homage to the Fourth Doctor’s later era. Not only will the class of 1979/80 get a warm feeling in their bellies from this story but the later readers of the mid-nineties Virgin Missing Adventures will also get their fair share as well: this is not just a simple audio adaptation, this is a painstakingly detailed conversion that will remind fans why this novel so desperately needed to be put back in the limelight. For newer aficionados, you have the benefit of dipping into an era of Doctor Who that almost seemed like it never existed now. A time when the Doctor was only really alive in prose form, but somehow had more of the Universe at his fingertips than ever thanks to the broader characterisations and larger Universe that the novels allowed. Big Finish has taken these elements and brought them to life with the full force and energy that existed then. What this allows is for one of the more talked about Doctor Who cliff-hangers and especially a brave move considering established continuity. What’s fantastic is that the ending in its audio form is even more exciting than in the original book, hearing it brought to life is exhilarating. If they were wise (and they usually are) Big Finish could create a lovely spin off of Fourth Doctor stories based on the end of this particular tale…
Bold, fun, refreshing and true to its source, The Well-Mannered War is an essential addition to your Doctor Who audio collection and a wonderful mix of both the past, the present and hopefully, the future.
The Well-Mannered War is available on CD or via download from Big Finish now.