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Audio Review: Selected Short Trips
We’re back! You may have thought this site was abandoned–after all, the gaps between my posts are longer than the gaps between Doctor Who‘s television episodes–but here we are. Welcome!
Full disclosure, though: We’re not yet back to a regular schedule. Quite some time ago, we reached fifty episodes of the Monthly Adventures range of Doctor Who audio dramas; and ultimately I want to continue that range, along with some others (especially now that the Monthly Adventures range has ended). But, life is hectic, and that’s a commitment of time and energy that I can’t spare now. Eventually, maybe.
In the meantime, we’re looking today at a handful of Short Trips audio adventures, covering several Doctors and companions. These, too, are out of order; I chose selections based on what looked interesting at the time. If, eventually, we cover all of the Short Trips range, I’ll make sure that the links at the bottom of the relevant pages will give you the entries in the proper order.
But for now, let’s get started! Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t listened to the stories below. Continue at your own risk!
Sound the Siren And I’ll Come To You, Comrade
Written by John Pritchard; Read by Stephen Critchlow
The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive–unintentionally as always–in the Soviet Union, mid-1950s. Their landing site is in the middle of a test zone for a new weapon: The atomic bomb. Naturally the scientists in the area fear the very thing they’re developing, although the soldiers are much more confident. However, the bomb isn’t the only danger present; a monster lurks in the area, a monster that lives on the radiation–and they’ve just given it a feast.
Although certainly entertaining, I found Sound the Siren and I’ll Come to You, Comrade to be the weakest of today’s selections, to the point that I found it difficult to pay attention (you’ll notice that my spoilers up there don’t include the details of the ending–chiefly because I’ve forgotten some of them). Not that it’s a bad story; it just didn’t grab me. Your mileage may vary. While the setting is interesting, there’s not a lot to work with in terms of plot. There is some novelty in placing a story in the early days of the Cold War; but once you set off an atomic bomb, everything else fades into the background. Having a set piece that large removes weight from whatever events are taking place around it.
Continuity references: None to speak of. This story is fairly self-contained.
Written by James Swallow; Read by Nicholas Briggs
A retired Knight of Velyshaa, Kalendorf, has grown elderly; but still he remembers the war against the Daleks. Even when the rest of the planet seems to have moved on, he remembers. He frequently comes to the war museum, where he sits and thinks in front of a glass case containing three dead Daleks. As he broods on his past and his bitterness, he is unaware that one of the Daleks is not dead at all; indeed, it has monitored him while it gathers its minimal power, and it wants its last act to be one of defiance: Killing the man who killed so many Daleks in his time. Kalendorf is unexpectedly joined by the Eighth Doctor, nearing the end of his life. The Doctor reveals he is facing a choice, a moral dilemma (implied to be concerning the Last Great Time War). He and Kalendorf debate the morality of their respective causes–as the Dalek finds itself also facing a choice: Kill Kalendorf, or the Doctor? Both are great enemies of the Daleks. It chooses, and fires–just as a schoolchild on a tour runs in front of it, taking the shot. Kalendorf destroys the Dalek, then finds the child dead–and finds the Doctor gone, apparently having made his choice.
This story was originally published in print, in the Short Trips: Dalek Empire anthology. There’s a great deal of connection between this and other Dalek Empire stories, as well as other audios (all the way back to Big Finish’s first Doctor Who audio, The Sirens of Time). I have by no means read or listened to all the relevant material; however, one could almost consider Museum Peace to be a coda to those stories. As such it contains everything you need to appreciate it; its references to other works dangle out there as hooks for further reading and listening, but you aren’t obligated to follow them up. I like the portrayal of the Eighth Doctor here as old and tired; he’s not far from the man he will be in The Night of the Doctor. He fits right in with Kalendorf, who is now aged himself. The death of a child is a little extreme for Doctor Who, and a bit shocking, though not entirely unanticipated if you pay attention in the first half of the story. Overall, it’s sad and melancholy, and a little foreboding–but definitely a worthwhile listen.
Continuity references: Mostly to previous Dalek Empire events. The Doctor references two televised Dalek stories: The Daleks, and Genesis of the Daleks, making reference to the potential destruction of all Daleks. The Doctor previously met Kalendorf on the planet Zaleria; Kalendorf does not at first recognize him now, as that was in the Doctor’s seventh incarnation (Return of the Daleks). The Doctor knows his regeneration is coming soon (The Night of the Doctor). The Knights of Velyshaa are in the process of developing time travel, which will be realized in The Sirens of Time.
One more thing: The Doctor here mentions that he has an opportunity to destroy the Daleks completely, clearly referring to the events of the Time War. However, modern additions to the lore have rendered this unlikely. The story was first published (in print) in 2006, late enough to have established the existence of the war, but long before the War Doctor was known to exist. At the time, the assumption was that the Eighth Doctor was the one who ended the war (not even the Moment was known at that time). Of course we now know better–but the story still retains the line in which the Eighth Doctor admits to facing this choice.
Written by Jenny T Colgan; Read by Mark Strickson
This story is told in first person perspective, from the point of view of Vislor Turlough.
Turlough and Tegan have been verbally sparring for some time, especially regarding Tegan’s (fully justified) lack of trust in Turlough–who, unknown to the others, is under the influence of the Black Guardian. The Guardian wants Turlough to kill the Doctor; Turlough just wants peace. Therefore, when Turlough deliberately causes the TARDIS to land, Tegan is outraged. The Doctor and Nyssa, however, take it in stride; and Nyssa recognizes their landing place as the Gardens of the Dead, a cemetery world covered in dust that has a unique property: It shapes itself into the form of the beloved, departed dead, allowing the mourners to have a moment of closure. The Doctor refuses to go out into the dust, for personal reasons. However, Nyssa goes out, longing to see her father again; and Tegan follows. The Guardian prompts Turlough to kill the Doctor here, but Turlough resists. They quickly discover a kind of psychic parasite in the dust, which tries to use the dust to choke and kill the mourners. Turlough slips and allows Nyssa to know about the Guardian’s demand that the Doctor be killed; but before she can reveal it to the Doctor, she slips and hits her head. The parasite attacks first an old man nearby, then Nyssa, and at last the Doctor, forcing Turlough to make a choice. Defying the Guardian, he returns to the TARDIS, ultimately stumbling into a room that looks just like the gardens, but without the dust; there he finds a water hose, and sprays the dust away from the others, saving their lives. As the planet’s caretakers come in to clean up, the group departs in the TARDIS; fortunately for Turlough, Nyssa doesn’t remember anything of the day’s events.
I’m fond of the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS team, and especially of Turlough, who I feel is underrated as a companion. Therefore it was inevitable I was going to at least enjoy this story. It makes for an excellent followup to a previous Short Trip, The Toy, which was released the previous year, and focuses on Nyssa. Both stories address the topic of her grief regarding the Master’s takeover of the body of Nyssa’s father, Tremas. This time, though, we see it through Turlough’s eyes; and we see the full measure of the conflict he felt while trying to serve the Black Guardian. You get the impression he’s nearly at the turning point here, though the resolution of the story essentially allows him to put the choice off a little longer (the story takes place between Mawdryn Undead and Terminus, so actually closer to the beginning of Turlough’s arc). For all that the story concerns the Fifth Doctor, his role here is limited; were this an episode, it would be a Doctor-lite story. Still, it doesn’t suffer for that; the dynamic among Turlough, Tegan, and Nyssa is good enough to carry the story.
Continuity references: Just a few, but they’re major. There are several references to the events of Mawdryn Undead, especially with regard to Turlough’s deal with the Black Guardian. As well, Nyssa speaks at length regarding her father and the Master (The Keeper of Traken). The Black Guardian’s anger at the Doctor stretches back to the events of the Key to Time story arc.
Written by Ben Tedds; Read by Jacob Dudman
This story was the winning entry of the 2019 Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity, and can be downloaded for free from Big Finish’s website.
On Dowdonia, a man named Dracksil Forg specializes in ideas. He has made his fortune selling solutions to problems; but lately, perhaps having grown a little greedy, he has begun to cultivate a new clientele: Those who want to rule over others. Warlords and dictators come to him, and he sells them plans, which are inevitably successful…until suddenly they aren’t. It begins with one rather intimidating shark-headed customer, whose plan of conquest backfired spectacularly–but that’s only the beginning. Soon he realizes that there’s a common thread to the failed plans: A grey-haired gentleman who calls himself the Doctor. At last, with Dracksil’s name, reputation, and fortune on the line, he comes face to face with the Doctor…who reveals that Dracksil is, and has ever been, a thief and an opportunist. The ideas don’t come from him; they come from the customers. Dracksil is mildly psychic; he sieves ideas from the people around him like a net collects fish, and replaces them with a psychic lure that brings them into his shop in search of answers. And that would be fine, except that his powers are being used for evil by the various warlords. However, as the Doctor points out, he faces a choice: Stay, be arrested, possibly killed; or leave, forge a new identity and a new life, and use his powers for good.
Big Finish has very little Twelfth Doctor material, so there’s not much to which to compare this story. It’s a slow starter; it’s late in the story before the Doctor is even mentioned–but that’s alright. When he appears, it’s sans companions (a requirement for the Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity); combining that with a description of his short hair would indicate that this story takes place during Series Eight, between the Doctor’s adventures with Clara Oswald. The story is clever and to the point, and fits the Twelfth Doctor’s no-nonsense, blunt manner very well. Regarding the presentation, Jacob Dudman does a passable impersonation of the Twelfth Doctor’s accent and manner; he sounds as though the Doctor has a cold, but otherwise, it’s convincing.
Continuity References: None to speak of. This isn’t a reflection on the story, but rather, on the contest for which it was written. Due to rights issues, stories presented as part of the Paul Spragg opportunity are not permitted to use previous companions or monsters; this usually causes the submissions to be isolated from most of the series’ lore.
Written by Ian Atkins; Read by Sarah Sutton
We’re on an “x of the dead” kick with the Fifth Doctor, apparently!
London, 1982: The TARDIS materializes onstage in the middle of the debut showing of The King of the Dead, an interactive play based on the events of the king’s abdication in the 1930s. Immediately the team gets separated by a staff member, Patrick, who seems to know more than he lets on. The Doctor finds himself giving medical attention to an injured man–and in the process he discovers a swarm of spiderlike, extradimensional aliens who seem to feed on the minds of humans. Nyssa and Tegan, meanwhile, learn that there’s something odd about Patrick. When the group manages to reunite, they put their heads together and learn the truth. Patrick’s father was a member of UNIT, who died in an unknown operation. Patrick, seeking revenge, joined UNIT himself, and discovered both the aliens and the means to bring them into this reality. Now, he intends to unleash him on the more than six hundred audience members, creating a crisis which UNIT can’t hide, and discrediting the agency. However, Nyssa tells him about her own desire for revenge on behalf of her father–and how she had at last come to forgive the Master, who murdered her father and took his body. Faced with a new choice, Patrick refuses to help the aliens, and returns them to the place from which they came.
The King of the Dead is a much more complex story than I expected from the Short Trips range, with more mystery and more action. On those points I can’t fault it–it’s an exciting story. It also adds to the theme we had in Gardens of the Dead, regarding Nyssa’s grief over her father, Tremas. This is an older, more mature Nyssa (not by much, I gather, but enough to make her mention it–I admit I’m not entire clear on the chronology, having skipped far ahead in her story to get here), and it shows. The trade-off for all of these high points, is that the story is chaotically put together. We leap straight into the action with no explanation at all, and it takes a few minutes to catch up enough to realize what’s happening. From there, we bounce between viewpoints and scenes erratically, until we arrive at the ending a little sooner than we expected. It almost feels like a found-footage film in that regard–just a little shaky, a little random. In the end, that’s not enough to ruin the story; you should definitely give it a listen.
Continuity References: There’s a fair bit of discussion, again, of Tremas and the Master (The Keeper of Traken) and of Traken’s destruction (Logopolis). The play is based around the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII, which is also mentioned in the Sixth Doctor novel Players. Reference is made to the Brigadier (various UNIT stories) and to the UNIT vault (Tales from the Vault; The Scales of Justice). The Doctor mentions his exile on Earth (Spearhead from Space and most of the Third Doctor era). At the start of the story, the Doctor was attempting to reach the 2012 Olympics; he eventually visits them in later incarnations (Fear Her; Good as Gold).
And that’s it for today! Next time: Who knows? Thanks for reading.
All stories presented here can be purchased from the Big Finish Productions website. Individual sale pages have been linked at the titles, above.
Audio Drama Review: Masquerade
We’re back, with another audio drama review! Today we’ll round out our recent trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories with Masquerade, #187 in Big Finish’s Monthly Range. Written by Stephen Cole, and published in June 2014, this story features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and temporary companion Hannah Bartholomew.
Just a reminder, I have listened to, and reviewed, these audios out of order, both in regard to the rest of the monthly range, and in regard to each other. If you’re reading my posts in post order, you may be a bit confused! However, the “Previous” and “Next” links at the bottom of the post will put the stories in order of their placement in the range.
And with that, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for those who have not listened to this audio drama! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip down to the line divider below. However, some spoilers are inevitable in any discussion, so read at your own risk!
The Doctor, his young ward Nyssa, and her governess, Hannah, arrive at the estate of the Marquise de Rindell near Paris, 1770. They find the area surrounded by heavy fog and cut off from the world. They meet the Marquise de Rimdell, her niece Helene, her butler Jean, and the visiting Vicomte de Valdac. They quickly discover that something is not right on the estate. The Doctor begins to hear the voice of someone calling himself the “Dead Man”; Nyssa visits the orangery on the grounds, where she meets with Helene, and hears vast machinery approaching. De Valdac takes Hannah to a strange, out-of-place pagoda on the grounds, and she begins to forget what she knows about herself. Meanwhile the Doctor realizes that he can’t remember who he really is, and becomes distressed at his and his friends’ apparent integration into the local time period. As his memories break through, de Rimdelle tries to have him removed from the property, but Jean is missing. The Doctor leads her to the wine cellar in search of Jean, but instead finds the voice of the Dead Man again. Helene confirms that the machinery Nyssa hears is real; she calls it the “Steamroller Man”, and says he is approaching. Hannah goes fully native, believing she really is Nyssa’s governess and that the Doctor is a visiting physician. Helene gets them all back to the house; outside the house, she begins to talk about something called “Shadow Space”, and then has a seizure. As the others go inside, the Doctor and Nyssa see the monstrous Steamroller Man looming over the treeline.
Two glowing figures appear, calling themselves the Maschera. Apparently by magic, they create a trench between the Steamroller Man and the Doctor, Nyssa, and Hannah, causing the Steamroller Man to retreat. Inside the trench, only shadows can be seen. The Doctor and his friends join the others in the house, finding that everyone’s real memories are restored. They learn that they are somewhere in Earth’s early future, and are engaged in an intergalactic expedition. This expedition is taking place before proper shielding has been developed, at a time when faster-than-light travel is known to drive humans mad; therefore the project utilizes the experimental technology called Shadowspace. Shadowspace is an artificial dimension into which a crew’s minds are placed, to occupy themselves in a simulation while their bodies sleep inside the ship. Rimdelle is a systems chief; Valdac is a neurologist; and Helene—or actually Helen, as she isn’t really French—is a professor, and the group’s leader. They quickly conclude that the TARDIS’s arrival seems to have caused problems in Shadowspace, damaging the interfaces that link them back to their “Home-D”, or home dimension, and thus to their bodies. The Steamroller Man is a data cleaning tool, now transformed into a rampaging monster; the Maschera are a protective program for the safety of the crew. They decide that the Steamroller Man is after the Dead Man in the cellar, as it would read him as anomalous data. They find the Dead Man, but he doesn’t appear to be a crew member. Meanwhile the Maschera disappear to stop the oncoming Steamroller Man again, and the Doctor manipulates the structure of the house via the damaged interface, thus warding the Steamroller Man off. Instead it finds a way into the cellar to attack Nyssa and Valdac. Rimdelle is then possessed by an unknown being, and declares they will all die without leaving Shadowspace. She passes out.
The Doctor leaves Hannah and Helen to watch over Rimdelle, and he runs to the cellar to help Nyssa and Valdac. Nyssa and Valdac aren’t waiting around; they are running for their lives, carrying the Dead Man with them. He seems to be regaining lucidity. The Doctor is interrupted by the Maschera, who tell him they won’t reveal the main interface with him because he is an alien, and not authorized to be here. He manages to convince them to let him help with the Steamroller Man. Helen realizes that the Orangery is the location of the main interface. The Doctor connects with Nyssa, Valdac, and the Dead Man, and Nyssa reveals that she thinks the Dead Man is also a program construct, the opposite pole to the Steamroller Man. The group reunites as Rimdelle recovers; she reports something cold and lifeless on the other side of the interface. The group heads to the orangery, where they find a destroyed Machera connected to the power source of the main interface. The interface is severed, apparently stranding them all here. The Dead Man becomes too heavy to move; the Doctor reluctantly allows Nyssa to watch over him, but warns her that he must be kept apart from the Steamroller Man. As the Doctor helps Rimdelle with the interface, they formulate a plan to turn its energy against the Steamroller Man. The Dead Man seizes Valdac and Nyssa as the Steamroller Man advances. Rimdelle tries to focus the interface energy, learning in the process that their ship is not in flight at all—so why are they even in Shadowspace? The Doctor sees the Steamroller Man roll over Valdac, Nyssa, and the Dead Man, and is unable to stop it; Hannah drags him inside. They execute the plan to attack the Steamroller Man, but the Maschera appear and try to stop the Doctor. The plan works, but Rimdelle passes out again; the Doctor demands answers from the Maschera, but they force him into the same energy field that was used against the Steamroller Man. Elsewhere, Nyssa awakens, strapped to a gurney, and find two Meschara watching her; they declare they are going to kill her now.
