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Audio Drama Review: The Sandman

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #37, The Sandman. Written by Simon A. Forward and directed by Gary Russell, this story features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

Sandman 1

In deep space travels a large fleet of ships called the Clutch, which is led by a reptilian race, the Galyari, but populated by hundreds of races. A Galyari nursemaid tells a group of children the legend of the Sandman, who takes the skins of misbehaving children.  Suddenly the story becomes terribly real, and the children die in agony.  Their mother, trade director Nrosha, feels their pain, and takes security Commander Brel and his patrol with her to the nursery…but it is too late.  The Sandman, also known as the Doctor, has struck again.

Two years later, the TARDIS arrives on the bridge of a transport ship owned by a star gypsy named Mordecan. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe alarm him at first, but manage to calm his nerves.  He carries them with him to the Clutch, where he has an appointment.  Accompanying him is his anxious partner, Nintaru.  Evelyn marvels at the sight of the fleet, like a massive school of fish in coordinated grace…and then they dock with the ships.  Irritated, Mordecan lets them out into the fleet, but warns them that they must return before he leaves in three days if they want their blue box back.  He warns them to avoid the Warrens, a dangerous area of the fleet; and he urges Evelyn to get rid of the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Orchestrator Shol, the Galyari responsible for the coordination of the fleet, has his own problems; he meets with Nrosha, who is sure the Sandman is returning, and reminds her that despite her past tragedy, she must continue to carry out her duties.  For the moment, those duties include monitoring Mordecan; and she promises to do so, though she does not respect Shol’s wishes.

While the Doctor and Evelyn set off, Mordecan contacts Nintaru’s and reviews their agenda; Mordecan must first meet Nrosha, but then they will meet another contact in another ship, as they have done in the past. Nintaru’s anxiety grows; the Galyari have stringent trade laws, and are not happy with what she is selling, but she intends to go through with it—especially as this is the last shipment.  Meanwhile, Evelyn notices a strange thing: none of the Galyari will look directly at the Doctor.  She suspects something is going on, and her thoughts are verified when he breaks into the Orchestrator’s control center.  He intentionally trips the alarm, knowing it will summon the Orchestrator to him.  He explains that this is a valid technique for him, as the Galyari have no grasp on a criminal mindset; this means, however, that they punish severely any criminal that does face justice.  While they wait, the Doctor plays with the controls for Traffic, the central computer that coordinates the fleet, and learns it is being controlled from an auxiliary command center.  Orchestrator Shol arrives, and the Doctor becomes haughty and arrogant, terrifying the Orchestrator.  When Evelyn confronts him about it, he tells her she is wrong about him; he IS the monster they believe him to be.

The Doctor’s behaviour continues to shock, as he dictates to Shol that the Galyari must cease their trade in weapons, a problem which reappears every few generations despite the Doctor’s efforts. Shol reluctantly agrees, though he knows it will make his people poor.  Meanwhile, Mordecan talks business with Nrosha; he has brought a shipment of sunbirds, which the Galyari regard almost reverently, as they themselves descend from an avian species.  He realizes she is more troubled than usual—and she becomes even more so when he reveals that his unwilling passenger was called “the Doctor”—the alternate name of the Sandman…

The Doctor orders Shol to tell Evelyn about the history of the Galyari and the Sandman. Shol explains that their homeworld, Galyar, was overrun by vermin who burrowed in the ground.  When an army of conquest under the command of famed General Voshkar returned to the world and found it in ruins, they fought the vermin, but were defeated by a monster called the Sandman.  The Doctor is that monster; he appeared and overwhelmed Voshkar’s army, and ordered the general never to return to the world.  He then took the skins of the fallen as trophies.  Voshkar left, but raised a second army of twenty thousand soldiers, and returned.    Though he had some success against the vermin, the Sandman returned, wearing the skins of the dead, and the Galyari could not look on him without pain.  The Sandman stated he had given the vermin, the Cuscaru, intelligence, so that they could oppose the Galyari.  He cursed the Galyari to never live on a planet again; and more, he crushed the planet’s Srushkubr, its Memory Egg, to dust.  The Doctor explains this part of the story to Evelyn; the Srushkuby is an organic data bank of sorts, which holds the race memory of the Galyari, and to which all of them are bound.  Every Galyari colony world has one; Shol balks at the idea that Galyar was just another colony and not the homeworld, but the Doctor insists it is so.  The Doctor admits that he did curse the Galyari, so that they will not curse others.

With Mordecan’s information, Nrosha contacts Commander Brel, who is investigating more mysterious deaths. She persuades him to come with her, insisting that they may be able to kill the Sandman and end the nightmare now.  Tempted by the thought of being the hero who destroyed the Sandman, Brel agrees, and joins her en route to the command center.  Meanwhile Mordecan makes his way to the Warrens and to an unmonitored terminal, from which he transmits a current map of the Clutch to Nintaru so that she can meet with him at their appointed rendezvous.

Despite Evelyn’s disgust with the Doctor, Shol agrees to the demands, if the Doctor will end the recent unnatural deaths. The Doctor knows nothing of these deaths, and is caught off guard, but plays along, and gets Shol to describe the deaths, which began with Shol’s own predecessor as Orchestrator.  That death began after a meeting with Mordecan, but the sale proposed at the meeting fell through with the Orchestrator’s death.  Since then, others have died, and it has been attributed to the Sandman.  The Sandman would, in the past, only take skins shed during the “growth sickness” that all Galyari periodically undergo; but now the skins are being taken before they are shed, killing the victims.  Evelyn and the Doctor are horrified, especially upon learning that trade director Nrosha’s young were early victims.  The Doctor promises to end the deaths as soon as he meets with Mordecan—but they are interrupted by Nrosha and Brel, who burst in.  Through the pain of looking at the Doctor, Brel opens fire.

Brel’s inability to look directly at the Doctor throws off his aim, and the Doctor and Evelyn retreat, destroying the door lock on the way out. They flee through the Clutch, and notice the lights flickering as they do; this indicates there is a cloaked security drone watching them, tapping into the somewhat-incompatible power system.  The Doctor captures the drone and begins rewiring it to find Mordecan, but before he can finish, an announcement is made: this ship is leaving the Clutch, and is about to be detached from its neighbors.  Evelyn manages to make it to the airlock and into the next ship, but the Doctor, delayed by his electronic work, does not.

Nrosha takes the Doctor’s flight to mean he fears death. Shol fears what may come of this if they fail to kill the Doctor, but reluctantly complies; Nrosha sends out patrols to track the Doctor but not attack him, leaving Brel to press the attack.  When the door is prepared, Brel sets off; Shol seals himself and Nrosha in, and warns her that if Brel fails, he will kill the Commander so as to appease the Sandman.  Meanwhile, Nintaru becomes aware of the extra patrols, which make her more anxious than ever.  She warns Mordecan, and changes her route to the rendezvous.  En route, Mordecan meets Evelyn in the Warrens.  She asks about his meeting with the previous Orchestrator, but he says that all he did was connect the Orchestrator with Nintaru before the deal fell through.  He does not know what merchandise Nintaru peddles, but he knows it was unusual.

The Doctor’s drone has caught the transmission between Nintaru and Mordecan. When the ship docks in a new position, the Doctor finds Nintaru and questions her; as he does so, they pass through one of many aviaries in the fleet, and the birds attack Nintaru.  The Doctor helps drive them off, and explains the genetic connection between the Galyari and birds—which, as it seems, leads the reptilian Galyari to revere such species.  Nintaru reveals her own species—the Cuscaru—and learns that the Clutch is nearing Nintaru’s world—a planet once called Galyar.  He knows that the Galyari rename every colony world Galyar, and have often forgotten that each world is not the homeworld—so it is with Nintaru’s world.  The Cuscaru also have a version of the legend about the Sandman and the early conquest over the Galyari; and when they detected the Clutch approaching, some years earlier, they connected it to the legend, and began seeking a solution.  They found trace elements in their soil which must have come from the Memory Egg; and, collecting the fragments, they set out to return them as a peace offering.  That mission became a trade mission, but failed; now, Nintaru continues it in secret.  The Doctor realizes there are yet larger stakes; when he destroyed the Srushkubr, it released neural energy that forced a mutation on all the Galyari who were present.  If the egg’s ashes come into contact with any of those mutated Galyari, it will mean disaster—in fact, it may already have done so.

Shrol is unable to wait patiently, and resumes his duties—but he is unable to contact his sub-Orchestrator, Korshal, in the auxiliary command center. It seems the Sandman has struck again, although the Doctor is nowhere near that area.  Meanwhile, Mordecan and Evelyn arrive at the rendezvous point, waiting for Nintaru and their secretive contact.  When the trade deal under the former Orchestrator fell through, this was the only option.  Mordecan warns her that the contact is unpleasant to look at; if Nintaru is smuggling drugs, as Mordecan suspects, the contact seems to have sampled them.  Nintaru and the Doctor arrives, but when she reaches for her merchandise, the Doctor reveals he has stolen it, to prevent any Galyari from having contact with it.  The contact grows angry, and comes out of the shadows to attack—and calls the Doctor by name.

