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We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re picking up our tour of the Short Trips range. When we last heard from this range, we were in the middle of Short Trips Volume IV, the last of four early volumes of short trip audio dramas. We pick up today with the Third Doctor’s contribution, Lost in the Wakefield Triangle. Written by Vin Marsden Hendrick, this story is read by Katy Manning, and features the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. 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 man named Martin Chisom is moving rhubarb into his forcing shed. He hears a snapping sound, and realises to his surprise that it is the sound of the rhubarb growing. He discovers he is surrounded by something, and is captured.
Later, the Doctor and Jo Grant approach Martin’s home, intending to buy some rhubarb, which was advertised as being on sale. A woman meets them and asks if he is a doctor; naturally, he says he is, and the duo are shown inside. They are led to Martin, who is in the grip of a fever, having been poisoned with rhubarb leaves; he had been found by a couple named Brian and Claire Forest. The Doctor treats him for the fever, calming his thrashing; but from Martin’s words, he determines that something is wrong with the rhubarb. Suddenly he discovers that Jo is no longer in the room; Brian says that Jo—whom he has taken for a student nurse—has gone to the forcing shed. The Doctor runs after her.
Brian and Claire follow the Doctor into the shed, and they hear the snapping sounds. The Doctor lights a candle, and the noise stops. By candlelight, he finds a large, metallic insect, the size of a housecat. It shrieks at him before switching to English and speaking; it first says that it is claiming Earth by right of conquest, but then corrects itself and only lays claim to the shed. Surprisingly, the Doctor agrees that this is a reasonable demand.
The Doctor finds Jo, who says that she went into the wrong shed. He explains the end of the situation: Brian has negotiated a trade agreement with the aliens. Brian will supply manure to the aliens, and in return, they will provide “the tenderest rhubarb in the galaxy, grown at a rate unheard of on Earth.” It’s an oddly satisfactory deal; the aliens have no interest in expanding beyond the shed. In the meantime, the Doctor is leaving with all the ingredients for a great rhubarb charlotte.
These early Short Trips tend to alternate among a few moods, from mystifying to whimsical to silly. This story is definitely the third. The Third Doctor and Jo Grant are on a walk in the countryside when they find a house offering rhubarb for sale; and that’s all it takes to get this story started. Add in a few small aliens with a misguided sense of scale, and everything is complete. It’s hardly saving the world; it’s more like saving one garden shed. No story too small, eh?
And yet, this isn’t so unusual for the Third Doctor. Perhaps more than any other Doctor, his stories run the gamut of scale, from inconsequential to world-breaking. Maybe that’s a side effect of spending so much time on Earth, but regardless, the effect is that this story, while silly, is believable. I can’t see the Fourth or the Ninth Doctors, for example, handling this situation with the same dignity and charm.
There are no real enemies here, so I’ll just refer to the aliens involved instead. Insectlike and small, they aren’t given a name, though they remind me a bit of the Rovie from No Place Like Home–delusions of grandeur, but a severe misunderstanding of what their ambitions might entail. At any rate, these childlike aliens ultimately settle, not for conquering the world, but for conquering a simple forcing shed. And yet, in that sense, they’re more successful than most invaders, as they immediately set up a profitable trade relationship with the humans—or at least, with one human. It’s not often we get a situation that the Doctor can safely leave alone, but it’s nice to see it happen every once in a while.
This story is read by Katy Manning, but her usual character, Jo, doesn’t serve much purpose here. She wanders into the story and immediately wanders out again, not to be seen again until the end. This is just my opinion, but to me that indicates that this is early in Jo’s time with the Doctor. The television series eventually gave her more maturity and awareness, but at first it was almost criminal in its treatment of her; she was vapid and mindless, mostly there just for her appearance. That’s how she comes across here; she gets lost walking from the house to the forcing shed, and ends up in the wrong shed, requiring perhaps an hour to make her way back. It’s a little disappointing; I’ve grown to appreciate Jo (though I disliked her at first), and I don’t like seeing her be portrayed as stupid. One detail I missed, however, may contradict my thoughts about the placement of this story: in Jo’s early stories, the Doctor was still restricted from TARDIS travel except when summoned by the Time Lords; but here, the local character Brian Forest has a cell phone, indicating this story occurs in more modern years. It’s not referred to as a cell phone or mobile phone, just as a phone, but it can be heard ringing when called, while Brian is in the room with the caller.
There are a few continuity references, which is unusual for these early Short Trips. The Doctor uses Promethean Everlasting Matches, seen in Venusian Lullaby and other prose stories. (Thanks to the TARDIS wiki for this one, as I have not yet read any of the stories featuring that item.) As well, the Doctor considers wearing rhubarb—a plant similar to, but unrelated to, celery—in his lapel, but decides it is too garish; behind the scenes, this is a bit of a jab at the Fifth Doctor, who routinely wears celery on his lapel. (Full disclosure: I didn’t catch this myself, because I had no idea what rhubarb looks like. I’ve heard of it all my life, but it’s not common where I live, and isn’t popularly used in cooking here, and therefore I’ve never seen it. Thanks to Google, it makes a little more sense now.)
Overall: Not a bad story, but an exceedingly short and inconsequential one. It’s a good way for us to ease back into this series after a few months’ break, but if you’re looking for more action, you won’t find it here. Still, it’s worth a quarter hour’s time.
Next time: We visit the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K9 Mark II in The Old Rogue! See you there.
All stories featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.
We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Audio Visuals series, with the second entry, The Time Ravagers. Written by Nicholas Briggs (under the pseudonym Arthur Wallis), this story was released in 1985, and features Briggs in his debut appearance as the Doctor, Richard Marson as Greg Holmes, and Sally Baggs as Nadia. 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.
Part One: A repeating buoy broadcasts its beacon into space a light year from the Temperon research station, in the Temperos system. On an approaching supply ship, Captain Stride sends his engineer, Harlan, back to his post, before musing on military discipline. He tries to summon his science officer, Okkerby, but she belligerently refuses to come up before landing, and returns to the music to which she was listening. Harlan shortly joins her in her quarters, and discusses her professional affection for time travel—which, as it turns out, is what Temperon station is supposed to be researching. Harlan’s grandfather was alive at the building of the station, and Harlan finds it fascinating, though Okkerby has given up on any breakthroughs. The captain summons Okkerby again; all the ship’s chronometers have gone dead at relative 01:56. More, something is out there—in space.
On the TARDIS, Greg and Nadia are impatient for the Doctor’s return; he has been gone for hours. They see a vision of a brain in the time rotor, and hear the Doctor’s voice, before both vanish. An old man appears in the TARDIS, looking as though he has been wearing his clothes for a century. They realize it is the Doctor, now aged and unhealthy—and before their eyes, he dies.
