AUDIO DRAMA
Gallifrey
Chapter Nine - Imperiatrix

Starring: Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84435 125 4
Available 18 August 2005


Darkel has played her hand, the Free Time influence is spreading, and opposition to Romana's policies is mounting. When the bombs start going off, the President decides enough is enough. While Leela and K9 race to track down the terrorist and avoid more bloodshed, Romana enters into a risky bargain with a dangerous figure from her past...

Before I get on to Chapter Nine, the final instalment in this season, let's get one other thing out of the way. Yes, it's part seven in the ongoing series, "Richard attempts to reconcile the Gallifrey audios with the Doctor Who novels"!

Those of you who have grown tired of me rambling on about how this series might take place before the New Adventures novel Lungbarrow, or could possibly occur after it, will be relieved to know that I have finally abandoned this particular obsession. The death of Andred (Andy Coleman) in the previous instalment, Insurgency, while Leela (Louise Jameson) is still without child, means that Big Finish's Gallifrey-based audio dramas cannot possibly fit in anywhere between Romana's return to her home world in the New Adventure Blood Harvest and the planet's destruction in BBC Books' The Ancestor Cell.

(Nor is Andred's demise the last personal tragedy that Leela or Romana (Lalla Ward) have to face...)

However, this doesn't mean that the books and audios cannot all be part of a larger whole. Thanks to Outpost Gallifrey's Canon-Keeper's Guide to Doctor Who, I now see that the Eighth Doctor audios, and consequently the Gallifrey series that spun off from them, could take place after the BBC's Eighth Doctor novels. After all, we know that Gallifrey's existence is restored by some means or other at some point between The Gallifrey Chronicles and the Time War mentioned in the new television series.

I had resisted this notion for a while, because I preferred to assume that The Gallifrey Chronicles occurred close to the end of the Eighth Doctor's lifetime, and I felt that the notion of the planet being somehow "reset" to its pre-Lungbarrow condition was too contrived. However, I am now warming to the idea, because while the Eighth Doctor novels have ceased publication as a chronological series, the Eighth Doctor and Gallifrey audio dramas continue to move forwards. Therefore, it is more satisfying to treat the audios as the new adventures. This also allows the planet to "live a little" between its two annihilations.

(It could also explain why Braxiatel... No, leave it, Richard - that's a debate for another time!)

The Gallifrey Chronicles reveals that the planet's inhabitants are all stored, in super-compressed form, within the Doctor's mind. Though the author, Lance Parkin, wisely avoids stating exactly how Gallifrey is to be brought back into being, he reminds us that the companion Fitz once died but was "remembered" back into existence with the help of the TARDIS databank. Perhaps something similar, but on a planetary scale, could explain the resurrection of Gallifrey.

Just as certain bits of Fitz's memory were lost in the process, so too could aspects of Gallifrey. This might explain why Andred's familial House is given different names in Lungbarrow and Chapter Five - Lies. The fact that the world appears to have reverted to a pre-Lungbarrow state could be another error in the transfer, or it could indicate a deliberate bit of tweaking by the Doctor, returning the planet to a more hopeful time in its history.

Unfortunately, Gallifrey seems to be fated for a devastating war, albeit a civil one on this occasion, as this latest chapter dramatically demonstrates. Meanwhile, Romana appears destined for corruption. Her ruthless attitude in the audio drama Neverland echoed that of her third incarnation in the books The Shadows of Avalon and The Ancestor Cell. Lalla Ward manages to ramp her performance, which had already grown increasingly intense over recent CDs, up yet another notch.

Though we don't quite get the calamitous climax that we were perhaps led to expect (instead, this instalment sets the stage for the next series), elements from all four previous chapters in the current run are brought into play. These include an unlisted character that you probably weren't expecting to hear from again...

We also get a longer running time than usual, at no extra cost. In addition to a 100-minute episode, spread over two discs, there's a 45-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, featuring interviews with the cast and crew. This includes a sneaky peek at the third series, which director/producer Gary Russell reveals will probably be the last.

In terms of both continuity and storytelling, it would seem that the planet of the Time Lords has a fair bit of life left in it, even though its days are numbered.

Richard McGinlay

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