Valdac wakes up as well, and interferes, stopping the Maschera from killing Nyssa. He manages to kill one of the Maschera; the other claims that they were trying to save Valdac. Meanwhile in Shadowspace, the Maschera attacking the Doctor reveal that they have their own interface to Home-D. Suddenly the energy field fails as Rimdelle awakens; she reveals that she drained off the energy. The Maschera reveal they are aliens of a pair of races that humans have subjugated. They seize control of the minds of Helen and Hannah. The Maschera with Valdac also reveals its identity, and derides humans before Valdac kills it. He wakes up Nyssa, who thanks him; however he notes that he doesn’t actually feel anything. They find the bodies of the other members of the group, who are all still in Shadowspace. The Maschera in Shadowspace threaten to control Rimdelle as well, and to kill the Doctor, but they are destroyed by the suddenly revived Dead Man. He claims that as the Steamroller Man was made to cleanse, he was made to kill. Outside, Valdac reveals they are not on a ship at all, but in a research outpost called SORDIDE Delta—the “Scientific Outpost for Research and Development of Inter-Dimensional Energies”. It is the base where Shadowspace was developed—and he and his crewmates are part of the team responsible. But, where is everyone else? They find a large number of corpses, and realize they and the group still inside are the only survivors. Nyssa suddenly remembers that the TARDIS was dragged here by the distortions of Shadowspace; two of the now-dead crewmates, controlled by the Maschera, forced Nyssa, Hannah, and the Doctor into Shadowspace. Dead Man reveals that the Steamroller Man was intended to expunge the aliens, not the humans; he reveals that this is the research base rather than a ship. There was a plague aboard the base; everyone was placed in Shadowspace for safekeeping while a cure was found, but the Maschera took the opportunity to break in. He now has the power to destroy Shadowspace—a literal “Dead Man” switch—but the Steamroller Man is now gone from the equation. However, this all means that Nyssa and Valdac are still alive, in Home-D…along with the plague, and the invaders.
Valdac and Nyssa learns that the plague vastly increased emotions, turning people into killers. Valdac had devised a desperate cure—one that cuts off all emotion from humans, much as Valdac is now. Meanwhile the Maschera come for the Doctor and the survivors; the Dead Man tries to attack them, but fails. As all the pieces fall into place, it is revealed that the aliens—posing as Maschera—caused the plague, which Valdac then cured. The aliens then planned to quietly reinfect everyone, and with the “safe” travel afforded by Shadowspace, the humans would spread the plague everywhere, causing humans across the Empire to turn on each other. It’s a subtle but effective long-term plan of revenge—but to make it work, they must expel the Doctor from Shadowspace. Rimdelle warns that they are making Shadowspace unstable—but instead of using it directly, the Maschera seize control of Rimdelle, and set all three women against the Doctor. The Doctor locates the power packs where Rimdelle diverted the energy field, and deploys it to knock out the Maschera, freeing Hannah, Helen, and Rimdelle. The Dead Man states he can sense another power supply which he can use to end Shadowspace. Nyssa and Valdac find the TARDIS, but can’t get in; they instead decide to follow the Maschera to their interface. The Doctor and the others follow the Dead Man to the strange pagoda, the site of the Shadowspace side of the Maschera’s interface; the other side is in the base control room. Valdac tries to kill another Maschera, but fails and is shot; Nyssa kills it instead. Valdac succumbs to his wound and dies. The Doctor and the others find the interface, as well as the entranced minds of the rest of the crew—it seems their bodies weren’t corpses after all—but they are accosted by the Maschera Prime, the leader of the Maschera. It refuses to see reason, and insists on retaliation against the human Empire. It gives them a choice—become the tools of the Maschera, or die. Nyssa activates the interface from the Home-D side; she can’t get in, but she manages to contact the Doctor. The Maschera Prime warns that an alien’s DNA will destabilize Shadowspace again, possibly trapping them all forever. Hannah intervenes, forcing the Doctor into the portal; he awakens in Home-D, as Shadowspace begins to collapse. Before the Maschera can react, the Dead Man draws power from the interface, and detonates.
The Doctor tries to bring everyone out, but is too late; the survivors awaken, but with the cure intact, they awaken emotionless. Hannah is among them. She urges the Doctor and Nyssa to leave, stating that without them, she can make a life here, where she may be able to integrate. She warns them not to worry, and says that millions of lives have been saved; “the matter”, she says, “has been concluded correctly.” The Doctor wants to bring them back to normal, but Nyssa agrees; it can’t be done. She leads the Doctor back to the TARDIS to make their exit, as Rimdelle and the others—also emotionless—awaken.
Masquerade piles on the mysteries right from the start! We have any number of questions that need answering. Who is the mysterious Dead Man, and what is wrong with him? Who or what is the Steamroller Man? How can this be eighteenth century France? (My first indication of that problem was the name of the Steamroller Man; the steam roller was only patented in 1867, nearly a century after the ostensible date of this story, and yet the locals know to call the Steamroller Man by that name.) Why are the Doctor and his companions dressed in period clothes, and why don’t they appear to know who they really are? What is the Vicomte de Valdac up to? (Nothing, as it turns out; he was playing a role, and didn’t know he was playing it.) Why does Helene seem to know more than she lets on?
Which brings me to the only real issue with this story: One could get whiplash from changing perspectives and plot threads so much and so often. The story is lightning fast, and a bit hard to follow as a result. I was listening with my daughter in the car, and found it hard to give the necessary level of concentration to adequately pay attention to this story. Ultimately I had to re-listen to parts of it. But, it was worth it, because it all comes together in the end!
And I do mean “the end”, because the resolution of the story comes about a minute and a half before the ending theme. Even seconds before the end, one is left wondering if the Doctor won’t pull some final ace from his sleeve. Because, although there are relatively few deaths for a Doctor Who story, this is decidedly not a happy ending. Our heroes win, and many lives are saved—but at what cost? The survivors, except for the Doctor and Nyssa, are drastically changed by the events here, and not for the better. At best the story is, as Hannah Bartholomew says, “concluded correctly.” It’s a victory, but it feels a bit hollow.
I’ve heard it suggested that each incarnation of the Doctor is shaped by what he perceives to have been the problems with the previous life. Further, I’ve heard it suggested that the Fifth Doctor perceives himself to be less active and effective than other incarnations, leading to the bombastic, emotional, fully engaged Sixth Doctor. I won’t go so far as to say I believe that theory—at best the jury is still out—but if it’s true, this is the type of story that supports it. The Doctor is left at the end frantic at his own sense of failure, his desire to do more; so much so that Nyssa practically has to drag him back to the TARDIS and tell him to leave well enough alone. It’s a bitter pill for him to swallow, and I’m curious to see (eventually) where he goes next. After all, for better or worse, this is the exit story of a companion, and thus disproportionately emotional.
That companion, of course, is Hannah Bartholomew. Here at the end, I feel that she’s flown under the radar; she’s been a lesser character in each of her three stories. In Moonflesh, she precipitated the story’s problem, but she did so off camera, and then bailed out in the final episode. In Tomb Ship she was instrumental in the ending, but did little prior to that. It’s the same here; in Masquerade she is ultimately the hero who saves everyone, even the Doctor, but she does little before that except get possessed by the Maschera. She certainly could have used more character development; we still don’t have a strong picture of the kind of person she is. Even her affiliation with the Order of the Crescent Moon—arguably her most unique characteristic—is barely touched on. And that’s a pity, because in the end, she all but gives her life for the Doctor. Thus far, this trilogy constitutes her only appearance, but I’d like to see more stories with Hannah, possibly set between these installments (she hints that she’s been to several worlds with the Doctor, where in this trilogy she really only visits Earth, one spaceship, and one research outpost in an unrevealed location).
Continuity References: Only a few; keep in mind that our characters spend a portion of this story without their own memories, so they don’t make the usual offhanded references. The Doctor mentions seeing the Mona Lisa in Paris (City of Death, although he may not be remembering accurately at this point). He tells Rimdelle that he was present at the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (The Massacre). Hannah mentions the Order of the Crescent Moon (Moonflesh). Nyssa mentions tending the Grove on Traken (The Keeper of Traken). And, not a particular reference, but a thought about timeline placement: Humanity is referred to as a “Human Empire”, and yet this is very early in the spacegoing history of humanity. That would almost certainly place this story in what would retroactively be called the “First Great and Bountiful Human Empire” (first hinted in The Long Game, first seen in The Lost Flame).
Overall: It’s an enjoyable story, but I have mixed feelings about it. The pacing is uneven, and there’s a lot of content to unpack, probably more than its runtime supports. Hannah gets a bad deal in the end, as well. But, it’s a thought-provoking story, and it provides a glimpse into a time period that has been largely avoided in Doctor Who, and for that I’m grateful. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’ve already finished the other two entries in the trilogy.
Next time: Who knows! Ultimately we’ll get caught up to this point, and continue with Monthly Range # 188, Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories. But, as we’ve come here out of sequence, we’re not ready for that yet. Ideally we’ll get back to where we came from in the Main Range, with # 51, The Wormery (which we previously skipped). We’ll see! See you there.
The Masquerade and other stories in the Monthly Range can be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page can be found here. You can read the TARDIS wiki’s entry for Masquerade here.
Audio Drama Review: The Toy
We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today I’m starting a new range of audios–or rather, new to me: Big Finish’s “Short Trips Rarities” range. This limited range consists of stories that were previously subscriber-exclusive bonuses, but have now been released for individual sale. (They are also still available as subscriber bonuses, as well—but don’t think subscribing is no longer worth your while! These releases only constitute about half of the subscriber Short Trips; the rest must be obtained via subscription bonus.)
Like all of Big Finish’s Short Trip audios, these entries are audiobooks rather than full cast audio dramas; they are usually read by a supporting cast member rather than the relevant Doctor actor. They’re also, as the title suggests, short, usually about a half hour long. Currently there are fifteen stories in the range, broken into three “seasons” of five each; however there is no direct connection between stories, and they range over various Doctors and companions without much organization. As a consequence, I can just drop in as I see fit, and you, readers, don’t have to worry about catching every post.
We’ll start at the beginning, though, and that is October 2015’s The Toy. Written by Nigel Fairs, and read by Sarah Sutton, this story focuses on the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric, with cameos from the first four classic Doctors as well as Susan. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this story! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip down to the line divider. However, some spoilers are inevitable in the discussion below. Read on at your own risk!
Nyssa of Traken is determined to lock away her memories of her lost home—but in her dreams, they return unbidden.
Nyssa finds herself dreaming of her childhood on Traken, and the scent of a much-loved flower, and a forbidden archway. The dream turns dark when she sees, and is chased by, the burned and ravaged face of the man who stole her father’s body—the Master. It’s not the first time, but it’s never been so strong; and this time, the memory is fresh when she awakens. She tries to tell the Doctor and her friends about it, but finds them arguing, and so she heads deeper into the TARDIS, looking for a place to think. She is surprised when she finds the doorway from her dream inside the TARDIS—and even more so when she hears a voice from behind it. The sign on the door says not to enter, but she disregards it, and steps inside.
Inside, she finds a number of old but wonderful things. She is drawn to a small chest containing a brilliant red jewel; and from that jewel she hears voices, calling her by name, asking to be her friend. When she touches it, she is carried away, and finds herself on a planet of red soil and orange sky, with an old man who calls her “Susan”…a man she knows as Grandfather. They visit a great domed city called Arcadia, the man showing her around. She is confused, at first certain she is not this Susan, but soon becoming unsure. Another man appears, his face changing its age, sometimes even resembling her father—if she really even remembers her father?. The man speaks smooth, comforting words to her, offering her a way out of her troubles, if only she will help him, and tell him where she is.
She is about to do as he asks, but the first man speaks up and begs her not to do it. He has changed now, and continues to change—first becoming a younger, shorter, dark-haired man, then a tall white-haired man—but all the while his kind eyes remain unchanged. At last he turns into a face she knows, the face of the Doctor as she knew him before, at Traken and Logopolis. Finally he becomes the Doctor she knows—and he reveals that the other man is none other than the Master. Nyssa fights with the Master, trying to get away, taking injuries in the process…
She struggles awake, finding herself on the floor of the room beyond the archway. The Doctor is there, with Tegan and Adric. At first the Doctor is angry at her for being taken in by the Master’s ruse, but Tegan and Adric talk him down, and tell Nyssa how he went running to find her so quickly that they could barely keep up. Finally the Doctor explains that the jewel is a toy given to his granddaughter—Nyssa knows her name without being told—by an old family friend. It is a node in a telepathic communication network that transcends both time and space. Susan, he says, once become addicted to its use, and he was forced to lock it up for her safety. Nyssa asks if the family friend was the Master, and the Doctor reluctantly admits it was so. She asks if he could still be alive after their last encounter with him; he admits that the Master has a way of surviving the impossible—but, he insists, the Master she contacted via the jewel was a past version, from many years ago. It is very fortunate that she didn’t tell him where to find them; for no good could come of the Master having knowledge of his—and the Doctor’s—own future. And with that, he puts the “Do Not Enter” sign on the door, and leads the way back to the console room.
The Toy is a story that wants to be several things. It wants to be a multi-Doctor story, for one. It’s never confirmed that any of what Nyssa sees in the visions she receives in this story is real; so it’s unclear whether she really met the various past Doctors in any sense. (As an aside, I should mention that the wiki for this story says that the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors also appear; but that doesn’t fit the plot, isn’t mentioned in the wiki’s plot summary, and I don’t remember it, so I’m going to call that an error until proven otherwise. For this release, I don’t have the script—I bought my copy separately rather than as a subscription bonus—and confirming would require more time than I have at the moment.)
The story wants to be a cautionary tale as well. Near the end, when the Doctor describes how addictive the red jewel—the titular “toy”—can be for anyone with a degree of psychic talent, Adric compares it to “The Facebook”, a computer program alleged to have been banned in the 21st century for “turning people into mindless, incommunicative zombies”. But the story doesn’t commit to that take; it’s very much tacked on at the end, with no foreshadowing. It’s actually the one thing I didn’t like about this story, not because I have any particularly strong feelings about Facebook—I don’t—but because it’s shoehorned in so awkwardly.
What the story is, is a character study for Nyssa, albeit a brief one. Now, I will admit that I have many stories with Nyssa still to go, and so my information is incomplete; but until now, it’s been my impression that writers have largely avoided dealing with Nyssa’s feelings about her lost home, Traken. And that’s understandable; Nyssa is much more useful, in a dramatic sense, as a counterpoint to Tegan (who later goes on to be the same for Turlough); and as a counterpart to the Doctor, filling the role that Romana left open. And there are plenty of great stories to be told from those angles. But The Toy takes a direct look into Nyssa’s feelings for her lost world and her family, and it’s haunting.
This phenomenon of leaving Traken undiscussed is even acknowledged in the story. Nyssa comments at one point in the opening that for once, she’s going to avoid the Doctor, Tegan, and Adric, and sit out the day’s adventures, and avoid the battles to be fought, and just find a quiet place to sit and think about Traken. And she should; trauma like hers can haunt a person forever. It’s a wonder she carries on as well as she does.
Of course, the Master—the villain of this piece—can never leave well enough alone, and he turns her memories against her. It’s a crime of opportunity; this is not our Master, the one we last saw in Castrovalva, but rather, an earlier version. It’s not confirmed just how much earlier, but it’s hinted that it may be the Master from a time just after the Doctor and Susan fled Gallifrey. As a result, he doesn’t even know who Nyssa is; and as she has been overtaken by the echo of Susan’s identity, he at first thinks it is Susan. But his interference gives Nyssa something unique: A glimpse into the past of the Doctor, the Master, and Susan, and a suggestion that the Doctor, too, has known the loss of people he loves. The Doctor even suggests that the Master may feel the loss as well; he says that the Master perhaps couldn’t bear the thought of a universe without the Doctor to cross swords with, and may have left Gallifrey for that reason. (There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for you—they’ll literally cross swords soon enough, in The King’s Demons!)
In the end, it works out well enough for everyone—no great harm done here. Nyssa and the Doctor each come away with a little more insight, so we’ll call this one a win. (Tegan, ever the counterpoint, comes away with a hint of jealousy toward Nyssa; when Nyssa comes up with Susan’s name before the Doctor can say it, Tegan thinks that perhaps it’s another thing he’s told Nyssa without telling the rest of them. Can’t win them all, I suppose.)
Continuity references: A pleasantly higher number than I expected from a Short Trip! Aside from non-story-specific references to past Doctors, it’s mostly references to other Fifth Doctor stories. Nyssa sees the Melkur in her dreams, as well as her parents and the decayed Master (The Keeper of Traken–as if there was any doubt that this one would be mentioned). She mentions the destruction of Traken (Logopolis). Her vision of the other Doctors takes her to Arcadia on Gallifrey (The Last Day, Mistfall, et al). She sees snow on Gallifrey (Gridlock), and members of the Prydonian Chapter (The Deadly Assassin, et al). She mentions Tegan’s bad dreams and possession by the Mara (Kinda). She sees a future snake-like version of the Master (TV movie). Susan’s psychic powers are mentioned (The Sensorites).
Overall: Not a bad start to this range! Almost, but not quite, a bottle episode, it’s still a cozy story with many references to old familiar territory. You can do worse for a Short Trip. Check it out if you get a chance.