No other malfunctions seem apparent, so Stride tells Harlan to follow the buoy signal in. However, the signal is gone; the buoy is dead. Harlan prepares a spacesuit for Stride to use in investigating the buoy, and takes the ship close to it; but he superstitiously warns that this is the work of the “Temperon”.
Nadia and Greg muse over what to do without the Doctor. They return to the control room to move his body.
Stride lectures Harlan again, then heads out to examine the buoy.
Greg and Nadia find the Doctor gone—and a new man in his place. They believe he is another time traveler, having killed the Doctor; but they are interrupted as the man tells them the TARDIS is tipping into a time abyss, something he previously thought impossible. He claims to be the Doctor, though it defies belief; but he pilots the TARDIS through a time distortion.
Stride reports to Okkerby as he examines the beacon, where he can find nothing wrong—but no signal either. He investigates further, and find the battery corroded—and strangely, it seems aged far beyond its projected 50,000 year lifespan.
The alleged Doctor brings them safely out of the distortion and to safety. They have a brief argument about regeneration; in the midst of it, Nadia again asserts that she wants to forget about Homeworld. The Doctor overrides their objections, and explains that there is some sort of time-creature—the thing that apparently aged him prior to regeneration—which seems to be in need of help. Greg accepts his story, but Nadia refuses. However, they are interrupted by an alert from the TARDIS; the ship’s power cells are decaying beyond their practically-infinite lifespan. The Doctor realizes the creature is taking them toward the end of time.
Okkerby is not receiving a signal from Temperon station, either; and the ship’s engines are experiencing fluctuations. Stride orders Harlan to make an emergency landing; but the base is nowhere to be seen. Stride orders Harlan to land where the base should be. Okkerby sees that the Temperon sun is going dark.
The TARDIS lands, but the Doctor doesn’t know where. At least there is a breathable atmosphere, so they head out to explore. They find a darkened landscape under a dying sun, with ancient ruins nearby. The whole world seems to be near the end of its life cycle. The trio goes to investigate the ruins, which prove to be millions of years old—though it was quite advanced in its day. As they head inside, a strange voice can be heard growling the Doctor’s name, and asking for help.
The ruin shows evidence of both violence and rapid aging. The Doctor speaks briefly with Greg about Nadia’s distrust of them, before the odd voice is heard again—and apparently only the Doctor can hear it.
As the ship comes in for a landing, its power continues to weaken; Okkerby notices the same ruin as the TARDIS crew, at the coordinates the station should occupy.
The ruin’s power cells have also been rapidly aged, and the Doctor begins to make a connection between this and his own situation. They see the ship coming in. Aboard ship, the crew struggles to get the ship down, with only three minutes of emergency power left. The ship lands hard, near the ruins, but everyone survives. Stride arms the three of them from the ship’s armory, over Okkerby’s objections.
The Doctor notes that the ship is suffering the same degradation, but he is unable to focus as he hears the voice again. Greg and Nadia notice that he is unwell, just before the Doctor passes out.
Stride sends Harlan to scout ahead, against his objections. Greg and Nadia see him coming, and try to wake the Doctor; they also note that Stride and Okkerby have found the TARDIS. Okkerby doesn’t know what it is, but determines it at least won’t blow up. Greg and Nadia carry the Doctor behind a bit of cover and try to hide from Harlan. Harlan tells Stride he hasn’t found anything. Meanwhile, Okkerby concludes that the ruins are the Temperon station, though millions of years aged. The Doctor cries out, giving away their position to the others. Time begins to reverse around them, and the base begins to rebuild as the TARDIS disappears. Suddenly the situation reverses again, and the base disappears—but the TARDIS disappears fully as well.
Stride’s crew finds Nadia and Greg, and Stride tells Harlan to shoot them. The duo run; Stride insists they are saboteurs. The Doctor awakens to overhear this, and Stride demands answers from him. Nadia and Greg manage to hide; in the course of it, Nadia lets it slip that she is beginning to accept that this Doctor is the real Doctor.
The Doctor agrees to try to help, but insists he may not be much help because of his recent metabolic change. Stride places Okkerby to watch the Doctor, and takes Harlan to go hunt down the companions. The Doctor introduces himself to Okkerby, who doesn’t think the situation is the result of sabotage. Conferring, they each learn that the same circumstance brought them there. She tells them they are on Temperos, the legendary home of the beast called the Temperon. The station crew was there to research time travel, which is connected with the Temperon. Meanwhile, Stride and Harlan lose track of the companions. Harlan explains what his grandfather told him about the Temperon, which is consistent with what has happened to them; Stride calls it rubbish. The Doctor examines the damaged chronometers, and concludes they were damaged by the sudden onrush of time.
Greg and Nadia think they may be safe for the moment, and muse on the apparent approaching death of the world and its star. They realize that if the planet aged naturally, the atmosphere would have dissipated. They are interrupted by more weapons fire, as Stride and Harlan find them, and they run again.
The Doctor theorizes that they are heading toward the end of time. A huge brain materializes; the Doctor concludes it is the Temperon. It speaks in the strange voice from before, and calls the Doctor friend. It warns the Doctor of danger that must be resisted. Stride and Harlan return with their captives, and Stride makes Harlan fire on the Temperon, which vanishes. The Doctor berates him as a fool. Harlan is seen to be aged; the Temperon struck in self-defense, it seems. The Doctor insists it is not their enemy, but has been dragging others here to help it defeat the force that is using it. Another time distortion begins, and the Doctor tells Stride to throw down his gun and apologize to the Temperon. However, it is not the creature that appears, but a band of Daleks.
Part Two: The Daleks don’t know the Doctor’s new face. The Doctor stalls them as far as knowing which person is the Doctor, prompting the Daleks to capture them all, which knocks them out briefly. They awaken on a Dalek ship, with no Daleks in sight—but they won’t be gone long. Stride knows the Daleks, but insists they long ago surrendered in their war with the humans. The Doctor laughs at the thought, and insists that they must deal with the situation in front of them. Why do the Daleks want them? Unknown to them, the Daleks are monitoring them, and determine from the confrontation which one is the Doctor. The lead Dalek instructs the others to bring the Doctor to him, and kill the others. The Doctor surmises that this is the case, and plans to bargain with them—after all, the Daleks need him for their work with time travel, and that constitutes a powerful bargaining chip. Still, the Daleks are not to be trusted.
A Dalek come for the Doctor, and Stride’s crew opens fire on them. Okkerby is wounded. The Doctor helps them kill the Dalek, though it sounds the alarm before it dies. The group escapes, though Okkerby slows them down. Okkerby realizes that they are not in a Dalek ship at all, but in the Temperon station, now fully restored. They are interrupted by the arrival of more Daleks, and run. They meet the Temperon again, with another time distortion in place; the Doctor urges the others into the distortion for their safety, but stays behind himself. Nadia stays with him, over his objections, and they are quickly captured by the Daleks. The Daleks try to restrain the Temperon, but fail, and it retreats to the time period from which the group was abducted by the Daleks. It tells Greg that the Daleks had imprisoned it, and then it departs, possibly pulled away by the Daleks. It has, in fact, been restrained to a time cell in the Daleks’ version of the base. The Daleks threaten Nadia as a motivation for the Doctor to help them.
