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The Heart of the Battle was the third and final audio story in the anthology Only the Monstrous, produced by Big Finish Productions. It was written by Nicholas Briggs and featured John Hurt as the War Doctor and Jacqueline Pearce as Cardinal Ollistra.

Publisher's summary Edit

Trapped in a citadel swarming with Daleks, the Time Lord rescue force must find a way to overcome insurmountable odds. With the Daleks apparently planning to rule the Null Zone, perhaps their thirst for universal conquest and victory has been quenched...

The War Doctor doesn't believe so — but how can he prove it without destroying any chance of peace?

As the countdown to the destruction of Keska proceeds, a deadly choice must be made... A choice that will define this Doctor, and perhaps forever cast him in the role of "monster".

Plot Edit

In a flashback during the Taalyen invasion of Keska, Rejoice tries to argue her father out of going to negotiate with the Taalyens and Daleks.

In the present, Veklin and Bennus, are still navigating the service shafts of the command centre, when they hear the Daleks chanting “Peace in our time”. Upstairs, Traanus confronts the Doctor and Seratrix (and Rejoice with them) and mocks them for trying to make peace with the Daleks. Seratrix succeeds in getting them out of the room; Veklin finds that the Doctor, Seratrix, and Rejoice are on the move. She begins to prepare demolition charges as well.

Seratrix, the Doctor and Rejoice meet in what used to be Thran’s quarters; she gets emotional over her father's fate, but reins it in. Seratrix won’t let the Doctor stop the drilling mechanism; there is about an hour until it reaches the planet’s core. He is quite serious about trying to make peace with the Daleks, believing the Time War cannot be won. The Doctor is appalled by the plan; while Seratrix does make a compelling case, it’s not a sound plan given what the Doctor knows and considering his past form with the Daleks. Meanwhile, Veklin and Bennus climb a service shaft to get to Seratrix’s group.

In arguing their points, Seratrix points out that the Doctor was involved with the very beginning of the war, and fought the Daleks long before the war. Rejoice tells the story of how the Taalyens killed her father and his diplomatic team by flying their ship into the sun, and she castigates Seratrix for his plan.

Seratrix reveals that the Time Lords gave the Daleks the weapon that created the Null Zone, in response to the Doctor’s use of the Time Destructor to destroy the Dalek time fleet. This was a gesture of good faith toward their peace intentions. Veklin breaks in with Bennus and tells Seratrix she is there to rescue him, but he doesn’t want to be rescued. Seratrix insists Ollistra supports the plan, but that isn’t what Veklin and company were told and the Doctor wonders why they’ve all been sent there.

However, they are interrupted by the explosion of Veklin’s charges, which temporarily disrupt the Dalek sensors and communication. Bennus reveals that he is on Seratrix’s side, as was Arverton, and pulls a gun on them. Seratrix admits he is going to turn them all over to the Daleks for the sake of the peace efforts and orders Bennus to shoot Rejoice to stop Veklin from extracting him, prompting Veklin to say she will kill Seratrix if he does. The Doctor intervenes in the flurry of threats, despite Rejoice’s willingness to die to stop Seratrix. The Daleks send another squad to destroy the Time Lords.

Seratrix explains that the plan of the Daleks is to put hyperdrives in all the thousand worlds and move them to create a defended border around the null zone. The Doctor counters that the Daleks don’t do defensive; they only attack because they irreversibly believe all life to be inferior to them and he suggests he can prove the Daleks are up to something worse. Seratrix gets Bennus to stand down; he and Veklin agrees to give the Doctor one chance. A Dalek break in and Bennus shoots it. They flee toward the old council chamber which is now the Dalek control centre, fighting Daleks and Taalyens along the way. Traanus gets a report about the Time Lords and goes to interfere.

Near the control centre, they manage to cut communications with the drill apparatus, which is approaching the core. The Doctor and company walk into the control centre and face the Daleks and Prime Dalek. The Doctor bluffs that the attacks weren’t made by them but by other Time Lords; he says they are there as part of Seratrix’s team to help restore communications with the drill. He calls himself John Smith and Seratrix is forced to play along. The Doctor and Veklin start to work and restore communications and the sensors. Unbeknownst to the Daleks, Veklin is also strategically placing demolition charges. With that done, Seratrix asks for clarification of the Dalek plan. The Daleks call the plan as Seratrix said, but the Doctor elaborates that the surfaces of the planets will be destroyed in the process; the Daleks say the inhabitants will receive alternate living arrangements. Meanwhile, Traanus approaches the control centre.