Brel arrives, having tracked the Doctor, but is stunned by the sight of the monster. Mordecan snatches Brel’s gun and kills the creature.  It proves to be a Galyari skin, empty inside.  Brel still plans to the kill the Doctor; to stop him, the Doctor removes his coat and waistcoat, revealing that it serves as a sort of camouflage to the Galyari, who are highly sensitive to bright, clashing colours.  This is tantamount to admitting he has no supernatural powers; but Brel lets that go in the face of a more important issue: once, the Galyari also had a power of camouflage, much like chameleons on Earth.  Brel realizes that the walking skin is something requiring analysis, and he summons a medical team for Nintaru; but at that moment, they are interrupted by a broadcast summons.  Its voice comes from the auxiliary command center, and is familiar to the Doctor.  It claims to be the new Sandman, and the new Orchestrator of the Clutch; and it will let every non-Galyari depart, if only they bring him the Doctor.

The Doctor has Brel connect him to Shol, and transmits the image of the husk monster. He explains that fragments of the ancient Srushkubr are present; as well, the previous Orchestrator was a descendant of the long-dead General Voshkar.  The Doctor can expose and eliminate their tormentor, but it will require letting him into the sacred cultivation chambers.  Nrosha objects, but Shol realizes the truth: the Doctor could easily get there in his TARDIS; instead he is asking for their help.  Nrosha cannot abide Shol’s decision to listen, and takes a patrol to the auxiliary command center, trying to prove Shol wrong.  Meanwhile, leaving Nintaru to recover, the Doctor goes with Evelyn, Mordecan, and Brel to the aviary to collect feathers, which they will need for the cultivation chamber.  He explains that the legend wasn’t quite right; the Cuscaru were the natives of this Galyar, and were just becoming intelligent when the Galyari colonised it.  The Doctor helped them to mount a defense, and so gained access to the Srushkubr, and realized he would need dead Galyari tissue to interface with it.  This, he obtained from the battlefield; but he was found harvesting skins by the Galyari soldiers.  He acted the part of a monster in an attempt to get Voshkar to leave peacefully; the retreat was only temporary, but by the time Voshkar returned, the Doctor had gained control of the Srushkubr.  He used it to drive the Galyari away, and destroyed it, blasting them with the neural energy which imprinted them with a fear of him—the Sandman, as they knew him.  However, the neural energy was enough to irradiate the soldiers, and that contamination was passed down through many generations.  Contact with Nintaru’s fragments unleashed the energy, creating a new Srushkubr.  That Srushkubr, filled with malice, was formed around a living core, but has been adding skins to itself ever since—thus creating the husk monsters.  Still, as they now embody the racial memory, Brel cannot shoot them.

Still, this racial memory—and the control of it afforded by the Srushkubr—will allow the Doctor a plan. He uses the feathers, along with Galyari skin cells and his own blood, to create his own Srushkubr inside the cultivation chambers.  He sends Evelyn and Shol to the command center, and gets Brel to have all the Galyari seal themselves behind secure bulkheads.  He takes Mordecan to the auxiliary command deck to confront the Sandman and then transfer Traffic control back to the main command center.  The plan is not lost on Shol or Evelyn; they realize that the one the Galyari have considered their nemesis, is now working to save them all.

The corridor outside auxiliary command is full of bodies and husks. Only Nrosha, in her hatred, managed to fight her way past the husks; but, the Doctor finds, it was in vain, as the Sandman has torn her apart.  The Sandman reveals himself: he is Voshkar reborn, as his mind was the strongest in the race memory.  Now he will lead his people to retake the Cuscaru world and make it Galyar again.  The Doctor angrily tells him that the Sandman—as the Doctor created the legend—was no killer; he merely harvested shed skins and planted fear, which kept the Galyari from harming anyone else.  Under Voshkar, the Clutch will become a war fleet; and this, the Doctor cannot allow.  Voshkar attacks him, and in the chaos, Mordecan transfers control back to Shol.  Shol opens all the internal bulkheads except those behind which the Galyari shelter.  Throughout the fleet, the birds—at the telepathic suggestion of the Doctor—flood the corridors from the aviaries, attacking the husks, who cannot fight them off.  As the husks die, Voshkar is steadily diminished, until, wracked with pain, he dies.

Later, at the Doctor’s suggestion, Shol drops the old charges against Nintaru, who acted in good faith without knowledge of the trouble she would cause. Since the Cuscaru world still contains the ashes of the ancient Srushkubr, the Clutch will bypass it, for the sake of safety.  With a new era dawning for the Galyari, the Doctor and Evelyn depart in the TARDIS.

Sandman 2

The premise of this story is that the Doctor has a hidden dark side, which of course comes as a shock to his companion Evelyn. Leaving aside the fact that the Sixth Doctor has had a major “dark side” story with The Trial of a Time Lord in season 23, it’s still not a particularly original concept; many companions have had to face the fact that the Doctor can be cruel or bizarre or simply not what he seems. It’s pretty egregious here at first, but as is typical with Doctor Who, things are not what they seem. My view of the story is that it does expose a major flaw in the Doctor, and the Sixth Doctor especially, but that the flaw in question isn’t cruelty or arrogance or evil. No, the problem is that he overreaches. He feels free to meddle—every incarnation of the Doctor does this—and of course on many occasions, it’s justifiable; but in particular, he sometimes meddles where he shouldn’t, and doesn’t consider the consequences. What he does in this story (or rather, before it, in the past to which the story makes reference) is for a good cause, but the consequences spiral out of control, and people die as a result. One gets the impression that he thinks himself above consequences, but in the end they find him out anyway.

The Clutch, the fleet of ships in which this story takes place, is a great setting, and very possibly unique in Doctor Who. This fleet of ships, with the Galyari race at its core, constantly wanders the stars at the speed of its slowest (sublight speed) members, engaging in trade as it goes. Its ships are connected by airlock tunnels, allowing traffic among ships; however, they also are frequently rearranged at the behest of the Galyari Orchestrator and the central Traffic computer. It is of great age, covering many generations of Galyari, and incorporates over a hundred other species and their ships. The Doctor, as we learn, is responsible for its existence, as he is the one who caused the Galyari to be nomads without a world—but that’s part of the issue to be resolved herein. The setting is good enough that it is revisited in two more audio dramas, Dreamtime (Doctor Who) and The Bone of Contention (Bernice Summerfield), both of which were published after this story, but take place before it, and both of which share at least one character with this story (in addition to the Doctor).

There’s a very unique enemy here; unfortunately I say much about it, as that would constitute a major spoiler (for those trying to avoid them). We’ve had any number of enemies with odd origins and various levels of consciousness and/or life, but this, I think, is a first for me. As well, the method in which it is defeated is quite creative—perfectly in character for the Doctor, but still something I’ve never seen before.

It’s a little early to be sure, but it seems that a theme of Evelyn’s time with the Doctor is her shedding her early eagerness and learning to distrust him, or at least to regard him with more caution. I’ve glanced ahead at the publisher’s summaries for several of her upcoming stories, and it seems this thread continues; but it certainly gets a large boost here. It doesn’t help that he openly admits to being the monster the Galyari think him to be; and even after all is told, it seems she still regards him with some small amount of suspicion. At the very least, she has learned he is not perfect, and that his mistakes cost lives. She does get in some great one-liners and insults along the way (Mordecan: “Lose the Doctor.” Evelyn: “I’m sure that he is perfectly capable of losing both of us!”), and her dialogue alone is worth the price of admission.

Pinning down the time period of this story is practically impossible, but we do get one clue. The Clutch does frequent business with humans, of which the trader Mordecan is one (he describes himself as a star gypsy), indicating that this story is set in Earth’s future, during the colonisation period at least, and possibly further. Sublight ships are still common, indicating it’s probably not too far ahead—several centuries perhaps, rather than several millennia. As for the Doctor’s timeline: the flashback sequence, in which he first meets the Galyari, have him traveling without a companion, making it sometime after Peri’s forced departure at the beginning of Season 23 (and before he took Mel on full-time), but we can’t be more specific than that, especially with Mel’s rather convoluted history with the Doctor (and she doesn’t even appear here!).

Other than the aforementioned audios set in the Clutch, I could find no continuity references. That’s very unusual for a main range audio drama; even Evelyn makes no real references to their previous adventures. Compensating for that, perhaps, is the fact that there is an extended storytelling/flashback sequence in Part Two, and this story gets revisited numerous times, with changes in details. There’s only so much time available, I suppose. Worth mentioning, though: we do get an appearance from Anneke Wills (First Doctor companion Polly) in the role of Trade Director Nrosha of the Galyari.  It’s quite a different role for her, but she carries it well.

