All material posted on this site is the original creation and property of the site’s owner. Please note that the author also regularly contributes to other sites, such as Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit and the TARDIS wiki. Any material duplicated in those locations is not plagiarized here, but has been written by the same author in all three locations. Some material has been reused as appropriate, without plagiarism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re back! And finally caught up! Today we’re looking at the twenty-eighth entry in the New Adventures series: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks. Published in July, 1994, this entry features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny (I know I say that a lot, but eventually companions will be swapped out, so bear with me), and serves as one of several sequels to the Fourth Doctor serial State of Decay. Not at all coincidentally, it’s also a prequel (of sorts) to the Fifth Doctor novel Goth Opera (because this is Doctor Who, and who said sequels have to come in order?). That novel is the first in the then-newly-launched Past Doctor Adventures line, and though I have read it, I haven’t covered it; but I may try to do so soon, just for continuity’s sake. (I don’t plan to start regular coverage of that line just yet; I’d like to finish the VNAs and the EDAs first.)
At any rate, Terrance Dicks never truly disappoints, and this is no exception—so, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.
Chicago, 1929. Old-school gangland at its finest, and maybe worst. Infamous (but oh so polite) mobster Al Capone runs most of the city, and wages occasional war on rival gang leaders, all under the shadow of Prohibition. Tom Dekker is a private eye, but he may be in over his head when Capone himself hires him to investigate a new speakeasy and its owner, a strange little man called “Doc”…
For “Doc”, Chicago isn’t a playground—but it is deadly. Doc would like nothing more than to see the mobs stop killing each other, and with the help of a gun-toting woman named Ace, he plans to do exactly that—even if it means helping Capone. But something is wrong: every time Doc and Capone get a handle on the situation, something sends it off the rails. It’s as though someone is sabotaging their work—and that someone may not be human.
Far from Chicago, Earth, and even the known universe, Professor Bernice Summerfield is investigating a quiet backwater planet. Its feudal society seems peaceful enough, beyond the parochial struggles between the peasants and the nobility—but the locals tell stories of long-slain Lords with a taste for blood. It doesn’t take Bernice long to find out just how true the stories are. She’ll soon learn that events here in E-space have an unexpected connection to 1920s Chicago—and that someone is pulling all the strings on two worlds, laying a trap for the Doctor. And that’s not even counting the problem of the vampires themselves!
I mentioned in passing a few days ago that this novel was a real page-turner for me, and it was; I finished it in two nights, most of it in one. It’s not that it’s the best novel in the series so far—I’m not sure which that would be, but I’d make a vote for Timewyrm: Revelation–it’s just that it’s like good comfort food. For one thing, I’ve been a fan of Terrance Dicks’s work very nearly my entire life. I grew up reading novelisations of Doctor Who even more than I watched the series, and Dicks wrote most of them (or rather, most of the ones I had access to—he wrote about a third of the novelisations of the classic series). He is almost certainly the only DW author whose name I knew prior to the modern era. Recently I saw a video review of Timewyrm: Exodus, Dicks’s first contribution to the VNAs, and the reviewer commented that, although Dicks was more than willing to write the book, he wasn’t very familiar with the Seventh Doctor at this point. Consequently he defaulted to the Doctor’s core characteristics as he understood them, rather than the personality specific to the Seventh Doctor. I think that’s a fair argument; but I mention it to say that things have changed by now! Blood Harvest’s Seven is much more himself—you can almost hear his accent in his dialogue.
For a second point in favor, this book follows closely on the heels of State of Decay, which is one of my favorite stories. Of course, for the Doctor, it’s been three regenerations and who knows how many years; but for the residents of the vampire planet, it’s been no more than perhaps a decade (characters who were elderly in State of Decay are still alive and active). Romana makes her first of half a dozen appearances in the VNAs; she’s still in E-space at this point, not exactly trapped, but here by choice. This book marks a turning point for her; she makes her return to Gallifrey. (K-9 is conspicuously absent; Romana mentions that he is serving as Lord High Administrator to Biroc, the Tharil leader, as the Tharils become a spacefaring species again. He will, however, rejoin Romana on Gallifrey at some point, possibly offscreen.)
