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We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re looking at the fourth entry in the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures series, Paul Leonard’s Genocide. Released in September 1997, this novel features the Eighth Doctor and Samantha “Sam” Jones, and also gives us a glimpse into the later life of former Third Doctor companion, Jo Grant! Let’s get started.
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a spoiler free review, scroll down to the next picture.
In Africa’s Kilgai Gorge, paleontologists Rowenna Michaels and Julie Sands discover a modern human skull, in a place where none should exist—strata older than modern humanity. UNIT staff, led by one Corporal Jacob Hynes, arrive and cordon off the gorge; after Hynes forcibly evicts Rowenna and Julie, Julie decides to call an old friend for help: Jo Grant Jones, former UNIT member and companion to the mysterious time traveler known as the Doctor. She is cut off and kidnapped, along with Rowenna, by Hynes and a horselike alien. Jo is startled by the message on her answering machine, and calls in favors from former Sergeant John Benton, who very reluctantly gets her into the situation as an observer. Oddly, Benton finds that Hynes’ service record, while up-to-date in the computer, can’t be found in the microfiche backups—technically, he shouldn’t exist in UNIT.
The Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones—no relation—arrive on Earth in 2109; but they discover a world completely changed. London is gone, replaced by a rolling marsh and a lesser, but more elegant, city. They are captured by horselike aliens called Tractites, from the world of Tractis, and the TARDIS is taken in as well. The Doctor deduces that this is, in fact, Earth—but in an alternate timeline, one where humanity never arose, and the Tractites colonized this world many millennia ago, calling it “Paratractis”. Unfortunately, though this world is peaceful and benevolent, it represents a threat to all of spacetime—not to mention the humans who never existed! The Doctor has no choice but to correct history, even though that means Paratractis—and its inhabitants—will never have existed. This quickly becomes a point of internal conflict for Sam, who is torn between saving the Tractites, and saving her own universe.
Upon arrival at Kilgai, Jo is captured by Hynes. He places her in a cave along with Rowenna and Julie. A Tractite named Gavril has infected the paleontologists with a virulent disease, one potent enough to wipe out humanity. However, he and Hynes do not intend to do so in the present; they intend to send their captives back into the past via a “time tree” and wipe out humanity’s immediate forebears instead, thus changing history. Jo frees the others, and they flee, but stumble into the time tree, crashing back two and a half million years in time.
The Doctor and Sam learn of a book of myths, in which a species called “humans” destroyed the Tractite homeworld. It has made the race paranoid, and now they have a “Watcher” in every city, watching for a creature called the Uncreator, who will destroy them again. Unknown to the Doctor and Sam, their host, Kitig, is the Watcher for his city—and he correctly believes the Doctor to be the Uncreator. However, he is loath to kill the Doctor; and when the Doctor manages to get himself and Sam back to the TARDIS to repair the damage, Sam brings Kitig aboard, against the Doctor’s will. As the vortex, and all of history, collapses around them, the TARDIS is left the only safe place—and Kitig knows he will never be able to return home.
The Doctor takes the TARDIS into the remnants of history, landing two and a half million years in the past, near what will be the Kilgai Gorge—adjacent to Jo and her friends, though he doesn’t know it. He exits the TARDIS, ordering Sam and Kitig to stay aboard; separately, they each disobey—Sam to help, Kitig to kill the Doctor. The Doctor locates the time tree, Rowenna, and Julie, but Jo has gone in search of water. He sample’s Julie’s blood so as to start searching for the cure; but Hynes attacks him and steals the sample, then searches for a settlement of the local hominids to infect. The Doctor tries to chase him down, but is attacked by Kitig instead. Kitig is interrupted by the sound of Julie and Rowenna screaming, and he and the Doctor rush to help. They are too late; both women are killed by a pack of wild dogs. Seeing the Doctor’s grief, Kitig revises his opinion of him, and decides he is a good man after all. In the midst of this, Jo returns, and reunites with the Doctor; she is too late to help her friends, but the Doctor sends her to locate Sam, and to stop Hynes. Meanwhile, he takes Kitig back to the TARDIS; there is not one, but two points at which history has diverged, and he must deal with the other one. He goes back in time another million years. There, he discovers a Tractite settlement, composed of soldiers led by Mauvril. Mauvril and his group are from the future, brought back by a time tree, after witnessing the devastation of his world at the hands of the Earth Empire—the humans. This is the origin of the book which the Doctor discovered in Kitig’s city; and it is the origin of the Tractite presence on Earth. Gavril, Hynes’ ally, was one of her soldiers, lost in transit; he apparently has been trying to complete the mission on his own, using Hynes. The Doctor explains to Mauvril that the time tree is organic, drawing power from the universe; therefore it is unable to create a new universe, and the plan will fail, along with all time and space. It is only the Doctor and the TARDIS that are keeping the last of the timeline stable—for now. Mauvril doesn’t accept this; she arrests the Doctor, and drops the TARDIS into a volcano. She also orders the creation of the book, which will put her people on guard in the future. Kitig, she allows to run free, enamored with his innocence. However, he soon finds the remnants of a hominid settlement that was violently destroyed by the Tractites; and he is forced again to face the fact that the Doctor is right. He returns to the Doctor, who is now being starved and imprisoned; but the Doctor gives him a mission. He leaves for the nearby mountain, and begins carving a single message into its rocks, over and over again.
Sam meets Hynes, and is deceived by his claims to work for UNIT. He claims to be here to cure the hominds of a disease, and recruits her help, as the TARDIS translates for her. She befriends a hominid, whom she calls “Axeman”; but when Hynes tries to infect him with the disease, he resists, and Sam injects him instead. Hynes flees as Axeman tries to kill Sam; Jo arrives in the nick of time, and rescues her, but then is forced to tell her that she just infected him with the disease. She has completed Hynes’ sabotage for him. Over several days, they hide in the savannah, until at last Hynes attacks them—but he is killed by Axeman, who then begs for help. Sam herself is infected by now. However, they find hope when they discover Kitig’s million-year-old message, which leads them to the TARDIS—but that hope is dashed when they see that its interior is dead, and it is only a box.
Mauvril prolongs the Doctor’s life so that she can explain her actions to him, to justify herself. However, he is not as weak as he seems, and he manages to escape and head for the TARDIS. He gives it a telepathic command, which reinvigorates it in Jo’s time. Sam, Jo, and Axeman enter it and start heading for the Doctor’s time and location; in the meantime, they find medications which begin to cure Sam. They arrive in the middle of a confrontation; Mauvril immediately kills Axeman. Sam panics, and in turn shoots an attacking Tractite, against the Doctor’s wishes. She and Jo take shelter behind a laser cannon, while the Doctor tries to persuade Mauvril to leave with him and find a new world. He has just barely convinced her—when one of her people takes a shot at Jo and Sam. Jo retaliates with the laser cannon, killing all the Tractites and setting their settlement ablaze. The Doctor is appalled at her actions, but it is unclear even to Jo whether she acted out of panic or deliberation.
Kitig still lives, and the Doctor offers to take him to his people, though they aren’t the ones he knows. However, he chooses to stay behind and finish his mission—carving the message as long as he can. The Doctor provides a vaccine for the hominids, and then takes Jo home. He then takes Sam into the future, to the Earth Empire, where he appeals to the Empress for the Tractite homeworld’s independence. He cannot change the devastation, but he can begin to free them for the future. In the far past, Kitig carves the message for Jo and Sam until he is old and dying; then he uses the time tree to travel back to the creation of Earth’s solar system. For one glorious moment, he sees the universe—and then the tree is destroyed, and he with it.
In Genocide, the Eighth Doctor Adventures take an ambitious turn. Here the Doctor isn’t trying to save just one city, as in Vampire Science, or one planet, as in The Bodysnatchers; here he’s trying to save all of space and time. That’s nothing new for the Doctor, but it is new for this incarnation. (Caveat: I have not delved into the Eighth Doctor comics, and I don’t know what takes place there. It’s possible there are plots as grandiose as this one, and it’s possible they take place between The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science, so I may be wrong in that claim. I only have the novels to go by at this time; but other fans may be able to shed more light on this.) He does it in style, here, though the story is perhaps a bit rushed. (The paperback edition clocks in at 281 pages, roughly equivalent to the preceding volumes, but it felt like a much shorter read, especially when compared to The Bodysnatchers.) This story bounces through multiple time periods and multiple timelines, putting effect before cause and future before past, in a way that only Doctor Who can pull off.