Stride still refuses to believe that they have time traveled, despite Okkerby’s words. Meanwhile, the Daleks bring in the TARDIS and the Temperon, and insist that the Doctor will experiment on the beast—to isolate and extract its time travel abilities. They put the Doctor and Nadia under guard, and leave the room. The Doctor insists they must get answers from the Temperon, though that will be hard with the Dalek guard watching them. He takes Nadia into the TARDIS, reminding them that it’s incapable of travel at the moment; but here they can speak freely, and they may be able to meet the Temperon at the time rotor again. He reroutes power from the environmental controls to the time rotor, to draw the creature in. He muses that the Temperon has given them all a sort of dimensional cocoon, protecting them from the effects of time dislocation. They activate the power, generating a time field to attract the Temperon.
The Daleks send a squad to recapture the humans. Stride tells the others to run for his ship; the group makes it safely inside, where there are greater armaments—though it is doubtful that any of it can stop the Daleks. The Daleks issue an ultimatum to them; if they do not surrender in one minute, the Daleks will attack the ship.
The Doctor manages to make contact with the Temperon, and is not aged this time; he learns what the Daleks want.
Harlan sets up a cannon at a porthole to attack the Daleks, but worries over the possibility of not getting them all. Harlan fires on them from the porthole, and the crew escapes through an escape hatch in the confusion. Okkerby uses grenades to clear the Daleks pursuing them, and the group escapes into the mountains. The remaining Daleks call for transolar disks with which to make an aerial patrol. Their leader orders the death of the “squad leader”, or Stride.
The Doctor has yet to come up with a solution to their predicament. He and Nadia exit the TARDIS to meet a Dalek demanding a report. He hedges as long as possible, making the Dalek angry. He says that he has communicated with the Temperon, which says it will give the information they want if they turn off its time cell. He argues with the Dalek, insisting they don’t have the right to interfere with time this way—that is, by taking its DNA into themselves to gain the Temperon’s abilities. The Dalek departs, and the Doctor begins to get an idea of how to proceed.
Daleks on transolar disks patrol the skies, in search of the humans, who see them coming.
The Doctor and Nadia quietly reroute power so that the Daleks’ next use of the restraint equipment will destroy the Temperon’s time cage.
The Daleks send more of their numbers to reclaim the escapees. They also prepare for genetic engineering. The Doctor says that they have the DNA information the Daleks want. Short on time, he calls out to the Temperon; the Daleks announce that they will kill Nadia if he communicates with it again. They fire up the restraint system, and the Doctor and Nadia duck into the TARDIS as the time cage collapses, freeing the Temperon. It turns on the Daleks, before reappearing in the TARDIS and replenishing its power. The TARDIS escapes—but the Daleks are thrilled to see that the genetic data has been left behind. They order their patrols to exterminate the humans on sight.
The Temperon is in control of the TARDIS, and is too busy to talk to the Doctor. The Doctor tries anyway, attempting to get it to take them to the others. The TARDIS materializes there just as the Daleks approach, and Greg leads the humans toward the TARDIS as Stride provides cover fire. Stride is killed by the Daleks just as the others enter the TARDIS. The Temperon flies the ship away.
The Doctor has insisted that the genetic data he gave the Daleks was junk…but suddenly he’s not so sure. After all, the knowledge came to him very easily. He suspects he may have subconsciously given them the real information, quite unintentionally. Suddenly the TARDIS stops—in space—and the Doctor and the Temperon vanish. Daleks begin appearing out of nowhere, apparently charged with the Doctor’s data. However, the Doctor reappears and reassures the humans that the Daleks are harmless, because they overlooked something: while they can travel in time, they are not protected from aging accordingly. These are therefore greatly aged; and before the crew’s eyes, the Daleks die and fade away. With the Temperon’s help, the plan has been thwarted; but of course the Daleks will be back, as always.
The power cells are recharged, but the Temperon has locked them into a course for one of the humans’ relay stations, where Okkerby and Harlan can be dropped off safely. As for the Doctor…he feels like his life has only just begun—again.
Where The Space Wail was strictly a pilot episode for the series, The Time Ravagers wastes no time in jumping into more complex stories. This story is a tale of strange temporal phenomena, time skipping, and TARDIS oddities; and in that sense, I can’t help but be reminded of Big Finish’s first Doctor Who audio, The Sirens of Time. While this story isn’t a multi-Doctor story as Sirens was, it shares some common elements with that story, and it’s easy to imagine that Briggs’ experience here helped shape that later story. As well, this is a Dalek story—perhaps that’s a spoiler, as it’s not obvious at the outset, but it’s not much of one, as the cover and promotional blurb mention the Daleks. As Dalek stories go, this one is at least middle-of-the-road, and I would even say it’s one of the better stories. We have the Daleks attempting to incorporate the power of time travel into themselves, making them temporal beings—a step beyond their previous forays into time travel. As often happens, the Doctor is manipulated into helping them; and as always happens, it doesn’t go as planned. One would think they would learn by now.
We open with what is possibly the most underplayed regeneration since the First Doctor’s. The Doctor is offscreen when we arrive, having gone to pursue another mysterious time traveler—the beast called the Temperon, as it turns out. When he returns, he is severely aged, and dying. His companions don’t witness his regeneration, and have to have it explained to them; but other than some ongoing bits about Nadia’s distrust of the new Doctor, that’s it. The Doctor does present a small amount of regeneration fatigue; he has a little trouble pulling himself together; but he overcomes it quickly. Without visuals, it’s a little difficult to picture this new Doctor, who is different in demeanor from any classic incarnation; I don’t recall seeing much video or many pictures of Nick Briggs, so I lack a face to attach to this character. The impression I get is perhaps closest to the Ninth Doctor; though I would qualify that by saying that he is more laid back and less angry than the Ninth Doctor—perhaps a view of what that incarnation would have been like without the Time War. Of course, it would be two more decades of real time before that incarnation would be created; at the time of this production, Christopher Eccleston was only twenty-one, and still four years from his professional stage debut.
The official site’s production notes for this story explain that it was a nightmare to record, mostly due to problems with the cast. Between cast changes and conflicting schedules, three recording sessions were required. The third session was strictly to record the Dalek voices (oddly, given future history, NOT provided by Nick Briggs). Due to delays in obtaining the modulator used to modify the voices, regular cast members couldn’t be used; producer Bill Baggs was ultimately able to get Michael Wisher (of Davros fame) and David Sax to record the parts. While present, Wisher also recorded his cameo for The Space Wail (as the Homeworld judge) and the recorded space buoy for this story. As a coda to this difficult production, some master tapes were stolen a few years later in 1987, The Time Ravagers being one of them; therefore the version available on download is technically a remix, with some additional music.