If I have any complaint about this novel at all, it’s that its two storylines seem forced together. Either story could have stood alone, and there’s no good reason for them to be connected. The insertion of the villain that ties them together feels like exactly that—an insertion. I’m willing to overlook it, because both stories are good; the Chicago story ends a bit abruptly, but that has more to do with the historical events described (the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the other killings surrounding it) than the Doctor’s involvement.
You can probably imagine that this is a particularly bloody story. There’s a great deal of killing in the Chicago sequences, consistent with real world history (and maybe a bit more—that’s the point of the story). But there’s also events on the vampire planet, from exsanguinated bodies to large tanks of collected blood to a rather savage battle between humans and vampires. Doctor Who is known for the deaths of incidental characters, but it’s taken up a notch here; besides the large number of deaths, the deaths are graphic and visceral. I can’t see it having ever getting made for television in the classic series, which is a pity, because it’s a decent coda to State of Decay.
Continuity references: In addition to the obvious callbacks to State of Decay, the Fourth Doctor and K-9 make an appearance in a flashback to the end of Warrior’s Gate; the Doctor mentions Adric as well. The PI Dekker will reappear in Players, meeting a younger Doctor (the Sixth) and Peri. The Doctor has both a Reichinspektor General’s badge and Castellan Spandrell’s Gallifreyan Army Knife (Timewyrm: Exodus). Borusa is freed from imprisonment in the Tomb of Rasillon (The Five Doctors); this account will later be contradicted by another release in The Eight Doctors. (That event occurs earlier; it’s possible, given the way he behaves in this story, that he felt he hadn’t served his time yet, and returned voluntarily, to be released again here.) The character of the Time Lady Ruathadvorophrenaltid (Ruatha or Ruath for short) appears briefly at the end; she is a pivotal character in Goth Opera. The Doctor quotes himself from Timewyrm: Exodus (“In an authoritarian society, people obey the voice of authority”). Agonal may be an Eternal (this is suggested in Goth Opera, but that novel is tied tightly to this one), as seen in Enlightenment. Flavia is president of Gallifrey (The Five Doctors), and Spandrell is Castellan (The Deadly Assassin). The Doctor receives a dose of the Elixir of Life (The Brain of Morbius, Night of the Doctor). One of the Gallifreyan Committee of Three is the younger brother (or possibly cousin) of Goth (The Deadly Assassin). Benny mentions Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Ellerycorp Foundation (Love and War), Draconians (Frontier in Space, et al.), and Dulkis (The Dominators). Omega (The Three Doctors, Arc of Infinity), the Shobogans (The Invasion of Time), and a Drashig (Carnival of Monsters) all get a mention. It’s also worth mentioning that State of Decay stated that there was only the one village on the planet, whereas this novel states there are many others (not established in the interim, but always present).
Overall: Eh, I’ve already said I liked it. If you want a good, comfortable Doctor Who story—with a little more violence thrown in for spice—this is your book. Things will no doubt pick up again soon, so enjoy the break while you have it.
Next time (if I can manage to finish it): Simon Messingham’s Strange England! See you there.
A prelude to this novel can be found here.
The New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from Ebay and other resellers.
We’re back! Almost caught up now. Today we’re looking at the twenty-seventh entry in the New Adventures novel series: Andy Lane’s All-Consuming Fire. Published in June 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, this novel takes a turn even further into fiction with an appearance by none other than Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson! That should be interesting. So, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider, below.
In 1887, a secret and most interesting library stands in London: the Library of St John the Beheaded, visited only by those in the know. And, despite its most impressive security, it has been robbed. Several rare and important books have been stolen—books which, if properly used, may lead to another world. A case of such import deserves the best; and so, at the behest of none other than the Pope, Sherlock Holmes and his partner, John Watson, take the case.
They are not alone in their efforts. Also at work is a strange and mysterious figure, one who has been associated with the library under various faces: A man calling himself The Doctor. There’s one problem: The Doctor himself was the last to read the books—and thus, he himself is a suspect!
One thing is sure: this case won’t be easy. It will take Holmes, Watson, and the Doctor to places they never expected to go—from a séance in a rundown brothel, to the rugged and hot provinces of central India, to a world called Ry’leh that is populated with monstrosities, to perhaps the strangest place of all: San Francisco (!). Moreover, the case will prove to be personal for Holmes, much more so than even the great detective ever anticipated. The only question remaining is, will any of them survive?
