Retrospective: Big Finish’s Gallifrey Series 5

There’s no place like home. That’s what some people like to say, and for the Doctor, that’s something that’s very true indeed.

Since 2005, we’ve heard the story of the great Time War that wiped out not only the Doctor’s entire race, the Time Lords, but also seemingly put an end to his home planet, Gallifrey. But what happened before the planet fell, before the Doctors teamed up to commit the final act of the Time War, freezing Gallifrey in Cup-a-Soup? Big Finish has spent over a decade filling us in on the juicy details of what took place in the constellation of Kasterborous and with Gallifrey Series 5, the very dramatic and very satisfying endgame began to appear on the horizon.

Following on from the events of Gallifrey Series 4, Leela (Louise Jameson), Romana (Lalla Ward), and Narvin (Seán Carlsen) have settled on an alternative version of Gallifrey. But it’s not quite the home planet that they remember: there’s no time travel as yet and therefore the Time Lords are simply ‘Regenerators’ and there’s a lot of work to be done in political office by Romana who holds the alternative Presidential title of Supreme Leader of Gallifrey. The Gallifrey that we are offered here is in its early days but all that does is enable the listener to enjoy the unfolding story of how ‘our’ Gallifrey might have come into being.

However, things aren’t going to be easy for Romana and her exiles; with her and Narvin ruling New Gallifrey from the heart of the capitol, Leela now lives as an Outsider in the wastelands of Gallifrey with the former slaves she has freed. The three have no hope of returning home to their version of Gallifrey, the one that we know and love, and besides which, Romana and Leela have parted company after a difference of interests. Add to that mix the host of political enemies that Romana is steadily making during her term in office and you can guess that situations are going to start getting out of hand very soon.

Gallifrey Series 5 delivers three very strong and politically broad stories to enjoy. With Emancipation (written by James Peaty), there’s mystery and betrayal as well as the apparent rebuilding of Romana and Leela’s relationship; with Evolution (by Una McCormack), there’s new hope as Gallifrey’s scientists start to experiment with time; and finally in Arbitration, there is an exciting hostage situation style story with an ending to dribble over. The last is written by David Llewellyn (his first for Gallifrey), who’s more recently written the entirety of Gallifrey: Enemy Lines, the eighth series of this successful range.

Gallifrey - Enemy Lines

This boxset was released in February 2013, meaning it was nearly two years since we’d last been given the chance to enjoy the adventures of Romana and Leela, and Gallifrey Series 5 was well worth the wait. Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson are as brilliant as ever – Ward’s authority commits her character to one of Gallifrey’s most fondly remembered and most successful Presidents to preside over the Panopticon (whatever reality it may be). There may have been a few slip ups along the way, but Romana has been tutored by the Doctor and is corruption free. Leela also shines as she has spent much of her time committing herself to Gallifrey’s outsiders again: she’s caring, brave, bold and not afraid of any man on Gallifrey. Her political negotiations with Romana are some of the most electrifying scenes in all three stories offered here and given the fact that Romana can tend to be a bit of a high and mighty character to many of those around her, it’s glorious to see Leela able to hold her own around the Supreme Leader.

Many of you may be scratching your heads at the thought of Gallifrey Series 5, wondering if you should go back and catch up with the first four series to understand the story. Don’t worry however: Big Finish isn’t that kind of company. Whilst you can enjoy this box as part of a bigger, epic, vast, tremendous story, these three adventures are easily dipped into with choice dialogue and snippets of information dropped in at suitable points for the listener to catch up on past events.

This reviewer will admit to not having listened to Gallifrey Series 4 since its initial release in March 2011, but the most important information in deployed without taking away any momentum from these three self contained stories. This boxset is about this version of Gallifrey only and the production team have focused their fire to keep the pace fast and enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of the Gallifrey range already, then you won’t be disappointed by the newest offering with Series 5. If you’re new to the range then this can also be a great jumping on point to try something a little different form the expanded Doctor Who universe, or indeed, for anyone intrigued by further releases like Intervention: Earth and The Worlds of Doctor Who.

Because there are a lot of changes coming after Series 5 – there’s a bigger and worse threat coming to this Gallifrey – so get on board right now. It’s worth it.

Gallifrey Series 5 is out now, priced £25 on CD or £20 as a download on the Big Finish website.

(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in April 2013.)