In Doctor Who, the scientist hero known as the Doctor is a Time Lord, meaning he has certain alien traits and abilities. One of these is the power of regeneration – when his body is too old or suffering from a near fatal injury, he can cheat death by causing his cells to rebuild themselves, resulting in a new appearance and slightly different personality traits. It’s always him deep down, though. His core and his memories remain. Except in one special case: the incarnation called the War Doctor.
When the modern day Doctor Who series began in 2005, sixteen years after the original “classic” Doctor Who series was cancelled, the Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) informed his companion (and the audience) that he had recently emerged as the seeming sole survivor of the Third and Last Great Time War, a conflict between his own people and the evil Dalek Empire. In 2013, fans learned that the Doctor directly joined this war only after undergoing a special form of regeneration, one designed to make him a “warrior” who would do things and make compromises he normally wouldn’t under the same circumstances. This special incarnation, played by John Hurt and listed in the credits as the War Doctor, appeared on screen for a few moments in one episode and then starred in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.” But in that special, he was in his final hours and had no more battles to fight. We didn’t really get to see how he was different from the Doctor. Thanks to Big Finish Productions, that has changed.
“I don’t need to know your name to know who you are… You’re a good man. That’s all that matters.”
“I do what is necessary. That’s not the same thing as being good.”
Big Finish, which has produced the officially licensed Doctor Who audio plays (and many spin-offs) since 1999, has provided fans with the untold tales of the War Doctor. The first mini-series Only the Monstrous, released in December 2015, stars John Hurt and finally delves into the character, showing fans old and new just how his incarnation is different from the Doctor in his other lives. This is not the absent-minded, childish scientist who hopes to “make people better” wherever he goes and explores for the sake of exploration. This is a rough-edged, ill-tempered, serious man, a reluctant warrior who cynically accepts that he was literally created for war but refuses to enjoy violence. When he is asked for a name, he refers to himself only as No One or “a monster.” He is an incarnation created to be different than what his core says, to do things the Doctor wouldn’t, and so has no desire to connect to that name.
“I’m steeped in the blood of it all. It’s my reason for being. To do the unthinkable. To do what is necessary to bring this whole sorry chapter of cosmic history to an end, one way or another. In short… I’m a monster.”
These stories have an atmosphere unlike the usual Doctor Who fare. Along with the War Doctor’s cynical pragmatism, there is an air of death and warfare all around. There’s no room for anyone to joyfully muse where the Doctor’s ship might take the characters and audience next. No new companions will be joining the hero to discover unlimited possibilities. There is the war and that is all. Even the War Doctor’s version of the Doctor Who theme song reminds you of this, sounding like a military anthem complete with war drums.
“Stop asking questions! I can’t bear all the questions! That’s why I gave up taking you people with me… I’m sick of explaining all the bad news.”
While the Doctor normally finds some optimistic hope even in the most dire of situations, and will remark about how humanity and altruism are constant lights in the darkness, the War Doctor is harder to convince. His instinct is to consider that he has met more genocidal conquerors than true heroes across his lives, yet despite this attitude he still fights for life and there are some principles he won’t compromise. If he finds that his own people, the Time Lords, will cause more damage than good in their efforts for victory, then he is ready to fight them too.
Most of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios deal with the first eight incarnations of the Doctor and can be a little continuity heavy at times, relying on some knowledge of the classic series. Interestingly, while knowledge of the classic series will certainly help you recognize certain easter eggs and references, it is not necessary at all to enjoy the adventures of the War Doctor. If all you know about the Doctor comes from watching the modern series, these audio plays will be fine for you to follow. Only the Monstrous does a great job of introducing you to this unique incarnation and the war he was made to fight, and it sets things up nicely for the great follow up miniseries. Go to BigFinish.com and check it out!