One of the great things about the VNAs is the capacity for experimentation. Typically that means more sex, profanity, and violence than television would allow; but sometimes there’s experimentation with other conventions as well. Here, we have experimentation with the format itself. This novel takes the form of a book within a book. The frame of the story consists of the Doctor, Benny, and Ace discussing their adventure with Holmes and Watson (which are pen names for the real individuals; their real names are not given). The Doctor hands Benny a book by Arthur Conan Doyle, titled The Strange Case of the All-Consuming Fire (or, more fully, “All-Consuming Fire: Being a Reprint From the Reminiscences of Doctor John Watson As Edited by Arthur Conan Doyle”), which is Doyle’s (and by extension, Watson’s) take on their adventures. (Benny isn’t particular impressed; she implies that it took liberties with the real events.) The rest of the book, in the middle, is the text of Doyle’s book; therefore, as with most of Doyle’s works, it is presented in first person from Watson’s perspective (with occasional excerpts from Benny’s diary, as provided by her to Watson).
And now, confession time: I have never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s one of those things that has perpetually been “on the list”, but I’ve never made it to them yet. I’m familiar with some of them through highly abridged junior versions from my school days, or from various adaptations, but I haven’t read the original works. Therefore, as much as I’d like to, I can’t comment on how convincing the presentation is (given that it purports to be a Doyle book). On the bright side, that left me with no preconceptions about it; and I will say that Lane does a convincing job of making it seem period-appropriate. That’s good enough for me!
Not emphasized is the H.P. Lovecraft influence on this story. Given that the story takes place three years before Lovecraft’s birth, it’s no wonder his name is never referenced—but his work forms the entire foundation of the book. And while I’m not particularly familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories, I am an unabashed Lovecraft fan (well, except for the racism and all—I like his work, not the man himself as much). So there’s reference here to several features of the Cthulhu Mythos, including Cthulhu himself (in a reference back to the events of White Darkness). This story’s ultimate villain, Azathoth, is a Lovecraft reference; it is a being that became a major figure in the mythos after Lovecraft’s death, although he himself died before he could give it more than a passing reference in the short story of the same name. Both Cthulhu and Azathoth—along with Hastur the Unspeakable (aka Fenric), Lloigor (aka the Animus, from the planet Vortis), Dagon, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth (possibly the Great Intelligence, by the Doctor’s implication), and the Gods of Ragnarok—are Great Old Ones, that collective group of beings from the universe prior to our own. The planet Ry’leh is undoubtedly a reference to R’lyeh (slightly different spelling), the island city from The Call of Cthulhu. It’s a bit strange to see all of these references and not have them called out as such; it almost makes them into a part of the background. The Doctor, of course, takes it all in stride, as do Ace and Benny—this is nothing new for them—but even Watson’s reactions are more subdued than I would have expected. Holmes is the only one who is rattled by the entire situation; but Watson explains that that is because, on Ry’leh, all of the familiar conventions that Holmes relies on for his famous deductions, are not present. He’s perhaps more adrift than anyone, simply because on Earth he’s more grounded than most.
As if tracking the Doctor’s course isn’t difficult enough, there’s a short time skip at the end, at least for him. The Doctor, Holmes and Watson, and Ace and Benny, end up stranded in San Francisco in 1906—two decades after the time from which they departed. Watson briefly thinks about whether they’ll get back home; but in the moment, the Doctor excuses himself, and next thing anyone knows, the TARDIS is materializing to take them all back. The Doctor admits that he left them and spent three months traveling back to London to retrieve the TARDIS, then traveled back to the same moment to retrieve them. It’s a fairly minor point (and exactly the kind of thing the series usually avoids, because if the Doctor can do this sort of thing, why doesn’t he always do it?). I mention it, though, because I’ve noticed throughout the VNAs that the Seventh Doctor is very good at piloting the TARDIS where he wants it to go. Previous incarnations were never so good. This is consistent throughout his time, as well (or at least as much of it as I’ve experienced); it’s a minor plot point in television serials as well, for example Delta and the Bannermen, which was during Mel’s time as a companion. I had always assumed this was something that developed during the Time War, and that we didn’t see it until the new series, but apparently not. This matters, though, because some sources imply that the yet-to-be-born Seventh Doctor took control of the Sixth Doctor’s body and flew the TARDIS into the path of the Rani’s weapons in order to bring about the Sixth Doctor’s deaths. (We’ll get to that in a later novel, but it’s worth mentioning now.) The fact that he has this degree of skill would add weight to that theory.