Overall: this is a very enjoyable story. We’re all familiar enough with the Doctor to know that things can’t be what they seem at the beginning—there’s no way the Doctor is actually evil—but the anticipation of how the truth will work out is quite good. With its lack of continuity references, and Evelyn’s self-sufficiency as a character, one could easily pick up this audio and enjoy it without having listened to any of its prequels. This far into the main range, that’s rather rare, and I like it.

Sandman 3

Next time: We rejoin the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem for The Church and the Crown! 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.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Sandman

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 17: Climbing the Mountain

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor watches as Dalek mining machines, like great metallic millipedes, crawl over a mountain range on a planet whose name has been forgotten. The mineral they are mining is used in Dalek gunsticks and nothing else; and theplanet’s population resides in the other hemisphere. In a year or two, the Daleks would consume the entire vein of mineral—only found here on all of the planet—and be gone…except that they aren’t going unchallenged. Yet another race alien to this world, the Kalkravians, are here; the problem is that the Kalkravians won’t evolve for another half million years. That can mean only one thing: Time Lord involvement. As he watches, Kalkravian bombers fly overhead, damaging some of the machines before being shot down; a few escape. More will return later. That much can’t be helped; but other things can.

The War Doctor sneaks up to one of the mining machines and makes some adjustments. He is caught in the process. The Daleks—who, luckily, don’t recognize him in this remote outpost—ask what he is doing; but they can’t believe it when he tells them he is improving the efficiency of the machines. Helping the Daleks? And yet, it’s true. Further, he gives them the software patch he had applied, so that it can be used on all the other machines. It will improve their efficiency, make them run longer between service dates, and help them to assume defensive positions when bombed. The Daleks don’t know gratitude, but they know when they have something valuable; and so they let him go. But, why would he do such a thing? The answer is simple: Left alone and fighting a constant, pointless battle, the mining would be prolonged. The Daleks might harm the locals, distant though they may be; and if they don’t do it, the Kalkravians might. With the playing field leveled, the Daleks will move on in a year, and the Kalkravians will either follow or settle down here. A world will be spared, and can go back to being an industrial-level backwater society, free of the shadow of the Time War.

The War Doctor, of course, can’t stay. This is his ninth stop since awakening this morning, putting out, if not the larger fires of war, at least the smaller ones. So many worlds are burning, and he can’t rest—and so he moves on.

While this story looks on the surface like a change in focus, or even a step backward, I would argue that it isn’t. True, the death and destruction is scaled back here, and you’ll see that trend in a few upcoming stories as well; but it fits in the overall course of what’s happening in the Time War. In our last entry, Rassilon returned from the dead, and seized power over the Time Lords, deposing the High Council (and eventually, we know from The End of Time, filling it with his own loyalists). Time Lord atrocities become stepped up; their regard for life and for the seriousness of their actions declines. It was a common jibe all along to say that no one could tell the difference between the Time Lords and the Daleks; but no one knew just how good they had it before this change. Until now—and this is crucial—the War Doctor has gone along with what the Time Lords wanted, at least for the most part. Oh, he certainly grumbles about it, and offers some token resistance, but for the most part he is at their command. Now, things have changed. This is, perhaps, the chronologically first time we see him openly defying them, challenging and undermining their plans; and there are hints that he’s making a habit of it. I take that to mean that he’s no longer content to follow, and can’t stomach their actions. He is, for all practical purposes, a free agent now—he’s finally becoming the man who will end the war, though that time is still far off.

Overall: The twist at the end of this story is great. When I said “Helping the Daleks”, that was no quote; that was the thought going through my mind. “I have to see where this is going!” What we get out of it is a very Doctor-ish moment for the War Doctor…but don’t tell him; he’ll just yell about it. But that’s really the point, I think, of his character; what the universe really needs is a Doctor. He may have said otherwise, there at the end of his eighth life, but we can perhaps forgive him for being wrong. This is the reason why it’s such a constant struggle for him, and why he constantly denies being the Doctor: on some level, he knows how badly the universe still needs him to be the Doctor. Sometimes it slips out, and he can’t help himself. The secret is, of course, safe with us.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Climbing the Mountain was written by longtime Doctor Who author Lance Parkin. Next time: Gardening, by Sami Kelish! See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 16: The Holdover

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

A Gallifreyan named Vanus works arrival duty on Treytis—a place called, informally, the Holdover. It is a temporary colony for displaced Gallifreyans—those whose homes have been destroyed, and who, for one reason or another, do not participate in the Time War. Here they wait, in Spartan living conditions, to be transferred on to the safe haven of Kayeff. Vanus greets the new arrivals, but he is unprepared for a strange new refugee in a leather coat. The man smoothly takes charge of the situation, and calls himself “the Foreman”. The Foreman questions everything; the Treytis system, once home to the training grounds of the Perpetual Watch, has no other habitable worlds, so where is Kayeff? And Vanus, a refugee himself, has been here for five months—just how long does this processing take? To this last, Vanus admits that he is a conscientious objector to the War, which reduces his status; many with less time here than him have already been sent on. The Foreman concludes that this is no transit camp. Its guards are members of the Perpetual Watch:

“The private soldiers of the President, so secret, they hardly exist. An order of highly trained, highly skilled and disciplined agents of the High Council. Even the Celestial Intervention Agency has no control over them. And here they are guarding refugees in the galaxy’s toilet rather than defending the capital from imminent destruction.” Rising from his chair he added, “And I’m going to find out why.”

The Foreman shocks one of the guards by stealing and field-stripping his weapon. He then shocks everyone by announcing that he is a former Wartime Prime of the Order of the Perpetual Watch—he outranks everyone present. He offers a confirming code phrase, and forces the guards to take him to whoever is in charge. He takes Vanus with him, and explains…well, very little, actually, but enough to comfort the anxious objector. Inside the command center, which is marked with the Seal of Rassilon, they meet a Time Lord named Goren, who identifies the Foreman as the Doctor—a name even Vanus knows. The Doctor once displaced Goren as Wartime Prime, aided by President Romana. Goren mocks the Doctor for his actions, and accuses him of cowardice; they fought together once, and when the Doctor obeyed an order to retreat, Goren did not, and suffered for it, becoming trapped in what was called the Silver Devastation anomaly-loop. He is now a cyborg, as much machine as man; he claims he stayed on the battlefield at the behest of the Black Order, an organization nearly as mythical as the Toclafane, and that it was the Black Order who repaired him. Now, he is the current Prime of the Watch, and master of this facility. He imprisons the Doctor and Vanus.

Vanus awakens, wounded, in a cell with the Doctor. However, the cell is actually a supply closet; and Vanus helps the Doctor escape, though he is too weak to go with him. Meanwhile Goren reports to his commanding Magistrate—Magistrate Maxil, Ombre-Chancillier of the Black Order—and then leaves for the Kayeff. After he completes the “Emergency Sanction”, he will atomize the facility and all its remaining refugees.

The Doctor uses psychic paper to bluff his way into the monorail leading to the Kayeff. Repairing the train, he heads to the end of the line, seeing plains strewn with ash from the furnaces ahead as he travels. At the Kayeff, he passes through an empty waiting room, and finds a bay full of thousands of TARDISes. He is stopped by Goren, who invites him into one of the TARDISes—a heavily modified Type 93, filled with engineers who work for the Perpetual Watch. They are watching row upon row of refugees tied to metal cruciforms—men, women, children alike. As the Doctor watches, the Watch floods the refugee chamber with Charleur gas, the deadliest nerve agent in history—a death horrible beyond belief. He sees Vanus among the victims. Goren insists this is to win the War. He explains that this torture will force the victims to regenerate, repeatedly, until they die; and each time, the energy will be drained off, leaving only enough to restore life without initiating the change of body. The TARDISes were necessary to contain the paradoxes that fuel the process, allowing more than the standard twelve regenerations per subject. Goren calls this area the Killing Floor—the K.F., or Kayeff. To the Doctor’s horror, he realizes this is the end of the process—they are already finished, and he has already lost. They are initiating the Emergency Sanction. All of the collected regeneration energy is redirected into a certain casket, stolen in secret from the Death Zone, against the wishes of the High Council—and now, in addition, the Watch has deposed the High Council while these events occurred. And as the Doctor watches in impotent rage, the casket opens, and a tall, dark-haired man steps out.

“Behold, Doctor,” said Goren, his voice filled with sordid triumph. “Rassilon returns!”

I like to think that this story is not only the turning point of the Seasons of War anthology, but of the Time War itself. It’s hard to say whether things got worse—it’s hard to go any lower than “the universe is very nearly over”, as Ohila mentioned in The Night of the Doctor–but they certainly accelerate after this point. How could they do anything else, with the return of Rassilon?

