One of the fallouts of my bad mood was that I haven't been keeping up here. I posted a story and got a lot of nice comments, and completely could not bring myself to reply to them. I finally got to them today, just a few minutes ago, and I want to add here, thank you all so much for reading and for commenting! And I'm sorry for being a flake.
The improvement in mood has brought a resurgence in my interest in writing. I finally had a breakthrough in the plot of one story - I'd been working on bits and pieces of it for a while but it didn't flow at all - and now I've almost got the entire thing down. It feels really good to write again.
I've finally got a chance to listen to audios again and I've picked up Gallifrey series five, partly because the Gallifrey Time War series has come out and I really want to hear those. It's not that I don't like Gallifrey, because I really do, but it's a lot heavier than regular Doctor Who and takes a lot more attention, so I've been making my way through it slowly.
I don't really know how to rate series 5. I'm enjoying the individual stories, but... To really explain it, it takes a bit of backstory and spoilers.
The Gallifrey series was originally envisioned as a West Wing-style political drama centered around two strong female characters, Lady President Romana and her bodyguard and friend Leela, and it succeeded very well. The first three series centered around Romana, the leftist idealist, trying to bring conservative Gallifrey out of its isolationist torpor, and her opponents attempting to wrest political power from her. This is also where the Free Time virus is introduced: created by a terrorist organization that wants Gallifrey to release control of time to the rest of the universe, it infects Time Lords and remains hidden until the Time Lord dies. When he regenerates, the virus hijacks the regeneration and turns the Time Lord into a zombie. Thus, over time, the Free Time virus will wipe out the Time Lords.
At the end of series 3, the Free Time virus is rampant on Gallifrey and Romana, Leela, and Narvin flee the planet with the help of Braxiatel, who takes them to the Axis, a dimension outside of normal space-time that has portals into alternative timelines. Series 4, then, is about the four of them going to alternative Gallifreys to either find a new home or discover a cure for the Free Time virus. I enjoyed series 4 a lot because we got to see many different ways Gallifrey could have gone. For example, in one, Rassilon had become a Great Vampire, converted much of the population, and enclosed the planet in darkness; Romana, Leela, Brax, and Narvin arrived just before the vampires were about to eradicate the last true Gallifreyans. (In the interviews after the series, they said they had originally planned to have Romana, Leela, and Narvin be each thrown into separate universes and wake up as that universe's version of the character and they would each have their own adventure trying to figure out who they were and get back to the prime universe, but that was the year that "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood" came out, and they threw out that idea, not wanting to be accused of copying the TV show.)
In the last episode of series 4, Romana, Leela, and Narvin come to a savage, backstabbing Gallifrey headed by President Romana and Chancellor Narvin, and in the course of the story, both of that universe's characters get killed and prime Romana and Narvin are forced to take their place - otherwise the government would fall. They are able to avert the looming crisis, but in the process, their access to the Axis is lost and they are trapped in that world. Thus, series 5 is about them trying to civilize this Gallifrey while they search for a way to return home and find a cure for the virus.
As I noted before, the individual stories in series 5 are fine, full of all the intrigue and politics that the previous series did so well. The problem I have is an overwhelming sense of futility. This isn't our Gallifrey, and I honestly don't care how this Gallifrey turns out. There are a couple of recurring characters through the series, but the focus is on Narvin and Romana, so nothing has encouraged me to worry about them. (They're largely unsympathetic as well.) We know that our Gallifrey didn't succumb to the Free Time virus, so Romana, Narvin, and Leela must return somehow and fix everything. (Or someone did, but I can't imagine there's a story in some other Big Finish series that solved the problems that Gallifrey created.) In other words, I know how this is going to turn out, so can we get on with it already?
I do understand how difficult it is to instill a sense of urgency and importance in a story set in the middle of an established timeline. After all, that's what Gallifrey is all about - what's happened on the planet pretty much since "The Five Doctors" (well, okay, not quite) up until the Last Great Time War. The ascendancy of Pandora threatened to destroy the current government and institute a monarchy on Gallifrey, but though we knew that she ultimately wouldn't succeed, the journey was fun, because we got to see how Romana eventually won (and how she didn't...) and we cared about the outcome. Series 5 and its alternative Gallifrey just doesn't have that draw.
That's not to say that there aren't some great things going on in these audios. One thing that pleases me is a greater focus on Narvin, one of my favorite characters. With Leela largely out of the way (when they got trapped in that universe, she left Romana to go live among the Outsiders) and Braxiatel completely gone, Narvin has gotten a larger role as the Lord Chancellor. Perhaps I like him because he's a more developed, stronger Turlough.
Another character that made me happy was Valyes. In the prime universe, he was a doddering old fool, and the version of him in the alternate universe was exactly the same, so much so that I decided he's got to be a traitor, and a competent one, to give that actor something a lot more meaty to do. I was right. :)