The secondary story here is that of a supply ship crew caught in the events of the main story. It’s a format we’ve seen a few times before: a leader who is utterly unreasonable and power-mad, accompanied by a few more reasonable subordinates who end up helping the Doctor. The leader, Stride, gets his comeuppance, as is customary; surprisingly, his is the only non-Dalek death in this story. The voice acting of the secondary characters is decent; for the primary characters, not so much. Briggs does as well as usual, but Richard Marson’s performance sounds phoned in (and being the eighties, perhaps it literally was), and Sally Baggs’ heart is clearly not in her performance. (Sally, incidentally, is the reason for the second recording session, as she was completely unavailable for the first session; her lines were dubbed in during editing.)
We do have a few continuity references here, mostly pertaining to the Daleks. The Doctor implies that they have more traditional time-travel (“[Time travel] was only ever crude in your hands”), placing this story sometime after The Chase from the perspective of the Daleks. The Daleks use transolar discs to fly; these were first seen in a very early and obscure short story (told on cards issued with candy cigarettes, no less!) called Doctor Who and the Daleks. The devices have featured in various stories, but never on television as yet (according to the TARDIS wiki anyway—I feel I’ve seen them, but I could be wrong), but seem to have disappeared sometime during the Time War, when flight technology became widely incorporated into the Dalek casings. (It’s only loosely relevant, but some more interesting facts about Doctor Who and the Daleks: This 1964 release is, allegedly, the first prose story to feature the Doctor in the history of the franchise, and possibly—though not definitively—the first prose work of any type in Doctor Who. If you own the DVD release of The Keys of Marinus, you can find a rendering of this story among its extras. It is also the first to picture the Dalek Emperor in any medium.)
Overall: I enjoyed this story quite a bit. It’s a good introduction for Briggs’ Doctor, despite being a little weak as a regeneration story, and picks up the pace and the action over the previous entry. At about eighty minutes, and two episodes, it’s almost exactly double the length; from the previews I’ve seen, this seems to set the template for most of the upcoming stories. Check it out!
Next time: We’ll continue with the third entry of this first season, Connection 13, which takes us back to Earth and—possibly—to UNIT. See you there!
The Audio Visuals may be downloaded legally and for free here. Please be cautious; the hosting site is prone to unsafe links.
Audio Visuals official site (does not include download links)
We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Before Big Finish Productions began to produce licensed audio dramas, there was another line of Doctor Who audios: the Audio Visuals. From 1984 into the 1990s, these fan-produced productions expanded on the Doctor’s adventures off-screen, and added a new dimension to the Doctors and companions we knew. Many of the production team members went on to work on the television series or Big Finish audios, and some of the Audio Visuals have been remade as official Big Finish stories. I was recently able to download these early audios, and while I am continuing to review Big Finish’s work as well, I thought it would interesting to also take an occasional look at this series.
Today we’re listening to the pilot episode of the series, The Space Wail. Written by Gary Russell (under the pseudonym Warren Martyn), this story features Stephen Payne as the Doctor, and Richard Marson and Sally Baggs as new companions Gregory Holmes and Nadia. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to these audio dramas! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
Part One: On a prison ship known as Despair, a family from the planet Homeworld awaits execution for various mostly-minor crimes. Execution takes place offworld, and this ship will transport them to the place of death. Knowing they have only three hours to live, the family—numbering nine individuals—gathers in their cell to plan an escape. Meanwhile, the ship’s central computer, known as BABE, kills one of the ship’s guards shortly after his arrival aboard the ship.
The Doctor lands on Earth in search of a good cricket match. He arrives early, and in the course of his explorations he loses track of the TARDIS. He searches for his missing police box; along the way, he bumps into two schoolboys playing football. One of the boys, Gregory Holmes, helps the Doctor track down the TARDIS, but he scoffs at the Doctor’s claim that the box flies. He stops scoffing, however, when the Doctor shows him its interior. Greg asks the Doctor for a lift back to the school, and the Doctor agrees; but the TARDIS, as usual, has other plans.
The TARDIS materializes aboard Despair, and its occupants are quickly captured by the guards. They are accused of the murder of a guard, though the Doctor denies it. The ship’s commander threatens them with torture by mind drain; he tells them that most prisoners would choose death over suffering the device, which drains away the mind before returning it in damaged form.
Meanwhile, the family escapes from confinement and runs. They encounter BABE’s interface; the computer taunts them before turning the mind drain device on them. The device kills all but one of them, a girl named Nadia, who manages to escape.
Part Two: Nadia is not the only one escaping, as the Doctor and Greg manage to evade the guards. They collide with Nadia, who is at first distrustful, until she realizes that they are not from Homeworld. They assist her in checking to see if any of her family survived, though she is sure that none did so. They reach the chamber where BABE waits—but so do the remaining guards.
BABE takes charge of the situation, and admits the truth. She is an extension of the central computer on Homeworld—this much is no secret—but her purpose is far more than navigation. “BABE” stands for “Brainwave Absorption Biological Experiment”, and the task of all the subsidiary BABE units is to increase the central computer’s own power by absorbing as many minds as possible, before destroying themselves in deep space. She acquired the mind of the ship’s commander, Gryc, shortly after he came aboard; she then restored enough to revive him, but under her control. And now, she has acquired a taste of the Doctor’s mind—and she wants more.
A confrontation leaves Gryc dead, BABE reeling, and the guards on the run. The Doctor and his new companions also escape. Meanwhile, BABE revives Gryc and sends him after the Doctor. She uses the voice of Niton, one of Nadia’s family, to lure in Dag Solomon, the ship’s engineer, before the guards can use him to disable BABE. Gryc catches up with the Doctor just as he sets to the task of reprogramming BABE, and begins to throttle Nadia; the remaining guards arrive at the same time, and try to destroy the computer. She begins draining their minds, killing them one by one. The Doctor trades verbal barbs with BABE as he struggles to find his dropped sonic screwdriver; he manages to reprogram it to self-destruct. He sends Greg back to the TARDIS with Nadia, and tells him to collect Solomon as well, if they find him. BABE begs the Doctor to die with her, but he has other plans; he reverses the computer’s polarity. The resulting shockwave will reverberate back to the base unit on Homeworld, destroying it as well. He finds his screwdriver, and darts out, just minutes before the computer—and the ship—explodes. He manages to join Greg and Nadia in the TARDIS, and informs them that he had found Solomon’s body along the way. The TARDIS escapes the ship just before its destruction.
And yet, all is not well. The Doctor brings up Homeworld on the scanner—just in time to see the planet explode. It seems that the Doctor’s sabotage caused an echo into the core of the planet, destroying the entire world. The Doctor reels in horror at what he’s done, though Nadia is surprisingly calm about it. She and Greg—who have been talking about their experiences—ask to go to Cassiopeia to swim, and the Doctor reluctantly agrees.