Rassilon is one of the most fascinating and pivotal characters in Doctor Who history. His shadow hung over the classic series despite his death in antiquity; he didn’t get an appearance as a living character until the novel Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible (as far as I know, anyway; correct me if I’m wrong). The revived series quite suddenly revealed that he had returned during the Time War, but never gave any description of the event…until now. I find the description of his resurrection here to be fitting; of course the canonicity of the novels—as with any other media—is always up for debate, but Time’s Crucible made it clear that although Rassilon and his companions invented regeneration, they were not able to partake of it themselves. It was only the Gallifreyans who were Loomed and/or born after that generation who had the ability. We know that in the new series, he is able to regenerate, which means that, not only was he resurrected here, but also he was given the ability to regenerate—a very fundamental change, I imagine. This, and only this, justifies the expenditure of so many lives and so much regeneration energy to bring him back. (I mean “justified” in the literary sense; there’s no moral justification for it, as the Doctor points out loudly and often.) I should also mention that the physical description given here seems to correlate with the incarnation played by Timothy Dalton in The End of Time, as does Simon Brett’s incidental artwork at the end (which, unfortunately, I didn’t obtain in digital form prior to this post—sorry, readers).

I had been promising an explanation of the Perpetual Watch, and here is where we get it. They’re the most secret order we’ve seen among Time Lords to date—and are immediately trumped by the Black Order, who are more secret yet. The Time Lords certainly love their secret organizations; let’s not forget that the now-familiar Celestial Intervention Agency, or CIA (also mentioned in this story), started out that way. The Perpetual Watch makes sense, especially if they date back all the way to Rassilon; he’s just the type to create his own secret army. The Black Order makes less sense, but then again, Time Lords love secret agencies, so we’ll let it pass. It was a shock to see that Maxil—who for us was last seen in An Historical Curiosity, and who, let’s not forget, looks like the Sixth Doctor—is heading the organization. It’s secrets all the way down!

I’ve mentioned that there is a loose arc to this anthology.  One notable link in the chain is here.  Goren references a battle from which the Doctor allegedly fled, which then resulted in Goren’s injuries and cybernetic repairs.  That battle is the battle of the Pan-Kaled Phalange, which was mentioned in the previous story, *Loop*; it was the battle at which the Time Lords first deployed a weapon from the Omega Arsenal.  Goren, on orders from the Black Order, was caught in the resulting time loop, in which the Cybermen were perpetually erased from time and re-created.  He states that he used up all his remaining regenerations trying to survive over the course of fifty years of reliving the events.  He eventually managed to slave a Cyberman Tomb Ship to his TARDIS and escape, with help from the Order; he used its conversion technology to save his own life.  The partial conversion was then augmented by the Order, making him the man he is today.  Of special note is the Doctor’s statement that he retreated when ordered to do so, because the Time Lords were about to deploy a second, unnamed weapon from the Arsenal; it’s not stated whether they went through with it.

Overall: This story is exactly what it should be. It’s a little longer than most, as befits the event it’s covering, and yet it races by like an action movie. It has the Doctor being a little more “Doctor-ish” than usual for the Time War, but still refuses to gloss over his own horrific actions—it notes, for example, that he was the first to employ Charleur gas, against the Daleks. It includes the requisite horde of deaths, including that of a would-be companion—and though I make it sound formulaic, it doesn’t feel that way at all; it just feels supremely tragic. Most of all, this story leaves us with a sense of foreboding and urgency; things are ramping up now.

The Holdover 1

The Holdover was written by Daniel Wealands. Next time: Climbing the Mountain, by longtime Who writer Lance Parkin. See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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Audio Drama Review: The Rapture

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to the Main Range #36, The Rapture. Written by Joseph Lidster, this story features the Seventh Doctor and Ace on a fateful return to Earth. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

The Rapture 1

Ibiza, 14 May 1997: A new club, the Rapture, has opened on the Spanish island of Ibiza. Its owners and DJs, Gabriel and Jude, call it a spiritual experience.  In the crowd are Liam and Caitriona, two young partygoers; Caitriona is already high on a mix of pills, though their guide, Brian, thinks the drugs are unnecessary—the Rapture is an experience on its own.  He may be right; the music and the laser show synchronize with the sunset over the smaller island of Es Vedra, making it practically entrancing.

Ace and the Doctor arrive in the evening. Ace continues to struggle with the deaths of the Nazi Kurtz and the art patron Madame Salvadori in their recent adventures, and she worries that her travels with the Doctor have inured her to all the deaths.  Trying to distance herself from that aspect of her personality, she has given up her nickname, and chooses to be called by her surname, McShane.  The Doctor takes her to Ibiza to rest and recover, and introduces her to a time-displaced friend, Gustavo Riviera, whom the Doctor once rescued from the Spanish Civil War.  He runs a bar in Ibiza now; and he suggests to McShane that she might find some rest at the Rapture.  She leaves the Doctor with Gustavo and goes to visit the new club.  Meanwhile, Gustavo describes the two DJs as “angels”, a term they use for themselves; the Doctor is not reassured, as those who call themselves angels are often the opposite.  The Doctor goes to see the club for himself.

At the Rapture, McShane meets Brian and hits it off with him, drinking and talking. Liam and Caitriona are on the dancefloor; Caitriona is having a good time, but Liam has his concerns.  He is interrupted, however, when he sees McShane across the room.  He recognizes her as Ace; and he shows Caitriona a picture of her for identification.  She urges him to speak with Ace alone and introduce himself.  The duo introduce themselves; Caitriona nearly gets into a fight with another clubgoer, but Liam stops her, and with McShane they head onto the dancefloor.  Above, in the DJ box, Gabriel watches the crowd with doubts of his own; his brother Jude reassures him, and refocuses him on their mission and the faith necessary for it.  They are spreading the word of the Lord; and soon He will descend and save the believers.

Liam tries to find out more about McShane’s life for the past decade; entranced by the music, she doesn’t notice. Over the speakers, Gabriel begins quoting scripture as the sun sets beyond the club’s windows; he talks about the biblical Rapture before cranking up the music. The crowd is enthralled, including Brian, who does not drink or use drugs.  As the music peaks, the clubgoers become silent and fully entranced.  Alarmed, Brian goes to the DJ room to try to stop the situation—but only Jude is there.  The self-proclaimed “angel” shoots him with a laser pistol for interfering.

Outside, the bouncer will not let the Doctor in—until the bouncer too falls under the spell of the music. Slipping inside the club, the Doctor finds he cannot rouse any of the audience—and Gabriel is starting up the music again.

The music climaxes—and suddenly returns to normal. The crowd awakens with no memory of anything unusual.  The Doctor tries to warn McShane, but she takes it as more manipulation, and loses her temper at him.  Reluctantly, he leaves her alone.  Brian is nowhere to be found, and Liam is sick in the restroom; Caitriona is still partying, and so Liam and McShane leave together.  Meanwhile, Gabriel finds Brian’s body on the floor of the DJ room, and is upset; Jude says that the man lacked faith, but that Gabriel is doing well.  When Gabriel leaves to play more music, Jude calls their unseen benefactor and assures him that all is going well.  When the club at last closes for the night, Jude awakens Brian—who was only stunned—and promises to make him immortal.  Brian begins screaming.

At Liam and Caitriona’s apartment, Liam explains about his relationship with Caitriona, who suffers from mood swings. However, he slips up and calls McShane “Ace”, a name she has not told him. She becomes furious and confronts him; her rage grows when she sees he has a picture of her.  She assumes he is manipulating her like so many others—but he stuns her to silence when he reveals the truth: his name is Liam McShane, and he is her younger brother.

With the Rapture closed for the night, Caitriona visits Gustavo’s bar for something to eat. In line, she meets Gabriel, and eventually leaves with him, just missing the returning Doctor.  The Doctor discusses the odd happenings at the Rapture with Gustavo; Gustavo brushes off his concerns, saying that the youth are looking for meaning in the music and the atmosphere—much like a religious experience.  Gustavo reveals his concern for the youth of the day, who have nothing to believe in or fight for; do they not need guidance from their elders?  The DJs may not be the angels they claim to be, but they offer guidance.  Then again, Ibiza has been visited by angels before…a 19th-century monk named Francisco Paolo claimed to have been visited by angels on Es Vedra.  Meanwhile, Caitriona is talking to one of the erstwhile angels.  She admits that she is very depressed, and hates herself, though for no apparent reason; she claims that Gabriel’s music is the only thing keeping her going.  He insists he is really an angel, and offers her “angel dust” to help her fly to Heaven with him.  She accepts the dust.