Continuity References: I’ve mentioned several already, but in addition: The Library of St John the Beheaded was mentioned in Theatre of War and will show up again several times. The Gods of Ragnarok are a reference to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. The Doctor mentions the Raston Warrior Robot (The Five Doctors). The Seventh Doctor’s fob watch is the same one carried by the First Doctor (it’s unclear if it’s also the same as the Tenth Doctor’s watch from Human Nature/The Family of Blood). Holmes and Watson will show up in other stories, most notably in Happy Endings (but then, everyone shows up in Happy Endings…); not all stories will treat them as real people, unfortunately. Ace says her smart missiles—perhaps a little too smart—deserted her on Peladon to form a union with mining machinery (Legacy). Silurians are mentioned (The Silurians, et al.) Benny mentions the planet Terserus (several stories, but probably most famously from The Curse of Fatal Death). The Doctor’s pants are still dirty from Menaxus (Theatre of War; seriously, do your laundry, Doctor). The Third Doctor briefly appears in the Diogenes Club; the Seventh Doctor gets him kicked out. The Doctor leaves the TARDIS with George Litefoot (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, many others). The Doctor reads Adventures Amongst the Abominable Snowmen by Redvers Fenn-Cooper (Ghost Light; completely by coincidence, I happened to rewatch Ghost Light while I was reading this book, so seeing the name pop up again was an unexpected treat). A cult of Shobogans is mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). Shlangii mercenaries appear here; they were first mentioned in The Ribos Operation. Holmes says “sleep is for tortoises”, a line previously said by the Fourth Doctor (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Not a DW reference, but a Holmes reference: The giant rat of Sumatra is implied to have been from Ry’leh. The library contains a copy of Love’s Labours Wonne (Theatre of War, The Shakespeare Code) and documents about the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons). Sabalom Glitz is mentioned (Dragonfire; it’s implied that Ace may have lost her virginity to Glitz). The Doctor and Benny also make a number of quick, offhand references to various stories, too many to list here (I’ve already gone on too long); for a full list, see the Discontinuity Guide for this story.
Overall: This one is pretty good. Not quite the page-turner that I found the next entry to be, but that’s just personal preference; you will probably enjoy this one too. It’s refreshingly different, and in a good way (we’ll get a bad example of “different” soon).
Next time: We’ll revisit E-Space (and gangland Chicago!) in Terrance Dicks’s Blood Harvest. See you there!
The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.
We’re back! Today we’re looking at the twenty-sixth volume of the New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels: Theatre of War, by Justin Richards. Published in May 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, this novel remains one of my favorites from the New Adventures (so far, anyway). Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.
It’s not often an empire is founded by actors, but that is exactly what happened on Heletia. Its colonists turned their love of theatre into a drive to conquer the stars, and for awhile, they were successful. Now, though, they are being driven back toward their homeworld by the Rippeareans; and between them and their enemies lies the disputed world of Menaxus. But Menaxus may hold a secret: the ruins of a civilization that loved the theatre as much as the Heletians. Five years ago, an expedition to Menaxus was aborted by tragedy. Now, Bernice Summerfield—in the right place at the right time, at the storied Braxiatel Collection—is joining a second expedition to Menaxus. But with the enemy encroaching, time is short, and things are more dangerous than they seem.
When Bernice is nearly killed by an assailant who seems to be a ghost—unbelievable as that may seem—she summons the Doctor and Ace. As one by one the expedition members are picked off, the Rippeareans arrive in the system; Ace holds them off, nearly at the cost of her own life. Meanwhile the Doctor and Benny race to figure out just what the truth is about Menaxus—and about the war between Heletia and the Rippeareans. Now, if only they can manage to survive until the curtain comes down on this performance…
For what may be the first time in the New Adventures, we have a story that strongly focuses on Bernice Summerfield, and in a positive way! Oh, she still has a near miss or two—she does nearly get killed by a ghost—but for now, she’s not there simply to get tied up/drugged/turned into a zombie/etc. This is, quite simply, her show. (And yes, I know, eventually she will be THE star of the New Adventures after the Doctor Who license is lost, but no one knew that at this point, so the point still stands.) Because, frankly, the series hasn’t been kind to Benny so far. I’ve only completed a few more books past this point, but so far, this book seems to mark an uptick in events for her; she plays a more pivotal role in books to come.