Next time: The next entry in this range is Museum Peace, an Eighth Doctor story with strong ties to the Dalek Empire range. We haven’t covered that range yet (it’s on the list!) but we’ll do our best! Also, after much pandemic-related delay, I hope to get back to the Monthly Range soon as well, with The Wormery. See you there!
The Toy and other stories in the Short Trips Rarities range are available for purchase from Big Finish Productions. Its purchase page is available here. You can read the TARDIS wiki’s entry for The Toy here.
Audio Drama Review: Moonflesh
We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Welcome aboard!
You may recall that my last audio drama review was far out of order for its range. In October, I reviewed the Fifth Doctor audio Tomb Ship, which is number 186 in the Monthly Range (aka the Main Range)—and we previously left off at The Creed of the Kromon, a much earlier number 53. So I feel compelled to say that the plan hasn’t changed; my usual pattern is still to take the stories in order, and I listened to Tomb Ship out of order just for a moment of variety. We’ll go back to doing things in order (and even pick up #51, The Wormery, which we previously skipped).
But not today! You see, my random selection of Tomb Ship created a problem. At that point in the Monthly Range, stories were being released in trilogies—three stories featuring the same Doctor and companion(s), which are consecutive not just in terms of release dates, but also in terms of the in-universe storyline. Tomb Ship happens to be the middle story of such a trilogy. Further, those three stories are tightly connected by the presence of temporary companion Hannah Bartholomew. As such, it behooves me go ahead and finish out the trilogy before we go back to the mid-fifties.
Which, in turn, leads to another bit of confusion. If you are reading this post somewhere far down the road, when I’ve caught up all the intervening stories, you can navigate using the “Previous” and “Next” links I place at the bottom of each post, and you’ll be fine. The stories will connect in release order. Obviously if you’re reading before I finish everything between, you’ll find gaps. But even if everything is finished, if you’re reading in posting order, then you’re going to have some confusion here, as you encounter Tomb Ship first.
Hence, this long-winded explanation. Which I will no doubt go back and add to Tomb Ship, as well.
Now: On to the show! Today, we’re looking at number 185 in the Monthly Range, Moonflesh, written by Mark Morris. Featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Hannah Bartholomew, this story takes place in Suffolk, 1911. Let’s get started!
As always, spoilers ahead! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip to the second dividing line; however, spoilers are present throughout this post!
Suffolk, 1911: The Doctor and Nyssa land at the estate of one Nathaniel Whitlock, a big game hunter who has turned his land into a private hunting ground. They quickly befriend the transplanted Sioux warrior Silver Crow, who serves as Whitlock’s retainer; they also encounter Whitlock’s daughter Phoebe, and his guests: Father and son Edwin and Hector Tremayne, and Hannah Bartholomew. Hannah is concerned with the Moonflesh, a rock in Whitlock’s collection, previously belonging to Silver Crow, who claims to have received it supernaturally while in a trance. Later, the Doctor, Silver Crow, and Nyssa find Bartholomew under attack by an energy being.
Whitlock shoots at the being, naturally failing to harm it, but causing it to retreat via the chimney. In the commotion, Hector checks on Phoebe, and they see the being escaping into the grounds. Upon questioning, Hannah reveals she is part of the Order of the Crescent Moon, a group obsessed with spiritualist artifacts, who want to study the Moonflesh. She had tried to scrape samples from the rock, which released the being from the stone. In the morning, everyone but Nyssa and Phoebe goes out to hunt for the being; but they are attacked by a gorilla, clearly under the control of the being, which attacks and injures Edwin. While the gorilla is shot and killed, the creature escapes. The Doctor takes Silver Crow to the TARDIS to analyze the crystal scrapings; they confirm what they already suspected—the being is incorporeal, but can possess and control other creatures. This is all familiar to Silver Crow; he says that his people have encountered the creature before, and nearly defeated it—and in fact, they must have captured it in the Moonflesh. Heading back to the group, they see a number of meteors strick the grounds, yielding a red mist like the disembodied form of the creature. Meanwhile at the house, Nyssa and Phoebe are attacked by a possessed dog; they lock themselves in a room, but the creature gains entry anyway.
The group returns to the house and puts the wounded Edwin in the drawing room; he demands immediate medical assistance, thinking only of himself. Nyssa comes to get the Doctor, and takes him to Phoebe; Phoebe is now possessed by the creature, which speaks through her. It says that its name is Vatuus, and that it is a political refugee; it says the other meteorites are an assassination squad coming to kill it. Committed to helping, the Doctor sends Silver Crow, Hector, and Hannah to barricade the house, while he and Nyssa take the news of Phoebe’s possession to Whitlock. The Doctor offers himself to Vatuus as a vessel to carry Vatuus to the TARDIS and whisk it away; however his mind’s natural defenses reject the creature. Instead, Nyssa carries Vatuus, and they depart on horseback. Meanwhile, upstairs, animals start to invade the house, possessed by the newly-landed creatures. Edwin bribes Bartholomew to take him to safety in Whitlock’s carriage, leaving even his own son behind despite the danger. At the TARDIS, Vatuus shows its true colors and tries to possess the TARDIS itself via its telepathic circuits, but the Doctor prevents this; Vatuus escapes into one of the horses. The Doctor moves the TARDIS into the house—where he finds Hector, Phoebe, and Whitlock, all possessed by the newcomers.
The creatures express no intent to harm, and release Hector and Phoebe as a show of good faith. They say they were sent to track Vatuus, who is a “rogue element” in their society; they plan to capture and reabsorb Vatuus. But there’s a catch: If they haven’t succeeded by midnight, the entire cluster of their people, a billion strong, will come to join the hunt. Meanwhile, Vatuus, in possession of an element, attacks the coach leaving the grounds, and kills Edwin; Hannah escapes, and is not seen again. The Doctor realizes it was Silver Crow’s ritual Ghost Dance that caused Vatuus to be trapped in the Moonflesh. They perform the ritual again, and fall into a trance, their minds transported to a different plane of existence. The other survivors keep watch; they are soon attacked by Vatuus in the elephant. Whitlock kills the elephant, but Vatuus has leaped to one of the group: Whitlock himself. In the other world, the Doctor and Silver Crow locate a new Moonflesh rock, and return with it; Silver Crow draws Vatuus out of Whitlock, and traps it in the new Moonflesh.
Afterward, no one can account for Hannah’s whereabouts; however there is one good outcome: Hector decides to remain with Whitlock—much to the delight of Phoebe—and he has some ideas about turning the estate into a profitable safari park. The Doctor and Nyssa exit, taking the Moonflesh—and Vatuus with them to be returned to Vatuus’s people.
Moonflesh strikes me as a story with a great potential to go badly wrong. I’m not suggesting that it did go wrong, but that it could easily have done so. First, there’s the matter of big game hunting. That’s a topic that is very much out of style these days, and for good reason—just ask any of the relatively few remaining rhinos in the wild! It’s a topic that, while not exactly sensitive, is very much out of step with where we are as a society these days. But, this story is a pseudohistorical; and so it gets something of a pass by merit of being set in an era where big game hunting was not only accepted, but considered a point of prestige. I admit I was a little surprised that the topic is hardly even mentioned in the story, in terms of the social issues involved these days; I expected some sort of conversation between the Doctor and Nyssa about the barbarism of the practice and how it was common in that era. But there’s nothing of the type (possibly because Nyssa isn’t from Earth, and who knows how Trakenites would view the subject?).
Second, and much larger, there’s the matter of Silver Crow. Silver Crow is Native American—Sioux, to be precise—and portrayals of Native Americans, especially in a historical context, are very much a sensitive issue, at least in the USA. (And I admit to some ignorance here of how it’s viewed in the UK, where this story was written and recorded, so pardon me if I’m reading through too narrow a lens.) Now, I think that everything played well in the end; Silver Crow is portrayed as an intelligent, civilized man, not at all stereotypical. But he’s voiced by a white actor, which I think even now—just ten years after this story’s November 2012 recording—would be a highly questioned move. (John Banks did a fine job; I’m commenting more on the social situation than his performance.) As well, there’s the portrayal of the Ghost Dance ritual, which is very downplayed—and that’s probably for the best, because it would have been difficult to avoid cliché territory otherwise.
So, overall, I’m pleased with the outcome—but there’s a feeling in hindsight of dodging a bullet with regard to things that could have gone wrong, had the production been done by less capable people.
It’s a satisfying story with a solid resolution, which feels very contained—and not just in the sense of being the typical “base under siege” story. We never get a species name or an origin for Vatuus and the other creatures; they refer to the collective of their people as the “Prime Cluster”, but that’s hardly informative for us. Put another way, they could have come from anywhere, which in turn allows the action to focus on the here and now, the Whitlock estate.
Most interesting, of course, is the character of new (and temporary) companion Hannah Bartholomew. This story doesn’t actually establish her as a companion; but we’ve already reviewed the next entry, and we know that she’ll be joining the TARDIS crew. Hannah is strong-willed, stubborn, and motivated by her own agenda, which doesn’t have much in common with the Doctor’s plans. There’s potential for her to be a villain, though I don’t expect she’ll go that route. She’s not reluctant to join the Doctor—as we saw in Tomb Ship—but she’s the kind of person he would be reluctant to take on if given the choice. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.
Continuity References: Not much at all here. In fact, this is one of the barest stories I’ve ever found with regard to continuity nods. Nyssa mentions the deaths of her father (well, sort of death—at least she thinks of it that way) and stepmother on Traken (The Keeper of Traken). Aaaaand…..that’s about it! (The wiki does mention a loose connection, but it’s hardly enough to count as continuity; Whitlock’s father was a Crimean War veteran who fought at the Battle of Inkerman, where Mollie Dawson’s uncle was killed—see The Evil of the Daleks.)
Overall: Not bad at all! I enjoyed this one. It’s not anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it’s solid and well-paced, and uses old tropes in new ways. If you want a good, middle-of-the-road story, you could do much worse.
Next time: That depends on how you’re finding these posts! As I mentioned, I’ve already covered the next story, Tomb Ship; if you click on the “Next” link below, it will take you there. But in terms of order of posting, next time we’ll be covering the third and final entry in this trilogy, Masquerade. See you there (either way)!
All audio dramas in this series are available for purchase from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.
Doctor Who Unbound: Zero Sum
No review today–here is some original fiction instead.
“Unbound” is a term coined by Big Finish Productions, the creators of many Doctor Who audio dramas. It refers to stories in alternate universes, where something happened differently–and then, what happens next? An Unbound story in Doctor Who terms is equivalent to Marvel’s “What If…?” stories, or Dark Horse Comics’ “Star Wars: Infinities” comics (for the oldtimers like me in the crowd).
I wrote this story a few years ago for a charity anthology of Unbound stories, but that didn’t pan out for me, so I’m posting it here. Zero Sum asks the question, “What if the Fifth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver hadn’t been destroyed?” Sometimes it only takes a small event to change a life. I hope you’ll like it.
Several Classic era stories are referenced here, and familiarity with them will help, but is not required; those stories include Logopolis, The Visitation, Castrovalva, Earthshock, Mawdryn Undead, and the six stories in the “Key to Time” arc: The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor.
This story has also been posted to my writing blog, Timewalkerauthor, and to Reddit’s new community, /r/WhovianFanfiction (come out and contribute!).
London, September 1666
One could be locked in a lot of cells in five lifetimes. The Time Lord called the Doctor knew it firsthand; he’d been locked up more times than he could count. This one, located in a particularly grimy cellar, was not one of the better cells he’d experienced, but it was hardly a time to be choosy. If only he wasn’t wearing manacles…
He fumbled in one of his voluminous coat pockets, searching for something to help his predicament. The sonic screwdriver? No, not at the moment—but it tumbled to the floor as he searched. “Oh, for a proper key!” Still, he couldn’t afford to be without it; and he quickly knelt and scooped it up, transferring it to the other pocket before resuming his search. He was still searching when the Terileptil leader entered the room and ordered him to remain still.
Earth Orbit, circa 65,000,000 BC
“Please hurry, Doctor,” Nyssa shouted. “We must get Adric off the freighter!”
“The console’s damaged,” the Doctor replied. “Working on it, though!” He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his coat pocket and leaned into the fissure in the console. “Ahh!” he yelled, shaking his hand as sparks flew.
“There’s not enough time!” Tegan said.
“There will be!” The buzz of the screwdriver came from inside the gap between console and time rotor. “Nyssa, set the coordinates, quickly! Tegan, grab—“ “ —This?!” Tegan shouted, and brushed past the Doctor, cyber-gun in hand. The Doctor managed a quick glance toward the inner doors, where the final Cyberman aboard was staggering in, just in time to see Tegan dispatch it with the weapon. She threw the gun down before stumbling back toward the console, but there was a look of triumph on her face.
“Coordinates in!” Nyssa said. No sooner had she spoken than the Doctor shoved her out of the way and threw the dematerialisation switch.
In the vortex, Time is everywhere and nowhere, and as a consequence it means very nearly nothing. Before the TARDIS could materialize at its destination, the Doctor slapped a control, bringing the time rotor to a halt, leaving the ship hanging in the vortex. He let out a sigh of relief, and took a moment to look over his companions. “Is everyone alright?” He helped Nyssa to her feet from where she had fallen, murmuring an apology; then he gave Tegan a cursory examination. Satisfied that no one was injured, he turned back to the console. “We successfully removed ourselves from events before the, well, the inevitable conclusion,” he said, “and as a result we’ve bought ourselves some time.”
“But what about Adric?” Tegan said. “That freighter will have crashed by now!”
“Yes, I’m quite sure it has,” he said, “for someone, somewhen. But for us, it has yet to happen, until we emerge from the vortex again. We can’t go back and change anything we’ve already experienced, but we can try to land at just the right place and time to change what we haven’t.”
Tegan frowned, not grasping it yet; Nyssa stepped in to explain. “He’s saying that we can’t, say, go back to twenty minutes before we left and prevent Adric from staying on the freighter, because we’ve already seen it happen. For us, it’s set in stone. But we can land on the freighter in the same minute in which we dematerialised, and rescue him off it, because for us, his fate isn’t sealed yet.”
“Correct,” the Doctor said. “And the spatial coordinates you laid in are correct, or close enough; but to land with that type of temporal precision, I’ll need to finish these repairs. I don’t dare try it with this much damage.” He glanced down at his sonic screwdriver. “I’ve no idea what I would do without this thing.” Looking up, he gestured at a nearby roundel. “Tegan, there is a toolkit in that storage bin, if you wouldn’t mind; and Nyssa, I could use your help.”
Adric leaped back as the console before him exploded, then turned to see the last Cyberman on the freighter collapse to the deck. He sighed, and turned back to the monitor. “Now I’ll never know if I was right.”
He tore his eyes away from the screen as, behind him, a wheezing, groaning sound filled the air. As the TARDIS materialised with its familiar thump, he was already moving; Tegan met him at the door, slamming it behind him. Seconds later, the freighter, minus one TARDIS, exploded.
Earth Orbit, circa 1983
It still baffled Adric that there could be two of this old soldier-turned-schoolteacher, the Brigadier; but there was no question that it was true. And at the moment, it was all that he and the strange (and apparently non-human) schoolboy, Vislor Turlough, could do to hold this younger version back. “I say, let go of me!” the Brigadier said. “Didn’t you hear that?” Showing surprising strength for his age, he shoved Adric off of his right arm; then he twisted and got a lock on Turlough’s wrist, and sent him rolling across the deck of the starship. Before they could recover, he hurried through the nearby laboratory door.
Adric and Turlough cleared the threshold just in time to see the younger Brigadier and his older counterpart raise their hands, and touch. A blinding flash of light and force sent them flying.
Some time later
The lights of the console room were low; even a time capsule sometimes must bow to the needs of its inhabitants, and maintain some form of day and night. Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough were elsewhere, presumably asleep in their quarters, when Adric entered the room. The Doctor sat in an old, oak chair near the entrance door, one piece of the odd collection of furniture which seemed to appear and disappear in the room at the Doctor’s whim. He was deep in a thick, leatherbound book, but set it aside when Adric arrived. “You’re up late, Adric. What can I do for you?”
Adric seemed hesitant to speak; he glanced around at the room before leaning against the console. “You don’t sleep much yourself, Doctor.”
“Oh, here and there, when I need to, but sometimes I forget when that is,” the Doctor said. “But I don’t think you came to ask me about my sleeping habits.”
“Right to the point, eh?” Adric took another look around, and then nodded. “Alright then. I suppose that’s just as well.” He paused. “Doctor, I haven’t brought it up lately, but…I still want to go home. You know… to Terradon, or… or wherever my people landed. In E-Space.”
He expected the Doctor to shut him down, but to his surprise, the Doctor only nodded, looking thoughtful. “You’ve given more thought to how to make it happen, I suppose.” The charged vacuum emboitment, or CVE, which led to E-Space had been destroyed with most of the others at the Master’s destruction of Logopolis. The memory was always fresh in the Doctor’s mind; fully a third of the universe, including Nyssa’s home in the Traken Union, had fallen to runaway entropy at that time. No mass murderer in the history of the universe could hold a candle to his old friend-turned-enemy the Master now. Regardless, E-Space was closed; perhaps the Time Lords could create a route to the minor universe, but the Doctor was in no position to ask them.
Adric grew more confident at once; he had prepared for this. “It’s a matter of mathematics,” he said. The calculations… well, they aren’t easy, but… but, they’re just numbers! It can be done. And I’m close! I know I am!”
The Doctor nodded again, thinking. When he spoke, it seemed to be a new topic. “Adric, why do you want to leave the TARDIS?”