Liam explains that he was born when Ace was four years old. Shortly afterward, their mother Audrey was caught by their father Harry having an affair with Harry’s best friend.  Rather than stay to retaliate, Harry simply snatched up the infant Liam and left, never to return; he only left Dorothy—Ace—behind out of necessity, as she was at playschool at the time.  Liam never knew about her until four years ago, when Harry had a heart attack and revealed the truth.  He left to find his mother and sister, but when he found Audrey, she revealed that Ace had been missing for several years.  When he returned home, Harry was dead; Liam missed his father’s death by an hour.  He produces a letter from their father as proof, and Ace breaks down, realizing her life could have been very different.  She tells him about her life—but then shuns him, insisting there is no room in her life for a brother.  Angry and hurt, he storms out, leaving her to sleep on the couch; she wrestles with her own hurt and guilt.  Meanwhile, Caitriona is very high; she sees a rainbow of colors, and hears hints of Liam and Ace’s argument.  Gabriel leads her through these alleged revelations, but she is confronted with her own dark side and worst fears.  She sees the Doctor as well; in her visions he is cast as the evil, soul-devouring Sandman.  She feels herself falling, and the vision tells her to kill Ace to save herself; under the force of her will, she sees the apartment collapsing, crushing Ace to death.

15 May 1997: In the morning, Caitriona awakens with a headache and no memory of the end of her evening. She thinks nothing odd of this as Liam returns.  Ace is gone, and so Liam takes Caitriona to Gustavo’s for breakfast; Gustavo tells her she left with Gabriel.  Liam suggests returning to the Rapture to piece together what happened to Caitriona.

Ace meets the Doctor on the beach, and makes up with (temporarily at least); they see Gabriel putting an odd parcel onto a boat. They slip aboard the boat, which heads for Es Vedra.  En route, he reveals that he met Liam during the night.  He suspects that Ace uses the TARDIS to hide from real life; this is why Kurtz, who died in the TARDIS, hit her so hard—it was within her safety zone.  She is not convinved; but someday she must stop running.  On Es Vedra, they follow Gabriel into a cave, as the Doctor fills her in on the biblical doctrine of the Rapture, which the alleged angels are abusing.  They witness Gabriel speaking to what he claims to be God, via a large glowing orb; he voices doubts, and explains that he is haunted by memories of a war that never happened.  He has come to present a sacrifice: the still body of Brian.  Ace slips and gives away their presence; Gabriel confronts them.  Ace covers by claiming they are here seeking salvation.  He is pleased, and offers to take them back to the Rapture, his “church”; however, they will have to take the boat, as he is out of angel dust, which would let them fly.  He explains that tonight is the night of the ultimate communion, in which everyone in the Rapture will be, well, enraptured; the Doctor suspects this is cover for a planned mass kidnapping.

Liam and Cat split up inside the vacant Rapture. Liam goes to the office, and meets Jude, who claims he is here to save the world’s youth.  Liam counters with his own faith in God, which tells him this angel is an imposter.  Jude admits as much—but before he can act further, Gabriel arrives with the Doctor and Ace.  Jude sends Gabriel to prepare for tonight’s activity, leaving the Doctor and Ace behind to be “baptized”. The Doctor confronts Jude, and reveals that the “angel dust” is the drug by that name, also called PCP or Phencyclidine—this explains Caitriona’s visions last night.  However, he is confounded by the fact that Gabriel really believes himself to be an angel.  He threatens to reveal the truth to Gabriel, forcing Jude to confess.  They are aliens, exiles from the Euphorian empire; their peaceful society was attacked and overrun by the Scordatura.  Though they fought, they were beaten, leading to the conscription of non-soldiers to fight, including composers such as Gabriel.  Gabriel could not cope, and went mad, killing his commander; Jude rescued him from court-martial.  They knew of a dimensional portal which led from their world to Es Vedra; they had used it as children, leading to the “angelic” encounter recorded by Francisco Paolo.  They escaped to 1997 Ibiza to recover; and there, Jude decided to take new recruits from the local population to become soldiers for the Euphorians.  He combined the drugs and the music to give Gabriel a new personality; but now it is failing.  Adapting texts from the Bible that Paolo had long ago given him, he created the Rapture and its dogma to bring in the youths who would become their soldiers when they inevitably return home.

Although the Doctor is disgusted by Jude’s choices and methods, he is sympathetic to the cause, and offers to help Gabriel in some other way—but he won’t allow the kidnapping and conscription. These guideless children of Earth will soon enough have their own wars to fight.  Jude is intrigued by the offer; but as the Doctor and Ace leave, Liam threatens to kill Jude if anyone he loves is hurt by this situation.

Downstairs, Gabriel finds his recent disciple Caitriona. He leads her to the dancefloor, then retreats to the booth to play music for her; the music has the sound of Brian’s screams cut into it.  It overwhelms her, and she begs Gabriel to save her from madness.  She falls into a trance as the Doctor, Ace, and Liam arrive.  Gabriel offers to introduce the Doctor to their benefactor, who made this possible; the Doctor is horrified to see Gustavo enter the club.

Gustavo explains that he funded the Rapture in the belief that Jude and Gabriel would bring purpose to the youth of Ibiza. He expected them to persuade the young people, not enslave them.  Gabriel summons Caitriona to the DJ booth; seeing that she is entranced, Gustavo realizes the truth.  The Doctor tries to calm Gustavo while Jude tries to explain to Gabriel about the change in plans; but they are interrupted by Ace, who has realized that the screaming in the music is a recording of Brian’s death.  Gustavo declares Gabriel to be evil, and attacks him; both of them fall burst through the glass of the booth and fall to the dance floor—and their deaths.  Gustavo holds on just long enough to give the Doctor a CD prepared by Gabriel.  Jude is grief-stricken; the others retreat to the office to give him a moment to mourn.  This proves to be a mistake; for Jude decides that humanity must pay for his brother’s death—and they will suffer through Gabriel’s music.  He locks the Doctor’s group into the office.

The Doctor realizes he has misunderstood Jude. The key is Ace; just as she has hidden from her reality in the TARDIS many times, Jude used his extensive care for Gabriel’s madness to keep his own madness at bay.  Now, it can be unleashed.  There is one chance: the CD left by Gabriel and given to the Doctor by Gustavo.  As evening arrives, the club’s doors open, admitting thousands; and with this event’s publicity, millions more will listen in by radio.  Liam locates a ventilation shaft, and helps the Doctor to escape through it; the Doctor promises to save Caitriona, and heads for the DJ booth.  Meanwhile, Ace and Liam try to shout warnings to the clubgoers, but they can’t make themselves heard.  Jude begins to play Gabriel’s last composition—but he has remixed it, and now it will make the hearers die in pain.

The Doctor arrives in the DJ booth and tries to reason with Jude. Jude will have none of it, and sends Caitriona to retrieve Ace and Liam, whom he calls “Satan’s disciples”.  Caitriona places them in the lift while Jude makes his point: the Doctor wants him to forgive his brother’s killers, but would he do the same if Jude forces Caitriona to murder Liam and Ace?  He starts the final segment of music, and orders Caitriona to use his laser pistol and kill them; but she cannot bring herself to do it, and turns the weapon on herself.  In a rage, Liam attacks Jude, who overpowers him; Jude grabs Ace and dangles her over the dance floor.  If he lets go, she will die like Gabriel.  The Doctor begs him to wait; he produces the CD, and promises that it will restore Jude’s faith.  Jude allows it, and the Doctor stops the music, waking the clubgoers from their trance.  He plays the CD, and reveals that it contains a confession, made by Gabriel to Brian after Brian’s murder.  Gabriel admits that he killed Brian to save him, because Jude had taught him that the dead would rise during the Rapture.  The thing he wanted most was for Jude to be proud of him.  He reveals that despite his delusions, he was aware that Jude was saving him from a madness even worse, and he felt that Jude might resent him for it.  In Caitriona he had found a kindred spirit, and so he was drawn to her; if he could save her, he could make Jude stop regretting his relationship with his brother.  Jude is abashed; he in fact never regretted having a brother.  Confronted with what he is doing, he realizes that if he kills Ace, he is inflicting the same fate on Liam that has been visited on him—a life without a sibling.  He lets her down safely, giving them a chance.  Jude declares that he will return to his homeworld and face justice; Ace argues against it, saying it will allow him to get away with his crimes here—but he slips away while she argues.  Caitriona then awakens; the Doctor reveals that he had seen her subconsciously set the gun on “stun” before she used it.  Even in her trance, on some level she had still been herself.  The Doctor starts to address the crowd—but Ace cuts him off by simply turning on some more Earthly dance music and restarting the party.

Over a few days, Liam and Ace grow acquainted, but he chooses not to join her in her exotic life. He stays behind with Caitriona.  Ace, meanwhile, will keep on—but now she has something to look forward to at home.  The TARDIS departs, having seen the last of Jude…or maybe not.  Later, an office worker in London receives an email with a music file attached—and when she plays it, the minds of all the office workers are blown.

