Arrangements for War is the 57th release on Big Finish’s Doctor Who Main Range. It was written by Paul Sutton and came out in May 2004–less than a year before the show relaunched on TV. Even though these audios were released monthly, this one starring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor follows immediately not from the previous release (see here), but rather from Project: Lazarus, which was release #45 and which came out nearly a year earlier.
The connecting point with that earlier story is companion Evelyn Smythe, an original character to Big Finish, played by Maggie Stables. Her last couple of stories featured her dealing with the tragic death of young people, and brought up issues with her own mortality (it is revealed along the way that Evelyn has a heart condition which she has kept hidden from the Doctor). The Doctor’s ability to move on from these heart-breaking events angers Evelyn, fueling a drive to spend time on her own. Somewhat petulantly, she insists on the Doctor taking her someplace that she can enjoy in peace, without him. The Doctor complies by bringing her to Világ, a world which is apart to enter into a time of prosperity thanks to an arranged marriage between dignitaries of the two largest nations–a key event which will enable them to survive an alien invasion the Doctor knows is coming in the near future.
Of course, all the best-laid plans to find a place where no injustices have to be righted and no monsters fought all comes to nothing when the Doctor inadvertently changes things. This happens when he has a flippant conversation with a low-ranking soldier who is secretly in love with the betrothed princess, stirring him not to give up on his romantic dreams with the young royal. She loves him in return, and suddenly the arranged marriage is threatened, and as a result, the future of the entire world. It’s up to the Time-Lord and his companion to keep the worst from happening–but how can they do it if Evelyn refuses even to talk to the Doctor?
I found the central conceit of Arrangements for War to be contrived and annoying. The whole thing hinges, as I have said, on one conversation the Doctor has with someone, and then his complete inability to prevent that conversation from having devastating spill-on effects. Then the story becomes about the Doctor helping Princess Krizstina and Corporal Reid to carry on their affair in secret, something which the young lovers are completely inept at doing because their love seems makes them completely self-focused. Then on the course of the adventure they both die–with Reid this is reasonable but with the Princess it’s highly forced to get to the ending. Then the Doctor is told that actually his interference wasn’t so bad since even though it led to both of their deaths, at least they died together rather than living apart. There’s an adolescent quality to the whole thing which I find frustrating.
On the other hand, the character work with Evelyn is quite good. She has a romance with local government leader Rossiter which is quite believable, alongside her struggles to sort out her feelings about the Doctor. Her responses are not always mature but this makes sense in the context of where her character is at. Of course, at 51 I’m a lot closer in age to Evelyn than I am to Kriztina, so maybe this is all a reflection of my generation and stage in life!
Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are both good in this story, and so as their characters have made their peace at the end and are back to their travels, I’m looking forward to whatever is next. Gabriel Woolf is also good in this adventure as Rossiter–he’s better known in Doctor Who as one of the best villains of the classic ear, Sutekh the Destroyer from Pyramids of Mars.
One thought on “Doctor Who: Arrangements for War [Big Finish]”
Stories where the Doctor’s influences result in sad consequences for companions may become somewhat wearisome over time. But for all the dichotomy, between how the Doctor as a very old alien deals with it and how all the mortal human companions deal with it, it can still be interesting how the storytellers try to refresh it as with everything continually in Doctor Who. Thanks, Ben, for your review.