The highlight of the story—and the gimmick, I have to admit—is the presence of Jo Grant. I’m calling her Jo Grant, rather than Jo Jones, in part for familiarity; but moreover, the book refers to her in that way most often. At the time, this was the only available glimpse into Jo’s later life; it finds her with one child, teenage Matthew, and separated from her husband, Cliff Jones. It isn’t stated that she and Cliff are divorced, but it’s heavily implied; the use of Jo’s maiden name instead of her married name, and her insistence on being solely responsible for Matthew, would lead to that conclusion. Much later, the Sarah Jane Adventures episode, The Death of the Doctor, would contradict this novel’s presentation; it portrays Jo as still married to Cliff, with not one but seven children (highly unlikely given the timing of their ages, if this novel is correct). The wiki states that this was a deliberate retcon on the part of Russell T Davies, who didn’t feel that Jo’s fate as portrayed in this novel was right for her. Regardless, she’s still the same Jo, but a bit older and wiser, and certainly more capable than she was in the Third Doctor era; in some ways she is the hero of this story. Her reunion with the Doctor is a little more businesslike and strained than some others we’ve seen (looking at you, School Reunion), but that’s understandable given what is at stake at the time. Near the end of the story, Jo commits an act which the Doctor finds reprehensible, though he handles it better than he often does in such situations; this mirrors his relationship with the Brigadier as seen at the end of Doctor Who and the Silurians. Regardless, it’s good to see her again, however briefly.
Sam’s arc, so far, has been one of internal conflict regarding her relationship to the Doctor. In earlier installments, she’s labored over whether the Doctor trusts her, and whether he thinks of her as a child. She takes it in a new direction here, as she begins to question the Doctor’s judgment. He must choose between saving violent humanity and saving the peaceful Tractites; and Sam must make the same choice. For the Doctor, it is no choice; he knows that it’s all of existence at stake, not just the two races. Sam finds it hard to accept that—or rather, even accepting it, she struggles with the question of which choice is right. She is a parallel to the villain of this story, imposter UNIT corporal Jacob Hynes; Hynes wants to destroy all humanity, even if it means he himself ceases to exist (a paradox which, strangely, is implied but never actually addressed), because he hates humans. Meanwhile Sam is willing, at least briefly, to let humanity be destroyed, not because she hates them, but because she loves (or at least approves of) the Tractites. In the end, of course, she continues on with the Doctor—but her trust in him is shaken.
Being a UNIT story of sorts, this book is full of fanservice and continuity references…alright, admittedly, all the EDAs have been that way so far. John Benton puts in an appearance; his most recent appearance (in order of release) was the fiftieth VNA novel Happy Endings. (As with most things UNIT, his chronology during the 1980s—and by extension, the 1990s—is a bit of a mess, and I was not able to pin down exactly which appearance was his own most recent. It is noted in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Business Unusual that by 1989 he had returned to active duty after a brief stint outside UNIT, but he doesn’t seem to actually appear in that novel.) Cliff Jones figures briefly into this story, mostly in mention only (The Green Death). Jo thinks about several past adventures: Spiridon and the Daleks (Planet of the Daleks), the Autons (Terror of the Autons), Sea Devils (The Sea Devils), Xarax (Dancing the Code), and Axons (The Claws of Axos). Sam mentions the villains of the previous two adventures, the vampires (Vampire Science) and the Zygons (The Bodysnatchers). The Tractite Mauvril mentions “Earth Reptiles”, aka Silurians (Doctor Who and the Silurians, et al.) Brigadier Bambera gets a mention (Battlefield). At the end of the story, the Doctor and Sam visit the Empress of the Earth Empire in an unnamed year in the future (but prior to 2982, as seen in So Vile A Sin); the Empress first appears in Original Sin. During their visit, they see Silurians (again called Earth Reptiles), Draconians (Frontier in Space), Ice Warriors (The Ice Warriors, et al.), and Zygons (Terror of the Zygons, et al.). The TARDIS interior collapses after the death of the Doctor (temporary, of course); this was first seen in 1993’s Blood Heat. The Doctor is still wearing the clothing and shoes from the 1996 TV movie, and mentions Grace Holloway in that context. He is still trying to replace his destroyed copy of the Strand (The Bodysnatchers). He uses jelly babies to administer a vaccine at one point (various Fourth Doctor stories). The Cloister Bell is heard (Logopolis). The Doctor mentions having once bought a pair of wings (Speed of Flight), and mentions Chelonians (The Highest Science). He mentions knowing the Venerable Bede, which was first reported in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (though not seen).
Overall: I did enjoy this book, but I admit that it reminds of some other universe-at-stake stories. The Sirens of Timecomes to mind, though this is not a multi-Doctor story (multi-companion, maybe?). I’d probably enjoy it more if saving the spacetime continuum/vortex/all of reality, wasn’t such a trope already for the Doctor. I think I enjoy his small-scale stories more. Still, this is definitely a good entry, probably even a little better than The Bodysnatchers (but still not aspiring to Vampire Science!). Sam’s arc seems to get a little more grim—or at least potentially so—with every entry, and I grow more and more curious to see what will happen with her. I do enjoy all the continuity references, but it’s starting to become gratuitous; one could drown in this much fanservice. Still, if you’re working your way through the series, don’t skip this one.
Next time: Sam gets her first encounter with the Doctor’s most famous foe, in War of the Daleks! See you there.
The Eighth Doctor Adventures are out of print; however they may be purchased at various used-book sellers.
We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! I recently commented that, twice in a row, I’ve allowed months to elapse between entries in this series, and twice overlooked one book while trying to review the next. In the interest of not letting that happen again, here is the next entry, a day after the last! (Frankly, I think I owe it to everyone at this point, after making those mistakes not once, but twice.) Today we’re looking at the third entry in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel line, August 1997’s The Bodysnatchers, by Mark Morris. In this volume, we’ll revisit an old enemy: The Zygons. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book! For a spoiler free review, scroll down to the next picture.
In 1894 London, a factory is owned by Nathaniel Seers. Once jovial and kind, he has recently become bitter and angry, toward his wife and daughter as well as his employees. A worker, Tom Donahue, recently discharged and destitute after an industrial accident, tries to meet with Seers after hours to beg for his job back. He finds his former employer cutting up human bodies—and Seers’ eyes are glowing orange. He flees into the night. Meanwhile the Doctor and Sam come to London in search of a replacement copy of a valuable edition of the Strand magazine. Donahue runs into them, then flees again in terror; and though they try to catch him, all they can do is watch as he is devoured by a dinosaur-like creature in the Thames. They try to report it to the police, but with little success; and so the Doctor instead recruits his old friend, professor George Litefoot, to help. (Henry Gordon Jago, Litefoot’s sometime partner, is away at the time, and does not appear here.) Meanwhile, Seers is employing two criminals, Jack Howe and Albert Rudge, to rob graves and bring him bodies each night. Howe intends to track Seers and blackmail him, though Rudge disagrees. As well, Seers’ daughter Emmeline intends to confront him about his change of heart.
Litefoot, with the Doctor and Sam in tow, is called to do a postmortem on the remains of Tom Donahue, which were fished out of the river. They find that half his body has been bitten away. The Doctor goes to visit Seers, Donahue’s former employee, but is roughly rebuffed; after some persuasion, he is allowed to examine the factory cellar, but finds nothing as yet. On his way out, he encounters Emmeline, who is here to confront her father. She, too, is rebuffed; the Doctor tells her where to find him should anything come up. Seers sends his men to investigate the Doctor. That night, the Doctor, Litefoot, and Sam break into the factory. In the cellar, they discover an organic lock on a hidden door; before they can check it out, they are attacked by a large reptilian beast. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to stun it, and the trio escape. At home, Emmeline finds her mother dead at the hands of her father, who has glowing orange eyes and venomous stings in his palms. She flees the house. She arrives at Litefoot’s home in a terror-stricken daze. When the Doctor wants to return to the factory, she insists on accompanying them. They find the cellar empty, and deactivate the lock with the Doctor’s screwdriver. The door opens onto a rather organic passage composed of living tissue. They follow it into a large—but disturbingly organic—spaceship. When they see the inhabitants, the Doctor identifies them as shapeshifting Zygons. The large beasts—of which there are many—are Skarasen, and they are feeding on human remains. The Zygons, it seems, are invading, planning to remake the Earth in the image of their lost homeworld, Zygor. Their ship, underwater in the Thames, was damaged in space nearby, and cannot leave—even if they wanted to leave.
