“Weapon of Choice” is the first in the Gallifrey range of Big Finish audios. I don’t know if it’s significant or not, but the Gallifrey range does not bear the name Doctor Who, possibly because the Doctor isn’t a main character in this line (perhaps he appears sometimes, but I’m not going to comment on that now). The series, as far as I know, is set mainly on Gallifrey (surprise!) and is centered around Lord President Romana and the politics of the High Council. I’ve been looking forward to listening to his range for a good two to three months now, and I finally received the CDs for the first three series in the mail (they weren’t available for download), and well, here we go!
Spoilers, of course, though more about the general series itself than the episode.
There’s a bit of backstory that comes out in the episode that you need to know. In order to oversee time, the Time Lords form a coalition called the Temporal Powers between them and three other time-sensitive races, whose names I can’t remember except for the Monans. As you can probably expect, there’s a lot of political maneuvering between the races, as each has its own goals and schemes, but the big point is that the Time Lords aren’t the only ones watching over the universe anymore. One of the things that the coalition did was establish a planet where lesser races were sent if they attempted unauthorized time travel. (Not the whole race, just the individuals who were involved.) The planet’s name is Gryben, and when the coalition investigates the offending people’s case, if the people do not agree to abandon their pursuit of time travel, they are confined to Gryben for the rest of their lives. Thus, Gryben is a rather lawless place, full of multiple species just trying to survive. Among those people, a group of dissidents called Free Time have arisen, trying to rebel against the Time Lords and their allies to obtain the right to use time as they want.
At the beginning of the episode, a Free Time dissident steals an experimental weapon called a Timonic Fusion Device and takes it to Gryben. This was a device that the Time Lords had once tried to build but found that it was too dangerous and unstable and had abandoned it, and they had thought that all knowledge of it had been eradicated, but obviously not. The other Temporal Powers don’t trust the Time Lords, that their intentions were noble (after all, the only way anyone could have built one now would be if the Time Lords were behind it, right?), and Romana has to get the weapon back. She sends a CIA agent named Torvald, Leela, and K9 to the surface of Gryben to infiltrate the Free Time movement, and there they find an even more sinister plot hatching.
The story itself was interesting and compelling, but what really made the episode was that it set up Gallifrey and its politics. Personally, I don’t know much about the Time Lords other than what I’ve seen in the TV show, but there’s a huge history and storyline going on there, and it is fascinating learning about it. So here’s a bit of the characters and setup.
The thing about the Time Lords as we’ve seen in the TV show and audios is that they’re imperious, conservative, and so absolutely sure they’re doing the right thing. They do have a reason to be this way, of course, since it was revealed in “Zagreus” that Rassilon decided what the future until the end of the universe should be, and so their defense and maintenance of the Web of Time boils down to making sure that what Rassilon chose is what happens. They’re used to being the overlords of the universe and expect that everyone will accede to them. With this coalition of Temporal Powers, though, they’ve ceded some of their power to other races, and now they have to work together with them.
Romana is at the center of this. She’s a strong, clever Time Lady, but it’s very obvious that she’s learned from the Doctor to see things from other angles and to consider other viewpoints, to care about things other than the rules that Rassilon laid down and the glory and power of the Time Lords. As Lord President, she walks a fine line of setting Time Lord policy while also trying to change Time Lord attitudes towards what she feels is a better path. She’s a fascinating character, because she doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace the Doctor’s ideals (and that’s a good thing, by the way: the Doctor is as insane as the Master, by Time Lord standards [and to be honest, by human standards as well], and his beliefs and motivations are not what Time Lord policy should be based on), but she definitely incorporates some of his viewpoint into hers while maintaining her own steely personality and values.
Then there’s Coordinator Narvin. He’s the head of the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency), which is a secretive organization dedicated to preserving the Web of Time at pretty much any cost. They do the things that the Time Lords can’t be seen to do, due to their non-intervention policy. Narvin advises Romana, but he is a straightforward action type, often unable to grasp the political maneuvering that surrounds the Lord President and the Temporal Powers.
Cardinal Braxiatel rounds out Romana’s inner circle. From the audio itself, you can tell that he’s a wise Time Lord, someone who knows what’s going on throughout Time Lord society, and has extensive knowledge of history. An interesting tidbit that is not mentioned in the audio (but you would know if you were familiar with other audios, particularly the Bernice Summerfield line) is that Braxiatel is the Doctor’s older brother, and has always been fascinated with exploring the universe and investigating history, though he approached the idea very differently from his younger brother. Romana relies on him for advice, as she knows that he’s got his fingers everywhere (like Petyr Baelish in A Song of Fire and Ice, though not greedy or amoral).
Lastly, we have Leela, the Sevateem human and former companion of the Doctor who left him and remained on Gallifrey to marry the Time Lord Andred. In this episode, Leela is trying to find her path after Andred vanished without a trace. She interpreted the Time Lords’ claim that they didn’t know what happened to him as a lie and began to distrust them. Romana convinces her to go on this mission for them, and afterward, became Romana’s bodyguard. She provides a straightforward, honest, and blunt foil to the maneuverings of the Time Lords.
With these four characters driving Gallifreyan politics and relations with the other Temporal Powers, the Gallifrey range holds quite a bit of promise of drama and adventure that’s far different from the regular Doctor Who fare, and I’m very much looking forward to all of this storyline.