The story picks up three months after the events of Legacy. Bernice, burnt out on the insanity of traveling with the Doctor and Ace, left at the end of that story to join an archaeological expedition to Phaester Osiris. The vacation has done a world of good for her, and now she is bringing the results of the expedition to the Braxiatel Collection, which sponsored the trip. And here we get the introduction of another character who will become a major figure of the Whoniverse: Irving Braxiatel, the owner of the Collection that bears his name. Consider the Collection an asteroid-sized museum with entirely too much money and fingers in too many pies. The TARDIS wiki says that Braxiatel’s first appearance was in Legacy, but I don’t recall him appearing there; I expect it was just a mention at the end. (The Braxiatel Collection was first mentioned all the way back in City of Death, in a throwaway line by Romana in Part One.) That makes Theatre of War his first appearance of any substance. At any rate, this story is Benny’s first meeting with him (although not his first meeting with her; see continuity, below). Whether it’s the start of a beautiful friendship remains to be seen. (It’s also noted that he has a connection to the Doctor, but I won’t get into that now—it isn’t spelled out, and there will be other stories that dig into it.)
The story is fascinating to me, as well, because it’s perhaps the first story where the Seventh Doctor is truly outplayed. I won’t spoil who manages it, or how, but suffice to say that it’s not a bad ending; it’s simply not the ending the Doctor wanted.
It seems strange to say it this way, but I feel like this version of the TARDIS team seems to work together better when they’re separated. That is, each person has an assignment to carry out, and their own relevant story thread; but those threads together display a degree of teamwork that was missing for a long time. Some of that was probably deliberate; Ace, Benny, and the Doctor couldn’t get along for their first dozen or so adventures together, and had to learn to not only work together, but to tolerate each other. They seem to have finally hurdled that obstacle—there will be occasional misunderstandings going forward, but no actual fights in the immediate future. Indeed, most upcoming books will scatter the characters out before bringing them back together to solve the issue of the day.
Continuity references (in addition to those mentioned above): Braxiatel’s first meeting with Benny, from his perspective, is documented in Dragon’s Wrath and Disassembled; his connection to the Doctor is revealed in Tears of the Oracle. The Doctor mentions the Eye of Orion (The Five Doctors); the Black Hole of Tartarus (Terror of the Vervoids), the events of The Chase; meeting Kublai Khan (Marco Polo); Metebelis III (The Green Death, Planet of the Spiders, et al.); the experiential grid on Argolis (The Leisure Hive), and the Eternals in their yachts (Enlightenment). The projector in the Menaxan theatre contains a performance of Love’s Labour’s Won (The Shakespeare Code); we will see the print version make an appearance in the next novel, All-Consuming Fire. (Incidentally, I love when the new series picks up on tiny bits of trivia like this and turns them into foreshadowing; the play is the entire point of The Shakespeare Code.) Braxiatel also has a blotter referring to him as “Custodian of the Library of St John the Beheaded”; we’ll see that library in great detail in All-Consuming Fire. The expedition to Telos is mentioned (Tomb of the Cybermen). Benny’s locator is tracked via the TARDIS’s Time Path Indicator (The Chase). The Collection contains statues of Lavithian Graffs (The Ribos Operation). Phaester Osiris is the homeworld of Sutekh, and was destroyed (though not completely, just in the sense of civilization) by him (Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor references Borusa, though not by name (The Deadly Assassin).
Overall: Well, I’ve already said that this is one of my favorites. I don’t think it’s generally regarded as a turning point in the series, but that is how it seems to me; and while I’ve only finished a few books beyond this one, the promise of that turning point seems to be carried out. Highly recommended. It helps to have read at least Legacy, for the background on why Benny is away from the TARDIS at first, but I won’t call it necessary. Check it out!
Next time: The Doctor and his companions meet the most unlikely of historical figures: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson! We’ll be looking at All-Consuming Fire, by Andy Lane. See you there!
The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.
We’re back! Today, we’re reviewing the next entry in the New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels, Gary Russell’s Legacy. The twenty-fifth novel in the series, this book was published in April 1994 (nearly 27 years ago!), and features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice. Let’s get started!
Some spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip down to the line divider, below.