The Doctor pulls up a schematic which shows that the real plan is to launch the thousand worlds at fifty times the speed of light at Gallifrey, utterly destroying it. Seratrix still tries despairingly to plead for peace but is exterminated by the Daleks. Before they can fire on the others, Veklin sets off the charges, which destroy the pathweb that lets the Daleks communicate; the relevant overload deafens and overwhelms the Daleks, knocking them out. The Doctor says this allows the Keskans to retake their world and destroy the Daleks; however that will still leave the Taalyens to deal with.

The Doctor re-establishes communication with the drill again, and contacts Garv, who, along with others, is aboard the drill. Traanus breaks in and confronts them, willing to kill them even at the cost of his life, but when Rejoice points out the Daleks’ real plan, he rethinks his willingness to sacrifice all the Taalyens. He lets the Doctor proceed communion with the drill crew.

Garv knows the only way to stop the drill is to blow it up before it reaches the core. It will cause surface disruptions, but most of the population will survive. However, it requires a signal from the control centre to release control to the on-board crew. The Doctor wants to save Garv and his crew but he knows he can’t. Traanus mocks him for his indecision but the Doctor states that he’s known he is a monster already and only a monster would make this decision. Rejoice, affectionately, offers to do it in his place and take the guilt, but the Doctor refuses and presses the button, relinquishing control to the drill. Garv says his grateful goodbyes to the Doctor and then blows up the drill.

The Doctor comments on Seratrix’s plan, and admits it was hopeful, but misguided. Traanus mocks him again and tries to kill the Doctor with a knife. Rejoice tackles him and takes the blow instead. Incensed, the Doctor orders Veklin and Bennus to hold Traanus so that he can stab him in retribution, inciting more mockery; Veklin stops him. As the Doctor’s rage fades, Traanus suggests the Doctor’s punishment for his weakness is to live. However, it’s short-lived, as a Battle TARDIS, piloted by Ollistra, appears around them, whisking them away.

Ollistra dismisses Veklin, who is outraged that she doesn’t understand how this was done; TARDISes shouldn’t be able to operate in the Null Zone. She orders Veklin to forget everything, on pain of dematerialisation. The Time Lords are currently wiping out the relatively-underpowered Daleks and their Taalyen allies. Without time travel technology, the Daleks are disadvantaged; Ollistra agrees it is a massacre, but not of the innocent.

Ollistra explains to the Doctor that she engineered all this because she couldn’t risk allowing Seratrix’s plans for peace to contaminate the rest of the population. So she gave Seratrix the null zone weapon with a backdoor built in and sent him undercover for this purpose, so that he would ultimately be removed. Bennus and Arverton were his agents; but when the Doctor prevented their deaths at Omega One, she was forced to think the Doctor may be as well. Therefore she arranged this mission to get rid of them all; now, she has shut down the Null Zone weapon and the Time Lords are cleaning up the operation. Seratrix will be a martyr and the Doctor’s real loyalties were proven; Veklin, loyal to Ollistra, would have been unfortunate collateral damage. Despondent, the Doctor considers Ollistra bloodthirsty; her plan, though successful, still wove death and destruction over a thousand worlds.

Ollistra takes him to a beautiful pastoral world, informing him that it is Keska in the future. The planet has healed and the memory of the war is now mostly forgotten. A memorial to Rejoice stands and she is considered a symbol of peace and hope among the Keskan people. Ollistra doesn’t know if she survived her stabbing, though. Still, she chides the Doctor for thinking himself sympathetic and forgetting that he, like all Time Lords, is a warrior.

His TARDIS buried where they stand, the Doctor summons it to the surface with his sonic screwdriver. He tells Ollistra goodbye and says he hopes he never sets eyes on her again. Still, she is glad he is on their side and will fight to the end. He admits it but says he doesn’t feel the need to enjoy it. She wants to know where she can find him, should she require him again. In response, he says "At the heart of the battle, where the blood of the innocents flow, and only the monstrous survive..."

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