Arrangements For War by Paul Sutton

BF don't do "big" arcs. They want their releases to be as accessible as possible and not suffer from the impenetrability of the EDAs and the NAs. But they do do little arcs and "Arrangements For War" is more "arcy" than almost any "past Doctor adventure". Much of the character detail relies on the listener having heard "Project: Lazarus", which itself was a sequel to, and required knowledge of, "Project: Twilight". It was there that we learned of Evelyn's bad heart, it was there that she saw what she perceived as a callous and alien side to the Doctor's nature and it was those final events which drove the wedge between them that "Arrangements For War" strongly hints will be permanent. I don't have the BF website to hand so I don't know if Evelyn has long been confirmed as returning in the future but listening to AFW without any future knowledge would suggest she wasn't.

Future knowledge is, of course, a key element to the story. The Doctor knows what is going to happen because he's the Doctor and Evelyn knows because she still believes what he says. When a bit of friendly advice turns out to put the future in jeopardy the Doctor and Evelyn get dragged into the political machinations of the locals.

The story happens over the course of several weeks and the passage of time is very well conveyed by the use of audio montages of news broadcast sound bites. Much tedious explanation is avoided by this clever device and its all too real presentation makes it more believable. There is something strange about the Doctor being on television (or, as in "The Fearmonger" on the radio) instead of merely being involved with big events but on a small stage.

The guest cast are variable. The Princess treads a fine line between the traditional helpless damsel and the modern kick-ass chick, her beloved Marcus has a slightly wooden Scots accent (aliens should be English, don't they know that?) and the thug Pokol is straight out of Lock, Stock. On the other hand Philip Bretherton is as good as the scheming Plenipotentiary Suskind despite the part being a bit half heartedly written and Gabriel Wolfe as Rossiter is magnificent. His unique voice is every bit as good on audio as it was in Pyramids of Mars. It is a testament to his skills as an actor that the same voice which was so malevolent can now be so caring and gentle.

My only real qualm is that it is sometimes hard to know where everyone is at any given time. There are three countries bordering each other and the action moves between them. I dare say it would be possible to keep track if one kept a pen, paper and map to hand but listening to it in bed was a tad confusing. Not that it really matters - the three countries are all more or less the same. It's only each Kingdom's lone representative - the Princess, Suskind and Rossiter- which offers any kind of differentiation. But with travel so quick and easy between each state it isn't really important.

Nor is "good" and "evil". The approaching Killorans are evil (as far as we know) and Suskind is amoral but everyone else is just playing games with soldiers and politics. They have reasons, within that game, for opposing the Doctor and aren't to know any different because he's not allowed to tell them what is about to happen.

It's a very enjoyable story - don't be put off by the idea of a Doctor Who romantic tale. It's more of an allegory of 16th century politics played with twenty first century weapons. You know the outcome before it happens but there are twists along the way. The episodes are fairly long but it doesn't feel overly padded.

Before departing my pedantic streak insists that I ask why, when there is only one continent, the countries bothered developing navies? It was a throw away line of no consequence but it did make me wonder...