The Doctor is in pursuit of a murderer. That would be bad enough, but there’s a complication: The victim was the daughter of the leader of the Galactic Federation. She was killed due to her pursuit of an ancient, and possibly evil, artifact called the Diadem—on a world very familiar to the Doctor: Peladon.
The Doctor takes Bernice to Peladon to search for the murderer in the midst of King Tarrol’s Restatement ceremony, an occasion with delegations from across the Federation in attendance, including a delegation of Ice Warriors, much to Benny’s delight. Meanwhile he sends Ace to the planet Pakha, home of the slain woman’s partner in the archaeological expedition, to follow up on the Diadem itself.
But one murder is never enough for the power-hungry, and more people fall victim to the murderer. Nothing is as it appears, and the real villain (or villains, perhaps?) will not be who anyone expects—least of all the Doctor.
Not that anyone is worried about the Doctor’s opinion—after all, he just became the next victim.
I fear that I’ve waited too long to review this story—about fourteen months—and won’t really be able to do it justice. To refresh my memory, I’ve been reading through the excellent and thorough plot summary over on the Doctor Who Reference Guide, and constantly shaking my head at all the details I’ve forgotten. Still, we’ll give it a try!
We revisit an old friend here: the planet Peladon, from the Third Doctor’s era. The Doctor has been here at least four times previously; however, he only mentions two. Out of universe, this is because two of those stories–The Prisoner of Peladon and The Bride of Peladon–are Big Finish audios which had not yet been recorded at this novel’s publication. The two mentioned appearances are television’s The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, both Third Doctor serials. Placing this story in time is a bit of an exercise, but with a cheat sheet at the end; one could nearly nail it down from various clues, but then later, in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Placebo Effect, Russell places this novel in the year 3984. This makes it the third of a series of four visits to Peladon roughly every fifty years: Curse in 3885, Monster in 3935, Legacy in 3985, and (as hopefully one day I’ll cover) Bride in 4035. (Prisoner doesn’t seem to fit the pattern.) Most characters have changed or been replaced since last time; the notable exception is our giant-eyed friend Alpha Centauri, who seems to be particularly long-lived.
It’s perhaps a bit unfair to compare two unrelated stories in this series, but I find it useful here in order to illustrate what I liked about Legacy. The previous book, Tragedy Day, I would describe as complicated; but this one, as complex. Tragedy Day was complicated largely because it was so ambitious; it tries to do, well, everything, and as a result it’s chaotic. It has…I’m trying very hard not to use the phrase too many, because that would be unfair. But, it has a great number of villains, plot threads, and twists, and as such it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s certainly fun along the way, though. Legacy, by contrast, is much more streamlined, but there’s layer upon layer within each plot thread. No character is without secrets here, and you never know until late in the game just who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Every turn of the plot is fully justified—nothing is just for show—but you won’t fully get the justification until the end. It’s a great piece of work.
I was especially pleased with the portrayal of the Ice Warriors here. This didn’t have to be an Ice Warrior story—as a bit of a tell, if you look at the wiki page’s book details box, you won’t find Ice Warriors listed under “Main enemy”. Certainly there’s precedent; they were on Peladon previously. But the Ice Warriors as seen here are not one-dimensional enemies. They’re seen as an honorable society with a certain degree of guilt that they must live with—which is, I think, a view very in line with their occasional portrayals in NuWho. And let’s face it: Doctor Who has enough villains who are always evil, or at least evil from the perspective of the Doctor and his companions. Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the list could go on; we get the occasional individual whose nature is changed in some way, but as a group they remain villains. The Ice Warriors are better than that, and as such a bit more believable when portrayed fairly, as they are here.