The Rapture 2

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this audio drama. I had heard mixed opinions about it; and more to the point, I have exactly zero experience with the club scene in any decade or country (and probably outed myself as an old man by using the phrase “club scene”). I don’t feel that I’m in a position to evaluate how convincing it is, because any depiction of such a setting feels over the top to me. I’ll have no choice but to limit my observations to what I do know: the characters, and the presentation.

This is, without a doubt, Ace’s story—as most of her appearances are. The Doctor takes a backseat to her, coming out chiefly to provide her with a reason to fly into a rage. This seems to be a trend with Ace in the middle era of her life (and I don’t mean middle age; perhaps I should say the middle era of her stories). If the suggested order found on Ace’s page of the TARDIS wiki is to be trusted, this story occurs after she has already left the Doctor and returned multiple times (all of her early audios fall in this time period, actually). At this point, she’s been fighting with herself over her family history and her relationship to the Doctor for quite a long time; both problems seem to rear their heads periodically throughout her life. Both problems show up here; her recent adventures, notably Colditz and Dust Breeding, have left her traumatized and wondering if she is overly jaded to the deaths that follow them around. As well, she still fears the Doctor’s manipulation of her; and her family drama reappears from an unexpected direction: a brother, Liam McShane, whom she never knew she had. As he explains, their father caught their mother in an affair, and took the infant Liam with him when he left, never to return. Ace—or Dorothy, at the time—was left behind because she was at playschool when it happened. I suppose it’s possible Liam may appear again, but I haven’t found any indication of it as yet. (In the course of researching the placement of this story, I was surprised to note that, if the suggested order is correct, Ace has met the Doctor out of order on multiple occasions. For example, her encounter with him on Gallifrey in Lungbarrow, which is immediately prior to his death in the television movie, predates this story from her perspective.)

The Doctor does very little here, as I mentioned. Although he is instrumental in saving the lives of the major characters at the end, as well as the crowd in the Rapture nightclub, he does so only because the tools were prepared by one antagonist and given to him by another. While he puts in a good performance, he doesn’t contribute much here.

The story is cleverly put together, if a bit gimmicky. It uses rapid scene breaks and cutaways to create drama, in that the end of a conversation in one scene flows directly into the next, otherwise-unrelated scene, as if disparate characters were finishing each other’s sentences. It’s amusing at first, then tedious later on; and indeed, the writers seemed to realize it as well, as they cut back on it in later tracks.

Although this is Ace’s story, I didn’t care for her portrayal here. She comes across as if throwing a temper tantrum through most of the story; while Ace has always been a dramatic character, it’s difficult to picture her being this whiny and arrogant. I’d love to blame it on the drugs, but she isn’t using any; as the story is set in a nightclub, many of the supporting characters are using them, but not Ace.

Continuity references: Ace left Perivale ten years ago, Earth time (Dragonfire; this story is set in May, 1997). It’s not clear how long she’s been gone with regard to her own lifetime. (Incidentally, we get a very precise date in this story—14-15 May 1997—and by coincidence I happened to be listening to it on 14-15 May 2017, exactly twenty years after the setting.) She mentions the death of Feldwebel Kurtz (Colditz) and Madame Salvadori, as well as the Krill (Dust Breeding). She mentions Fenric (The Curse of Fenric). Supporting character Caitriona’s visions show her a man in a gold mask, i.e. the Master as portrayed in Dust Breeding. Britain’s manned Mars missions are mentioned (The Ambassadors of Death). A television series called Professor X is mentioned (No Future, Return of the Living Dad). Mike Smith (Remembrance of the Daleks), Captain Sorin (The Curse of Fenric), and Karra (Survival) are all mentioned. Killer seaweed is mentioned (Fury from the Deep). The Doctor’s proficiency at playing the spoons is mentioned (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Time and the Rani).

Overall: Not a bad story, but an awkward outing for Ace. Worth mentioning: this is the final audio with the Seventh Doctor and Ace alone until 2013; their next appearance will introduce a new companion. Looking forward to it!

The Rapture 3

Next time: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe return in The Sandman. 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.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Rapture

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 15: Loop

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor, now nearly middle-aged and not yet as war-weary as he soon will be, stands on a barren patch of land and watches the vortex unravel. Around him, time happens with simultaneity, all times happening at once. This is what has become of Earth: once protected by the Chronosmiths, hidden from the war by a trick that places it moments out of sync with the rest of the universe, its barriers are now breaking down. In the process, it is synchronizing with the rest of the universe…and the rest of the universe is in torment from the ravages of the Time War. It was always going to happen, he knows; but he is sorry to see it. He is interrupted by the arrival of a TARDIS behind him…his TARDIS. He hopes for a moment for some future incarnation, one who may have reclaimed his lost title, the name of the Doctor—but instead, he is greeted by an older version of himself.

The older War Doctor comments on the younger’s presence here, and on the coat the younger man still wears—the long coat that once belonged to the Doctor, the Eighth Doctor, when he fell on Karn. He wears it as a reminder. Not a reminder of who he was; that man could not have fought this war. His body, his heart, were not prepared for the Last Great Time War. No; the younger War Doctor turns out the label on the inside of the coat, showing its origin: Schweitzer and Davison, Master Tailors, Cork Street, London. The older man remembers, and recalls the a battle against the Ghoul of Whitechapel, which led to the acquisition of this coat. No, the younger man keeps it to remind him of Earth, and all the world represents to him. But now, that world may be lost.

As they watch the sky, a flare of temporal energy can be seen. The older man comments that it is the destruction by the Time Lords of a Dalek fleet; but it was accomplished by the use of the first of the arcane and forbidden weapons in the Omega Arsenal, an act which no one ever foresaw—not even the younger War Doctor, whose counsel set the Time Lords on that path. There’s more at stake, however; this weapon caught Mondas and Telos in its blast, excising them from history. The Cybermen will never come to be, and chunks of history are being overwritten, even for the War Doctor. (And yet, he notes, the Mondasians have time travel as well; and they will not be completely annihilated, but their Cyber-seed will be scattered through the dimensions.) The older man explains that it has, indeed, come to this; and for the younger man, the War is about to grow much worse. For the older man, it is over; and he has a plan in place which he will not reveal. Yet, here and now, perhaps something can be saved. He reveals that he has obtained a new piece of technology which will place the Earth and its timelines in a fold in the dimensions, concealing it again and more thoroughly; and so the younger man must go, and leave him to his work. As the young man returns to his own TARDIS, the older man stops him and asks a favor: the Doctor’s coat. It will serve as a reminder to him, here when he needs it most; and there will be a replacement waiting in the TARDIS. The younger man gives it to him, before going to face Hell in the reality of the War. There’s pain, and there’s dismay, but they must be faced…even if they never can truly be overcome.

We’ve reached a checkpoint of sorts in our trip through the Seasons of War anthology. For us, it’s a reminder of what lies ahead, and a moment to mark our place in the War Doctor’s timeline. For him, it’s a tipping point; he is approaching middle age, and the War is heating up, with the collapse of the universe accelerating. He needs some indication of what lies ahead, but he won’t like it when he gets it. From the perspective of the older version of the War Doctor, this story must take place after Engines of War, but before The Day of the Doctor; his plan to end the War is already in place, though he doesn’t share the details here. This story and The Day of the Doctor serve as bookends on a certain chapter of the War—that is, the Omega Arsenal. Here we see the first use of a weapon from the Arsenal; there we see the last. (One could guess that the Tear of Isha, the stellar manipulator seen in Engines of War, is the last weapon other than the moment, as there doesn’t appear to be a lot of time between that book and The Day of the Doctor.) It’s harder to pin down the time frame from the younger Doctor’s perspective, but I’d guess we are nearing the midpoint of his life, and therefore the midpoint of his time in the War. Presumably it’s at this point that he starts wearing the leather coat we see in The Day of the Doctor; up til now he’s kept the Eighth Doctor’s coat from The Night of the Doctor. (Previous stories have mentioned the leather coat, but we can overlook it; not every detail will match perfectly.) The story he references, regarding the Ghoul of Whitechapel, doesn’t seem to exist; I searched under various terms, but couldn’t find it, so we’ll call it an offscreen adventure.

The Cybermen are wiped from existence here—unintentionally, as it turns out. I’ve commented before that timelines such as this can and probably are overwritten many times—which explains how the Sisterhood of Karn could die in our opening story, but return on television—and I believe the same happens with the Cybermen. Interestingly, though, prior to the current television series, it didn’t have to be so; all the Cybermen in the revived series could be at least tentatively accounted for by the Cybus variant from Pete’s World (Rise of the Cybermen, et al). It’s only this year, with the return of the 1960s version, that we finally and definitively establish that the Mondasian Cybermen are still around. There’s an interesting line here, though:

“The weapon was not quite as effective as the Time Lords hoped. The Mondasians have time-travel too, and although our weapon partially erases them from existence, it also succeeds in setting the cyber-seed free to float in infinity on the dimensional winds…”

I think this is an effort to explain the parallel development of the Cybermen in Pete’s World, and possibly other universes as well. If so, it’s certainly clever, and useful too; even if the Mondasian Cybermen do survive, this explains how the Cybus Cybermen can meet and merge technologies with them (giving rise to the far-future Cybermen seen inNightmare in Silver).