Emmeline reveals herself as a Zygon duplicate and captures the group; it seems that “Seers” captured the real Emmeline at the house. The trio are placed in body-print cells and duplicated; however, the Doctor resists the process and damages the living machinery. However, the Warlord Balaak—who is the real entity behind Seers—reveals that they were able to glean the existence of the TARDIS from his mind. He hands the Doctor over to the scientist Tuval, who wears Sam’s form now, and sends them to bring the TARDIS to him, planning to use it in his conquest. He warns the Doctor that any treachery will result in a detectable fluctuation in Tuval’s synchronization signal, and the Doctor’s friends will be killed. En route, the Doctor tries to enlist Tuval, and offers to take the Zygons to an uninhabited but accommodating world; she is sympathetic, but declines to disobey her warlord, and assures the Doctor that Balaak will never deviate from his plan, even with the TARDIS in his possession. Inside the TARDIS, he traps Tuval in a temporal loop, ensuring her sync signal will not be disrupted; then he returns to help the others.
Meanwhile, Howe and Rudge deliver more bodies. This time, Balaak—who is occupied—sends the Zygon in Litefoot’s form to meet them. They then follow him back to the factory and confront him. He drops his disguise and kills Rudge, but Howe stabs him to death before fleeing. With the duplicate dead, Litefoot is freed from the body-print cell, and escapes the ship via the Thames, though he nearly drowns. A constable finds him and takes him to a hospital to recover. Howe flees to a pub and tells his story, and a mob joins him to burn down the factory. This causes Balaak to decide to move the ship to a new location in the river. Unknown to them, the Doctor is swimming to the ship when it moves, and he is nearly crushed; but he gets inside successfully. He finds the Skarasen holding area, where their lactic fluid is extracted and processed for Zygon consumption. He injects an anesthetic into the lactic fluid vats. He then rescues Sam and returns to the TARDIS, where he releases Tuval and explains. He plans to jump ahead a few hours to when the Zygons are all unconscious, and then slave their ship to the TARDIS and transport them to an uninhabited world. Tuval agrees—but when they arrive on the ship, he discovers that his plan has backfired, and the anesthetic is fatal to the Zygons. Only Balaak remains alive, and even he is slowly dying. Balaak stings the Doctor, and then activates the ship’s self-destruct before telepathically sending the Skarasen out to kill as many humans as they can. With Tuval, he steals the TARDIS; however the Doctor has set contingency plans: the TARDIS will only go to its previous spot on the riverbank. When they emerge from the TARDIS, they happen to encounter Litefoot, who has left the hospital in search of the Doctor; and he shoots and kills Balaak. Tuval, however, refuses to attack, and is spared.
The Doctor slowly recovers, as Balaak was too weak for a fatal sting. He denies Sam’s request to go back in time and change his actions, as he cannot do that. Instead, they release all the other prisoners—including Emmeline and her real father—and talk them through the transition, then recruit them to help get the ship as close to shore as possible before it dies catastrophically. Most of the captives survive the escape, as do the Doctor and Sam; however, the ship explodes in the river. Still, though, the Skarasen are loose, and wreaking havoc in the city. The Doctor takes Sam, Emmeline, and Seers to the TARDIS, where they meet Tuval and Litefoot. He and Tuval develop a method to summon the Skarasen back to the TARDIS in peace; and he modifies the ship’s shell to admit them in through the door. Litefoot returns home; and the Doctor and Sam then transport Tuval and the Skarasen to an unoccupied planet as planned, where Tuval—as Zygons can breed asexually—can start a new colony.
Later that night, Litefoot is at home, when the Doctor returns. The Doctor is older now, and alone; for him, as he explains, it has been a long time since their last meeting, and he hints that Sam may have come to a bad end. He thanks Litefoot for his help, and assures him that Tuval’s colony is several generations along now, and safe.
I admit, going into this novel, that it’s going to fare poorly when compared to Vampire Science. I knew when I started reading it that it had big shoes to fill. I’ll be direct: it doesn’t succeed in that regard; however, it’s still a good book on its own. With regard to the character development of the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones, it picks up right where Vampire Science left off; the Doctor is still his romantic, audacious, self-sacrificing self, and Sam is still wrestling with her take on the Doctor’s approval of her. She’s gaining experience quickly, but she’s still a teenager, and still very much in need of approval. In the last book, it was a question of the Doctor trusting her with danger; here, it’s a question of the Doctor trusting her with horror. Sam finds it very hard to accept that the Doctor isn’t just coddling her; but in fact he isn’t. Rather, his universe is one that is sometimes filled with horrors that even an adult wouldn’t handle well. To illustrate that point, we have Professor George Litefoot (of Jago and Litefoot fame), who despite being a pathologist and an acquaintance of the Doctor, is quite overwhelmed by the things he sees here. (He acquits himself well in the end, as does Sam, but it’s touch-and-go for awhile.)
Litefoot’s presence here is welcome, but a bit odd. The story is stated to take place in 1894, five years after the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (I tried to verify this, but was unable to track down a date for that story, short of watching it again, so we’ll assume it’s correct). Henry Gordon Jago is oddly not present at all, having gone to Brighton to recuperate from an illness; he does of course get a mention or two. I say Litefoot’s presence is odd, not because he doesn’t fit here, but because Morris was very careful about how he handled the character—first, separating him from Jago, and second, pointedly NOT revealing the Doctor’s true nature. The Eighth Doctor passes himself off as a colleague of the Fourth, rather than revealing that they are the same man; and given that he doesn’t hide any other oddities from Litefoot, that seems a bit strange. I would argue that he was carefully preserving the character for future use, except that I haven’t seen any indication that there were future plans for Jago or Litefoot. (It would be twelve years before Big Finish incorporated the characters, in The Mahogany Murderers and then, later, in their own series.) It’s worth noting that, to this day, this is the only time Litefoot appears without Jago; and with the death of his actor, Trevor Baxter, it’s unlikely we’ll see any more such appearances.
The Zygons put in an appearance here. I’ve had some difficulty confirming, but I suspect this is their first prose appearance (outside of comics and Target novelizations). There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here; their appearance is consistent with both earlier and later appearances. It is mentioned that orange Zygons are all warriors, having been modified and made sterile; fertile Zygons are smaller, paler, and less devoted to violence. I haven’t seen this statement contradicted anywhere, but it doesn’t seem to have been maintained in later appearances, either. The description given of their technology—notably their body-print cells, which keep their template victims alive—is consistent with descriptions given in The Zygon Who Fell to Earth, and in their NuWho appearances. The Zygon duplicating Sam, Tuval, manages to keep her form after Sam is released from her cell; this would have been an error at the time, but is consistent with what we see with the two Osgoods in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, much later.
Continuity References: The Doctor’s screwdriver is destroyed by the Zygons; his comments at the time reference the previous destruction by the Terileptils (The Visitation). There are frequent references to the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. In the previous book, Sam’s room in the TARDIS was noted to have belonged to a previous teenage companion; here it is confirmed that it was Nyssa’s room. Skarasens and the Zygons were first seen in Terror of the Zygons; their enemies the Xaranti will first appear a few years later in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Deep Blue (which I may not reach anytime soon). The Doctor mentions and uses the TARDIS’s HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System), which he has modified (The Krotons, et al.) The Doctor mentions, but does not reveal, Jack the Ripper’s identity (The Pit), which will feature into the Seventh Doctor novel Matrix (future publication, but earlier in the Doctor’s timeline). He mentions Leela and her children and husband to Litefoot (Lungbarrow). He mentions Grace Holloway (TV movie). He reuses the Venusian lullaby from The Curse of Peladon to calm some horses. He mentions meeting his fourth incarnation (The Eight Doctors). In the story’s coda, which is later in the Doctor’s timeline (but only hours after this book’s events), he implies that Sam has not fared well; it’s been suggested that this is during an upcoming period when the Doctor loses her temporarily, in conjunction with the novels between Longest Day and Seeing I. The Doctor’s choice of breakfast with Litefoot is a nod to The Two Doctors. He has Delphonian coins with him, a nod to Spearhead from Space. The TARDIS’s “state of grace” circuitry is mentioned again (The Hand of Fear, Arc of Infinity); it seems to be a bit more complex than those episodes stated, disallowing any hostile action, rather than just weapon discharges. The ability to alter the size of the TARDIS doors and/or shell appears again in the fan work The Eight Minute War, from the Seasons of War anthology (and is presumably how the Third Doctor got the console out prior to The Ambassadors of Death). Sam mentions being bitten by a vampire (Vampire Science). Tegan is mentioned at one point. The Doctor hums a Draconian lament (Frontier in Space–the Draconians, not the lament). The Doctor’s chair once belonged to a usurper to the title of Earth Empress (So Vile a Sin). He quotes himself from City of Death and Pyramids of Mars (the famous “I walk in eternity” speech).