Continuity References: So many that I certainly won’t be able to cover them all, which seems to be a thing with Gary Russell (not that I’m complaining!). In addition to the frequent references to previous Peladon stories, here’s a sampling: Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan, Neverland) becomes the Guardian of the Solar System. The Dalek War in The Daleks’ Master Plan is noted to be thirty years in the future. The Doctor mentions the events of The Ice Warriors as six hundred years ago (which may or may not be accurate). Space Station Zenobia is seen (The Mysterious Planet. Time Rings are a recent development (recent in Time Lord terms, anyway; Genesis of the Daleks; also Who Killed Kennedy, in which a dangerous prototype was used). The Horus ruins were recently discovered (Pyramids of Mars). Windchimes from Deva Loka make an appearance (Kinda). Cybermen appear to be extinct, although we know that’s not actually true; both New Mondas and Telos have been destroyed (Telos). A Felinetta appears in flashback, their actual first appearance (Invasion of the Cat-People). Various Federation species are mentioned: The Ogri (The Stones of Blood), the Lurmans (Carnival of Monsters), and the Cantryans (Destiny of the Daleks). Benny has memories of Mars that are not her own (Transit). Kaldor City (The Robots of Death) is mentioned as being on Japetus, which is contradicted by later stories. Sontaran fragmentation grenades first appeared in the novelization of Terror of the Autons. There’s a description of unarmored Ice Warriors which will much later prove to be consistent with their portrayal in Cold War. The Time Lord CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) is mentioned in connection with Chancellor Goth (The War Games, et al.) The Pakhars—whom I haven’t discussed, but whom I find greatly entertaining every time they appear—have a legend about a Daemon asleep on their planet (The Daemons). The Diadem entity is compared to the Mind Parasite from The Mind of Evil. Draconians are mentioned (Frontier in Space). And none of this is getting into references to the recent books in this series!
There are also a few out-of-universe points worth mentioning. An in-universe book is authored by one Grith Robtts, a reference to Gareth Roberts. This story, like Sword of Orion, was originally intended to be audio in the Audio Visuals fan series (Sword actually was produced as an AV; the Orions get a mention in this novel). The TARDIS is seen to have a room that is very much a holodeck, a la Star Trek: The Next Generation, if not called that.
Overall: This novel is a continuity porn dream, something that fans in our fandom tend to love (myself included). Honestly, it amazes me that it’s Gary Russell’s first Doctor Who work (I’ve read others, but out of order), given how thoroughly connected it is. The downside is that it means it’s not very approachable for fans who aren’t well versed in classic Doctor Who. But then again, not every novel should be a jumping-on point for new fans; and there’s nothing wrong with having a story that caters to those of us who have been with the series since time immemorial. If you fall into that category, you’re going to love it. And if not, well, stick around; we have better options for you coming soon!
Next time: We’ll check out one of my favorites so far, and a good Benny story to boot: Justin Richards’s Theatre of War! See you there.
A prelude to Legacy can be found here.
The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.
And we’re back! Welcome back to the Time Lord Archives. If you’ve followed along before, I thank you for your patience, as it’s been awhile; if you’re new here, welcome aboard! Today we’re picking up our read of the New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels with #24 in the series, Gareth Roberts’ Tragedy Day, published in March 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace McShane, and Bernice Summerfield. I should mention that when I left off this series, I had read several more books than I had reviewed, and so this and the next several reviews will be a bit shorter and more to the point than my usual, in an attempt to catch up.
One last but necessary note. Gareth Roberts is a controversial topic himself these days, due to various comments he’s made over the years, and he has largely been ousted as a writer for the Doctor Who community. However, that kind of personal controversy is not really the purview of this blog; and I am not making any statement regarding his character, personal life, or personal views, or the reaction thereto. Here–and this will be my policy going forward, because we’re going to encounter Roberts again, more than once–I’m only discussing the book. Regardless of his outside issues, for better or worse, his works are part of the series, and we’ll consider them as with all the rest. It may or may not be deemed appropriate to as it were “cancel” a person for their actions; but I’m not going to apply that standard retroactively to their work prior to the commission of the relevant offense.
With all that said, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead (though not as many as usual). For a more spoiler-free review, skip down to the line divider below.
Long ago, the planet of Olleril was visited by the mysterious stranger known as the Doctor–but, probably not the one you were expecting. Had the natives known about regeneration, they might have known him as the First Doctor, accompanied by his granddaughter Susan. He saved the natives and their world from death by contamination–radiation from a crashed starship would have killed them all. And he took away with him a mysterious piece of red glass, which the locals believed was the source of a curse…
Centuries later, the Seventh Doctor and his companions return to the planet for its famous Tragedy Day celebration. It’s a different world now, with the natives all but wiped out, and a new society descended from a fallen–but not forgotten–human empire. Ace is quickly lost in a refugee camp, and the Doctor and Bernice find themselves the targets of an imperial cult-turned-dictatorial regime–not to mention a celebrity gone mad with power. Worse: the mysterious and transdimensional Friars of Pangloss have sent assassins to kill the Doctor and recover the red glass, the key to their source of power.
