I had earlier thought that Doctor Who audio stories from Big Finish were the end of the rabbit hole of fandom down which I had descended, but I was wrong. Further down, sitting on a metaphorical ledge of their own, is the Gallifrey series of audio stories. Season 1, with four episodes, and Seasons 2 and 3, with five episodes each, each at $8.15, are available on CD only (no downloads), which, with postage to the U.S., makes them a little pricey. Set, of course, in the Doctor Who universe but lacking a Doctor, this series features Lalla Ward’s character Romana, and Louise Jameson’s character, Leela, as unlikely allies in defending Gallifrey from various forms of intrigue. Both are aided by a K-9 unit (Mark I and Mark II, with an amusing rivalry of their own).
As Season 1 opens, Romana has become President of the High Council of Time Lords. Leela, having left the Fourth Doctor’s company on Gallifrey to marry Time Lord Andred, now faces the disappearance of her husband and is disenchanted with the rigidity of Time Lord society. Romana wants to include other species in Gallifrey’s control of time, receiving objections both from those who think the Time Lords should maintain control of timelines and from the “Free Time” movement, those who want time technology available to all. Romana is aided by her mentor Lord Braxiatel, opposed by Inquisitor Darkel, and vexed by Celestial Intervention Agency Coordinator Narvin, among others. As the narrative moves into Seasons 2 and 3, Romana’s rule is threatened and Gallifrey itself comes under attack.
Gallifrey faces various external threats, but the most determined opponents come from within. Time Lord society is filled with opportunists, back-stabbers, power-seekers, and mercenaries. Various characters start aiding one faction, only to switch sides - or appear to switch sides - at an opportune time.
Although some of the plots are interesting and the action is occasionally exciting, the series very much revolves around the political machinations among the Time Lords. It’s House of Cards without a charismatic schemer like Frank Underwood and without the sex scenes (but with lasers and the Matrix). Political junkies might find that more engaging than I did. In my view, a little of that goes a long way.
I was also somewhat put off by the two lead characters. Lalla Ward’s Romana, on television in the 1970s at least, came off as playful and enthusiastic, finding nearly as much delight in her adventures as Tom Baker’s Doctor did in his. Gallifrey’s deeper-voiced Romana exudes world-weariness, impatience with those who disagree with her, and an unseemly desire to maintain power. It’s hard to see the earlier character in the later one. Similarly, Leela - once Eliza Doolittle to the Doctor’s Henry Higgins, enthusiastically soaking up knowledge and culture even as she relies on her “savage” wits to save herself and the Doctor from tight spots - just seems miserable.
The writing occasionally sparkles, with good interchanges among the characters, and K-9’s deadpan delivery and tendency for interpreting statements too literally is as amusing as ever. I only wish that the storyline itself didn’t start sounding so repetitive as the bickering and political maneuvering rolled on.
The series continues with Seasons 4, 5, and 6. I have other audio adventures in my queue, so I don’t have to decide for a while whether to continue on with Gallifrey. The completist in me wants to finish what I started, but another part is indifferent to what comes next.