Had he said it with any kind of hurt, or pleading, or anger, or resentment, Adric might have bristled. Instead, the question held only one feeling: honest curiosity. The Doctor, it seemed, really wanted to know the answer—and now Adric paused, wondering if he himself knew the answer. “Because… well… it’s getting a little crowded here, isn’t it?” His meaning was clear; but again, the Doctor only nodded, and waited. Finally Adric looked away. “I don’t really belong here anymore.”
“Adric,” the Doctor said, “you’ll always have a place here, as long as you want it.”
“But it’s not the same, is it?” The sudden outburst seemed to startle even Adric, but he kept on. “When I first came aboard, it was you and me and Romana and K9, and you were…”
“—Different,” the Doctor completed. “I may have been a different man, but I haven’t forgotten him. Go on.”
“Alright,” Adric said, “you were different. And you’re a genius, and so was Romana, and of course K-9, when I was the only one I’d ever known. And suddenly I had so much to learn, and it was… it was…” He faltered.
A moment passed, and then the Doctor saw it. “Adric… we were like a family to you, weren’t we? Romana and I, you saw us as, sort of, your—“
“I never really knew my real parents,” Adric interjected. “Not well, anyway. So, yes, I guess… anyway. And then Romana stayed behind, and K9 went with her, and then you… changed…”
“I see where this is going, I think,” the Doctor said. “It was at the same time that Tegan joined us, and Nyssa—and now we’ve added Turlough to the mix. I suppose it is getting a bit crowded.” He stood up, and stepped over to the console, then put a hand on Adric’s shoulder. “Adric, you will always have a place here. I told you that, and I meant it. And, though you may not see it now, Tegan and Nyssa both care for you very much. You weren’t here to see their reaction when we nearly lost you, but they would have made you quite proud, I think. Turlough… well, he has a lot of growing to do.” He frowned for a moment, then went on. “But, regardless, I want you to choose a path that will make you happy. If you are happy here, so be it—but I won’t try to compel you to be happy here. If your happiness means going back to E-Space, then I will do whatever is in my power to take you there.” He met Adric’s eyes, and the boy managed a smile. “Now, what do you need to finish your calculations?”
Adric had the answer ready. “I want to go back to Logopolis.”
“But Doctor,” Tegan objected, “Logopolis was destroyed! Along with—“ She faltered, and glanced at Nyssa.
“Oh, go ahead and say it,” Nyssa said. “Along with Traken. It hurts, of course, but there’s no dancing around it. And, Doctor, she’s right! How can we go back there when it doesn’t exist anymore?”
“Well, to be perfectly correct, she’s wrong,” the Doctor said. He worked his way around the console as he spoke, not meeting anyone’s eyes, instead checking settings and flipping switches. He was in a state of excitement—any challenge always had that effect on him—but one could tell he was anxious about their reactions as well. “Logopolis, the planet, still exists. The city, and the people, ceased to exist due to the increasing entropy as the Master closed the CVEs. But, when the mass inrush of entropy took place, it was directed outward from Logopolis onto the rest of the universe.”
“Okay,” a new voice said, “so what?” Turlough had kept silent during most of the Doctor’s revelation of his plan to return to Logopolis, but now he spoke up. “If that’s true, then going there won’t accomplish anything. And if I understand this correctly, then we can’t go back to when the Logopolitans were still alive, because we—well, the four of you anyway—have already been there. We can’t change events.”
“Very good, Turlough,” the Doctor said. “And you are correct. Violations of the first Law of Time tend to create dire circumstances, paradoxes. We can’t risk it. But!” He made a final adjustment and then stopped, resting his hands on the console. “There is a way around it. Honestly, it’s so simple, I’m surprised you haven’t seen it already.” He glanced at Adric, who waited against the wall. “Do you want to explain it?”
For his part, Adric was subdued; but there was excitement in his eyes. “We go back to an earlier time, before our first visit to Logopolis. Probably several years earlier, at least.”
“Exactly!” the Doctor interjected. “We want the Logopolitans at the height of their powers, but before any hint of their upcoming… well, their demise.” That thought seemed to bring him back to reality a bit, and he looked at them soberly. “But they absolutely must not be told what is coming. I don’t need to tell any of you how knowing the hour and the manner of your own death could be a problem. Don’t you think it would be easy for me to find that out, using the TARDIS? But I shield you from that knowledge, because no one should have it. Not even me. Now, extrapolate that notion to the Logopolitans. Their deaths had an enormous impact on the universe. What would happen if they knew enough to prevent it?” At that last, his gaze lingered on Nyssa’s face.
Nyssa caught his expression. “Don’t worry, Doctor. As much as I would give anything to bring back Traken, I understand. We don’t know the ramifications for the rest of the universe.”
“Or time itself,” the Doctor replied. “Or even for us. We may not be visiting our own history directly, but our actions on this trip have the potential to change our own past. We may not directly violate the Laws of Time, but we can certainly do so indirectly.” He looked at each of them in turn. “We must be very careful.”
With that, he threw the dematerialization switch, sending the TARDIS into the vortex.
The TARDIS stood, half-hidden behind a rocky crag, on a hillside a mile from Logopolis. Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough sat on the boulders scattered in the vicinity, watching as the Doctor and Adric, tiny in the distance, headed for the oddly helical arrangement of low stone buildings that comprised the city. Something was odd about the view; Tegan had caught it and remarked on it at once upon their arrival. “Where’s the radio telescope?”
“Remember that we’ve come to an earlier point in the city’s history,” the Doctor had said. “The universe’s entropy hasn’t reached critical mass yet, though surely the Logopolitans are aware that it is impending. They won’t have constructed their replica of the Pharos project yet—in fact, the original telescope on Earth has yet to be built. That, of course, means we’ve landed as we expected; the current Monitor of the Logopolitans is, I believe, the grandfather of the Monitor we previously encountered. With any luck, Adric can get what he came for, and we can keep the Logopolitans from handing down word of our visit to the next generation.” With that, he had planted his hat on his head, and made his way down the hill with Adric following.
“And so we wait,” Turlough said, scowling. “For how long? Weeks? Months? This block transfer thing, if it’s so complicated, we could be here for years.”
“Oh, you have someplace you need to be?” Tegan sneered. Despite the Doctor’s odd faith in Turlough, she had yet to grant him any trust.
“Tegan,” Nyssa scolded her. “It’s a valid question. We’re talking about mathematics so complicated and variable that they can’t be done by a computer.”
“Exactly,” Turlough said. “Clearly not even the Doctor understands it, or else he would teach Adric himself. Who knows if this will work at all, let alone how long it will take?”
Tegan scowled. “Adric is no normal person when it comes to mathematics. If anyone can grasp it, it’s him. You’ll see.”
Sensing that the conversation was not going to get any better, Turlough gave it a moment, and then stood up. “Well. If you need me, I’ll be in my room, I suppose.” He turned toward the TARDIS. Tegan made a motion as if to stop him, but Nyssa interrupted her with a look.
“The Doctor,” she said when Turlough had closed the door behind him, “says he has the same privileges as the rest of us. Besides, it’s not like he can fly away without us.”
Tegan’s frown deepened. “Nyssa, there’s something about him, I tell you. I can’t put my finger on it, but eventually I will.” She sighed. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
The TARDIS corridors never confounded Turlough the way they seemed to do to the others. Perhaps sensing this, the Doctor had given him a room further from the console room, down several winding corridors. Turlough wasn’t certain, but he suspected the corridors moved, somehow; but so far he had always found his way.
This time, he had barely closed the door when the floor–the deck? What did one call it in a time ship?–lurched beneath his feet. He felt a wrenching sensation in his stomach, and his vision narrowed as green light sparkled around its edges. For a moment he lost track of time. When his senses reasserted themselves, he found himself on the floor (definitely a floor; too neat for a deck). He clambered to his feet–and found an unwelcome but familiar figure surveying him. “Guardian,” he breathed. “What do you want?”
“Watch your tone, Turlough,” the Black Guardian said. “I’ve come to set you back on track with our arrangement.”
Turlough swallowed, suddenly nervous. This was a being of great power indeed–outside time and space, maintaining the order of the universe, but doing so as a force of eternal darkness and chaos. Turlough wasn’t sure whether to call him evil, but it certainly worked out to the same thing. It was true that he had struck a deal with the enigmatic Guardian: freedom from his exile on Earth in exchange for the task of killing the Doctor. Turlough neither knew nor cared what had led to the Guardian’s frenzied desire for revenge, but he knew one thing: the Doctor had proven to be a difficult man to kill. Turlough remained committed to the cause, perhaps, but he had quickly lost his stomach for the task. “Why should I kill him now?” he demanded. “I’m already free of my exile. Earth is behind me now.”
“But you haven’t returned to your world, have you?” the Guardian said. “You’ve seen the way the Doctor operates his TARDIS. It’s a miracle he ever lands where he intends. He won’t get you to Trion–and that’s if you tell him about it. But you haven’t done that, have you?” Turlough was silent. Some things, like the truth of his homeworld and his own past, couldn’t be shared, even–especially–with the Doctor and his companions. “Only I can finish our bargain and get you to Trion,” the Guardian continued, “and only–only!–if you uphold your end.”
Angrily, Turlough relented at last. It was a trap, and he remained caught in it, if he ever wanted to see his home again. “Fine. I suppose you have a plan? If you haven’t noticed, the Doctor isn’t here at the moment.”
“He’ll return. And he will take you and his pets to the city of the Logopolitans.” Turlough didn’t question it; the Guardian seemed to have as much grasp of time as the Doctor, and possibly more. “Your task will be simple this time. I won’t even ask you to attack him directly. You will simply wait until the right moment… and deliver a message.”
“A message?” It sounded simple, but… “What message? And to whom?”
The Guardian told him.
Adric’s training took eight days. The Doctor returned during the night of the second day, and moved the TARDIS into the city. At the urging of the Monitor–a bald man with the features of his future grandson, but much younger–the group took guest rooms in the city, and attended a reception dinner before being given freedom to roam. The Doctor, however, caught each of them in turn and admonished them to stay close to the TARDIS. “I’ve spoken with the Monitor and urged him to keep our visit off the records,” he said, “but remember that every encounter we make here, and every person to whom we speak, increases the chance that we may change the future. They’ve given us hospitality, and I won’t insult them for it, but… stay close.” He quickly disappeared again, off to audit Adric’s lessons.
On the final day, the Monitor escorted the Doctor and Adric back to the TARDIS. Nyssa and Tegan met them in the surrounding courtyard as they said their goodbyes. “It’s been quite a pleasure,” the Doctor was saying, “and I have to say that I’ve rather enjoyed the lessons as well. Even if,” he added, “they were over my head. It’s not often I can say that, you know.”
“Humble to a fault, Doctor, as always,” the Monitor said with a grin. “And the pleasure is all mine. We Logopolitans have spent centuries shaping our minds toward the thought patterns necessary for these calculations. Even so, you have seen that we require many minds in concert to make our calculations effective. It is a rare and surprising event when we encounter a mind like young Adric’s, born to the ability to grasp it all on his own. He is quite exceptional.” He paused, then added, “Of course, he won’t be able to maintain a steady state of computation for long periods. We manage this by working in shifts, but he is one alone. Still, he can create temporary structures, and permanent ones which do not require maintenance. That should be sufficient for your purposes, I think.”
“Quite,” the Doctor said, a bit hastily. He had made a point of not telling them exactly what Adric intended to create; had he done so, they would surely have insisted on creating the CVE for him, which would have had a much greater chance of upsetting history. “Well, at any rate, we thank you again, Monitor, both for the lessons and for your generous hospitality. But, we really must be going.” He shook hands with the Monitor, and turned toward the TARDIS; then he frowned. “Where is Turlough?”
“He went out walking…” Tegan began.
“I’m here, Doctor!” Turlough interrupted. The group turned to see him entering the courtyard from one of the many passages, flanked by two Logopolitans. The Logopolitans stopped at the entrance, and Turlough crossed to the TARDIS; but a look passed between the duo and the Monitor, who gave them a quizzical frown. “Sorry, I lost track of the time,” Turlough said as he joined the others.
“No harm done,” the Doctor said, and opened the police box door. “Monitor, we’ll be off now, I think. And it looks like those fellows want a word with you.”
“Yes, quite,” the Monitor said; but the Doctor and his companions were already disappearing into the TARDIS. The Monitor shrugged, and went to confer with his subordinates.
The Doctor threw the dematerialization switch the instant the inner doors closed, sending the TARDIS groaning into the vortex. “In a bit of a hurry, Doctor?” Nyssa said.
“Well,” he said, “yes, I suppose so. Oh, no, nothing’s wrong, precisely,” he said, forestalling her next question, “it’s just that… Nyssa, I’ve explained that we Time Lords can perceive the flow of time as a sort of sense, not as clear as most, but a sense nonetheless. And the longer we stay in Logopolis, the more I feel the weight of our every action on the timestream. I think we’re alright, as planned, but it’s best we get away quickly.” He circled the console, setting coordinates.
“So, what now?” Turlough said. “How long until Adric makes his attempt?”
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel quite refreshed after the last week. It’s almost been like a holiday. So, if you’re ready,” he said to Adric, “we can get started right away.”
Adric’s usually sullenness was gone, for once, and he nodded. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.
“Right! No time like the present,” the Doctor said. “Or rather,” he added, “the future. Since we’ll need to do this at a time after the closure of the Logopolitan CVEs.” He hit a final control, and the time rotor began to rise and fall.
No one’s eyes were on Turlough as he tugged at his tie and grew pale.
The time rotor slowed, but didn’t stop. “We’ll get a better result if I start while we’re still in the vortex,” Adric had said. “I can set the temporal elements, then build the spatial and dimensional elements on top of them. This CVE will be more stable than the Logopolitan version, because they were forced to work from the spatial components first. I won’t have to work as hard to maintain it, either.”
Now, as the TARDIS slid closer to its target–a point in space far from any civilization, some three hundred years after the destruction of Logopolis–Adric stood with his hands on the console, and closed his eyes. His lips moved, subvocalising, but no sound could be heard. “Is that all?” Turlough whispered to Tegan, who stood for once beside him, against the wall; she shushed him.
On the other side of the console, the Doctor winced. “Are you alright?” Nyssa said, moving to his side so as not to disturb Adric.
“Yes, I… I’m fine, thank you.” He shook his head. “For a moment I felt something… it’s nothing.” He returned his attention to Adric’s face. Long minutes passed, and the Doctor winced again, putting a hand to his temple. “Oh!”
“What?” Nyssa said. Tegan and Turlough had noticed his discomfort by this time, but remained by the wall.
“Nothing, I just… I think I may be feeling some cast-off effect of our journey. Nothing serious, I think.” He straightened. “It will pass.”
At that moment, Adric looked up at him. “Ready, Doctor!”
“Right! Here we go, back to reality!” The Doctor pulled back on the dematerialization switch, and the time rotor picked up speed, sending them careening out of the vortex and back into space.
Everything happened at once. The ship shuddered, hurling Tegan and Turlough to the floor; the three around the console grabbed on and maintained their footing, but only just. The lights dimmed and began to pulse, and the time rotor began to spark and flash red as the TARDIS’s familiar groaning grew loud. Over it all, the cloister bell–the TARDIS’s warning of catastrophic danger–began to toll.
Worst of all–though it took Nyssa a moment to see it–was the Doctor. With the last toss of the floor, the Doctor lost his grip on the console and fell, rolling away from Nyssa. As she watched, light–pale, shot through with sickly prismatic shifts, but pervasive–surrounded him. It was different from last time, perhaps, but it only took a moment to recognize it: the Doctor was regenerating. “Adric!” she shouted. “What are you doing! What’s happening!”
Adric’s eyes were wide now, staring in horror at the Doctor. “It’s not me! I’m not doing this! My calculations were clean, I swear!”
On the floor, the Doctor moaned in apparent agony, and began to writhe. “Well, something’s happening!” The cloister bell’s volume increased, and smoke began to pour from several roundels on the walls; Nyssa recognized them as compartments which housed electronics of various types.
“I don’t know!” Adric shouted. “It’s not me!”
“No,” a new voice said, “It’s me!” All eyes swung toward the scanner, where the Black Guardian’s face could be seen.
“Who are you?” Tegan demanded. “What are you doing to the Doctor?”
The Black Guardian assumed a hurt expression. “The Doctor hasn’t told you about me? How offensive. I am the Black Guardian of Time. Once, your Doctor wronged me in a manner that your mortal minds won’t comprehend. I’ve pursued him since, and now, my revenge is accomplished!” He smiled, an expression made more cruel on his severe face. “And you have none other than Turlough to thank for it!”
Nyssa and Tegan turned to Turlough. He glared at the Black Guardian. “So much for keeping your end of the bargain, Guardian. Throwing me to the wolves, eh?”
“Turlough,” Nyssa said, “you struck a bargain with this monster?”
“Oh yes,” the Guardian said. “In exchange for passage off of the Earth, he agreed to kill the Doctor for me! Shall I tell them what you’ve done, Turlough?” He laughed. “While you were preparing to leave Logopolis, Turlough did a favor for me. Such a small thing… he simply passed a message.”
“What message?” Tegan demanded.
“It should be obvious,” the Guardian said. “He went to the Logopolitans and gave them a warning. He told them what will become of them in two more generations.”
“The Master!” Nyssa exclaimed. “Turlough, you warned them about the Master? The Doctor warned us all not to let them know the future!”
“He said it would be a fair exchange!” Turlough said. “Think about it. If they knew the Master was coming, they would be ready for him. He would never shut down their Pharos project, and the CVEs they created would still be there. That means the universe would still be intact!” He looked at Nyssa. “Nyssa, that means your home would still be there. Traken will still exist! And all it costs is one life.”