Overall: These books are proving to be continuity-heavy, which is to be expected given that they were the face of Doctor Who at the time. With the exception of The Eight Doctors, they seem to be well-written, and they’re all enjoyable (yes, even The Eight Doctors, I grudgingly admit). This one, while not as good as Vampire Science, is a quicker read—I finished it in two (non-consecutive) days. If you’re a Zygon fan, you’ll greatly enjoy it, and you’ll see the seeds of later Zygon stories in which the Doctor really wants to help them rather than fight them. They’re one of Doctor Who’s more sympathetic enemy races, once you get past the whole conquest-and-death thing; orphaned, marooned, and homeless, and dependent on monsters for their survival, they’re really pitiable, I think. I’m glad they got a redemption in NuWho; I don’t know if that would have happened without this book to lay some groundwork. Definitely check it out, if you haven’t.
Next time: We have a fairly short entry, clocking in at just over one hundred pages (at least in the probably-bootleg ebook I’m reading): Genocide, by Paul Leonard! As short as it is, I hope to post about it by the end of this week; this range needs some serious catching up. We’ll see you there!
The Eighth Doctor Adventures are out of print; however they may be purchased at various used-book sellers.
We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! As most of my reviewing efforts have been going toward the audio dramas, I’ve been a bit neglectful toward the novels. While I can’t promise that I’ll be much improved in that regard, I do want to revisit the novel ranges as often as possible; and to that end, today we’re continuing the Eighth Doctor Adventuresnovel line with the second entry, July 1997’s Vampire Science! Written by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, this novel features the Eight Doctor and Samantha “Sam” Jones, and picks up some time after the previous entry, The Eight Doctors. (Sam is seen early on thinking about the time she’s spent with the Doctor, indicating they have had some offscreen adventures.)
Full disclosure: I read this novel some months ago, and honestly, I thought I posted a review for it. I had since finished the next entry, The Bodysnatchers, and was getting ready to post about it, when I discovered I hadn’t posted about Vampire Science. This seems to be a trend for me, as I did the same thing with The Eight Doctors, apparently. I promise to do better on this—and with any luck, I’ll get a review for The Bodysnatchers posted this week as well. In the meantime, with Vampire Science having been a few months back, this review may seem a little mechanical; I’m pulling some of the things I’ll reference from the wiki and from other sites rather than from memory, as it’s a little fuzzy for me by now. With that said, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
In 1976 San Francisco, med student Carolyn McConnell meets the Doctor and Sam Jones…in the middle of a vampire attack. The vampire, Eva, is killed in the struggle, via a stake to the heart. The Doctor leaves Carolyn a Time Lord hypercube to contact him if she encounters any more vampires. Twenty-one years later, in 1997, Carolyn—now a cancer researcher, and in a relationship with theatre lighting designer James Court—specializes in vampires as a hobby. She takes an interest in a series of murders that seem vampiric, which culminated with the death of a senator outside a Goth bar called The Other Place. Her extensive research puts her in contact with UNIT General Kramer, who takes her on temporarily as an unofficial advisor. Meanwhile James—not taking it seriously—offers to speak with the owner of The Other Place, after which he disappears. Carolyn activates the cube to summon the Doctor. He arrives with Sam in tow—for them it has only been a short time—and meets with Carolyn and Kramer to make plans. Sam, meanwhile, begins researching deaths by blood loss in the area, and meets an inner-city doctor named David Shackle. He tells her that over two hundred homeless people have died in that manner in the last six months, but no one else has noticed. He joins the Doctor, Sam, Kramer, and Carolyn on their trip to The Other Place. While the Doctor futilely tries to question the owner, David does some interviewing of his own, and is mugged; meanwhile Sam is attacked by a vampire on the dancefloor, and is bitten. She ends up in the hospital, where Kramer advises her to leave the Doctor while she still can. This makes her doubt the Doctor’s motives in exposing her to danger.
David talks with his friend Joanna Harris, who—unknown to him—is a vampire herself, and in fact is the leader of the local coven. Her answers leave him despairing that life has no meaning. Meanwhile the Doctor and Carolyn return to the club, where they meet a young and angry vampire named Slake; the Doctor tells Slake that he is a Time Lord, and he demands to see their leader. Slake arranges a meeting with Harris at the vacant Orpheum Theatre, where the vampires live. Kramer puts UNIT troops on standby around the theatre. Harris releases James as an act of good faith. The Doctor, as a Time Lord, is supposed to wipe out all vampires, but he instead seeks a peaceful resolution, and offers to help Harris create an artificial food source to substitute for blood. This fits with Harris’s own research lines, but she is unwilling to trust a Time Lord; therefore they engage in a bloodfasting ritual, which creates a psychic link between them, and also ensures that they each experience the other’s injuries or death. This enrages Kramer, but the Doctor explains that it is necessary, as the Time Lords—if they become aware of the vampires—will likely wipe out the city to exterminate them. Meanwhile, James leaves, unable to handle this new reality; this leaves Carolyn feeling betrayed, and she decides to take the Doctor up on his long-ago offer to travel with him. She uses the TARDIS’s lab to study the vampires’ blood and isolate the factor in it that makes them vampires; she also seeks the aforementioned artificial food source. Harris reveals her true nature to David, and offers to make him a vampire and recruit him to her cause. He goes to the Doctor for advice, but his depression is unrelieved. The Doctor orders Harris not to turn him, but he remains suicidal.
Slake is enraged by Harris’s efforts to end their hunting, believing this goes against their destiny as vampires. He leads the other young vampires to The Other Place to kill all the clubgoers, in an attempt to provoke a war with Harris and wrest control from her. Hearing of this, Harris and the Doctor hurry to the club with undercover UNIT agents, who evacuate the club while the Doctor confronts Slake. In the face of Harris and other elder vampires, Slake flees, though he plans to ambush Harris at her lab. There he finds David, and turns him into a vampire. From David he learns that the Doctor and Harris are now bloodfasted, and he decides that he only needs to kill one of them, as the other will also die. He sets his young vampires to destroying the other elder vampires, so as to leave Harris and the Doctor vulnerable. Meanwhile, Sam doesn’t understand why the Doctor is protecting the vampires; she thinks Harris has deceived him. She trails Harris to a warehouse with a second lab, and there she learns that Harris is keeping childlike, underdeveloped humans in cages. Harris attacks her. At the same time, the Doctor has found James in an eighth-story hotel room, and tries to convince him to return to Carolyn; when he senses Harris’s actions through the bloodfasting, he threatens to leap out the window if she doesn’t stop. Harris puts Sam in a cage instead; and to punish the Doctor, she goes out to kill a homeless man and consume his blood, just so the Doctor will experience it through the bond. This doesn’t dissuade the Doctor; and when Sam hears that he would do anything to save her, her faith in him is restored. Harris reveals that the humans are lab-grown clones, here to serve as an alternate food source, but the Doctor thinks this isn’t good enough, and insists on finding another solution.
One of the elder vampires, while dying, contacts Harris and warns her that Slake’s allies are killing them off. Harris has no choice but to fight back, and the Doctor joins her. Carolyn provides a weapon: a mixture of silver nitrate and taxol, which her research indicates will kill the vampires. As Sam and Harris mix the solution, the Doctor takes Carolyn and Kramer back to Carolyn’s home to plan. There they are attacked by the young vampires, and flee to James’s hotel room. They decide to set a trap at the now-vacant theatre; once there, they find that Slake has vampirized some squirrels as a trap of his own, and they must fight the creatures off. In the process, James saves Carolyn’s life. Meanwhile Slake’s group attacks the lab where Sam and Harris are working. Sam, who says she has never had to fight for her beliefs before, chooses to defend Harris, as Harris’s death would also kill the Doctor. She fights and kills the same vampire that previously bit her, using the silver solution as a weapon. However, she is captured by Slake, who tells the Doctor he has her as a hostage. They agree to meet at the Orpheum Theatre.
It is James’s lighting skills that set the trap here. With UNIT’s help, he sets up a lighting system which will imitate sunlight inside the theatre. It is not enough to kill the vampires, but it is enough to stall them. The Doctor gives himself up to the vampires, who feed on him—but they begin to die. The Doctor appears also to be dying, and asks Harris to turn him; but she realizes as she drinks his blood that he had drunk a vial of the vampire repellant, which is what killed the others. The traces left in his blood are enough to kill her as well; but the Doctor administers CPR and revives her. She learns that the repellant has destroyed the vampire factor in her blood, but the bloodfasting saved her life, rendering her human—and mortal.