Overall, it’s a clever story, though as far as progression of the plot is concerned, it’s marking time. It’s a much-needed pause for the War Doctor, in which he can alter his perspective, and possibly lay the earliest foundation of what he must one day do to stop the nightmare. As well, it’s a bit of foreshadowing of what is to come; the very next story is going to reveal a major development in the course of the War, one whose importance can’t be overstated. The older Doctor wasn’t lying when he said that things were about to get worse.

Loop was written by anthology editor Declan May. Next time: The Holdover, by Daniel Wealands. See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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Audio Drama Review: The Wrath of the Iceni (take two!)

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Wrath of the Iceni, the third entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, this story is a notable and rare Fourth Doctor historical. I’ve reviewed it before, but it was only the second audio review I posted, and I hadn’t really worked out a format yet; nor did I have much background as to the audios from which to work. We’ve come a long way since then, and so I’ve decided to post a new review here, in the midst of series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures; but you can still read the original review here if you are interested. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

Wrath of the Iceni 1

The TARDIS materializes in a vacant field. The Doctor and Leela emerge and head toward a nearby wood.  The Doctor declines Leela’s suggestion that they return to the TARDIS, and explains that he intends this journey to be a part of her education; he wishes to track her ancestry via the local natives and gain information for her.  Nearby in the wood, two Romans are tracked down by the local warrior queen, Boudica of the Iceni tribe.  The Romans discover her, and kill her horse before threatening her.  They are interrupted by the Doctor and Leela, and Leela takes arms to assist Boudica; Boudica takes advantage of the situation to kill the two Romans.  She introduces herself; when the Doctor learns her identity, he changes his mind and tries to persuade Leela to return to the TARDIS.

Leela refuses, and Boudica supports her in it. To thank Leela for her loyalty, Boudica takes them back to her tribe’s encampment and offers them shelter and food.  When they at last obtain some privacy, Leela asks the Doctor why he was suddenly anxious to leave.  He explains the era in which they have landed: seventeen years ago, the Romans invaded the land that will one day be England, and bought off several local tribal rulers in order to ensure a peaceful conquest.  Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, was one of those rulers; in his will he divided his domain between the Roman Empire and his own daughters.  The Emperor, Nero, disregarded the will and claimed the entire kingdom; when Boudica raised objections, her daughters were taken and publicly raped, and she herself was flogged.  Now—if the Doctor has correctly pinpointed the date, and he is certain he has—Boudica is preparing to lead her tribe in an attack on the nearest Roman town.  History records that her campaign will end in a massacre of her tribe.

Leela insists that they must prevent the deaths of the Iceni, but the Doctor explains that history has fixed these events, and they cannot be changed. Leela doesn’t understand; they are here, now, and the events have not yet happened, and therefore she believes they can and should be changed.  When the Doctor insists, she refuses to listen; instead she goes to Boudica and offers her loyalty and assistance.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is approached by a servant girl named Bragnar. Having overheard his conversation, she believes him to be a seer; now, she wants him to save her tribe.  He explains that he cannot, as they are destined to fail; but perhaps he can save her.  To that end, he decides to take her to the TARDIS, and also to recover Leela if he can.  However, their conspiracy is overheard, and Boudica is informed.  She takes this as a sign of betrayal, despite Leela’s insistence on the Doctor’s good faith.  She heads into the forest on horseback with Leela, and intercepts the Doctor and Bragnar.  Boudica threatens to kill them, but is stopped by Leela, who insists that the Doctor can see the future; she explains that he has predicted that tomorrow’s battle will end in destruction.  Boudica decides to let him live; but she holds the Doctor and Bragnar prisoner instead, planning to extort from him the information she needs to win the battle.

Boudica and Leela overlook the targeted Roman town, Camulodunum; Boudica is confident it can be overrun. She insists that the Doctor can be made to give her more information.

The Doctor and Bragnar are tied up in a tent at Boudica’s orders, and lamenting their situation. Bragnar doesn’t wish anyone dead; she just wishes for peace.  Boudica returns and checks in with the guard, Caedmon, regarding the progress of the situation; he wants to torture the Doctor, but Boudica again forbids it.  Instead, she intends to use Bragnar to get the Doctor to speak.  Inside the tent, Bragnar has grown tired of the Doctor’s banter, when Boudica and Leela arrive; Leela has him untied, but Boudica keeps Bragnar bound.  Boudica demands answers about his prophecy of destruction, and how the Iceni will be defeated.  When he won’t elaborate, Boudica says she will find her own omens…in Bragnar’s entrails.

The Doctor gives in to save Bragnar’s life. He explains that Camulodunum is sparsely guarded, but that it is a decoy; though the attack there will be successful, Governor Paulinus is laying a trap for the Iceni, with his armies held to the north.  When the city is taken, he will return and hem in the Iceni inside the city, then destroy them.  Satisfied, she leaves him in the tent, bound again, and orders a reinforcement of her army’s rear guard; she orders the army to prepare to ride.  Leela is appalled that she won’t release him, but she insists she has many battles to fight, and will make him serve her for all of them.

Leela returns and confronts the Doctor, but leaves him in the tent. She insists that Boudica is a good woman, and declares that she will ride with the army.  To Caedmon’s satisfaction, she tells the Doctor that he must stay and give up his old life and serve as Boudica insists.  However, when Leela leaves with Caedmon, the Doctor tells Bragnar that it’s not what she said, but what she did—and what she did, was slip him her knife.  The Doctor laboriously cuts his own bonds, then Bragnar’s; he comments that Leela was really telling him to abandon her, not his own life.

The army gathers near the Romans encampment, and prepares to charge, though Leela expresses her doubts. Boudica gives a speech to rally her troops, and leads the charge.  The armies engage, and the battle begins.

The Doctor and Bragnar locate a pair of horses, and hurry toward Camulodunum; Bragnar is alarmed, but the Doctor insists he is going to rescue Leela, despite what she asked of him. Meanwhile, Leela is becoming more and more distraught at Boudica’s bloodthirst; she is ashamed to see the Iceni killing the aged, sick, women, and even those who had surrendered.  Boudica orders her troops to destroy the city’s temple and the final survivors inside, which include British slaves—Leela protests, as Boudica plans to kill them as well.  Leela confronts Boudica, and insists that the woman is fighting not for her country, but for revenge.  She declares that the Doctor was right—Boudica is not a good woman, and her battle is wrong.  She reveals that she released the Doctor, which Boudica takes as a betrayal.  Boudica attacks Leela, declaring that she has “scarce fought an equal”.

The Doctor and Bragnar arrive in the last of the battle, where they meet with Caedmon, who chases after them. Caedmon kills the Doctor’s horse; the Doctor sends Bragnar away for her safety, and confronts Caedmon.  Caedmon intends to defy Boudica’s order and kill the Doctor, blaming it on the Romans; but Bragnar doubles back and attacks Caedmon, unintentionally killing him.  They set off again to search for Leela.

Leela and Boudica are still battling, as the Doctor arrives. Boudica manages to strike her while she is distracted, but she is not badly hurt.  She orders the Doctor not to interfere; and moments later, she gets the advantage.  She refuses to kill Boudica, instead leaving her behind.  Boudica is undeterred; she refuses to consider herself defeated, and continues the larger battle.

On the road back toward the TARDIS, Leela and Bragnar discuss the battle. The Doctor admits that he didn’t tell Boudica the truth; there was no army coming from the north, and no defeat today.  Instead, it was a Roman massacre that took place, just as history had recorded.  However, in the future, Boudica will go on to fight other battles, which will lead to her ultimate defeat—not today, but on a day to come, when her pride and arrogance will leave her own army hemmed in to be slaughtered.  Leela admits that she may no longer have the stomach for slaughter, leading the Doctor to comment that her education may be progressing after all.  At the TARDIS, the Doctor explains how Boudica dies: facing death in battle, she kills her daughters, then poisons herself.  Violence brings its own end, it seems.  As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor considers that Leela has had enough education for now; it’s time for something different.

Years hence, Bragnar passes on her story to her own daughters as the sole survivor of her tribe.

Wrath of the Iceni 4

Historicals may have become rare in Doctor Who over the years, but at least they’re familiar, for the most part. Perhaps in part because of the programme’s origins in children’s television, it tends to stick to well-known parts of history. This one, however, covers a corner of history which I knew nothing about, and indeed had never heard of prior to my first time listening. That probably says more about the difference between American and British education than it does about Doctor Who; but still, it came as a rare surprise to me.