“Turlough, you idiot!” Nyssa shouted. “Didn’t you think about how it would cost his life? Even if you overlook the rest of the things the Doctor told us… he only regenerated last time because of what happened at Logopolis!”
Turlough turned his gaze to the Doctor, who continued to twist in pain. The light had grown more intense around him, and was now shot through with red. To everyone’s horror, his hair had gone from short and blonde to curly and dark, and he seemed to have become taller. His face seemed to be in flux; now the gentle mien of the familiar fifth incarnation, now the chiseled features of the fourth. “He’s… he’s de-regenerating?”
“Oh, it’s worse than that, young friend,” the Guardian said. “Your actions have created quite the paradox! The battle with the Master, which you have now prevented, caused the Doctor’s regeneration; but events since that time led you back to Logopolis, and allowed you the opportunity to prevent those very same events. Do you see what you’ve done? The Doctor will stabilize in neither form–and the paradox will tear his TARDIS apart! I applaud you, Turlough. You’ve done something not even I could accomplish!”
Turlough gave another glance at the Doctor, then turned back to the Guardian. “Undo it,” he said. “Undo the paradox! This isn’t what we agreed to!”
“Vislor Turlough, it is exactly what we agreed! And I cannot undo this paradox even if I wished to. My powers do not lie that way. Nor,” he added, “do I have the power to pluck you from the paradox, of which you are now a part. I’m afraid I will not be able to keep my promise to you. But consider, the universe you are bringing about is a better place–” he glanced at Nyssa– “worth the Doctor’s life to you. Isn’t it also worth your own?” His face faded from the scanner.
“Wonderful,” Turlough said, “What do we do now–” He turned toward the others, just in time to see Tegan do a very unladylike thing: she swung a spanner at him, catching him just above the temple. A blinding flash exploded behind his eyes, and then all went dark.
“Damn, but that was overdue,” Tegan said.
“Doctor!” Nyssa shouted. “Doctor!” She hovered over him, afraid to touch him in the throes of regeneration. “Can you hear me? We need you!”
He twisted again, stifling a scream; and then his eyes flew open. Disconcertingly, they were two different shades of blue. “No,” managed to say, in a voice that carried an odd harmonic, as if also in flux. “You don’t need me–” and this time it was the fifth Doctor’s voice– “You need Adric!” Fourth Doctor’s voice. “It’s up to him!” The harmonic flux returned. He let out a piercing shriek that echoed from bass to tenor, and closed his eyes. The regeneration energy seemed to swirl over him.
“Adric?” Tegan said. “What does he mean?”
Adric took a step back from the console. “I don’t know exactly,” he said, “but I know what I can do. I can keep the paradox from tearing us apart, at least for awhile. Block Transfer Computation can do that. Do you know it’s a part of creating a TARDIS?” He shook his head, realizing the urgency of the situation. “It means abandoning the CVE.”
“Adric, if the paradox destroys us, you won’t need a CVE!” Nyssa said. “You’ll be dead with the rest of us!”
He nodded. “Right.” He stepped back to the console and took a deep breath. “I’ll get us back to Logopolis. If anything can overturn this, it’s there. And I can hold us together in the meantime… but I don’t know what to do when we get there. We’re already part of events.” He closed his eyes and began to mutter calculations. Shortly the ship’s shuddering ceased, and the lights ceased their pulsing; but the red glow remained in the time rotor, and the cloister bell continued to sound. Adric reached for the navigation panel, and made a few adjustments; then he threw the dematerialization switch.
No smooth materialization this time–the TARDIS careened out of the vortex and into reality like a grenade into a wartime trench. The battered police box–perhaps more battered than usual–slalomed into the atmosphere of Logopolis at a severe angle, its outer shell heating up until it glowed, then burst into open flame. Inside, Nyssa hauled on the stabilizer controls, desperately trying to drag the crashing ship into a stable flight path, while Adric clung to the console and did his best to hold the ship together. The cloister bell thundered through the console room, louder and faster than before. The TARDIS fell toward the city, then leveled off–but not enough, not enough. Its base struck a Logopolitan house hard enough to tear a hole in the roof; the TARDIS skipped off and tumbled end over end. Internal gravity held its inhabitants on the floor, but inertia sent them skidding around; Nyssa lost her grip on the controls just in time for the ship to crash into an alley. By some miracle, it righted itself in the final impact and fetched up against a wall, sending a cloud of dust and stone into the air.
“Is everyone alright?” Nyssa shouted, picking herself up from the floor. She didn’t wait for an answer, but ran to the Doctor, ignoring her own bruises. He had slid nearly to the exit doors. His features continued to flux, and now his height had begun to shift as well. Energy ran in a mad swirl of colors all over him. “Doctor!” she called as she knelt beside him. “Doctor, stay with us! We’re back at Logopolis, but we don’t know what to do!”
The Doctor only groaned, thrashing about on the floor. In the opposite corner, Turlough and Tegan were picking themselves up; Tegan angrily shoved herself away from him. “Ow…” Turlough moaned, rubbing his head, and then glanced at the scanner. “We’re back at Logopolis? So… we’re, what? Going to prevent the paradox?”
Tegan turned on him. “YOU stay out of this!” she shouted. “You’ve done enough already!”
“Nooo….” the Doctor groaned. “No, he’s… he’s right. Have to stop… but mustn’t… first law!” He collapsed back from the effort.
“The First Law of Time,” Adric said without opening his eyes. He was visibly sweating from the effort of maintaining his calculations. “But… we’ve already broken the First Law! Or rather, Turlough did. He gave the Logopolitans knowledge of their own futures. That’s what caused this.”
“Paradoxes…” the Doctor muttered. “One problem… at a time. Fix!”
Nyssa looked at the others, doubt in her eyes. “I don’t know what he’s suggesting! If we interfere here, we’ll be breaking the First Law again. Won’t that create another paradox?”
“I don’t know,” Tegan said. “But we have to do something!”
“What is the First Law?” Turlough said.
Nyssa gave him an annoyed look, but then realized that he hadn’t been with them long enough to hear it explained. “It’s a law that the Time Lords enforce for the sake of keeping time intact and preventing paradoxes. It says that they mustn’t meet themselves out of order, or meet other Time Lords out of order, or pass on information about the future that has the same effect. It’s that last part that you broke on the Doctor’s behalf by telling the Logopolitans about the Master.” She paused, seeing a strange look on his face. “What?”
Turlough stepped toward the console, thinking. “Time Lords can’t meet out of order, or pass on information.”
“That’s what she said,” Tegan said.
“Adric,” he said, “when have we arrived?”
Adric didn’t have to check the console; he could feel it through his grip on the TARDIS. “About five minutes before you talked to the Logopolitans. If we’re going to do something, it has to be now.”
“Turlough, what are you thinking?” Nyssa demanded.
“I’m thinking,” he said, “that he’s a Time Lord… but I’m not.” Suddenly he slapped the switch that opened the inner doors; and he bolted out, leaving them stunned behind him.
It was Tegan who recovered first. “Come on! I know what he’s going to do. We have to catch him!” She ran for the door. Nyssa glanced at the Doctor, then Adric, and jumped up to run after her.
“Adric,” the Doctor moaned. His voice was more like that of his fourth incarnation now, though his body was more like the fifth. “Adric, can… can you hear me?”
“I’m here, Doctor,” Adric called. “I… I can’t spare the energy to come to you. Too busy concentrating.”
“Adric, you have to… to trust me… do what I say. Ahhh!” He gasped and bent double, then regathered his strength to continue. “The Bl… the Black Guardian… won’t let them… interfere. You… you have to stop him.”
“What? Me?! How?” Adric said. “I can’t–”
“You’re the… the only one… who can,” the Doctor managed. “Block Transfer… it works in… all dimensions… at once. It’s… it’s the only thing that can… can hold him!”
Adric knew it was true. “That makes sense, but… Doctor, if I let go of the TARDIS, it will come apart! And I can’t do both!”
“Trust me! Not all… at once. There will be… a little time… just enough. Do it, Adric… now!”
Adric nodded, and closed his eyes again.
Turlough raced through the narrow streets. Nyssa and Tegan pounded after him. Had they known where he was going, they would have tried to intercept him; but only he knew where he had met the Logopolitans. They narrowed the gap, but it wouldn’t be enough.
He came to a halt as a green swirl formed in the air ahead of him… and the Black Guardian stepped into the street. “Back to play the hero, Turlough? I can’t allow that. You’re too much the villain!” He raised a hand, power swirling around it–and walls of what appeared to be glass appeared around him, trapping him. “What? Impossible! No power in your possession could… Adric,” he said, realizing. “Fool boy! I’ll–”
“No time for that now,“ Turlough said as Tegan and Nyssa rounded the corner behind him. He darted past the imprisoned Guardian, and raced toward the next intersection. At the same moment, another version of Turlough stepped from an angled passageway into the intersection, facing away, and headed down the opposite street. “Just have to catch–”
He didn’t get to finish, as the combined weight of Tegan and Nyssa piled on top of him, driving him to the ground. “Let me go!” he managed. “It’s about to happen! I have to stop him!”
“You can’t!” Nyssa said. “The First Law–”
“It can’t get any worse!” Turlough said. “At least we’ll cure this paradox! It’ll buy us time, and maybe the Doctor or the Time Lords can figure out the rest!” Suddenly the street shook beneath them. A glance back revealed the Black Guardian, surrounded in a nimbus of darkness that thundered against the walls of his prison. He was pouring everything into his attempt to break free–and the city felt his rage. Stones fell from the nearby walls.
“And what were you going to do to him?” Tegan demanded.
“The same thing you did to me!” he grunted. “Tackle him! Stop him from talking to them! Anything!”
Exhausted at last, they released him and fell back on the ground. “Turlough,” Nyssa said, “you can’t do that either!”
“Why not?” he demanded.
“Even if you’re right about the paradox,” she said, “you can’t touch your other self. Remember the Brigadier, on Mawdryn’s ship? The… oh, what did the Doctor call it?” “The Blinovitch Limitation Effect,” Tegan said.
“Right! If you touch your other self, there will be a temporal energy discharge. With time so fragile already, it might be catastrophic! We can’t risk it!
“Then you take him! You already know you can!” He jumped up and started running again as the street shook again, more violently this time. Nodding, they climbed to their feet and ran after him.
They made it only a half dozen paces, before an unearthly screech sounded behind them, and the street shook with its greatest tremor yet. The building to their left collapsed in a roar, filling the street, cutting them off from Turlough. They could just see over the rubble pile; but as they tried to climb, it shifted, sending them back to the ground. “Damn that guardian!” Tegan shouted. “Turlough, do… something! Just don’t touch him! Go!”
He gave them a final look, and ran.
Turlough stopped at the end of the street, where it made an L-turn to the left. Just around the corner, he caught a glimpse of himself, standing in front of the building out of which the two Logopolitans would shortly come. It was only a few paces… but what to do?
Behind him, another building fell in an explosion of dust and stone. His other self looked back; Turlough ducked aside, avoiding being seen. Perhaps the explosion would scare his past self away… but, no such luck.
“Turlough!” a voice called behind him. He turned… and saw the Black Guardian, near the previous intersection. He was still encased in the computational walls, but as Turlough watched, the Guardian flickered and vanished, and reappeared ten paces closer, dragging his prison with him. “It’s too late, boy! Even now they come. You can’t undo this paradox!”
Turlough stared at him for a long moment. “I’m through serving you,” he said. “The Doctor is a thousand times the man you’ll ever be. I trust him to know what’s best for the universe, and for Logopolis, and… and for me. I won’t do what you want again.” He paused. “Or even the first time!” Darting back toward the intersection, he snatched up a fist-sized, jagged rock from the rubble of the fallen building, and stepped around the corner toward his other self.
“No!” the Black Guardian shouted.
“Goodbye,” Turlough said through clenched teeth. Then he drew back his arm, and hurled the stone at his other self.
He had one final moment of clarity, in which he saw the Black Guardian vanish in a scream of rage and a burst of flame. Then the stone struck the back of his other self’s head, and everything went dark again.
Tegan’s head swam as the world coalesced around her. She couldn’t recall passing out, but she saw that Nyssa was waking up as well. What had happened?
Rubble still filled the streets, but the Black Guardian was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Turlough; but from the direction of the TARDIS, a figure in cricketing clothes picked his way around the stones and came toward them. Adric trailed behind him.
“Doctor,” Tegan said, “you’re back to normal!”
“Quite,” he said. “And it’s a good thing, too. As much as I enjoyed being my old self–well, when I was him–one must always look forward, not backward.” He offered a hand to each of them in turn, lifting them to their feet. “And I daresay the Logopolitans will agree. They just saw us off, you know–the past version of us, that is. Since we’ve managed to tear down part of their city, they’ll be glad to see this ‘us’ gone as well.”
“That’s a bit unfair,” Tegan said. “This was the Guardian’s work, not ours.”
“True,” he said, “and a nasty bit of work it was, too.” He glanced back at Adric. “But, thanks to Adric here, it was not as nasty as it could have been. A job well done, Adric.”
“So, what happened, exactly?” Nyssa said. “And where’s Turlough?”
“Well,” the Doctor said, “I think Adric can answer that better than I can. After all, by way of his battle with the Guardian, he was here, after a fashion.” He nodded at Adric.
“It’s…” Adric started, then paused. “Well, maybe we’d better look. I want to be sure of what I saw.” He led the way over the rubble, and past a second pile further down the street, to an L-turn. Rounding the corner, he stopped. “I was afraid of that.”
Nyssa made the turn, and stopped short. “Oh. Oh, no.”
Tegan came after her, with the Doctor following. When she saw what awaited them, she stopped, and made as if to speak, then closed her mouth. Finally she said, “So that’s how he fixed it.”
Ahead of them, Turlough–the past version of him–lay still on the ground. Blood pooled around his head, and stained a large, jagged rock beside him. Of the present version of Turlough, there was no sign. “Yes,” the Doctor said gently, “it seems our Turlough sacrificed himself to stop the former Turlough from doing the Black Guardian’s task.” He paused. “Quite noble of him, wouldn’t you say? I think we all underestimated him.” At his side, Tegan nodded, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
“Doctor…” Nyssa said. “I know it was all in the moment, and we all barely had time to think, but… couldn’t he have talked to himself, or something? We didn’t let him tackle himself, because of the energy discharge–”
“Which was the right decision,” the Doctor said. He closed his eyes and concentrated. “A paradox, you understand, is a closed time loop. It repeats itself, ad infinitum. This paradox has been transformed into an open loop by Turlough’s sacrifice. It circles back on itself only once, and then rejoins the normal flow of time. It’s hard for me to feel the flow of that loop, now that we’re on the other side of it, but… I sense that it could have worked out no other way.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Turlough instinctively grasped something that there was no time to explain. You see, Time seeks to close paradoxes. It can’t tolerate them, as a rule. And also as a rule, violations of the first Law of Time tend to create paradoxes. There are some exceptions, but that’s what generally happens. I tried to warn all of you not to violate the first law. That could have created a second paradox on top of the first, and time would have come apart catastrophically here. If Turlough had talked to himself, it would have created such a violation. Similarly, if he had touched his other self, the discharge of temporal energy would have torn time apart, as you rightly assumed. The only safe course was to take action that didn’t pass knowledge to his past self… and that’s what he did. Rather violently, I’m afraid, but I hardly see that he had any alternative.” He fixed both women with a stare. “And lest you go to blaming yourselves, remember that had you communicated with past Turlough, it would also have transmitted information, and been a violation of the first law.”
“So, why did this not cause another paradox?” Adric said. “I mean, if Turlough prevented himself from telling the Logopolitans, then the events that led us to come and stop him never would have happened. We shouldn’t exist here, now.”
“Yes, well… remember that I said that time seeks to close paradoxes–or open them, as the case may be. In doing so, it can’t tolerate a violation of the first law–but it can tolerate violations of lesser laws. Our being here, as relics from a timeline that ceased to exist with the opening of the loop, is a violation of one of those lesser laws; but time is quite happy to put up with it, in order to correct the greater paradox. The only concession is that the present version of Turlough ceased to exist. Well, and also, the moment of correction to the timeline was a bit much for the two of you, being outside the TARDIS as you were. That’s why you passed out.”
“You make it sound like time is alive,” Tegan said.
“Hmm… I suppose after a fashion, it is,” the Doctor mused. “At the very least, it’s non-linear… and it holds mysteries that even the Time Lords have yet to uncover.” He clapped a hand on her shoulder, and turned her toward the TARDIS. “Let’s be going, then.”
The Doctor held the TARDIS door for Nyssa and Tegan. “We’ll swing around and collect Turlough’s body before the Logopolitans move it,” he called after them. “He deserves a proper burial… but not here, where it might risk more paradoxes.”
As Adric made to step inside, the Doctor stopped him. “Adric… what do you think? Do you still want to construct a CVE? Return to E-Space?”
Adric dropped his eyes for a moment. “I think,” he said, “that the things I wanted have caused us enough trouble for now.” He paused. “Maybe someday, when we can be sure the Black Guardian won’t try to interfere. But not today.” He ducked past the Doctor, and inside.
The Doctor watched him go, and smiled. “Good answer.” Then he stepped inside, and closed the door… and with a familiar groan, the TARDIS slipped away.
Novel Review: All Flesh is Grass
We’re back, with another novel review! Here we have the second of two reviews of the novels from the Time Lord Victorious multimedia project: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack. You can check out my review of the first novel, The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, at that link.