After many of Big Finish’s polished, professional audios, it’s a bit jarring to listen to the Audio Visuals. That is absolutely not intended to be an insult, and I want to be clear about that from the outset. What the production crew accomplished is remarkable given the era; in 1984, they were, for all practical purposes, walking around with a tape recorder and hand-splicing in the music. (Certainly I’m exaggerating—it was a bit more complicated than that—but the medium has come a long way since.) And yet, beneath that is a story that is…well, pretty good, perhaps surprisingly so. This pilot episode, The Space Wail, is brief, even for this series; it clocks in at about forty-one minutes, where most of its sequels are over an hour. It makes some mistakes that are clearly a result of this being the first attempt: some of its cuts are abrupt, and it assumes some knowledge that it really should be providing for the listener. That last is no particular surprise; the cast and crew were fans of the television series, and they were circulating the tapes (yes, tapes! Cassette tapes, to be precise, and all duplicated by the crew themselves) among established fans. This is likely to be no one’s introduction to Doctor Who; but as a result of that assumption, the storytelling here is weakened.
It’s still a good story, though. We have the Doctor—traveling solo at the outset—stumbling into a spaceship occupied by a power-mad computer that possesses the ability to drain away the minds of its living victims. And whose mind is more tempting than a Time Lord’s? That’s close enough to a spoiler that I won’t say more; but suffice it to say that any and all of those elements would be at home in an episode of the classic series. It’s a bit dark for a series opener; the Doctor wins, but there’s a terrible and unforeseen cost. Nevertheless, we’re off to a good start, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.
It’s never established which Doctor is portrayed here. I’ve heard arguments that it isn’t intended to represent any of the televised Doctors; and indeed, the Doctor Who Expanded wiki, which I used to gather some of the production information, treats it as though it is a separate Doctor. He is portrayed here, and only here, by Stephen Payne, who (according to the TARDIS wiki, assuming it’s referring to the same individual) also served as a photographer in some of Reeltime’s Doctor Who documentaries. He only plays the role once; future appearances are played by Nicholas Briggs, who of course would go on to Big Finish Productions, as well as voicing the Daleks for the television series. Payne’s portrayal is most similar, I think, to the Fifth Doctor; and given that the episode was recorded in 1984, I think it’s most likely that either the intention was to portray the Fifth Doctor, or that Peter Davison’s performance inspired Payne’s. Listen to the story if you have the chance; it will be hard to picture any other incarnation. (To be fair, 1984 was the beginning of Colin Baker’s tenure, and Gary Russell states that both he and producer Bill Baggs were fans of Baker’s Doctor; but the character we see here is nothing like the bombastic Sixth Doctor.)
The Doctor acquires two new companions here. Gregory Holmes, played by Richard Marson, is a student from Earth who happens across the Doctor, and is drawn into the TARDIS; the Doctor doesn’t intend to take him along, but the TARDIS, it seems, has other ideas. Nadia, played by Sally Baggs, is a criminal from the planet Homeworld, though her alleged crimes are never addressed. Her entire family is slated for execution as the story begins; however, her world takes a hard line against crime of any type, and so her guilt remains to be determined. Suspiciously enough, she’s very cavalier about losing her family and her planet…
I feel compelled to mention that the unusual title, The Space Wail, refers to the sound—possibly psychic; it’s poorly described—heard in the TARDIS upon the deaths of a large number of people at the end of the story. To describe more would be another spoiler; I will say, though, that it reminds me very much of a certain moment in Star Wars: A New Hope. You’ll figure it out easily enough, I imagine.
I expect I’ll touch on this more in upcoming entries, but it’s worth mentioning that the Audio Visuals were very much illegal, in that they represented a significant copyright infringement. Curiously enough, the BBC didn’t seem to care, as Gary Russell mentions in an interview:
We were fans doing some stuff for a handful of people. We never advertised in professional magazines, we kept ourselves to ourselves. In doing so, we broke every copyright rule in the book (hell, Terry Nation would have crucified us – although I think our Dalek stories knocked spots of Saward’s!) JNT was certainly aware of us, but he didn’t care. Why should he? We were no more than any other fan product and at least we weren’t printing articles about him or the show. I doubt Saward knew or cared. He wouldn’t know drama if it bit him.
It’s just as well, as it could be argued that without the Audio Visuals, we may not have had Big Finish’s later work. Ironically enough, Russell was very critical of this episode, and felt it had a number of deficiencies, which would soon be addressed in later entries.
There’s nothing to be mentioned in the way of continuity references, and I suspect this may largely be the case throughout the series. While there will be some episodes involving major enemies such as the Daleks, one gets the impression that the writers and crew took pains to make this series separate from the source material where possible. However, I’ll keep an eye open for anything in future episodes.
I mentioned in passing that many people who worked on this series have since gone on to other Doctor Who projects. That list is quite extensive even from the first episode. Gary Russell, notably, has written, edited, and directed many Doctor Who and spinoff stories in television, print, and audio. Michael Wisher, who has a minor role here, portrayed Davros in his first appearances, and provided Dalek voices and other roles. Bill Baggs went on to found BBV Productions, which also produced spinoffs of Doctor Who. The list quickly becomes lengthy; for this episode, several cast and crewmembers went on to work for Doctor Who Magazine.
Overall: Not a bad start. It’s nostalgic for me to listen to these productions; I’m not previously familiar with them, but the production values say “1980s” in many ways. My childhood was in that decade, and this story brings back memories. I’m excited to continue the series.
Next time: Nick Briggs joins the cast as a newly-regenerated version of the Doctor in The Time Ravagers! See you there.
The Audio Visuals may be downloaded legally and for free here. Please be cautious; the hosting site is prone to unsafe links.
Audio Visuals official site (does not include download links)
We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! After an extended delay, today we’re returning to the Eighth Doctor Adventures range with the first entry of Series 3, Orbis. Released in March 2009, this story was written by Alan Barnes and Nicholas Briggs, and features Paul McGann, Sheridan Smith, and Katarina Olsson. 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.
Part One: Picking up where we last saw her, Lucie Miller sits at home, six months after the death of the Doctor and the fabled Time Lord Morbius. She answers the door to find the Headhunter, who promptly shoots her with a strange gun.
Lucie awakens to find herself unharmed, inside the TARDIS, with the Headhunter at the controls. The Headhunter explains that the gun fires quantum-tipped time bullets, which can be “un-shot” as well as fired at various speeds; therefore she “un-shot” Lucie. She pilots the TARDIS (a bit roughly, admittedly) to what she calls “tweenspace”—a place where the dregs of the cosmos settle—where the Doctor is allegedly alive, having been transported away mid-fall by the Sisterhood of Karn. She insists the universe is being destroyed, and only the Doctor can save it.