Now, the Doctor must piece these disparate threads together, defeat a child maniac, save Ace from being eaten by monsters, and oh yes, defeat the Friars–and all before Tragedy Day reaches its violent end!
This story is, in a word, everywhere. There are so many threads at work here that it gets a bit hard to follow. It’s certainly enjoyable, if only because its pace has to be breakneck in order to fit everything in. It’s everywhere in the geographic sense, too; from the Imperial City on Olleril, to a weapons test site on an island, to a hidden base on a submarine, to a crowded refugee camp, to the devastated planet Pangloss, this story jumps around more than nearly any I’ve seen recently.
As seems to be common in the VNAs, we have a prominent look back at an episode in a previous Doctor’s life. This is the earliest such scene we have, with the First Doctor and Susan appearing sometime prior to their time on Earth–it’s not possible to place it exactly, but then, pre-An Uneartly Child adventures are fairly rare anyway. (We do have earlier flashbacks in previous books, but those scenes concern the history of the founding of Time Lord society, not the Doctor’s earlier life.) We’re going to have several more occasions like this in upcoming novels, so stay tuned! It happens often enough in the VNAs that it’s almost a cliché–and yet, as a longtime fan, I find it hard to complain; of course the Doctor’s life should circle back and intersect sometimes, much as we may meet an old friend and catch up. It’s a way to bring in the past without making multi-Doctor stories even more common than they are already, and I am content with that, especially given that the television series finds it harder to be self-referential in this way. It also serves to show us that the Doctor’s adventures are far more numerous than we seem, which I find comforting; it allows us to account for his odd throwaway instances of name dropping, and it tells us there’s always more to learn.
I don’t often delve into the real-world themes found in these novels–for example, any time they are written with reference to real-world politics. It’s not that those things are unimportant; it’s that the real world can be depressing enough these days, and I like to enjoy these books–now nearly thirty years out of date–as happy fiction rather than commentary. Nevertheless, the commentary is there, and sometimes it’s too obvious to be missed. That’s the case here, but unlike many novels, Tragedy Day doesn’t discriminate; it takes a jab at everyone and everything. War, colonialism, religious fanaticism, television, celebrity–there’s a critique here for everyone! And it’s always well-deserved. The only downside is that there’s not enough time to get as far as solutions, in most cases, so we’re left with the critique and the opportunity to make our own decisions unaided.
Continuity References: Surprisingly, less than I expected this time, especially after opening with a First Doctor reference. But that reference is to a story that isn’t recorded anywhere else, so in a sense it doesn’t count. There are hints at the events of An Unearthly Child, though not very definite. The Monk, aka Mortimus, is mentioned, after recently showing up in No Future. The Rutans are mentioned (Horror of Fang Rock). The actor Crispin has a complete collection of a television series called Captain Millennium, except for a single episode missing; this is undoubtedly a reference to The Highest Science, in which an odd episode of the series was randomly transported to the planet Hogsumm (that novel was Roberts’ first contribution to the VNAs). The Doctor claims to have never met Henry VII, but this is not true; he met him previously in The Sensorites, God Send Me Well to Keep, and Recorded Time. Bernice mentions the nonexistent planet Rhoos (The Playthings of Fo). And, the ruling faction on Olleril, the Luminus, came about as a result of Faction Paradox (Interference – Book Two). And, not specifically a reference, but I feel compelled to point out that the Doctor is still using the Third Doctor’s TARDIS as rescued from the alternate universe; there’s little mention of it here, but we’ll have occasional reminders in upcoming books.
Overall: I know I sound like I’ve been harsh toward this book, but actually I enjoyed it. It’s a mess, but it’s our mess, as it were. It reads quickly, and it’s one of the rare novels in the series that’s very easy to get lost in–I didn’t finish it in a single sitting, but close enough. For me, that won’t happen again until Blood Harvest, number 28 in the series. As well, being fairly low on continuity references–and having finally passed through the Alternate Universe novels and the “holiday trilogy” (as I call it)–this book is easy to get into for a newcomer. So, check it out, if you can!
Next time: We revisit the world of Peladon in Legacy, by Gary Russell! See you there.
A prelude to Tragedy Day can be found here.