Just a reminder: For the moment, the only parts of the Time Lord Victorious project that I’m covering are these novels, for the simple reason that I haven’t acquired the rest yet. Fortunately, they form the backbone of the project’s story, so this is as good a place as any to start. This post will read a bit like a “part two” of the previous post, as the books are so tightly intertwined; wherever it may matter, I’ve assumed that you’ve already read the previous post.
This novel, published just over a year ago on 10 December 2020, picks up immediately after the end of The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, and features the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors in the Dark Times near the beginning of the universe. None of the regular companions are featured here; however, Brian the Ood fills the role for us. And with that, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!
We last saw the Tenth Doctor leading a mercenary ship, with Brian the Ood assassin at his side, against his Ninth self accompanied by a fleet of vampires, and his Eighth self accompanied by—believe it or not—an attack force of Daleks. The prize is the planet Mordeela and the death-dealing Kotturuh—and the Tenth Doctor just gave the order to fire!
The weapon is no small matter. It turns the Kotturuh’s judgment back on themselves, giving them a lifespan, and a rather abrupt one at that. They begin to die off at once. But that isn’t enough to satisfy the Time Lord Victorious. Mordeela is the source of their power of death, and so he attacks the planet itself; and though his fleet is cut down to just one ship by the Daleks and vampires, it manages to strike the fatal blow, reducing Mordeela to rubble and sealing, as it were, the gates of death. The Doctor then manages to depart for other locales, leaving his past selves to hold their coalitions together. They set off in pursuit.
Elsewhere, though, one Kotturuh has escaped the worst. Many years ago, Inyit sensed the coming doom of her people, and hid herself away on Birinji, the first world the Kotturuh doomed. There she maintains her garden inside a biodome, the one spot of life on the dead world, and waits for an end she knows must come.
After weeks of adventurous but undocumented skirmishes against the dying Kotturuh, the Tenth Doctor and Brian find themselves seeking an audience with the Brokers of Entranxis, iron creatures who deal in weapons…and sometimes more interesting things. And the Brokers have something for the Doctor, but it’s not what he expects: it is Madame Ikalla, the leader of the vampires, who was captured while escaping the battle at Mordeela. She is much abused, but the Doctor determines to rescue her. He is interrupted by the arrival of his past selves, who intend the same plan; altogether…well, they botch the job pretty thoroughly. Ultimately Brian and the Tenth Doctor are forced to extract the Eighth Doctor, whose TARDIS is being held by the Daleks; the Ninth Doctor in turn rescues Ikalla, and in the process hears an intriguing mention of a planet called Birinji. But before any of them can escape, the Kotturuh—still trying to carry out their Design, even in the throes of death—come to judge Entranxis. They will fail; they are intercepted and killed by the Daleks. It seems the Daleks intend to replace the Kotturuh as the dealers of death.
Brian, Eight, and Ten make their way to the vampires’ remaining Coffin Ship, and find that all the lesser vampires are dead; the other Coffin Ships in the small fleet have escaped. However, there is a squad of Bloodsmen aboard, the highly trained and powerful bodyguards of the Great Vampires who usually use the ship to travel. They grudgingly ally with the Doctors to try to recover Madame Ikalla. Meanwhile, she—along with the Ninth Doctor and a dying houseplant named Hector (don’t ask)—have landed on Birinji, and there discovered Inyit, who will very soon be the last of her kind. Inyit welcomes them; she has some things to teach them about her experience with life and death, and her own regrets. But perhaps the most urgent thing she tells them is what will reputedly happen if the last of the Kotturuh dies: the gates of death will open, releasing all the remaining power of the Kotturuh at once.
The other Doctors arrive, and a conference ensues. And at last, the Tenth Doctor is properly chastened for his choices—though he still believes in his cause: the fight against death itself. But things have become more urgent; for Madame Ikalla reveals that there was, in fact, a Great Vampire—the old enemy of the Time Lords—aboard her ship. And it has been captured by the Daleks. The possibilities are horrifying.
Ikalla stays with Inyit (and Hector the houseplant) while the Doctors, Brian, the remaining mercenaries, and the Bloodsmen go to war against the Daleks…to rescue the Great Vampire. The ridiculousness of the situation is lost on no one. They soon find that the Daleks have experimented on the Great Vampire; they kill it in the process, but they successfully create Dalek-vampire hybrids, extraordinarily deadly creatures. Soon enough their ultimate aim is revealed: They plan to use the hybrids to destroy Gallifrey here in the Dark Times, long before the native Gallifreyans become their hated enemy, the Time Lords.
And so, the final battle begins, at Gallifrey itself. And it is a very near thing; the Daleks are on the verge of winning. But then, as Inyit’s long life fails, a single Dalek hybrid comes to ensure her death…but before she goes, she pronounces the Kotturuh’s final judgment…on the Dalek hybrids. At once they begin to die, screaming. The pure Daleks aboard their ship are thrown into a panic, as they feel the judgment tugging at their own genetics; fortunately, the Eighth Doctor returns to them at that time, and with a little push from the Tenth, he drags them out of the Dark Times and back to their own time. As Inyit dies, Gallifrey—and the future—are saved.
In the aftermath, the survivors return to Birinji. There they find Inyit dead—but Ikalla remains, and she has been changed. Inyit’s final gift to her is a change in her biology; she is freed from her terrible urges. She is the last of the vampires—save for her scions and the Bloodsmen—and in a way, she is also now the last trace of the Kotturuh, and of the life of Birinji. But new life will come to Birinji; the mercenaries will settle here, as will the remaining undead, who can inherit the changes given to Ikalla. Brian, as well, chooses to stay—though not without acknowledging the unlikely-but-not-impossible chance that he might take over and run the place. The Doctors conclude that, in the wake of the Kotturuh, death will still come to the universe—but in accordance with life’s own patterns, not the Kotturuh Design. Some races will live but briefly; some will outlive the stars; but they will all have their own chance. Death can’t be beaten, perhaps; but sometimes you can outrun it.
And in the future, three men—three faces of the Doctor—meet for one last time.
Although this book picks up where the last left off, and continues the same story, its tone is very different. It’s much more lighthearted and comical, with many witty lines, puns, and jokes. I suppose that makes sense; the first book only features the Tenth Doctor in full Time Lord Victorious mode, and he’s not a very funny guy at that point. Here, though, we get Eight and Nine as well; and not only do they bring their own typical bouncy personalities with them, but also they begin to pull Ten out of his own pit. It isn’t only them, as well; Brian the Ood, the vampire Madame Ikalla, and others all get in some great lines.
But there are somber moments here, as well. Most notably, it becomes clear soon enough that the Eighth Doctor is from a point in his timeline prior to the start of the Time War; he’s fully unaware of it, and of Gallifrey’s destruction (well, he would be unaware of that, I suppose). His optimism and relative naivete are almost painful to watch when played against the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, who do know; it’s certainly painful for them to watch. Even though it’s acknowledged that he–and Nine as well–won’t remember these events once they end, Nine and Ten go out of their way not to tell Eight what’s coming.
That, in turn, begs the question of when exactly these Daleks originate from. Having arrived along with Eight, clearly they must also be pre-Time War Daleks; therefore they also can’t know of the future (despite having a Time Commander among their ranks). And yet, a Dalek is a Dalek is a Dalek; just as surely as their future Time War compatriots, they hit on the idea of destroying Gallifrey before it can rise to be a threat. Some things never change! I did find it interesting that they needed the Eighth Doctor and his TARDIS to get here; it’s stated that Dalek time travel tech has never been able to penetrate the barrier separating them from the Dark Times. It’s the first time I’ve heard of that barrier; I knew these times were forbidden to Time Lords, but I had not heard they were impossible to reach. Possibly this comes up in TLV stories I haven’t experienced yet; at any rate, it bears further investigation.
Overall, not a bad book; but it does have one fatal flaw: It never really resolves its main issue. The Tenth Doctor goes back in time and seeks to destroy the Kotturuh so that they can’t introduce death to a universe where no one ever dies. And yet, once the Kotturuh are vanquished, it really seems to make no difference. All races will still inherit death; they’ll simply come to their own lifespans without the interference of the Kotturuh. Of course the point is made that you can’t defeat death no matter how hard you try–which is not at all a new argument in Doctor Who–but…why was this ever an issue in the first place? It’s all very downplayed at the end. Throughout both books, a major point is that the Doctor has broken something fundamental in history by stopping the Kotturuh. It should have to be fixed–but instead, at the last few pages, we find out that it was never really broken at all. It really removes much of the impact of the story, and that’s unfortunate. Because it’s a hell of a good time getting there–journey before destination, to borrow a phrase from the Stormlight Archive series–and it’s regrettable that the destination is so anticlimax. Well, at least it’s a pretty battle!
Continuity references: Brian the Ood–who, incidentally, really steals the show whenever he’s onscreen–has an elaborate collection of weapons from ancient races: Racnoss (The Runaway Bride, et al), Jagaroth (City of Death), Grelsh, Uxaerian (Colony In Space, The Quantum Archangel), Daemon (The Daemons), and Kastrian (The Hand of Fear, Eldrad Must Die!). Nine mentions the Untempered Schism (The Sound of Drums). The Doctors telepathically join by saying “Contact” (The Three Doctors, et al). Ten, speaking to Nine, alludes to a child’s death (To the Death, Museum Peace). The Daleks use the phrase “philosophy of movement” when speaking of the TARDIS’s time travel (The Daleks). Ten reminds Eight that he started out by changing time to save his friends’ lives (TV movie). Eight thinks about meeting Brian (He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not), and about the TARDIS’s role in bringing them here (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). Inyit mentions Kotturuh legends regarding their activities (The Dawn of the Kotturuh). Gallifrey’s galactic coordinates are given (Pyramids of Mars, et al). The Doctors cite the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and caution each other against touching (and then promptly do it anyway, without consequence) (Mawdryn Undead). Eight mentions President Romana (Happy Endings, et al). Hector the Houseplant survives and ends up with the Ninth Doctor (Monstrous Beauty). Rose is mentioned, but is not present; she is on another planet, in the future, recovering (Monstrous Beauty).
Overall: I mean, why not? It’s not the most coherent novel, and it wraps up just a little too neatly (Just this once, everybody
lives! gets a new home!). But it’s still a lot of fun, and in the end, that’s why we’re here, right? So yes, check it out–and if you didn’t already read The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, read that one first.
Next time: Who knows? Soon it will be a new year, new reading/watching/listening, and we’ll see where it takes us. I’ll catch you there.
All Flesh Is Grass is available from many booksellers.
You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.
Novel Review: The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead
We’re back, with another novel review! For the holidays, here’s another standalone novel review (well, almost standalone—let’s say one of two). We’ll get back to the New Adventures soon, but not just yet. Today we’re looking at the first of the two novels from the “Time Lord Victorious” multimedia project, Steve Cole’s The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead. Published in October 2020, this book takes place shortly after the events of The Waters of Mars, and features the Tenth Doctor on the run from—and yet embracing—the decision he made in that story.
I want to go ahead and mention that for the moment, the only part of Time Lord Victorious—hereafter abbreviated as “TLV”—that I’m covering is this novel and its sequel, All Flesh is Grass. For now, anyway; I may try to check out some of the other installments, but at the moment all I have at hand are the two novels. Fortunately, they form a coherent story by themselves, and supplementary materials seem to indicate that they form the core of the entire TLV narrative; so I think we’ll be okay for now.
And with that, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!
The Doctor has already broken the most important rule—that you cannot change a fixed point in time—so why not break some more?
Thus he travels back, further back than any Time Lord is supposed to go, to the Ancient Days, the era when the universe was young, a time his people referred to as the Dark Times. He finds them anything but dark, though; for here he finds a universe where death is unnatural and rare. Every species is immortal, barring accidents; no one grows old, no one dies by natural means. But that is before the Kotturuh arrive.
The Kotturuh bring death—but not just by killing. Instead, the Kotturuh introduce death. They grant each species a peculiar and dark gift: the gift of a lifespan. For some it is short, for some long, all according to the Kotturuh’s Design. When they come to a world, those above the prescribed lifespan die at once; those beneath age to the point they would have reached had they been born with this lifespan. It is horrifying—and yet they deem it necessary.
The Doctor meets allies here. There is Estinee, the young survivor of an early encounter with the Kotturuh. There is Fallomax, the scientist and scam artist who saved and recruited Estinee. There is Chalskal, the self-proclaimed ambassador and would-be conqueror who seeks Fallomax’s Lifeshroud technology so that he can equip his armies to withstand the Kotturuh’s gift. And last, there is Brian the Ood, a rather strange and possibly insane Ood who claims to have arrived here in the Doctor’s TARDIS, under a different incarnation of the Doctor—and who works as an assassin.
And yet, it may not be enough. For the Doctor, drunk with his own power as the last of the Time Lords, the Time Lord Victorious, has decided to take on the greatest enemy of all—death itself—and cut it off at the source. If he can defeat the Kotturuh here, the universe will never know death as a force; and perhaps its greatest evils—the Daleks, the Cybermen, others like them—will never arise.
The Doctor takes charge of the Lifeshroud project—but he does more than make the life-preserving technology functional. With the help of his friends, he turns it into a weapon, a system that will turn the Kotturuh’s gift back on themselves, and bring death to the dealers of death. The Kotturuh will have their own lifespan, and their power will be cut off from this universe, and life will prevail.
Except…the Doctor’s past lives want to stop him.
The Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor—each accompanied by some of their greatest enemies—arrive at the ultimate moment, and attempt to dissuade the Tenth Doctor from his course. And yet he will not listen, for he is the Time Lord Victorious—and he fires the weapon.
I’ll be brief, and for the very simple reason that this book is not a complete story by itself. I’ll be able to say more when I post part two of this review, concerning All Flesh is Grass.
After so many seasons of the next three incarnations of the Doctor, and all of the elaboration we’ve had on the Time War, the Moment, and the Doctor’s character, it was a bit of a challenge to put myself back in the mindset of the way things were at the end of The Waters of Mars. In some ways it’s a pity that the Time Lord Victorious arc (if we can call it that) was contained to one episode, because the Doctor was forced to go from pride to remorse so quickly. (I realize an argument can be made that other episodes figure in as well, in terms of the influences that led the Doctor to that moment, and in terms of the consequences; but I’m saying that his entire time as the “Time Lord Victorious” was contained to one episode.) That creates a bit of a problem when trying to start this storyline, because the Doctor immediately seems to backtrack. His remorse is forgotten, except for the occasional fleeting memory; he’s right back to be the proud, arrogant Time Lord he was when he decided to save Adelaide Brooke.
But he plays it well, though. He really commits to this new course of action, and he immediately finds a challenge he considers worthy of his status: the removal—prevention, even—of death from the universe. And he turns his considerable personal energy to that goal in very un-Doctorish ways. He blusters and brags; he bullies his friends into doing what he wants; he runs over their objections and refuses to listen; he threatens (okay, that’s Doctorish enough, I admit). And in the end, he decides that the ends justify the means here. He decides—over Estinee’s objections—that doing to the Kotturuh what they’ve done to other species is not just okay, but admirable, if it means stopping them.
And that’s where we get to the real conflict of this book. It’s the infamous Trolley Problem, but writ large, and in Doctor Who terms. If the Doctor does nothing, every species in the universe will experience death. But if he acts to prevent that from happening, the Kotturuh will die (as well as every species they’ve already touched). And yet it’s not quite the same problem, because the Kotturuh aren’t just potential victims; they’re the perpetrators of death for everyone else. So it would seem like an easy choice—make the Kotturuh pay for their actions, kill them, and their many would-be victims can live. That’s the choice the Tenth Doctor makes.
But…it’s not that clear, either. We’re clearly intended to think that what he’s doing is wrong. Not only does Estinee—who is the innocent in this story, the tiny moral compass, the role that is often filled by a companion—disapprove; but also, the Doctor’s past selves disapprove. The Eighth and Ninth Doctors, appearing at the last moment, are here to stop the Tenth from carrying out this strike on the Kotturuh. They even tell him that he thinks he is doing the right thing, but he isn’t. The only catch here, is that we don’t yet know why it’s the wrong decision.
And that’s the exciting part! It could go several ways. It could be that something worse will be unleashed. It could be a “MCU Thanos” scenario, where the future universe can’t support all this life if there’s not death. It could be that death is necessary for the existence of the Web of Time. A million possibilities—and we just don’t know yet. And it’s in that environment, with so little knowledge, that the Tenth Doctor arrogantly makes his decision to strike.
I can’t wait to see what happens!
As for the experience of reading this book, I had only two complaints. For one, it’s very short, 178 pages in hardback. It took me about two hours to read. Not that I mind shorter fiction—I don’t—but It’s a pretty abrupt change from every other Doctor Who novel I’ve read. Of course there’s the sequel still to go; despite being from a different author, it could almost be regarded as the second half of the same book. The other issue was that the characters—specifically the three Doctors, since they’re the only familiar characters—don’t really feel or sound much like their usual selves here. One can picture them doing the things they’re doing, but the dialogue is very different from what we usually get for those characters, and it comes across jarringly. After recently reading (er, listening to) Scratchman, which really nails the characterization and dialogue, it was a bit of a letdown.
But none of that is a dealbreaker, and I still recommend the book.