The Doctor, meanwhile, is on the tweenspace world of Orbis. He whiles away his time on repairing a small spaceship, accompanied by the planet’s jellyfish-like inhabitants, the Keltans. He is approached by a Keltan named Selta, who warns him of a storm, but inadvertantly causes him to break the ship engine’s drive belt. He muses that a good pair of tights would fix it—but there are no bipeds on this planet, and Earth is a long way away. He diverts his attention to the storm—he has lived here much longer than any other inhabitant, and he knows something is wrong; the storm season should have long since ended.
Out in space, ships approach. They carry representatives of the Molluscari race, with whom the Keltans previously fought a minor war; the war was ended by the Doctor, who petitioned the Galactic Council for intervention. Molluscari Secretary Saccostrea meets with her leader, Crassostrea. The rather rotund Crassostrea is in the process of transforming from male to female in preparation for spawning. Saccostrea reports that Orbis has been scanned, and is confirmed to be experiencing atmospheric changes; this will be terrible for the Keltans, but fortuitous for the Molluscari. Crassostrea reports the findings to the Galactic Council in a bid to claim the planet. Meanwhile, aboard the TARDIS, the Headhunter tells Lucie that she acquired the ship from the Sisterhood, who had held it as a trophy of sorts. With some difficulty, she sends it heading for Orbis.
On Orbis, the Doctor helps rescue a young Keltan from a well. In the process he evaluates the recent storm damage, and decides to help the Keltans put their homes on stilts for safety from floods. The town’s leader, Yanos, thanks him, but admits that he worries for the planet in the face of its continuing changes. The Doctor encourages him, reminding him of how they overcame the Molluscari. Unfortunately, he is unaware that even now, the Council has decided that the Keltans’ claim to Orbis has become untenable—and they have granted the Molluscari permission to claim the planet.
In the TARDIS, the Headhunter explains that the TARDIS, without the Doctor, is dying, and expelling temporal waste, which is in turn the source of the danger to the universe. However, she doesn’t really want to save the Doctor—she wants him to regenerate the ship and then transfer it to her. She aims to use Lucie to compel him; she reveals that there is still a time bullet in Lucie’s brain, which will kill her unless the Doctor cooperates. Meanwhile the Doctor muses on the moon of Orbis; it neither rises nor sets, but is fixed over a point fifty miles out at sea. He and Selta are interrupted, however, by the arrival of the Molluscari ships. They rouse the village to alarm. Aboard ship, Crassostrea wants to blast the Keltans, but Saccostrea intervenes; their rights to the planet are not yet active, and they are here to warn the Keltans of the plan. Crassostrea addresses them, and debates with Yanos and the Doctor, and provides a data pearl containing the Council’s declaration, which states that the ecological changes have mooted the Keltans’ claim to the world. Crassostrea cuts off one of Yanos’s tentacles in the process of relinquishing the pearl; in response, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to begin vibrating the Molluscari out of their shells, inflicting pain on them. The invaders retreat, and their ships take off. The Doctor and Yanos begin plans for defense.
The TARDIS lands on the planet, and the Headhunter sends Lucie out…directly into the ocean. With a high salt content, it will buoy her up—but she’ll have plenty of time to think as she floats the fifty miles to the Doctor’s beach. The Headhunter then contacts an unknown recipient and transmits a set of coordinates, making plans for an ocean dive at dawn.
Lucie awakens to find Selta standing over her, and is frightened; she has a bad history with jellyfish. However, they patch up their differences—until Lucie mentions her soaked tights. When Selta hears that word, she recognizes it as the thing the Doctor previously mentioned, and she rips the tights off of Lucie and runs off. Lucie chases her back to the small spaceship, where she finds the Doctor—but he ignores her and takes the tights to repair the ship. He doesn’t seem to remember her at all; and Lucie realizes that he has lost his memory.
Part Two: Lucie is angry when she discovers that the Doctor can’t remember her, and she slaps him before storming off, leaving him to his work with Selta. However, he suddenly recalls that Orbis never had a moon before; he can remember it suddenly appearing a few decades ago. In the meantime, he uses Lucie’s tights to repair the spaceship’s engine and power it up. He laughs at Selta’s suggestion that he plans to return to Earth—a planet to which he no longer feels any attachment—but then tells her that the approaching moon is causing the increase in storms. He plans to contact the galactic council about this situation; but he really wants to visit the moon. Selta suggests asking Lucie about his TARDIS; and he realizes that the only reason Selta and Lucie can understand each other is because the TARDIS is translating—meaning Lucie’s story is true! He runs off to find her.
Elsewhere, the TARDIS lands aboard a Molluscari ship, and the Headhunter meets with Saccostrea. She forces Saccostrea to bring Crassostrea to her, instead of the other way around. They oversee the aforementioned dive, which is at first unsuccessful, costing the lives of the divers; the Headhunter insists on sending down more. Eventually they successfully retrieve the small object that she is searching for.
The Doctor finds Lucie, who tells him that the Headhunter—whom he only vaguely recalls—has the TARDIS. He makes her slap him again, and tells him that her fingers are charged with chronon particles from the TARDIS, which are slowly reviving his memory. She refuses, until he angers her by insisting that he is a different man now, and will not leave Orbis after saving it. Selta arrives at that time, and says that Yanos has received a message from the council. The Doctor unsuccessfully argues with the council for intervention, but they are not willing to act until a cooling-off period has passed. They are interrupted by the return of the Molluscari, who announce that they are claiming the planet. However, Crassostrea announces that, in a gesture of solidarity, she will transport select Keltans to an artificial habitat elsewhere in the galaxy. She asks for volunteers to come to the beach.
While the Doctor is trying to think of a solution, the Headhunter arrives and mocks him for his futility. She advises Yanos to take the Molluscari offer. Selta reveals that she is in league with the Headhunter, and also advises taking the offer; Lucie tries to intervene, and is forced to bite Selta to get free. The Doctor gives his screwdriver to Selta for protection and tells her to keep the Molluscari busy. Lucie tries to attack the Headhunter, but the woman shoots her with her time-bullet weapon. Saccostrea—aboard ship—tells Crassostrea that the Keltans are gathering; Crassostrea orders more ships in to begin “processing” them.
Lucie is not dead; the bullet is moving into her chest at a rate of one millimeter every thirty seconds. The Headhunter offers to save her, and even return the TARDIS, if the Doctor will do something for her. She produces the device found in the sea, and breaks off the encrusting coral, revealing the control device for Morbius’s stellar manipulator; the Doctor was holding the activator when he fell into the abyss centuries earlier. She says it will only respond to a Time Lord; as all the others are in hiding, that only leaves him. She orders him to turn it off. He refuses, believing that Lucie is working with the Headhunter and that they have planned this together, and he leaves to help the Keltans.
