As Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Once And Future series nears its close, our ailing Time Lord hero is continuing to fight off the effects of the degeneration weapon which has caused them to flit backwards – and, more recently, forwards – through their own lifespan. However, nobody would have expected a move sideways to take place. The very latest chapter – ‘Time Lord Immemorial’ – presents us with a Doctor, but probably not the one we were expecting…
As time is figuratively running out for the Doctor, it appears that it may also be literally running out too, as the sands of time are slipping away, and the nature of existence itself is threatened. The Doctor – now having settled temporarily in the form of Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation – arrives at a juncture between realities, leading to a chance encounter with another Doctor (David Warner), as the boundaries that divide one universe from another start to fall. The Doctors find themselves at a place which should only exist in legend: the Hall of the Time Lord Immemorial.
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An important clue about the foundation of the degeneration weapon that was used on our Doctor presents itself, as they find themself a step nearer to finding out what caused their present instability. Unexpected help may be at hand, in the form of an old friend, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker). However, she finds herself in dire peril as her brief sojourn on an alien world takes a deadly turn, as sand comes to life and swallows people whole. Liv’s only apparent hope comes in the form of a mysterious figure, the Lumiat (Gina McKee), who seems to know the Doctor from way back. They need to team up with the Doctors before the multiverse is destroyed…
Only a few short years ago, just the very idea of Christopher Eccleston ever returning to the role of the Doctor seemed a fanciful notion. Fortunately, Big Finish managed to win him over, so not only is he now back – albeit on audio only – but he is also part of the company’s 60th anniversary celebration of Doctor Who, and how glorious it is. Eccleston’s antipathy towards multi-Doctor stories would have put the kibosh on a more conventional commemorative shindig, but fortunately for us, the big brains at Big Finish have found a way to give us Eccleston appearing alongside another incarnation, but in a way no-one could have anticipated.
Way back when, Big Finish did a series of ‘what if?’ audios – Doctor Who: Unbound – in which we saw new and alternate takes on the Time Lord, outside the confines of existing TV continuity. This series brought us David Warner as a parallel version of the Doctor who hailed from another reality, and he returns here for a bittersweet swansong, which was recorded a short time before he sadly passed away in July 2022. This is surely as fine a coda as you could ever hope for when it comes to Warner’s Unbound Doctor, and in bringing him over to the series proper, especially for marking such a special occasion, it also acts as a fitting tribute to a fine actor.
Warner was reputed to not be a huge fan of sci-fi or fantasy, which is ironic considering just how much of his repertoire consists of entries from those particular genres. Even just a cursory glance at his acting CV shows how ubiquitous he was in those realms, appearing in everything from Time Bandits and Tron, to Babylon 5, Star Treks V and VI, as well as in The Next Generation, and also Doctor Who, to name but a small selection of his work. Warner will surely be sadly missed, but he does at least go out on a high in ‘Time Lord Immemorial’, and his interaction with Eccleston is a joy to behold, the pair clearly having a whale of a time.
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With Eccleston having worked with Warner previously, the former also has another homecoming here, being reunited with Our Friends In The North star Gina McKee, who proves to be an absolute revelation as the Lumiat. Her feisty, playful performance lifts things – already at an elevated level – yet further, and Lisa McMullin’s script wrong-foots you as to the Lumiat’s identity and intentions, as well as just what role the character has to play in proceedings. McKee actually makes such a strong impression here, you actively hope she gets a return appearance as the Lumiat, as it seems there is plenty of potential to explore.
While Once And Future can hardly be accused of slacking in terms of scope or ambition, ‘Time Lord Immemorial’ really manages to pull out all the stops, both in terms of managing to play with the programme’s mythology in some new and interesting ways, and also in its assembling an impressive supporting cast. Besides Warner and McKee, we have Nicola Walker reprising her Big Finish role as audio companion of the Eighth Doctor, Liv Chenka, and – playing the Time Lord Immemorial himself – Robert Powell. You could perhaps be forgiven for thinking when you listen to this audio that the night sky will be darker than usual, as there are so many big stars turning up here.
For Big Finish to deliver such a strong episode so close to the end of Once And Future shows they are not going to just rest on their laurels and coast into the finale, and will keep up the momentum. ‘Time Lord Immemorial’ is an ideal memorial to not just a distinctive take on our familiar Time Lord, but also a much-loved as well as sorely missed member of the acting profession. Good night, sweet prince.
Doctor Who: Once And Future – ‘Time Lord Immemorial’ is out now from Big Finish.