Continuity References: Obviously there are many references to The Waters of Mars. The Tenth Doctor refers to several “old one” species: The Jagaroth (City of Death), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks), the Racnoss (The Runaway Bride), and the Eternals (Enlightenment). He uses the term “walks in eternity” to refer to himself, as did the Fourth Doctor in Pyramids of Mars. The Ood Brain is mentioned several times (Planet of the Ood). Chronolocks are mentioned (Face the Raven), as are the fallen civilizations of Ascinta and Perganon (School Reunion). The rise of the Daleks (Genesis of the Daleks) and Cybermen (Spare Parts) are mentioned. The Doctor alludes to the rejection of his name in The Night of the Doctor. He remembers his conversation with Mr. Copper, though not by name (Voyage of the Damned). He puts on his Time Lord robes and says he is dressed for the occasion; the Master did the same in the TV movie. The Dark Times are referenced in a way reminiscent of the short story The Guide to the Dark Times. Brian reports arriving in the Dark Times in the TARDIS (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). And, most importantly, there are three interludes, each of which features a scene from a different Doctor’s life; in each instance, he tells the fairy tale of “Godfather Death”. In the first, the First Doctor and Barbara talk in the Cave of Skulls (An Unearthly Child–using that title for the serial, not the individual episode). In the second, Rose and the Ninth Doctor talk (no particular episode cited). In the third, it is the Eighth Doctor with Brian the Ood (again, no particular episode).
Okay, I lied about being brief…oops!
Overall: Despite the heavy topic, this is fairly light reading for Doctor Who. Still, if you’re interested in the TLV series, you should definitely pick it up—and even if not, I think you’ll find it entertaining. After the most recent run of television episodes, it feels like a palate cleanser, and at this point that’s a welcome change.
Next time: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack! See you there.
The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead is available at many booksellers.
You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.
Novel Review: Scratchman
We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Stepping out of the New Adventures series for a moment, today we’re looking at a more recent, and more unique, novel: 2019’s Scratchman, written by Tom Baker himself!
…Well, not exactly. Baker is certainly credited as the author; and along with Ian Marter, he wrote the original movie treatment from which the novel is adapted. (In some sources, Marter gets a credit on the novel as well.) But the actual writing was handled by James Goss, and he deserves credit as well, so I’m acknowledging him here.
However, Baker did do the reading of the novel; and it’s for that reason that this time, I chose the Audible audiobook version. I’ll go ahead and say, you should too; if you want to experience this novel, do yourself a favor and pick up the audio. Tom is clearly having the time of his life, and it shows; you won’t be disappointed.
This novel features the Fourth Doctor, along with companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan (placing it sometime early in the Fourth Doctor’s era—we’ll try to get a better placement later). Further, it’s told in the first person perspective, by the Doctor himself. And so, let’s get started!
SPOILERS AHEAD! A brief summary begins here, and contains spoilers. If you want to avoid them, skip down to the line divider, below. However, be aware that some minor spoilers may happen in the later remarks as well.
The Fourth Doctor is on trial. The Time Lords have summoned him to Gallifrey to account for his recent actions; and this time, they aren’t playing around. He is accused of interfering in universal affairs—a rather broad charge, and that’s the point, isn’t it? The penalty, should they find him guilty, is to be wiped from existence—but the Doctor isn’t going to roll over and die. Instead, he’s come to teach the Time Lords a lesson in fear—and to do that, he’s going to tell them the story of his recent encounter with the Devil himself: Scratchman.
The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry arrive on an island somewhere off the coast of Scotland (or is it? It’s suggested, but not confirmed), in a recent but unconfirmed year. It seems like a nice place for a break; but as usual, something is very wrong here. It doesn’t take long for the Doctor and his friends to find that strange living scarecrows have infested the island, and are slowly killing the villagers. Or…are they? It soon becomes apparent that they aren’t killing the locals; they’re transforming them into more scarecrows!
The travelers gather the remaining locals into the village church. The Doctor deduces that a virus is the vector for this strange plague, and that the scarecrows spread the virus by touch; but if he can keep them from getting infected, and can destroy the scarecrows, he can stop it. To the latter end, he constructs a machine that will create an evolutionarily targeted breed of moths, which will devour the scarecrows’ outer shells, killing them. He sends Harry out for parts, and sends Sarah to the TARDIS to retrieve an Artron power pack for the device. Harry is infected while out, though he doesn’t realize it. Sarah accidentally allows a scarecrow into the TARDIS; she confronts and defeats it, but not before it infects her—and what’s more, it infects the TARDIS itself. Along the way, the Doctor himself is infected, though he is able to resist it longer.
A battle in the churchyard leads to the deaths of the remaining locals; although the moths do the job, it’s too late, and the scarecrows capture the Doctor and his friends. They take them to the beach, where they are confronted by the power behind the scarecrows: The Cybermen. However, the Doctor figures out that the Cybermen aren’t the problem here; they, too, are tools. Some other power has gifted them with the scarecrow virus, promising them an easy army; that power now has what it truly wants: The Doctor. It appears on the beach in the form of a humanoid at a distance, as the Cybermen leave the scene and walk into the ocean. The figure tells the Doctor to come to him, and turns Harry and Sarah into scarecrows.
The Doctor lands the TARDIS in a strange volcanic world; as soon as he exits, the TARDIS is consumed by vines. He meets a taxi driver named Charon, who takes him on a drive to meet the ruler of this land. The Doctor has already forgotten much, including his own identity and mission; Charon says this is normal here in the land of the dead, and that it will come back to him eventually. Along the way they suffer an attack from the Cyberleader from the island, who apparently is now also dead. Charon drops him near a castle floating in the sky, which the Doctor enters. He suffers another attack on his identity, but refuses to believe he is dead; the memory of Sarah and Harry returns to him and strengthens him. He finds them in a strange ballroom, dancing among a crowd; but this all serves to try to convince him he is dead, and therefore no longer the Doctor. He sees Harry and Sarah leave with a young man, purportedly his next self; and he begins to lose heart. However he meets a young blonde woman—his Thirteenth self, though he doesn’t know it—who distracts and frees him from the influence of the place.
The Doctor then meets the local ruler, Scratchman, who is ostensibly the Devil himself—which makes this place Hell. Scratchman offers to return the Doctor to his own universe and place, if the Doctor will open the way for Scratch to follow—after all, he claims he has made this a better realm, and claims that, much like the Doctor, he would like to do the same in the Doctor’s universe. The Doctor refuses, leaving a battle between them as the only alternative. He recovers Harry and Sarah, but they find themselves battling Scratchman on a huge game board, which is defined by Harry’s memories and thoughts. The Doctor forces a stalemate before Scratchman tries to change the rules. He loses Harry; but Harry makes his way inside the castle, and sabotages the engines that keep it afloat. The Doctor nearly dies in the crash, but is rescued by the Cyberleader; it tells him that its own form of Hell is being forced to do good deeds, and feel the emotions thereof. It states it will not do so again, and then disappears.
The Doctor now knows Scratch’s secret: He feeds on dreams and feelings and memories. The engines were powered by the consumption of the dreams of those trapped in this world; but that source of power is running out. Scratch begins to consume the world itself in an effort to destroy the Doctor; he creates replicas of many creatures the Doctor has faced and defeated, and sends them after the Doctor. He also creates scarecrow replicas of the Doctor’s previous three incarnations, to judge and dishearten the Doctor. The Doctor and his friends meet up with the islanders who died as scarecrows; the islanders know they’re doomed, but they choose to go down fighting, and stand against the army of monsters, allowing the Doctor to make it back to Scratch’s office in the ruins. Scratch reveals that what he really wants—the thing he believes will give him true power over the Doctor—is to know what the Doctor is afraid of. The Doctor tells him (although we, the readers, are not told). Whatever it is, Scratch is overwhelmed by it, and falls into fear himself. He flees from the remains of the monster army, before falling into a chasm to escape them. Quiet falls over the remains of Hell, and the three travelers—the only survivors—find the TARDIS, now restored, and return to their own universe.
Back at the trial, the Time Lords are unhappy with the outcome; but as the Doctor did save the universe again, and sealed the rift to Scratchman’s universe, they have no grounds to convict him. The Doctor concludes his lesson to them by telling them that what Scratchman wanted was not truly the Doctor’s fear, but rather, the Time Lords’ fear. He tells them they are afraid of change; and tells them to take action when the universe is under threat. He then walks out of the courtroom.
Later, while taking a much-belated break, the Doctor talks with Sarah about her experiences in the infected TARDIS, and about the future, and the knowledge of it. He meets briefly with the Thirteenth Doctor again, and talks about their own mutual future. He ends, much later, with a reading of a note from Sarah Jane, who is no longer with him.
I’m going to change up my usual order of things, and list continuity references now, rather than at the end. There’s a method to my madness, so bear with me:
Continuity references: The Doctor has previously been tried (The War Games), and will be again, several times. He mentions the Master’s doomsday weapon (Colony in Space). He mentions several recent encounters: professors (Robot), giant wasps (The Ark in Space), “militant potatoes” i.e. Sontarans (The Sontaran Experiment), mad scientists (Genesis of the Daleks), shapeshifters i.e. Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), and androids (The Android Invasion). Sarah Jane has her own mentions: her aunt Lavinia (The Time Warrior, later in A Girl’s Best Friend), a space station (The Ark in Space), a minefield (Genesis of the Daleks), a mummy (Pyramids of Mars), an android duplicate (The Android Invasion), a stuffed owl (The Hand of Fear), a garden centre (A Girl’s Best Friend–Sarah is seeing possible futures at this point), an exploding school (School Reunion) and a young boy (Luke, Invasion of the Bane et al.). She believes, erroneously, that the Jigsaw Room floor is a tile trap (Death to the Daleks, The Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor mentions the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons) and thinks about the Daemons (The Daemons). Scratchman pulls several monsters from the Doctor’s memories: Giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders), Macra (The Macra Terror), Mechonoids (described but not named; The Chase), a giant robot (Robot), giant maggots (The Green Death), brains in jars (The Keys of Marinus), and a metal city of Daleks (described but not named; The Daleks).
How many times has the Doctor met the devil?
It’s a good question! And admittedly, one that’s difficult to pin down. A statement that repeatedly comes up in Doctor Who is that Earth’s history of belief in the devil has been greatly influenced by outsiders. The Daemons from the planet Daemos are once source (The Daemons), as were the Demoniacs (Mean Streets). The Greek immortal Hades called himself Satan (Deadly Reunion), as did Sutekh (Pyramids of Mars). The Beast claimed to be Satan, and certainly looked the part (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit). (This information taken from the TARDIS wiki, not assembled by me.)
And here we meet another candidate, Scratchman. This being comes from outside our universe, from a related realm that poses itself as the Land of the Dead. It’s actually unclear whether Scratchman originated there, or whether he came from somewhere else; the Doctor makes it clear that Scratchman’s rule had a definite beginning, and Scratch himself doesn’t deny it.
Scratch’s claim to being the devil is pretty good, as compared to some of the others. The dead really do appear to go to his realm (or at least some of them; this isn’t the only afterlife we’ve ever seen); while there, the Doctor meets the dead villagers that he previously encountered in life, and both he and they seem convinced that the villagers are both real and dead. Even more convincingly to me, the Doctor never denies that Scratch is exactly what he says he is; in fact the Doctor supports that claim, treats him as though he is in fact the Devil, and even later warns the Time Lords that they should fear Scratchman. When the Time Lords mock him for this, he doubles down. Is Scratch truly the devil? It’s up to the reader in the end; but the Doctor himself seems to think so, at least to the limit that he acknowledges that the devil could be real at all.
The Doctor purports to give the Time Lords a lesson in fear; indeed, all the interludes set during the trial are themed around various aspects of fear. The overall lesson seems to be that fear is a tool, and if you can’t overcome it, someone will use it. That lesson cuts in two directions; the Doctor urges the Time Lords to overcome their own fear of change and inactivity so that it can’t be used against them, and so that they don’t fail in their responsibilities to the universe; but at the same time, it’s clear that he overcomes his own fear. He does this not by denying it, but by embracing it and using it to motivate himself. We’re never told exactly what the Doctor fears, but it must be something great indeed, if in the end it drives even his enemy to extremity. (The novel doesn’t take the easy way out here; it would be so simple to say that “The Doctor fears losing his friends” or something sentimental like that, but the book explicitly avoids that option—rather, he makes it clear that he loves his friends, and that love is a potent force for good.)
Now, a bit of theorizing. Let’s think about when this story takes place. Based on the list of continuity references above, it’s clear that this story happens near the end of Harry’s travels with the Doctor. In fact, his last televised adventure, The Android Invasion, has already taken place; but the next story, The Brain of Morbius, does not feature Harry, and gets no mention here, implying this story takes place immediately between those two adventures. (There are mentions of later episodes, but they are explicitly images of possible futures, not memories of things already past.) I think that the Doctor’s “lesson” to the Time Lords here is specifically a reaction to the events of Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor has always considered the Time Lords to be stagnant, standoffish, and set in their ways, qualities he abhors. I think that when they began to interfere by proxy, during his third life, he grew frustrated with their efforts to use him to do things they themselves considered beneath them; and I think this came to a head in Genesis, where he finally refused to comply. Thus he comes here and lectures them about their habit of ignoring their responsibility to the universe, because even in sending him out to do their dirty work, they’ve been refusing to get involved themselves—using him as an “out”, as it were.
But: remember that there’s also a popular theory that the events of Genesis constituted the opening blow of the Time War. My addition: What if the reason the Time Lords began to fight the war directly, is because of the Doctor’s speech here? What if he prompted them to take direct action—and in typical Time Lord fashion, they screwed it up, and started a war they couldn’t win? Essentially, the Doctor called them cowards and dared them to do it. A lesson in fear, indeed! Or at least it’s frightening to think of in hindsight.
The highlight of the story is the perspective. The first person perspective is a unique addition to this story; and with the Fourth Doctor as a narrator, it becomes an interesting look into his thoughts. He’s conceited, there’s no doubt about that; but when coupled with his obvious love for life and sense of humor, it comes across as charming rather than arrogant. This is the Doctor in his youth; I’ve long suggested that given Time Lord lifespans, the fourth incarnation is the Doctor’s adolescent period, where he’s rebellious and wild, but also still has much to learn. This story seems to bear that out. He’s not the jaded and cunning Doctor of future incarnations; he’s sarcastic but not cynical, and even in some ways naïve. It’s refreshing, but it’s not the view of the Doctor that we would get through companion eyes.
Overall: What a fun story! It’s not the most serious adventure out there, though neither is it absurd, despite the premise; it’s just serious enough. And that’s a good place for a Fourth Doctor adventure to be. It’s also highly sentimental; one gets the impression it’s Tom Baker’s memorial to Ian Marter and Elizabeth Sladen, both of whom are referenced fondly, both in and out of character. If you have the opportunity, check it out, and enjoy the trip.
Next time: Well, this isn’t part of a series, and standalone novels are rare among my reviews, so…we’ll see? I may cover the Nest Cottage trilogy; for anyone interested, you can obtain the entire set for one price on Audible, or if you have an Audible membership, for one credit. Regardless, whatever we cover, see you there!
Doctor Who: Scratchman may be purchased in print form from Amazon and other booksellers, and in audio form from Audible and other audio distributors.
The TARDIS wiki’s treatment of the novel may be found here.
Audio Drama Review: Tomb Ship
Welcome back! Not only has it been awhile, but also, it’s been an even longer while since we looked at (er, listened to?) an audio story. But, here we are! And I, for one, am glad to be back.
A bit of bad news, though: I’m not picking up where we left off–or at least not yet. Last time–all the way back in April of 2020!–we listened to number 53 in the main range of Doctor Who audio dramas, The Creed of the Kromon, where we found the Eighth Doctor, C’rizz, and Charley Pollard wandering the Divergent Universe. I’ll admit–and my posts of the time will confirm–that this has been a difficult stretch of stories for me, post-Zagreus. The Divergent Universe arc is pretty experimental as audios go, and often the stories are a sort of thought experiment, sometimes of a type that wouldn’t translate well to any other medium–in short, not your father’s Doctor Who! With all that said, I’m not saying that I won’t cover them; but I am saying that it’s a bit of a trudge for me, and I’m not quite ready to dive back in.
So, today, while we’re staying in the main range, we’re going to divert ahead a bit. We’re listening to a much later story, Main Range # 186, Tomb Ship! Written by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, this story was published in May 2014, and features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and temporary companion Hannah Bartholomew. Note that since we’re skipping so far ahead, I won’t be activating the “Previous” and “Next” buttons at the end of the post today; there are no relevant posts for them to link to. Once we (eventually) reach those posts, I’ll add the links. Let’s get started!
As always, there are spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip to the next line divider.
The Doctor and Nyssa land in a long stone passage, filled with dust and dark from disuse. They soon find it to be a part of a massive structure–a ship, as they will soon discover. After finding a dead and dried body, the Doctor deduces that the ship was built by the long-gone Arrit species, an advanced race that, he claims, could have grown to rival the Time Lords had they not met their end. Unknown to the Doctor, however, they are not alone on the ship. Elsewhere, a woman named Virna has broken in, along with several of her adult sons; they are a family of treasure hunters, and Virna is…obsessed, to put it mildly. So much so, in fact, that she is willing to sacrifice everyone around her, including her own sons, to get what she wants. She has already lost one to this ship, and just before the arrival of the Doctor and Nyssa, she loses another son, Rek, to one of the ship’s many traps. She is taunted by the voice of a mysterious woman, but conceals both this and Rek’s death from her other children.
The Doctor realizes, to his horror, that the ship is an Arrit tomb ship–the not-so-final resting place of the last of the Arrit god-kings. The Arrit, he explains to Nyssa, believed their kings were gods, and that in death they would become new stars in the sky, allowing their people to live on in their light. But, being both highly religious and highly advanced, they weren’t content to believe it; instead, they set about making it happen. Their tomb ships, they equipped with incredible explosives–powerful enough to turn the ship, its contents, and its surroundings into a supernova, which will settle into a new star! The ship would be set off into the cosmos on a journey of thousands of years–but this one is nearing its end; the Doctor can feel the hum of its engines cycling, a sign of its arrival at its destination. Meanwhile, Virna and her children discover the new intruders’ presence, and take them captive. They briefly break free and run, only to find that the TARDIS is not where they left it. Immediately thereafter they are recaptured–but Virna learns that the way back to her own ship has been cut off, as well. The whole group is now trapped–and the only way out, is in.