Meanwhile, Crassostrea tells the Keltans that many more Molluscari ships are en route. When she sees that Yanos is afraid, she tells her troops to terrorize the Keltans—after all, frightened Keltans make the best food…
Lucie intercepts the Doctor, but she cannot convince him of her innocence. He only relents when she tells him the TARDIS is also dying. The Headhunter joins them and directs them to the massacre—no, the feast—about to happen on the beach. Crassostrea tells Yanos that the Molluscari will use the waters of Orbis to spawn, but before they can do so, they must feast. Selta threatens her with the screwdriver in an attempt to rescue Yanos; forced to use it, she focuses on Saccostrea, who quickly dies. As she turns it on Crassostrea, the Doctor steps up and takes it from her, quietly condemning her actions—it’s a tool, not a weapon. Crassostrea, meanwhile, shrugs it off; she planned on eating Saccostrea anyway.
The Doctor reveals that he already knew the truth about Selta’s bargain with the Molluscari—the readings from the data pearl could only have been taken from the surface, and in fact they precisely match the atmospheric scanner he and Selta had used. She says that the catastrophe facing them was beyond even the Doctor, and she had only sought to save as many of her kin as possible—in fact, she herself has decided to stay behind and die with the Doctor. He rejects the offer—he only wanted a friend, not a martyr. He tries to order the Molluscari off the planet, but fails.
The Headhunter again mocks him for his efforts. She has the TARDIS brought out from the Molluscari ship and tells the Doctor he must leave the Keltans to die. He refuses; Lucie joins him, but is stunned to discover that the Molluscari plan to eat the Keltans. Crassostrea wants to kill the Doctor and Lucie, but the Headhunter stops her; he has not yet turned off the stellar manipulator. Lucie makes a speech, pleading for the Keltans’ lives; the Doctor finally seems to remember her. He takes out the activator and asks the Headhunter to un-shoot Lucie; she does so. However, the Doctor refuses to turn the activator off, and increases its power.
A clap of thunder is heard, and the sky goes white. The Keltans erupt into a panicked frenzy. The moon begins accelerating toward Orbis. The Headhunter berates the Doctor; the moon is the stellar manipulator! Now, through his stupidity, it will indeed destroy Orbis. He tries to deactivate it, but the controls are jammed. The oceans begin to boil, and the temperature rises; the Doctor orders Crassostrea to evacuate, but she can’t—the rising temperatures are causing her to spawn early. At the same time, the temperatures drive the other Molluscari into a feeding frenzy, and they begin to slaughter the Keltans.
The Headhunter congratulates him on his failure, and urges him into the TARDIS, but he refuses to leave the Keltans. He throws the activator into the sea to be destroyed with the planet. Suddenly horrified, the Headhunter prepares to leave in the TARDIS; the Doctor, meanwhile, declares he is no longer a time traveller, and is prepared to die here. Lucie grabs the time-bullet gun and shoots him.
Inside the TARDIS, and once safely away, the Headhunter un-shoots the Doctor, who recovers at once. He angrily denounces Lucie for saving him against his wishes, but she insists it wasn’t just for her; it was for the universe, as the TARDIS is still causing destruction. The Headhunter laughs and says that she made that part up to motivate Lucie. When Lucie tries to attack her, she threatens Lucie with the gun. The Doctor discovers that Orbis is gone; the Headhunter explains that the manipulator consumed the planet, and having also consumed its activator, it destroyed itself. She tells him that while he’s been away, she and others have had to save the universe in his absence; it really can’t do without him. Now, with him back, she can leave. She tells him he has to sort out his issues himself, and then she teleports back to her warp ship.
The Doctor is awash in guilt, and Lucie also apologizes for tricking him. Lucie gently reminds him that Earth and other planets still need saving; with nowhere else to go, he sets course for Earth.
The Doctor and Lucie are back, but it’s not a happy reunion. For Lucie it’s been months; for the Doctor it’s been six hundred years—and worse, he doesn’t remember her. Without his TARDIS, he has renounced the time-traveling life and settled down on the world of Orbis, after a random teleport by the sister during his final fall in the preceding serial. If only the Doctor could find a world that isn’t in danger…
It’s a grim story, with no sign of a happy ending anywhere. Many Doctor Who stories can be viewed/read/listened to as standalone items; this is not one of them. It relies heavily on the events of last season’s cliffhanger; and its dismal ending just begs for redemption later in the season. It remains to be seen whether we’ll get it. Now, an unhappy ending is not altogether unheard of in Doctor Who. What sets this story apart—and I’m not calling it unique, but it is certainly rare—is that the Doctor utterly fails. It’s quite common for the body count to be high even when the Doctor wins; but win, he usually does. Here, he loses, thoroughly and handily; the fact that he takes most of his opponents with him in his failure doesn’t make up for that. He’s left wracked with guilt at the end, but reluctantly resumes his traveling life—older, perhaps wiser, but certainly more weary.
Guilt is a fairly common theme for the Eighth Doctor. He is a man of many regrets—just look at his last moments, in The Night of the Doctor, where his penultimate words are an apology. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that this story also includes another frequent Eighth Doctor theme: Amnesia. When he meets Lucie Miller in this story, he has long forgotten her, although he seems to remember events prior to his time with her. He regains his memory in the same story, but it’s not stated how much he remembers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this continue to be a factor. Personally, I think these two themes are a bit poetic; on the one hand, the Doctor has much for which to feel guilty, but on the other hand, he mercifully forgets a lot of it (over the course of his life, that is—not in the particulars of this story).
This story takes steps to codify a longstanding theory: The theory that the Doctor can’t remember how old he is. In speaking about his age—the Keltans call him “Old Doctor”, which he resents—he admits that he can’t remember it, and usually rounds a bit for the sake of local time anyway. Perhaps this is spelled out in other stories, but this is the first time I’ve seen it; and I, for one, am glad to see it acknowledged. Given that this happens, here, in the Eighth Doctor’s life, it makes the outlandish figures cited by the NuWho Doctors a little easier to understand. I was a little less thrilled to see six centuries randomly inserted into his lifespan—it’s the Siege of Trenzalore before it was cool. It is what it is, but I don’t have to like it.
I knew it was coming, after the cliffhanger last season; but I was happy to see Katarina Olsson’s Headhunter return. She’s proven to be an interesting character: a bit like the Master (or Missy, more to the point), but without the delusions of grandeur. She’s happy to be both a schemer and an accomplice; she likes to be in the thick of things, but doesn’t want to be the primary villain (well, of course she doesn’t think of herself as a villain, but you know what I mean). We find her with yet more plots in the works at the end of this story; I won’t spoil it, but then, it would be hard to spoil, as it’s couched in the usual evasive terminology. I found her weapon of the day, a gun using “quantum-tipped time bullets”, to be silly; it’s a ridiculous bit of technobabble even for a show that plays with time-travel like Play-Dough. There could easily have been better ways to threaten Lucie’s life; I hope that device will be abandoned from this point.
