This is the fifth and last chapter of series 3 of Gallifrey, chapter fourteen overall so far. But don’t worry, there are plenty more to go before we get to the end of this story arc.
Gallifrey has fallen victim to its own internal squabbles. The new President has banished Romana, and she returns to her ancestral home, Hartshaven. But Romana’s time is not yet done, and she is called to action once more, whatever the other timelords might think of her. It seems that the Free Time virus is still active, and may hold more surprises for the timelords. And what can the new President do about the cache of arms left by Pandora’s civil war? Enter an old foe, and a whole new set of problems for the residents of Gallifrey, as well as Leela and K-9.
This is another great chapter in the Gallifrey series. The characters are well-established, and those who have left, and those who have joined along the journey are really excellently portrayed. We have lost some old friends and enemies on the story so far, and some new friends (and enemies) have arrived. In this chapter of the story, we get a whole new blend of characters (which may sound enigmatic, but I don’t want to put spoilers), and there are plenty of surprises and twists in the story. All the core cast are doing an excellent job in their characters, and I look forward to series 4 of the Gallifrey chronicles.
'Panacea' suffers, even more than the rest of the series, from the attempt to make it 'relevant'. (How that is even possible, given that Time Lord society was pretty much invented on the hoof by Robert Holmes in 1977 is anyone's guess.) Essentially, Gallifrey and the society of the Time Lords are depicted as a more hi-tech version of early Twenty-First century Britain. In spite of being able to travel in time, simple things like tracking someone round the planet is beyond them and they have data recorders that sound like they use spooling tape, despite the millions of years head start. I would have like to have heard more of Heartshaven from the time when it was a timetots' idyll but it's degraded status serves as a handy metaphor for a time when Time Lords were, shall we say, more respected by their absence. Instead of a glimpse of a lost elysian, all we get is... Oh no. Mephistopheles Arkadian is back.
The politics is as exciting as you think it's going to be, that is, it isn't: complaints about procedure, references to the constitution, points of order. Fortunately, 'Panacea' actually has less of the politicking that smothers the rest of the series but a lot of the dialogue is not up to Alan Barnes usual high standard and the plot is a desperate rush to get everything tied up neatly by the end. The explanation for the whole Free Time business that's been running since the start of the series is no good either, designed, perhaps, to have you transfer your allegiance to the Bernice Summerfield range. But Panacea is at least quite fun and the ending ties it in with the Great Time War (either that of the BBC Eighth Doctor books or of the Eccleston/Tennant era or of both of them, take your pick). If only the rest of Series Three could have been as well-paced.
'Panacea' is as good a way as any to round off Gallifrey, even if that rounding off should have been done and dusted at the end of Series Two. If there is anyone, anyone at all, who knows all the links that exist between TV Doctor Who and 'Neverland'/'Zagreus' and the Gallifrey range and the Bernice Summerfield stories and lord knows what else, then Gallifrey Series Three has not been a waste of everyone's time. That the single person who holds that dubious honour is probably 'Panacea's' authot Alan Barnes, surely implies the contrary. Impressive, just not that entertaining and certainly not in the ramshackle spirit that created Doctor Who in the first place.
'Gallifrey' was one series too long. One had the feeling that, inspired by their own triumphs over the first two series, the production team just couldn't allow themselves to let go. Series Three has much more in common with other failed spin-offs than it does with its own previous outings. As in so many other of Big Finish's extra-Who ranges, it felt like a small cadre of people spinning their own little worlds but caring little for the paying public.