Kramer offers Harris a consultant post with UNIT, as her biology skills and thousand years of life experience would be very useful. Carolyn abandons her plan to join the Doctor, and returns to James to renew their relationship. The Doctor and Sam depart in the TARDIS; but, unknown to anyone, David did not join the attack, and survived, alone in the theatre, pondering his future.
At last, some real action! While The Eight Doctors was by no means boring, it was also the equivalent of a “clip show” television episode, with the Doctor revisiting events of his past lives to restore his memory. Here, we get the first real action that is solely the province of the Eight Doctor (post-regeneration, of course). With Sam Jones in tow, the Doctor confronts a vampire coven in San Francisco. We see some early indication of the Eight Doctor’s tendency to throw himself into every situation even at great risk to himself; all Doctors do this, but it’s almost pathological with Eight, risking his own being in various ways. Here, we get to see him forge a psychic (and more!) link with a thousand-year-old vampire; and we get to see him allow several vampires to feed on him. That’s personal and intimate in a way that his other incarnations probably wouldn’t condone; for the Eight Doctor, it’s just Tuesday.
A common theme for Sam in these early stories—and possibly throughout her run, though it’s too early to say—is her internal conflict over the Doctor’s faith in her. We see this in regard to his willingness and/or unwillingness to put her in danger; and we’ll see it again in The Bodysnatchers, the next entry in the series. I’ve said before that I find Sam to be very similar to Lucie Miller, who will come later in both the Doctor’s timeline and in publication history; as a result, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Sam is just a high school student. She’s very young, and her struggles are very much a magnification of the confidence issues that most teenagers experience. In that sense, she’s very well written. Her issues aren’t resolve here, but she does temporarily get her faith in the Doctor restored. It’s worth pointing out that this is not her first outing with the Doctor; they’ve been traveling for at least a short while, with offscreen adventures. The Doctor isn’t fresh out of the gate anymore, either; Sam mentions at one point that he dropped her off at a Greenpeace rally for the day, and forgot about her for three years of his own timeline. (While not all has been confirmed, it’s been suggested that several of his adventures, including The Dying Days and his Radio Times comic adventures, occurred during that three-year period. For Sam, of course, it was only the afternoon.)
I have a love-hate relationship with supernatural stories in Doctor Who. Ordinarily I don’t think they work well, with the Doctor’s universe being highly slanted toward the scientific. I try to overlook it with most (but not all!) vampire stories, because A) they usually try hard to maintain a scientific footing, and B) they’re just so damned good! Mostly anyway; I’m looking at you, Vampires of Venice. This story would fit right in with the likes of Project: Twilight, had that story been written early enough. Despite having a fairly large cast of important characters, they’re all well-developed, all the way down to the elderly vampires who only appear for the sake of dying. It’s easy to pity the vampires here for the hell in which they live; and it’s easy to fear for the lives of the human characters, who always feel one step away from disaster. That level of tension often gets lost in the shuffle, and it’s good to see it executed so well here.
On the downside: This story feels very much like “TV Movie 2.0”. We return to the same San Francisco setting, just two years earlier; and Carolyn McConnell is very much a copy of Grace Holloway, from the personality and on-again-off-again live-in relationship, to the highly successful medical career. That’s not coincidental; the role was written with Grace in mind, but rights could not be sorted out in time (and in fact, the wiki states that “the first chapter of an early draft with Grace was published in the charity anthology Perfect Timing). Apparently, once again, there’s only room for one doctor in the TARDIS, as she eventually declines the Doctor’s offer to travel and chooses to stay behind. Meanwhile, inner-city doctor David Shackle stands in for Chang Lee; while he’s not a street kid like Chang, he has the same inner-city background and the same perspective on life and crime, with a side order of crippling depression. He, too, ends up allying with the enemies, but survives at the end, although perhaps not as hopefully as Chang. I’d love to see his character appear again, and certainly his survival was left as a thread to be pulled in later stories, but it appears that he never does.
As good as the story is, I found it difficult to get through it. That’s mostly due to my circumstances outside of the book; lately I’ve been finding it hard to complete any books at all. Still, the book itself is a dense read; it moves quickly, but there’s simply a lot happening here, with a lot of events to cover. It was a bit of a slog especially near the end, where I felt it should have been moving much faster than it did. Don’t let that discourage you, though; it’s a good read, and if you want to understand the character of Sam and her relationship with the Doctor, it’s required reading.
Continuity: While it isn’t as egregious as in The Eight Doctors, there’s still a lot of continuity here. The Doctor references his past as President of Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin, et al.). UNIT appears, though in its American branch; it local leader, Brigadier-General Adrienne Kramer, claims to have met the Seventh Doctor in an off-screen adventure in Washington, D.C. (Technically not off-screen, I should explain; it originates with a fan film called Time Rift, in which Jonathan Blum appeared as the Seventh Doctor.) The Doctor still carries Jelly Babies. While bloodfasted to the Doctor, the vampire leader catches glimpses of his memories of Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Androzani (The Caves of Androzani), and Yemaya (Sleepy, Walking to Babylon). The TARDIS’s resident fledershrews (bats), Jasper and Stewart, are glimpsed (Doctor Who TV movie). The Great Vampires (State of Decay, The Pit, et al.) get a mention, of course. Carolyn’s hypercube is of the same type as the one seen in The War Games, and later in The Doctor’s Wife. The Eighth Doctor works with UNIT in The Dying Days, which also takes place in 1997 (and apparently, in the three-year gap I mentioned earlier); however, that novel features the UK branch, which is why Kramer has not yet met the Eighth Doctor. The Doctor describes himself with titles taken from Remembrance of the Daleks and Love and War. There’s a mention of his family, when a birthday card addressed to “Grandfather” is seen (An Unearthly Child, et al.; the card was previously seen in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible). Kramer mentions the Doctor’s occasional use of the phrase “Sleep is for tortoises” (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, et al.). The Doctor mentions a pharmacist on Lacaille 8760 (The Room with No Doors). A model train set in the TARDIS reappears the next year in a print Short Trips anthology, in a story titled Model Train Set, also by Jonathan Blum (I usually avoid references to future media, but this one is pretty obscure, and I may never get to that story). The Doctor refers to the planet Atraxi 3; it’s up for debate whether this is the origin of the Atraxi race seen in The Eleventh Hour. As well, it’s worth mentioning that this book is absolutely loaded with real-life pop culture references from the late 1990s, including nearly every other piece of vampire-related media on the market at that time.
Okay, maybe it IS as egregious as The Eight Doctors.
Overall: Finally, a proper beginning to the series! I understand fully the reasons behind The Eight Doctors; as the novel line was going to carry the torch of published Doctor Who, it needed to firmly root itself into the series continuity. I said in my review of that novel that it was fun read despite its problems; and for that, as well as the continuity bridge, I am grateful. Still, this is where things really get going, and what a ride it is. Bear with it if it seems hard to get through; you’ll appreciate it when it’s over, and it will set you up well for the books that lie ahead. (They do get quicker, I assure you.) Longtime fans can skip The Eight Doctors entirely if they like, and begin here; you won’t be disappointed with this one.
Next time, and hopefully very soon: The Bodysnatchers! Unfortunately not connected to the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers film, but hey, we can’t have it all. See you there!
The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print, but may be purchased from various used booksellers.
We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! A few weeks ago, we reached the end of the four early anthologies in the Short Trips range. Today, we pick up that range with the first of its individual releases, Flywheel Revolution! This story was released in January 2015, nearly four years after the previous release in the range, and it is a different animal—longer, with a more involved plot, and a somewhat slower pace. It will set the template for future releases in the range, continuing to the present day. Written by Dale Smith, and directed by Lisa Bowerman, the story features the First Doctor, and is read by Peter Purves. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
On a distant and far-future world, a robot named Frankie is confined to a scrapheap. He and his friends—all flawed or damaged—have been consigned here by their masters and makers, who are robots themselves, sent to colonize and develop this world. Frankie is a rover, and his flaw is that his geolocation module doesn’t work; he cannot receive the global timestamp signal, and so for him, it is always 5:15 and 23 seconds. Therefore, he gets lost very easily. This comes into play when he takes his friend—a misaligned boring machine named Toby—to see a monster in the scrapheap. Though he navigates by bouncing off of the magnetic Wall that defines the edges of the scrapheap, he is unable to lead Toby to the monster.
Over several days, he does not give up; and eventually he finds the monster, living—to Frankie’s horror—in the gutted interior of another, larger robot! The creature calls out to him, and seems delighted to see him, but he backs off in fear. Still, his curiosity is fully engaged; and after a few more days of wandering, he finds the monster again. This time, it calls itself the Doctor.