After a few mishaps with traps, Virna threatens Nyssa, forcing the Doctor to help her. She leaves Nyssa with one of her sons, Hisko, and takes her remaining sons Murs and Heff, along with the Doctor, to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the ship, using the Doctor’s expertise to disable or avoid traps. Along the way, they are confronted by giant insects, which the Doctor identifies as the Arrit-ko, slaves of the Arrit. He tries to talk Virna out of her plan, but she only adds urgency to the situation when she tells the Doctor that the tomb ship has entered a populated star system, thus endangering millions of lives. They find another body, this one better preserved; the Doctor notices several similarities to Virna’s current expedition, and his suspicions grow. At the same time, Nyssa outwits Hisko and escapes; he pursues her, but stops when she finds yet another body. They are attacked by the Arrit-ko, but are rescued by a strange woman, who seems to have some control over the creatures. She takes them along toward the inner sanctum, for what she calls a “family reunion”.
The Doctor, Virna, Heff, and Murs end up in a trap which requires someone to choose who will die. It quickly becomes evident to the Doctor–though not to Heff and Murs–that Virna will gladly sacrifice her sons to save herself. He struggles with her, and manages to execute the choice to sacrifice himself (as well as Virna); the trap then releases them. He explains that it was a test; only one who is willing to sacrifice himself would be allowed to continue. Proceeding on, Virna sends her sons ahead, where they encounter a mob of Arrit-ko, and begin to fight them. Virna has Heff hold them off while the others escape into the next room–and then she seals the door, locking Heff out to die. Murs, horrified, tries to stop her, but she threatens him as well. Unable to save Heff, the Doctor leads them toward the inner sanctum. Heff, meanwhile, is momentarily saved by a new arrival: Hannah Bartholomew, who stowed away in the TARDIS during the Doctor’s last adventure. He succumbs to his wounds, but not before begging her to stop his mother.
The mysterious woman introduces herself as Jhanni. She does not explain her presence here, but Nyssa figures it out; and as Jhanni runs on ahead, sensing trouble in the inner sanctum, Nyssa explains her conclusions to Hisko. She is sure that Virna has been here before, with other children with her–and Jhanni is one of them. Abandoned by Virna, she now only wants revenge; and her mind is somehow linked to the ship and the Arrit-ko. Meanwhile the ship comes under attack from the locals in the star system.
The Doctor’s group arrives at the inner sanctum, and discovers the dead god-king of Arrit, preserved in a stasis field. Jhanni contacts Virna and taunts her, telling her the Arrit-ko are coming for her. The Doctor figures out the final “catch” of the tomb: The god-king is not quite dead; its mind persists. A second mind must link with the god-king to form the psychic trigger that will activate the supernova bomb. The Doctor tries to link with the god-king, not to activate the bomb, but to persuade the god-king to steer the ship back out to deep space. While his under the link, the Arrit-ko arrive and attack Virna; Hisko runs on ahead to intervene, and the Arrit-ko also attack Nyssa. Hannah arrives and rescues her, and they head to the inner tomb. Once there, they find Jhanni confronting Virna; Virna sends Hisko on ahead. Nyssa and Hannah connect with him, then pull the Doctor from the link. The Doctor tells them his plan, but says he was unsuccessful; Jhanni’s mind is already linked, and is filled with nothing but rage, pain, and revenge–hence the ship’s presence in an inhabited system. When she goes, she’ll take millions with her.
The Doctor takes Nyssa, Hisko, and Murs to save Virna, because if she dies, Jhanni will have no reason to continue living, and will blow the ship up. However, this lets Virna escape, killing Murs in the process. At the Doctor’s insistence, Jhanni convinces the ship to head back into deep space; but she can’t stop the god-king from activating the supernova bomb. The survivors–the Doctor, Nyssa, Jhanni, Hisko, and Hannah–flee to the TARDIS (which had moved due to the HADS–Hostile Action Displacement System–when the walls closed around it, but has now returned). Meanwhile Virna confronts the god-king, and learns the awful truth: there was never any treasure. The promised prize is the opportunity to become a star along with the god-king, and thus, in the Arrit view, to ascend to godhood herself. As the TARDIS escapes, the supernova bomb detonates, taking the god-king and Virna with it.
Later, the Doctor takes Jhanni and Hisko to safety, before deciding what to do with Hannah. She wants to stay and travel with the Doctor and Nyssa, but of course the Doctor is having none of it, and sets the controls to take her home…casually mentioning that the destination he sets is usually the last place the TARDIS will take him.
I mentioned earlier that many of the Eighth Doctor’s main range stories are somewhat experimental in nature, and often would not translate well to the screen. Well, if you’re like me, and that type of story doesn’t work well for you, you’re in luck! Tomb Ship is exactly the opposite–a story that practically demands to be told onscreen. So much so, in fact, that it almost feels a bit wasted on audio.
That’s not to say that listening was a bad experience. Rather, I had a fantastic time with this story. It moves at lightning speed, but at the same time it is just tight enough and contained enough that one never loses track of the plot. No, when I say it would play well on television, I’m thinking of the implied visuals: the majestic setting of the tomb ship’s halls and corridors and columns, the explosion of the supernova bomb, the massed swarms of the Arrit-ko…it would translate to visual media so well!
But in the meantime, I appreciate what we have. The TARDIS team of Five and Nyssa is nothing if not efficient; the story moves along much more smoothly when the Doctor has a companion that is on his level, or near enough. Nyssa never has to be told, in agonizing detail, what to do; she anticipates, and usually correctly. She’s decisive but not headstrong, which plays well with the Fifth Doctor’s cooler temperament. When set up against a villain such as the matriarch Virna, who is calculating and shrill, but slowly falling apart under her obsession, it’s a small-scale but worthy match.
Then there is the matter of Hannah Bartholomew. She appears suddenly in this story, and obviously the intention is that the listener will have listened to the previous story, where the character is introduced. I hadn’t done so, although I had–entirely by coincidence–read a summary of the previous story, and so I had some idea of what to expect from Hannah. But her presence would be jarring to anyone who came into this story completely blind; and that’s the biggest weak point to this story. I suppose that’s an issue in any story that is part of a series; but in this case, it’s complicated by the fact that she doesn’t seem to be a focal character in the preceding story either. Oh well; we’ll check it out eventually! For the moment: welcome aboard, Hannah! (I understand the character will be short-lived as companions go; she only has one more appearance before departing. We’ll see.)
Doctor Who has no shortage of cruel villains, who stand in sharp contrast to the Doctor’s “never cruel nor cowardly” persona. Virna has a special place among them, though, and one that is especially emotional for me. After all, it’s not every day we find a villain who will sacrifice their own children for their cause. Virna did it, not once, but twice (at least!). There are few things sadder than a parent who chooses herself (or himself–we’re equal opportunity here) over his children, and especially to the point of death. Likewise, there are few things better calculated to create rage in the Doctor–and indeed, he lets her suffer the consequences of her actions, and die in the supernova. It’s terrible, it’s horrifying, and it’s incredibly satisfying from a story perspective.
Continuity: There’s very little in the way of continuity references here; this story is pretty independent and freestanding, as audio dramas go. What little there is has been thoroughly recorded on the TARDIS wiki, so I’m repeating their findings here. Nyssa makes reference to the character of Nathaniel Whitlock from the previous story, Moonflesh; Hannah also mentions the events of that story, and how they pointed her toward stowing away on the TARDIS. The Doctor mentions the TARDIS’s translation circuits (The Masque of Mandragora). Virna compares the Arrit-ko to the Wirrn (The Ark in Space). The TARDIS is moved by its HADS, or Hostile Action Displacement System (The Krotons).
And now, before we go, a bit of idle theorizing. I recently rewatched the revived series episode 42, with the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones. In that story, a star is found to be both alive and hostile; it can in some limited way possess individuals, accessing their knowledge while taking them over. I couldn’t help wondering if that star may be connected to Akhaten, the living celestial object in The Rings of Akhaten. I very carefully chose the phrase “celestial object” because, although Akhaten is portrayed as a planet of sorts, its appearance is much more like a star; and it is only once referenced as a planet, but that within the context of the viewpoint of the locals, which is heavily loaded with superstition. If the first appearance in 42 is early in the star’s life cycle, and The Rings of Akhaten takes place much later, it’s plausible to me they could be the same. (Or I would be content to have them be related phenomena.) Now: What if those objects originated as Arrit tomb ships? The Arrit are adamant that their god-kings become living stars–and it is made clear that their minds live beyond death. What if those stars are, indeed, living?
Just a thought, but one that I find intriguing.
Overall: Tomb Ship is a fun, rollicking story, and you won’t regret your time. That’s the most that can be said for it–but really, what more do we want?
Next time: Who knows? But, eventually, we’ll get back to the Divergent Universe, and also to the next story in this sequence, Masquerade! We’ll see you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.
Novel Review: Strange England
We’re back! And hopefully we’ll stay caught up now! Last time, we looked at #28 in the Virgin New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels, Blood Harvest. Today we’re examining #29, Simon Messingham’s only contribution to the line: August 1994’s Strange England. Judging by that cover, it’s going to live up to its name—so, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip ahead to the dividing line below.
Anytime the TARDIS takes its crew to a peaceful place, you can rest assured that trouble is on the way. This newest destination, a Victorian manor in the country, is no exception. Almost immediately, the first person the Doctor, Ace, and Benny meet—a young girl named Victoria (no connection to the former companion of the same name)—is killed by a large, vicious insect lodging itself in her throat. Other deaths are happening elsewhere among the household staff: the groundskeeper is killed by a tree, the gardener by his roses. Ace goes to find help, and the Doctor and Benny carry Victoria back to the house, where they meet another resident, Victoria’s sister Charlotte, as well as the housekeeper. Along the way, Benny sees a man by the lake, smoke spewing from his body.
It quickly becomes apparent that the household have no concept of time, of death, of change–as though they live in a sort of stasis. They’ll learn soon enough, though, as the deaths begin to mount. Meanwhile, Ace finds herself in a village, where she encounters Arthur, another member of the household, who is very unwell. The pair run afoul of Dr. Stephen Rix and his thugs, though Ace finds an unexpected ally in future author Richard Aickland, whose books she once read. She finds Rix to be a sadistic, focused psychopath, determined to punish God Himself for perceived slights against him; when he fails to use Arthur and his burgeoning powers for that purpose, he sets out to find the rest of Arthur’s household and accomplish his aims.
While the Doctor tries to solve the mystery of the house and its inhabitants, he sends Benny and Charlotte—who is now rapidly aging—to investigate the smoking man. Thus they discover another piece of the puzzle: the figure calling himself the Quack, who claims a relationship to the Doctor via the Doctor’s dreams. The Quack invades the house, causing it to begin to tear itself apart; and Benny is struck down by one of the insects that killed Victoria.
But all of this has a familiar ring to the Doctor. As the threads of this story converge—and, fortunately, Benny is saved from an untimely death—the Doctor at last pieces it together: The world of the house, and all its people, is not the real world at all. It’s the manipulated interior of a TARDIS. And not just any TARDIS: this one belongs to an old acquaintance of the Doctor. Her name is Galah, and she is dying.
Galah has a bone to pick with the Doctor, dating all the way back to her school days—and now that her life is ending (prematurely, it seems—something went wrong with her regenerative process), she’s come back to make her final point. While the Doctor has always believed that good and evil are choices we make, an act we carry out, Galah believes them to be a state of being. To prove her point, she has linked her dying mind to her TARDIS, and used its architecture system to create the artificial world of the house, linked to a corresponding spot on Earth like an anchor. It’s static, benign, and good—and it’s utterly failing.
But before the Doctor and his friends can do anything about that, there are Rix and the Quack to deal with. The problem of Rix solves itself; when Rix comes face to face with the Quack, who is now a monstrous and vengeful creature, he is overwhelmed, and kills himself. However, his death becomes the key to the Quack’s power; the Quack is a facet of the TARDIS, and is attempting to absorb everyone inside. Because Rix died before being absorbed, his consciousness is not assimilated, and in death he—now merged with the Quack—gains control of the interior of the TARDIS, cordoning Galah off into a corner.
The Doctor, Benny and Ace escape in their own TARDIS, using it to approach Galah’s from the outside, and entering the control room, where Galah’s dying body sleeps. The Doctor connects himself to the TARDIS, joining her on the inside, while Benny and Ace take a different route in to try to rescue Charlotte and Aickland, the only survivors from the house. They defend Charlotte and Aickland from Rix’s torture; meanwhile, the Doctor manages to rouse Galah to help him, and together, they erase Rix from the TARDIS’s protyon core, destroying him forever.
Galah at last admits that the Doctor was right: Good is a choice, as is evil—a life that one leads, not what one is by definition. She is dying; but at the Doctor’s suggestion, she uses the last of her energy to change Charlotte and make her real, so that she can survive outside the TARDIS. The Doctor takes Charlotte and Aickland back to Earth, the real Earth; they will later marry, and Aickland will write the books of ghost stories by which Ace knew him.
Strange England is the story of a world that never changes—until it does. On the surface, it’s a normal Victorian manor and village; but when did Doctor Who ever stop at the surface? And things are not what they seem here. As the situation deteriorates, things become progressively more bizarre, until the Doctor reaches the core of things—and takes a trip down memory lane, all the way back to his academy days.
We’ve met the Doctor’s old schoolmates before. The Rani, the Master, others—it’s a group of misfits worthy of any adventure. Galah, though, strikes me as a bit of a misfit even with that group—she’s the bookworm among the jocks, the Luna Lovegood among Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She’s a late arrival in the story—we get her name early, but we find out nothing about her until the final third of the book. I feel some affinity for her—I was a nerdy bookworm myself in school, at a time when being a nerd would still get you beaten up. And we get hints that the Doctor himself didn’t treat her well in the Academy—imagine that, the First Doctor being rude!—but he seems to regret it now.
I struggled with this book, I will admit. It was a very slow starter. It redeems itself in that final third, but you have to wade through a lot of meandering to get there. It’s not very surprising to learn that the author himself doesn’t think highly of this book; he’s even gone on record as saying that he hates the ending, and would change it. I should point out that the ending, as he is referring to it, is everything about the character of Galah; originally he wanted the Doctor to conclude that he was responsible for the problems in the House, and simply be forced to walk away, the “ultimate anti-climax”, as Messingham put it.
But that, as it turns out, leaves me with mixed feelings—because Galah and the ending are the best things about this story. I can agree with Messingham that the book isn’t great; but the part about which he is the least happy, is the part that went the furthest toward redeeming the book, in my opinion. There’s something to be said for having these characters live in the shadow of what is essentially their high school drama; to see what happens when someone just can’t let go and move on, and see the tragedy that results.
Oh well; can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
Messingham would not write for the New Adventures again. He would, however, go on to write several Doctor Who novels in other lines, all the way up to the Tenth Doctor Adventures. I have yet to read any of his other works, but I hope to get there eventually, at least with his Eighth Doctor Adventures contributions, and see how far he may have come.
The other major issue that bears addressing here is the use of TARDISes (and I’ll try not to spoil the punchline for those who didn’t read the summary above). It’s not the first time we’ve seen a situation like this—Ace even makes reference to the rather bizarre events of Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, which are admittedly far more extreme than what we see here. However, I find the situation in this novel to be much closer to the depiction of the TARDIS’s architectural capabilities as displayed in the revived television series, and it’s a nice little bit of unintentional foreshadowing. (Still no protyon cores in the new series, though!)
This story, in my opinion, isn’t particularly groundbreaking for any of our protagonists. Messingham did try to subvert some of the usual tropes: the Doctor runs from a desperate situation (temporarily) instead of helping; Ace gets her fingers broken (temporarily) and thus can’t fight; Benny dies (temporarily) instead of getting captured…okay, she’s also captured, sort of, so never mind that. But, overall, the focus here is much more on the strange situation than on the characterization. It does work, sort of; it’s just that the story takes so long to come together, and so the full effect of that situation is diluted.
Continuity references: Not too many, this time, and some of these are a bit thin. The Doctor believes evil to be a force (The Guardians of Prophecy). Benny mentions the events of Birthright; Ace mentions those of Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible and Timewyrm: Revelation. The Matrix gets mentioned, but this isn’t the Gallifreyan Matrix; rather, it’s the Matrix in a TARDIS, the data system that makes up its programming and personality (The Doctor’s Wife). Bernice recalls the Land of Fiction (Conundrum). Ace reiterates that she’s had enough of Victorian England and angels (Ghost Light). The Architectural Configuration Program is mentioned (Castrovalva, and in the future, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS). The Doctor plays the spoons (Time and the Rani). Benny thinks of the planets Heaven (Love and War) and Lucifer (Lucifer Rising). The Doctor thinks of Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.
Overall: Well, that was…something, anyway. I don’t hate it—it’s no The Pit—but it’s hardly a top-of-the-line entry. It did pick up near the end, and Galah makes the whole story poignantly tragic; I wish we’d had more of that, and less of the wandering aimlessly. But, if you’re into the foibles and secrets of TARDISes, you might still want to check this one out.
Next time: We’ll head back to a more modern (well, 1950s modern) Earth in David A. McIntee’s First Frontier! See you there.
A prelude to Strange England was published in DWM 125, and can be read here.
The Virgin New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from many resellers.