The Time Lords are more interested in fighting among themselves in four stories of plots and counter-plots
As large as it looms in the modern Doctor Who mythos, depicting the Time War itself has always been a task fraught with difficulties. Most properly it should be an obscene, unknowable, tangle of chaos and fear. Time War stories should really be the sort of fare that would leave David Lynch at the end credits, spluttering confused noises. Understandably there’s not much market for plots that make no sense at all. So instead Time War stories tend to be more stand up shooting war affairs, full of laser gun battles and strategic intrigues. Time Lords being Time Lords, of course, there’s a lot of intrigues and political maneuvering to go around. In fact, Gallifrey War Room: Manoeuvres seems ultimately named for Cardinals Ollistra and Rasmus’ machinations against each other rather than anything on the field of battle.
Meanwhile, Narvin’s Resistance is another cook in the Time War kitchen. As noble and heroic as their aims may be, trying to win the war without stooping to the extreme tactics of Rassilon and Ollistra, they still call to mind a third party voter, handing victory to the worst possible side rather than cast a vote for an imperfect one. Though there’s a lot of blame to go around in these four stories. The Daleks are largely sidelined, off conquering and enslaving the universe, while all three Time Lord factions engage in squabbles that seem increasingly petty.
Various factions become obsessed with the potential of new weapon Bolt, but their loss of perspective may be the point
The set is opened and closed by stories from Katharine Armitage. Both deal with the fate of the planet Orison, an old ally of Gallifrey’s which is protected from the war by a storm of Time Winds permanently encircling it. But those winds are caused by a fiery substance, Bolt, which flows freely through the world’s river network. In Collaborators Rasmus believes it can power the Time Lords’ next great superweapon and wants Leela and the General to help negotiate terms for exporting 50% of it off world. Ollistra and Velkin, naturally, have more ruthless ambitions. Meanwhile, the Resistance have arrived to stop anyone from getting their hands on it.
We circle back to Orison in Ambition’s Debt. By now the Daleks, too, enter the game with plans of their own for Bolt. While Ollistra’s traps within games within schemes within plans are about to either pay off magnificently or blow up in her face. In a way Artimage stands on a similar knife edge with her scripts. If Rasmus’ proposed weapon really was a game changer, the Time War’s version of the A Bomb, the extreme lengths and sacrifices seen here would make sense. As it is, Bolt will simply make Time Lord stasers go ‘PEW! PEW!’ instead of ‘pew! pew!’
But perhaps this is a deliberate commentary on Time Lord single-mindedness. Getting one up on each other becomes an end to itself. All perspective on the actual value of the objective being lost might well be the point of these stories. Even the Daleks’ grotesque plans for Bolt, once revealed, feel like they were pulled from a filing cabinet marked “Really Nasty Stuff to Pass the Time on a Boring Day,” rather than something to actually change the course of the war.
The addition of the General’s naive young niece Cresta adds another colour to the War Room’s palette
Sandwiched between the two are Remnants by Georgia Cook and Transference by Fio Trethewey. These middle episodes mainly concern themselves with introducing new cast member Cresta. Initially, a question mark hangs over the General’s decision to personally lead a contact mission to a far flung science whose check-in is overdue. But all becomes clear with the reveal that his niece Cresta is one of the research scientists there. In fact, she’s one of the sole survivors following an attack by a Beserker Dalek. A new threat that will quite happily exterminate her would be rescuers into the bargain.
Despite the build-up, it’s hard to pin down what supposedly makes it such an unique danger. It kills indiscriminately and is adept at using whatever it finds to hand to repair itself. Which does sound like your basic Dalek.Though the engaging and chirpy Cresta plays a crucial enough role in finally destroying it that she wins herself a place as the General’s aide in the War Room.
She’s a fun idea for a character, and beautifully played by Faith Omole. Notably, she’s a young woman whose main experience of the war so far has obviously been through rousing propaganda films. Though by the end of Manoeuvres, her eyes have begun to open the true horrors of war.
For all Ollistra’s talk of being the one ready to make ‘hard choices,’ it’s never been clearer that she goes out of her way to choose the cruelest path possible
That process begins with Transference. The Time Lords are navel gazing once again over control of some new technology that will give them the thinnest edge. This time it’s the invention of an old Academy friend of the General’s niece. But he’s shot and forced to regenerate just as he’s about to demonstrate it, the device stolen. Helico and his sister also happen to be Narvin’s cousins, prompting a dangerous return visit to the Capitol by the renegade Time Lord. This does seem like an unlikely collection of coincidences. But then again, Gallifrey seems to be coordinating an entire Time War with five people, one table, and no chairs. So perhaps it really is a small world after all.
Transference also sees Ollistra at her most cruel and sadistic. Though it’s a recurring them throughout Manoeuvres. For all her talk of ‘hard choices’ and being willing to do anything and everything to win the war, there’s no doubt that throughout this set she goes our of her way to cause as achieve her aims by the most painful way possible. Ultimately, it may even answer one of War Room’s most vexing questions. Why do they even keep Leela around when she takes every opportunity to betray her? True believers like Velkin may be terribly useful. But there’s no pleasure in slowly crushing their spirit like with the unwilling Leela.
By the end of Manoeuvres it’s not a question of if the War Room will fall apart but when
It is fascinating, too, to see the once Janus thorn happy Leela evolve into the most Doctorish character amongst a cast of Time Lords. It’s her that attempts to be neither cruel nor cowardly, and to find another way when she can. But even she feels compromised, having to lie and cheat to maintain her place as an agent of the Resistance. Indeed, the entire War Room cast of characters feel pushed to breaking point in one way or another. The General’s very particular version of honour is beginning to fracture, and while as convinced of her own righteousness as ever, even Ollistra frets she might not be ‘real.’ While, as a supposed team, the War Room are pulled in so many different directions by their competing agendas it seems unsustainable.
It’s one of the most intriguing things about the range. Two volumes in, Gallifrey War Room feels less like a concept for an ongoing series, and more like a ticking time bomb, begging our predictions for how it will inevitably explode, and where the world of Gallifrey will go next.
Gallifrey War Room: Manoeuvres
The War Room co-ordinates the fight against the Daleks, but there is a battle for control. Rival Cardinals Rasmus and Ollistra manipulate Leela, Veklin and the General, seeking Rassilon’s favour. And beyond Gallifrey, Narvin and the Resistance are making their own moves to stop the Time War…