Over a few contacts—horrified on Frankie’s part, excited on the Doctor’s—Frankie learns that the Doctor is also trapped here, separated from his companions and his ship. Communications break down when Frankie sees that the Doctor has built a device to shut off the wall—shut it off? Let them all escape? Frankie can hardly dare to dream of it!—but he has built it from the scavenged parts of Frankie’s dead friends! Frankie erupts at him, and leaves in fury.
When he next sees the Doctor, the creature is solemnly apologetic. He had not understood the horror of what he had done; all he had seen were components. But now, he has disassembled his device…and he asks Frankie to help him lay them to rest with respect. This, at last, wins Frankie’s trust; and when the Doctor offers to repair his geolocation device, he is intrigued (though he does not accept).
Soon, however, the Doctor makes a breakthrough with the Wall. He sends Frankie to gather all of his friends; and he tells them they will soon be free. Then, he has Toby dig down into the soft soil beneath the scrapheap and fill another machine with the dirt—and he launches it skyward, raining down on the wall. Soon, this barrage overloads the magnetic wall, and it fails. The machines are free.
Before the Doctor leaves, he thanks Frankie for his help; and he asks the robot what he will do with his newfound freedom. Frankie thinks that he would like to find the people who condemned them all to the Scrapheap…and teach them how wrong they were. He trundles off, noting that it is five-fifteen and twenty-three seconds—the moment when his new life begins.
As with most short trips, this story happens in a bubble of sorts. The story takes place on a planet whose identity is not given, not populated with any race we’ve previously seen, at a time that is not identified (only that it is in the far future), separate from his TARDIS, and separate from his companions (Ian, Barbara, and Susan, though they are not named, only loosely described). As such, there’s very little continuity to speak of, which is something we saw often in the early anthologies, and I expect it to be the standard henceforward as well.
The most accurate word I can apply to this story is “charming”. It’s the story of the Doctor facilitating a revolution—but not a bloody one; rather, a very small one, not much more than a family squabble of sorts. The robots with whom he deals are most definitely people in their own right; but they’re much like children, and he is very paternal toward them. Paternalism is a common enough trait with the First Doctor, and often it works out badly, but here it seems to be a good thing.
On television, the First Doctor was clever, but not nearly as resourceful as his later incarnations, especially in technological matters. Out of universe, that’s an artifact of the show’s early shifts in direction, I think, as it tried to find a stable identity after starting out as a children’s programme. As well, of course, the Doctor wasn’t really the main character at first, and so most of the resourcefulness was exhibited by the companions. Put another way, the Doctor got them into trouble; the companions got them out. Here, though, he’s quite resourceful (and has to be, given that he’s on his own). He correctly analyzes the political situation (if you can call it that) on the planet; he figures out the wall; he recognizes and understands the various robots; and he expresses his ability to repair them, though they don’t take him up on it. He builds a device from spare parts, though—for reasons revealed in the story—he doesn’t use it. He also has a keen, if belated, understanding of the personalities of the other characters. It’s really a good showing for the First Doctor, at a point in his life when frankly, he could use some good press.
Though the story is set during Ian, Barbara, and Susan’s era, the story is read by Peter Purves (Steven’s actor). I haven’t checked far enough ahead to be sure, but I believe this is usual procedure for First Doctor short trips, at least for awhile (I vaguely seem to recall that William Russell may have read a few? We’ll find out soon enough). Purves is, I think, one of the most steady and reliable narrators in Big Finish’s stable. His performances aren’t revolutionary in any way, but they’re steadily good; and he captures the First Doctor fairly well.
Overall, it’s not a bad foot to put forward with regard to reopening this range. It’s a fairly safe story—nothing too experimental, and we know from the Main Range that “experimental” is a mixed bag at best for Big Finish. At the same time, it manages to feel significant in a way that most of the anthology stories did not. If the upcoming entries can build on this start, the range will be in good hands (and the fact that it’s still running, three and a half years later, says that that is probably the case).
Next time: We’ll join Frazer Hines reading for the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe in Little Doctors! 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, with another Big finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to the forty-sixth entry in the Main Range, Flip Flop. This story continues Big Finish’s brief experimental period in the Main Range; this story consists of two discs, one white and one black, each consisting of two episodes. You can listen to either disc first; the story plays with timelines and events in such a way that the order doesn’t matter. I was listening on Spotify, which puts the white disc first, and so that is the order in which I listened, though that should have little effect on this review. The story features the Seventh Doctor and Mel, landing on the planet Puxatornee; it was written by Jonathan Morris, and directed by Gary Russell, and released in July 2003. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
White Disc, Part One:
The Doctor and Mel arrive on Puxatornee on Christmas Eve, 3090, in search of Leptonite crystals, for use in dealing with the Quarks in another system. They are immediately arrested by security agents Reed and Stewart, who accuse them of being spies for the Slithergee—and they insist that the two have already confessed! However, they are soon rescued from their cell by…Reed and Stewart?! Not the same Reed and Stewart, as it turns out—but before they can explain, they are killed. Still, something weird is going on; everyone seems to know who the Doctor and Mel are. The rather paranoid President, Mitchell, sends his security forces through the city to find them. The Doctor and Mel discover a Professor Capra, who has invented a time machine; but it can only work once, and only in one direction—to the past. He reveals that, thirty years earlier, the planet was approached by the Slithergee, who asked for asylum on one of the planet’s moons. However, the then-President, Bailey, was assassinated by her secretary, Clarence, which led to a war with the Slithergee. While the humans won the war, their planet was ruined and poisoned, and soon everyone will die. Capra—with Mitchell’s blessing—plans to send agents Stewart and Reed back in time to prevent the assassination. The Doctor determines not to let that happen; the humans must not change their own history. In the struggle, Stewart and Mel are sent back in time; the Doctor and Reed follow in the TARDIS. Behind them, Capra’s machine overloads, destroying the entire planet. The Doctor and Reed find Mel and Stewart, but fail at stopping Stewart from killing Clarence before the assassination. Reed and Stewart then tell Bailey that she must make peace with the Slithergee, in order to prevent a terrible war.
White Disc, Part Two:
Reed and Stewart’s mission is finished, and so they demand that the Doctor take them forward. He takes them to Christmas Day, 3090. Things have changed; the war never happened, but all is not well. Bailey is now called “The Great Appeaser”, having given in to the Slithergee’s demands. This eventually brought the Slithergee to occupy both moon and planet. Subsequently, through various maneuvers, the Slithergee have enslaved the humans. This is not the outcome Stewart and Reed wanted, and so they order the Doctor to take them back to the previous note so they can stop themselves from leaving to the past. The Doctor does so, but they are dismayed to learn that they cannot return to their original timeline; it no longer exists. Their story ends when they are killed by Potter, who was an agent under them in their original timeline, but here is a Slithergee collaborator. However, the Doctor and Mel then run into the other Reed and Stewart, who are freedom fighters against the Slithergee. This is an earlier moment in their timeline, and they do not recognize the Doctor or Mel; but they quickly discover that the duo has a time machine. Meanwhile the Doctor realizes that, just as there are doubles of Stewart and Reed (and Potter, as well), there will be alternate versions of themselves, who will probably arrive soon. The problem: they will most likely land their TARDIS in the same spot as the current version—and that would be disastrous! With their Leptonite crystals in hand, they hurry back to their TARDIS and leave; the Doctor refuses to stay and help, trusting that his alternate self will figure things out.
Black Disc, Part One:
The (other) Doctor and Mel land on Puxatornee on Christmas Eve, 3090, attempting to obtain Leptonite crystals to deal with a Quark incursion in another system. They find a world that is both occupied and enslaved; the Slithergees, in their weird hivelike buildings, have made slaves of the humans. They are promptly arrested by Slithergee collaborator Potter, who takes them to Professor Capra for interrogation. This Capra has not built a time machine, but rather, a Leptonite-powered torture device. The Doctor and Mel are freed by two freedom fighters, Reed and Stewart, who somehow know who they are. More strangely, they know that the Doctor has a time machine, and they want to use it to go back and kill President Bailey before she can begin the peace process that led to the Slithergee occupation. Meanwhile, Bailey suspects that her deputy, Mitchell, is secretly a Slithergee agent; she thinks he staged the failed assassination attempt that led to the peace process, so as to keep her from going to war. She confronts him, and ends up dead for her trouble; Mitchell calls it suicide. The Slithergee Community Leader designates Mitchell the new president, but then kills him, taking direct control of the planet. Meanwhile, Stewart threatens to shoot Mel if the Doctor won’t transport them; and he reluctantly agrees. He takes them back thirty years, where they kill Bailey’s secretary, Clarence. They then kill Bailey to prevent the peace process, and stage the scene so as to frame Clarence for the murder.
