In the first of this month’s two Once & Future releases, the intriguingly titled “Time Lord Immemorial,” Big Finish has taken an unconventional departure from tradition. They’ve chosen not to align the release with the anniversary month, a decision that adds an air of unpredictability to the narrative landscape.
The Once & Future series, known for its narrative complexity, reaches new heights of intricacy in this particular instalment. While the previous episode featuring the Tenth Doctor managed to seamlessly integrate into the overarching storyline, “Time Lord Immemorial” feels somewhat hastily placed between its predecessor and the series’ culminating conclusion. This haste is palpable, and what’s more confounding is that the stakes of the plot far exceed those of the overarching narrative. Yet, they are treated almost as a mere aside.
Our journey commences with the Ninth Doctor, portrayed by the talented Christopher Eccleston, aboard the TARDIS, diligently pursuing “The Union,” an enigmatic clue from the previous instalment. Surprisingly, this time around, we are spared the chaos of incarnation-changing. The Doctor’s realisation of inhabiting an unfamiliar body dawns on the listener only as the story unfolds.
Curiously absent are the hints of other Doctor voices that have become customary in this series. However, the narrative introduces another Doctor, the Unbound Doctor, essayed by the accomplished David Warner, whose origins extend beyond our familiar universe into the realm of alternate realities, as witnessed during the Bernice Summerfield stories.
The meeting of these two Doctors precipitates a thought-provoking debate on the intricacies of TARDIS interiors. Their discourse, however, is abruptly interrupted by a mysterious entity composed of sand, its cryptic utterances forebodingly whispering of the “Sands of Time.” In response, the Doctors resolve to pursue this enigmatic trail.
Simultaneously, on a tranquil beach, we find Liz Chenka, played by Nicola Walker, sharing a moment of relaxation with an unexpected companion – The Lumiat, portrayed by Gina McKee. For those not attuned to the latest Missy box sets, The Lumiat occupies a unique space in the hierarchy of The Master, residing between Missy and the Sacha Dhawan version. Unlike her predecessors and successors, The Lumiat leans towards the side of good. Yet, their peaceful respite is abruptly shattered as they fall prey to the same enigmatic sand creatures that have infiltrated the TARDIS.
Speaking of the TARDIS, it materialises in the grand hall of the “Time Lord Immemorial,” a mythical locale at the heart of the multiverse. Here resides an all-powerful Time Lord, a veritable deity. Moments later, Liv and The Lumiat emerge through the sand creatures, but the group is swiftly dispersed. The Doctor and The Lumiat find themselves in a corridor adorned with vivid murals, each one narrating facets of their own lives. It’s in this surreal setting that The Doctor confronts her true identity and grapples with the notion of embodying a Master incarnation.
Surprisingly, despite its grand scope and the looming cataclysm of the multiverse, the narrative pivots around conversations, with a conspicuous absence of formidable adversaries. A nursery rhyme prophecy, reminiscent of the style often attributed to Steven Moffat, simplifies the plot’s trajectory: the characters will ultimately reach their destination and save the day, as anticipated.
It’s obvious that “Time Lord Immemorial” was penned with haste, seemingly shoehorned in after the Once and Future storyline had been finalised. The potential of the Unbound Doctor and The Lumiat, both characters with intriguing dimensions, remains completely underutilised. The Unbound Doctor, a figure previously explored in the “Doctor Who Unbound” series, delves into “What If?” scenarios for the Doctors. The Lumiat made her debut in “Missy: The Lumiat” and was also featured in the multi-master narrative “Masterful.”
“Time Lord Immemorial” introduces a compelling premise of a collapsing multiverse, but channels it into a narrative where characters predominantly engage in dialogue. They are guided by a nursery rhyme prophecy, while the Once and Future narrative itself experiences limited progression.