For any other American fans like me, who may not be familiar with the particulars of distant eras of British history, the titular Iceni were a British Celtic tribe, with this story—and presumably much of their history—ending around AD 60 or 61. Boudica was queen of the Iceni by necessity; her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the tribe, but of necessity become a partially independent ally of the invading Romans some seventeen years earlier. He intended for his daughters to rule after him and continue the alliance; but after his death the territory of the Iceni was claimed fully by Rome. Boudica protested, and was subsequently flogged; her daughters were publicly raped. Boudica then led the Iceni and some of their allies in revolt against the Romans, destroying Camulodunum (modern Colchester, according to Wikipedia) before moving on to Londinium (modern London), and in the process killing about eighty thousand Romans. However, they were eventually defeated by the Romans and practically wiped out, with Boudica either committing suicide or dying of illness (there is some debate). This story takes place in the earliest days of her campaign, just before and during the attack on Camulodunum. The Doctor and Leela fall in with Boudica quite by accident, but Leela is taken with her warrior ways, and chooses to help Boudica’s cause. The Doctor, meanwhile, knows how history plays out, and knows that helping the Iceni is futile; nevertheless, his knowledge slips out, and he is held prisoner as a seer. Toward the end, Leela realizes her mistake, but is in too deep to back off; therefore the Doctor, upon escaping, is forced to rescue her. He tells Boudica what she wants to hear, but cleverly hides the ultimate outcome, causing her to commit to her original plan without changing history. In the end, Leela cannot save the Iceni, but with the Doctor’s help, she saves one person—a woman named Bragnar, who survives to tell the story to her own daughters.

Over five decades, we’ve seen nearly every possible take on the idea that history cannot be changed. This episode is nothing new; it’s just very tragic. Then again, history itself is often tragic; and this story, at least, reports it as accurately as can be done when adding the Doctor to a story. We don’t watch or listen to these stories in order to see how the Doctor changes things; we listen to them to see the clever lengths to which he must go to prevent changing things. In that regard, this story is very reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii with the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; the Doctor would find it exceedingly simple to change things, but that change would most likely have catastrophic repercussions throughout the future. Therefore he has to work at not changing anything; and his task is made that much harder by a companion who wants more than anything to save everyone. The only answer that will allow him to maintain his identity as the Doctor, and yet preserve history (even with its tragedies!) is to do what he does in both stories: save someone.

As a reminder, this is still very early in Leela’s story. As far as can be told, this is only her seventh adventure with the Doctor. Thus he is still on his quest to educate her about her own species’ history. Boudica’s era is familiar territory to Leela, as she is also of a “savage” tribal background; therefore the Doctor is far less condescending toward her here than in most stories, because he knows he is surrounded by people just like her, who won’t put up with it (or understand it, probably). He does take the opportunity to give her the lesson about history being unchangeable, although without the level of technical detail he gives to more technically advanced companions. This is truly Leela’s story, not the Doctor’s, even though the screen time is about equally split between them; for the first time, she is the confident one, and she makes her own decisions. She may be wrong in the end, but seeing her take charge is practically majestic; and even the Doctor seems to acknowledge that.

Continuity References: Leela expressly says that history can be changed, despite what the Doctor says; this is a reference to The Foe From the Future, which, though an audio, is set immediately before The Talons of Weng-Chiang (and notably was originally written to be the series 14 finale, but was not produced). The Doctor’s observation (regarding Bragnar) that one person is unlikely to make a difference is also a reference to that story. He hates Morris dancers, which nearly killed him in The Daemons. He makes reference to the Morovanian Museum, and Leela mentions Reginald Harcourt (The Renaissance Man). He mentions his earliest encounter with Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and the extinction of the dodo (The Last Dodo–Doctor Who has a story for everything). A few future references are noteworthy, although I usually try to avoid them until we reach the stories involved and can look back: Leela claims her name has no meaning, contradicting several future audios (notably, The Catalyst); The Tenth Doctor and Donna will meet Boudica again in The Lonely Computer; the Doctor plans a trip to the 21st century (the next entry, Energy of the Daleks). Iris Wildthyme claims to have been at the siege of Colchester (or Camulodunum in this case; The Elixir of Doom). Boudica and the Iceni get a mention in Byzantium!.

Overall: It’s worth noting that this is the first pure historical for the fourth Doctor in any performance medium (and possibly still the only—I haven’t looked ahead at later series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, but we’ll find out as we get there). While it’s fairly straightforward—as I said, there are no great surprises here—that’s all it needs to be, being the first historical for him. The conflict between Leela and the Doctor is not new, and isn’t going away anytime soon—all in all, they are a bit of a one-note duo—but it’s done well here, and this story does more than any other I’ve encountered to make Leela’s point and make it sympathetic. Her way of life is valid; it’s just not always applicable. She’s a moral and noble and valiant character, and all of those strengths get showcased here; she just happens to be lacking a piece of relevant knowledge about history. It proves to be a hard and bitter lesson for her, but learn it she does.

Wrath of the Iceni 3

Next time: Energy of the Daleks! 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.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Wrath of the Iceni

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 14: Disjecta Membra

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

(This story is told in first person perspective, and the narrator is not named at any time. Apologies for any awkwardness that may result in my summary.)

The narrator kisses his wife, Cass, goodbye as she goes out jogging. She never returns. Later, the police escort him to a hospital, where he learns that she was close to a local cathedral when its bell tower was struck by lightning; she was caught in the glare and blast. She lived, and was mostly uninjured; but during her brief hospital stay she picks up a secondary infection around her eyes, requiring them to be bandaged for some weeks. The narrator becomes her eyes for a time; but when the bandages come off, something is wrong. Strong headaches become persistent; and in every mirror, every reflective surface, she sees a man in a leather coat reaching for her. She becomes increasingly more paranoid, and the headaches grow worse. The narrator takes her for a holiday by a lake. In the lakeside hotel, she sees the man in her cup of tea…and the narrator learns that she is not hallucinating, when a hand bursts from the top of the cup, reaching for her. He dashes the cup against the wall, and the hand disappears. Later, as they walk by the lake, they discover that a lake can be a mirror too; and this time, the narrator also sees the man, rising through the water. He breaks the surface, and lands at their feet.

He is the War Doctor, though he doesn’t call himself that. Cass is afraid at first, but he asks her not to fear him. He explains that he met her at the Cathedral as she ran by; he was on the bell tower, fighting for his life, against

“Something ancient and overlooked escaped from the Apparitia of Nameless Forms; something appallingly attractive and dangerously destructive. A beast of light and mirrors. It hid in the Eye of my Ship. I brought it here by accident.”

Cass remembers the beast, like lightning. He calls it the Mirrorlon, a name he makes up on the spot. His goal had been to tame it, to use it in the Time War, but he underestimated it, and it turned on him when he freed it. He had used the bells in the tower to dissipate the beast, but he was prismatically absorbed in the process, pulled into a dimension of light and mirrors…and a fragment of the beast’s disjecta membra—its “scattered members”—made it into Cass’s eye, and lodged there. However, though it harmed Cass, this ultimately saved the War Doctor, by allowing the light in her eyes to project him back into reality via any reflective surface. He only regrets that it was so hard to reach her. To show his gratitude, he uses his sonic screwdriver to dissipate the Mirrorlon fragment in her eye, freeing her from both headaches and visions; and he can be trusted on this, for he is a… good man.

This story gives us only a glancing view of the Time War, but it’s still an interesting glimpse. Happening as the War Doctor edges toward middle age (a detail I’m basing strictly on its placement in the book—he isn’t well described here), it makes me wonder just how desperate things were becoming, if he was looking to such alternate weapons as the Mirrorlon. I’m not sure that they were intentional, but there are some nice little nods to past Doctors here; the Mirrorlon, hailing from the “Apparitia of Nameless Forms”, would be right at home among some of the more mystical or gothic stories of the past (I’m thinkng The Daemons or Image of the Fendahl). The Doctor’s speech patterns here remind me of the Seventh Doctor, with his alliterations and grandiose descriptions and fondness for phrases from other languages. The explanations that do more to confuse than enlighten the nearby humans are a trait more common to the Fourth Doctor. For a future reference, naming the creature at random is reminiscent of the Twelfth Doctor naming the Boneless in Flatline, although I’m not certain if it was intentional (but it could be; the timing allows for it).

This story was written by Elton Townend-Jones in memory of a friend, Derek Watson, who died at the age of 51 after a lengthy illness in January, 2015. Derek Watson didn’t get to see the story in print, but the author is convinced he would have loved it. There’s a brief, but poignant tribute to him attached at the end. The Doctor, at the end of the story, starts to comment that he is a doctor, before switching over and calling himself a good man; but good man or doctor, he would approve of this tribute. Life, after all, is to be preserved when possible, and honored when not.

Disjecta Membra was written by Elton Townend-Jones.  Next: Loop, by Declan May.  See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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