Black Disc, Part Two:
The Doctor then takes them forward to Christmas Day, 3090, where they find things changed. Mitchell, having assumed power after Bailey’s death, believed Clarence was a Slithergee agent, and so he went to war against the Slithergee. While the humans won the war, it left their world a wasteland, and soon the remaining humans will die. Potter—here a security agent under agents Stewart and Reed—arrests the Doctor and Mel as enemy agents; but the rebel Stewart and Reed pretend to be his superiors, and take the time travelers into their custody. This is not the future they sought, and so they demand that the Doctor take them back to last night, so that they can stop themselves from going back to complete the assassination. He does so, but they find that this is still the new timeline; and they leave, disappearing into the city. However, the Doctor and Mel run into agents Stewart, Reed, and Potter; from the agents’ point of view, this is their first meeting. The Doctor remembers that tomorrow, Potter will arrest them as spies, and so he confesses to being such, in order to preserve the timeline. Once in a cell, Mel realizes that they, too, must have counterparts; the Doctor realizes that their counterparts will soon land, in the same spot as their own TARDIS—a catastrophe in the making. He gets them out of the cell, and they rush to the TARDIS to depart, trusting that their other selves will set things right.
I have to say up front, I appreciate what they’re trying to do here. Flip Flop is actually a very clever application of alternate timelines. We have the Doctor and Mel from one timeline contributing to the actions that create the other timeline—and this happens in both directions! That’s very clever; but in practice, it’s a mess, and hard to follow. There’s no shame in needing a few runs through this story in order to follow along!
I love stories about alternate timelines, not just in Doctor Who, but in other franchises as well. While trying to piece this one together, I realized that it conforms with a theory of my own. If you follow the idea that any choice can result in a new timeline splitting off, you have the basis for multiverse theory. However, when we’re talking about time travel, we have to ask: what happens if you go back to a point before the split? I theorize that it only makes sense if each new timeline also happens retroactively, splitting off both forward and backward in time. There’s no such thing as a unified timeline before the split (sorry, Legend of Zelda fans—of which I am one, so I’m apologizing to myself, too). This story must follow that notion, because there are two versions of the Doctor and Mel. While their timelines were identical up to the events on Puxatornee, they differentiate at that point—but the split must be retroactive, or else we’d only have one TARDIS team here. Interestingly, the story ends with each team in the opposite universe from the one in which they started!
Confused yet? Yeah, me too.
With all that said, I reiterate my initial point: I appreciate what they’re trying to accomplish, but in execution, it doesn’t work out so well. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m looking forward to getting past this experimental phase in the Main Range. Everyone has an adolescence; I suppose this is Big Finish’s. On the plus side, the voice acting is pretty good; I never had trouble discerning which version of each character was being portrayed. In a story like this, that’s priceless.
We do get some continuity references here. The Quarks (The Dominators) get a few mentions; they represent the inciting incident for the story, as the Doctor and Mel (in both timelines) come to Puxatornee to obtain Leptonite crystals, which cause Quarks to explode. (According to the Doctor Who Reference Guide for this story, the Quarks mentioned here—being mentioned sans Dominators—are more likely a reference to the 1960s comic strip stories Invasion of the Quarks and The Killer Wasps (and others; I don’t have a complete list) than to The Dominators. In those strips, the Quarks were billed as a conquering race on their own. However, I’m not familiar with those stories myself, so I can’t comment.) The Doctor mentions the musical group “Pakafroon Wabster” here; I don’t usually mention future references, but as I am not likely to reach the referenced story anytime soon, I’ll say that they will be mentioned a few times in the future before actually appearing in the comic story Interstellar Overdrive. The Doctor mentions “anti-radiation gloves” invented by a previous incarnation; this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to The Daleks, where William Hartnell mistakenly said “anti-radiation gloves” instead of “anti-radiation drugs. The cloister bell is heard when the two TARDISes are at risk of colliding (Logopolis, et al.) The Doctor quips several times that “I’ll explain later”; while I haven’t identified the first appearance, this line has appeared as a running joke on many occasions. I should also mention that the planet’s name, “Puxatornee”, is a slightly-altered reference to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for the film Groundhog Day (and coincidentally, a few hours from my hometown, though I haven’t been there). That film, like this story, focuses on repetitive sequences of time, though the resolution is much different.
Overall: The story is ambitious, and it does, I suppose, accomplish its goal. For the listener, getting there is a mess. I applaud the attempt, but I don’t think I’ll come back to this one.
Next time: We begin the villainous countdown to the fiftieth Main Range entry, with Omega! 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.
We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re concluding our examination of the early Short Trips anthologies with the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume IV collection: Quantum Heresy! Written by Avril Naude, and read by India Fisher, this story features the Eighth Doctor traveling companionless. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
A woman with an…oddly loose grasp of time…works in an archive on Earth. All seems well at first; but then she realizes that she is living the same moments over and over again. Later, the strange man called the Doctor will tell her that she is time-sensitive, or else she would never have noticed.
While checking data in the archive, the woman sees the Doctor appear out of apparently nowhere. He seems familiar, and introduces himself as “the Doctor”; then says an odd thing: “Oh, but you won’t have met me yet.” The woman feels increasingly panicked, but she swears she knows him, somehow. He escorts her deeper into the archive, and shows her an old man, shuffling forward, muttering something. Strangely, the Doctor calls the man “it”. The Doctor refuses to let her speak or approach, despite the overwhelming urge to hear what the man says.
Again she is working in the archive, alone in the quiet and dust. She thinks she has always been here. The man called the Doctor approaches, and she remembers him; but when he is gone, she forgets. Perhaps this happens over and over; she doesn’t know. It happens again, and she thinks that she stays because it is her duty. She hears the old man shuffling closer and muttering. She wants to know what he says; but she is afraid. She sees the old man searching for something—and then the Doctor appears, but she does not recognize him this time. He warns her back, and the old man shuffles away. He tells her that time is repeating itself, and even he is caught in it. He says he keeps arriving in this time loop at different points, until he gets it right—and then he vanishes.
The woman works in the archive, checking data, in the dust and the quiet. She thinks of the Doctor as she eats her lunch, and he appears, looking tired and worn. He asks for something to eat, and she offers him her lunch. He laments that he can’t seem to break the time loop—and then he realizes she remembered him this time. She says that he told her it was vital that she remember. He doesn’t seem to know that, but is cheered by the news. Still, she thinks she has forgotten something. He asks if she remembers the old man—and the loop resets.
She works again. She knows now that the loop exists, and the Doctor is real—but not here. Her time sense awakens, and she realizes the days are not identical. She thinks of the old man, and the Doctor’s warning to avoid him. But would hearing him help or hurt? She is not even sure who she is.
She is no longer checking data storage, and the archive sits in its dust. Is any of this real? The old man passes by, and seems worse than before. Her compulsion to hear him is much stronger. The Doctor appears and breaks the spell again. She wonders not who she is, but what.
Another loop. She longs to be free, and is angry over it. It feels as though time has stopped. She calls out for the Doctor, and she hears his voice, now dry and cracked. He tells her it’s time—he has worked it out, and she has remembered. The time loop is an experiment. The old man is no man at all; he’s a creature from another dimension, trying to push through. And the woman…she WAS the experiment. She was created from raw matter, but has become a living person. The old man wanted to control her so as to manipulate the Doctor’s reality. But she resisted—and the experiment failed. She sees the old man, and he looks like a hole in reality. It burns and dies in front of them. The Doctor says that had she approached it, it would have granted the creature control—and she would have died.
The archive is not real, and it begins to crumble around her. She tries to hold on—but the Doctor assures her she is part of real reality now, and she can break free. So, she does.
Now, she has her own life, and freedom—and things can change and be different. She knows what the Doctor meant when he said she would understand in time—she would understand when she began to live in real time. More, she understands the Doctor—and just how much the universe owes him.
It has always seemed to me that the Eighth Doctor era—having lacked a television series to set its tone—has become the dumping ground for the most weird and bizarre and—to borrow the Tenth Doctor’s term—timey-wimey stories in the DW canon. One need only to look at Zagreus (which I haven’t covered yet, but have heard enough about) to know that that is the case. His stories push the limits of time travel and dimensions and universes and his own lifespan and nearly any other fantastic aspect of the series.
This story, while hardly the most large-scale or dramatic, fits right in. It concerns a time loop—standard fare by itself—that is more than it seems, and gradually reveals an otherworldly creature (villain? By default, I suppose, but we don’t get very far into that aspect) trying to break into reality, as well as an artificial lifeform that becomes real. Pinocchio ain’t got nothin’ on this story, friends. Being a story of a time loop—but with the Doctor dropping in at non-sequential points—the story is told in non-linear fashion. Sometimes, as with Creatures of Beauty (which I recently covered), that can become a problem, as the story gives itself away too early. Here, I think it’s saved by the fact that it’s essentially a bottle episode; there are very few characters, in a very contained environment, and we’re only seeing the story from one character’s perspective, which is subject to the rules of the time loop. Thus, we don’t get the ending spoiled before we get there, despite the non-linear structure. That’s a rare combination of factors indeed, but it works here.
The Eighth Doctor is traveling alone, but that does little to establish when in his timeline the story takes place. If we got a good description of his hair or clothes, it might narrow it down; but the point-of-view character has other, more pressing concerns, and doesn’t oblige us. As is typical in these anthologies, there are no continuity references (we don’t even see a sonic screwdriver!), and that further obscures any attempt to place the story. Being a bottle episode, that’s just as well, I suppose; it doesn’t NEED to have any bearing on any other stories. As with past Eighth Doctor short trips, India Fisher (of Charley Pollard fame) does the reading; she’s passable and formal, but she doesn’t really attempt to capture the Doctor’s voice or mannerisms. I think that’s acceptable in audiobook format; it’s nice when we can get the different voices, but it’s not necessary.
Overall: A nice story, self-contained in more than one sense, and a decent wrap-up to both the fourth volume and the anthologies as a group. I haven’t always been optimistic about the Eighth Doctor’s short trips thus far, but this one is decent. It’s also short; I didn’t do the math, but I suspect it’s the shortest installment in this anthology. If you’ve made it this far, give this one a listen as well.
And that’s that! When we return, we’ll begin listening to the individual Short Trips, which tend to be longer and more involved—someone recently compared them to the Companion Chronicles, but in short form, and I think that’s an apt comparison. I should note that there’s a significant gap in release dates between Volume IV, published in 2011, and the first single release, published in January 2015. We’ll begin with the First Doctor in Dale Smith’s Flywheel Revolution! 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, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to The Shadow Trader, the Seventh Doctor’s entry into the Short Trips, Volume IV anthology. This story was written by Charles Williams, and features the Sixth Doctor and Ace, and is read by Sophie Aldred. Let’s get started!
Salim is a shadow trader. It’s an old profession, one practiced by his father before him, and dating all the way back to the old days on Earth. Some cultures have known for centuries that buildings—and in these days, spaceships—have souls of their own; it’s why a man may call his ship “she”, and put faith in its abilities. Those souls don’t happen; they are acquired by binding a shadow to the bones of the building or the ship. That’s where the shadow traders, like Salim, come in. It’s a little bit magical, but it always works—as Salim’s dying father taught him. Salim wasn’t the greatest at the job, but that didn’t matter; all his father asked of him was that he live, procreate, and pass on the skills to his son, who might do it better.
Fraser’s Rest, in orbit around the old colony of Sonos Prime, is a declining shipyard and trading post—once more powerful, but now diminished in the face of new settlements. Salim fits in here; he doesn’t stand out in this decaying realm of reduced activity. He finds a ship in the midst of construction, and watches the activity; it’s a luxury cruiser for a billionaire, quite a prominent addition to the construction yards of Fraser’s Rest, but that is because the billionaire grew up here, and feels some affection for the place. It is, perhaps, the last chance for the Rest. Salim has been staking it out for days, trying to determine what kind of soul—what kind of shadow—this ship should have. Even its name has not been decided; but the shipbuilders have been calling it the Defiance. Now Salim must search for a person to provide the shadow—someone who matches the character of the Defiance.
He finds it in a girl with a bulky jacket, a rucksack, and a ponytail. He follows the girl, Ace, as she rejoins a little man called the Doctor—or the Professor, as she calls him. They are here to watch a launch, but the Doctor ruefully notes that he may have brought them to the wrong year, as he remembers the places being more upscale. He admits there is nothing special about this ship launch, but that he just likes to watch them, and think about what adventures it may have. Ace isn’t interested, and heads back to their own ship, the TARDIS. Salim thinks on how to cut the girl’s shadow away.
Salim follows Ace down a lonely corridor, and sets a music box playing. Ace hears the music, which grows more and more complex; she finds it has caused her to be stuck in place. Salim confronts her, and she finds she cannot even approach him. He tells her that her shadow is holding him in place; it can’t move, and therefore neither can she. He produces a strange, circuitry-laden knife, and turns it on. He tells her to hold still, so that he can cut off her shadow; Ace threatens to kick him if he approaches. Salim is okay with this; they’ll be in a stalemate until she lets him take the shadow.
They are interrupted by the approach of the Doctor. Ace warns him away; the Doctor is unperturbed, and recognizes music box as a shadow lure. He states that it won’t work on him, to Salim’s surprise. The Doctor says this is because he has no shadow; and he knocks the music box from Salim’s hand, breaking it. Ace immediately kicks him to the floor.
The Doctor examines the knife, which is quite blunt, and says that it cuts shadows, not flesh. He recognizes Salim as a shadow trader, something he last encountered in nineteenth-century London. Salim defends his profession as noble; the Doctor counters that there is nothing noble about waving a knife at a girl in an alley, and says that Salim’s ancestors wouldn’t do it this way. They would offer a deal instead, though often not a favorable one. The Doctor explains that taking the shadow takes the person’s substance, causing their lives to go nowhere; past victims would end up in freak shows, or in bedlam. Salim objects that people must have sold the shadows willingly; the Doctor acknowledges that sometimes the downtrodden would do so, for the lure of being part of something great. Some people have felt that all they have to offer in life…is their shadow.
The Doctor leaves, taking Ace with him; without the lure, Salim may still be a parasite, but he’ll have to be a traditional one.
Salim watches the Defiance under construction, and thinks about his father, and about the many others who have desired to be part of something bigger. For a moment, he feels that desire as well…and then it is gone.
I commented back in Volume II that the Seventh Doctor’s stories in these early anthologies seem to be built around the idea of teaching someone a life lesson. Saving the world—when it happens—is secondary to that purpose. The same holds true here, but with a twist that left the story a bit unsatisfying to me; I’ll get back to that in a moment.
The story finds the Doctor and Ace visiting a decaying shipyard for the purpose of watching a launch. In the course of it, they encounter a man named Salim. Salim is a shadow trader; he removes the shadows from unsuspecting individuals, and sells them to ship construction crews to be attached to the ship, thus giving it a “soul” of its own. It’s an ancient profession, going back to buildings on Earth, but it isn’t a very honest one. Salim gets more than he bargains for when he targets Ace’s shadow.
I say that the Doctor makes a point of teaching Salim a life lesson; in this case, that his chosen profession is dishonest, and leaves its victims with some severe consequences even if they agree to it. That’s standard for these Seventh Doctor stories, but the problem here is that nothing comes of it. We don’t see the effect it has on Salim at all; he’s still thinking about it when the story ends, but even that slips away from him. As far as we can tell, he’ll go on as he always has. While not every story has to have a happy ending, I think that it’s best when the actions of the story seem to count for something, whether it’s happy or not. That characteristic is lacking here, and it’s very unsatisfying. There’s potential, but it’s just not realized. (I should note that the wiki page for Salim’s character interprets the ending differently, but I think the author of the page is extrapolating a bit to reach the conclusion that Salim changes for the better. I do think that the author intended to show that Salim changes, but somehow that detail got omitted from the final cut.)
The presentation is decent, as usual; Sophie Aldred had been voicing Ace for Big Finish for a very long time by the time this story was released, and audiobooks seem to have been an easy transition for her. Her presentation of the Seventh Doctor is a little rough, but that’s only because her voice is (obviously) quite different from his; she captures his tone and mannerisms fairly well. There are no continuity references to speak of; the Doctor does mention having encountered shadow traders in nineteenth century London, and possibly at the construction of the Sphinx as well, but those references don’t seem to be attached to any stories.
Overall: Not the greatest of the Seventh Doctor’s anthology stories. It could have been better, but just didn’t hit the mark. We’ll see if things improve when we reach the individual Short Trips.
Next time: We’ll finally reach the last installment in the Short Trips anthologies! We’ll join the Eighth Doctor, sans companions, in Quantum Heresy. 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.