While the Doctor has changed, Lucie hasn’t, and that’s a good thing. I’ve often found myself comparing her to Clara Oswald. In many ways the two companions are similar—both from Blackpool, similar ages, similar personalities and speech patterns (in fact, they’re close enough in age and time period that it’s not unreasonable that they may have met). However, if the Headhunter is Missy without the delusions of grandeur, then Lucie is Clara without delusions of grandeur; and for that I like her more. If the fans who have long wished for an Eighth Doctor series ever got their wish, I’d love for her to make an appearance. In this story, she is—to borrow an old pun—just what the Doctor ordered; it’s Lucie who brings him back to himself, though it’s a painful experience for him. It’s further evidence that the Eighth Doctor Adventures are really Lucie’s story as much as the Doctor’s—another way in which she’s similar to Clara, though I think the balance was tipped even more heavily toward Clara.
Continuity references are mostly to earlier EDAs. Lucie mentions the service station from Horror of Glam Rock, and the Dalek invasion from Blood of the Daleks. Morbius (The Vengeance of Morbius) is mentioned, but not seen; however, he’s not conclusively seen to be dead, either, leaving it open for him to return. The Doctor also makes general references to other companions and trips to Earth, but generally without specifics, though he does mention “Axons”, “Autons”, and other multiple-appearance villains.
Overall: This is certainly a downer of a season opener. It’s still a good story; but don’t come here looking for laughs or rainbows. I’m interested to see where it goes from here. Still, it’s good to have Lucie and the Doctor back; as it’s been a year since I last posted in this series, it actually feels like a significant gap for me as well as for the characters. I expect good things to come.
Next time: I’m still considering myself to be on hiatus from this review series, so I can’t guarantee it will be in the next few weeks; but when we return, we’ll continue with the Eighth Doctor and Lucie in Hothouse, the second entry in Series Three of the EDAs! 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.
And, we’re back! Temporarily at least. I mentioned recently that I’m taking a hiatus from my regular reviews, mostly due to burnout. With this entry, I’m not promising an immediate and full return; but we’ll see what happens from here.
It’s been quite a while since we looked at the television series in these reviews. When we left off, I had just completed Planet of the Dead, the second of four specials leading up to the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration into the Eleventh. Today, we’ll continue with the third of the four specials, 2009’s very popular The Waters of Mars. Written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, this episode features no regular companion, but includes one-off companion Adelaide Brook, played by Lindsay Duncan. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched this special! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
Still traveling without companions, the Tenth Doctor arrives on the planet Mars. Specifically, he has arrived just outside Sanctuary Base 6, humanity’s first colony on Mars. He is collected by a robot from the base—“Gadget”, as it is called—and escorted to the base commander, Adelaide Brook. When he realizes who she and her crew area, and what the date must be, he is alarmed, and tries to leave. The date is 21 November 2059; and history records that the base exploded on this date, killing the crew. The Doctor senses that it is a fixed point in history, and wants nothing to do with it, though it pains him to let them die.
Before he can leave, a new crisis presents itself. A member of the crew, Andy Stone, is no longer himself; an unknown entity has taken him over, and he is emitting large amounts of water from his body. He attacks another crewmember, Andy Cain, and knocks her out in the access corridor to the colony’s biodome. When the crew discovers this, Adelaide takes the Doctor’s spacesuit under the assumption that he is the source of the infection. With no choice, he goes with her to investigate, along with Gadget and the colony physician, Tarak Ital.
Conversing with Adelaide on the way, the Doctor becomes impressed with her drive and her thoughtfulness about the colony and its mission. However, he slips and speaks of her in the past tense, making her ponder his words. Meanwhile they find Maggie, who is unconscious with a cut on her head. Tarak summons the company nurse, Yuri Kerenski, who brings a medi-pack and a stretcher. Adelaide’s deputy, Ed Groom, arrives as well, having realized that Andy was the only other person present. If this wasn’t an accident, then it means Andy has gone berserk; but Adelaide dismisses Ed’s concerns and sends him back. However, shortly thereafter, Technician Steffi Ehrlich runs Andy’s growls through the computer, and determines it was Andy’s voice. She warns Adelaide by comlink.
Adelaide, the Doctor, and Tarak enter the biodome. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to reactivate the lights, making Adelaide wonder at him again. Meanwhile, back in quarantine in the colony sickbay, Maggie awakens with no memories; however, she is unknowingly carrying the virus. Yuri refuses to let her out until twenty-four hours have passed. Tarak finds Andy, who pours water on his head, infecting him with the virus. Tarak quickly becomes zombielike, as Andy has already been. Meanwhile, changes suddenly come over Maggie, transforming her into the same type of creature. The virus, speaking through her, expresses a desire to possess Earth with all its water. Yuri reports Maggie’s condition to Adelaide, and says she is exuding water from her mouth and body. Seconds later, the Doctor and Adelaide find Andy and Tarak, and discover their transformation. The Doctor and Adelaide run, managing to get back through the dome door and seal it; Andy sprays it with water and slams himself against it, trying to break through. In sickbay, Ed arrives to find Maggie doing the same thing in an attempt to escape quarantine. He confirms to Adelaide that Maggie is contained; Adelaide warns the survivors not to drink or touch the water. The Doctor reiterates that he must go and can’t stay to the end. However, Andy and Tarak attack the door and break through; the Doctor hotwires Gadget for increased speed; he and Adelaide ride it to safety, leaving a trail of fire behind them (and shocking Roman Groom, Gadget’s operator, in the process. They seal themselves inside the command dome, but the Doctor is not reassured; as he insists, water is patient, and always wins.
The Doctor and Adelaide rejoin the others in sickbay, and examine Maggie. He speaks a bit of ancient Martian, and Maggie seems to recognize it. Adelaide explains that they get their water from an ice field; the Doctor realizes the infection came from the ice, and is ancient indeed. The crew plan to escape in their shuttle, but the Doctor grimly tells them that they could be secretly carrying the infection, as it has proven that it can hide in a host until it’s ready to mutate them. All it would take is one drop to infect the Earth. Adelaide decides to inspect the ice field to try to learn more before they evacuate; against his better judgment, the Doctor follows her. Meanwhile, in the now-evacuated sickbay, Maggie steps up her efforts to escape; she takes out the security camera before escaping, and screams, provoking a reaction from the infected Andy and Tarak.
The Doctor tells Adelaide a bit about the Ice Warriors as they overlook the ice field in its dome. As they analyze the ice, Adelaide confronts him about his knowledge; the Doctor hedges a bit, but finally tells her about fixed points in time, and that the base is one of them. However, he denies knowledge of the base’s fate, and redirects her by mentioning something from Adelaide’s past: an encounter with a Dalek, and the deaths of her parents (during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, fifty years earlier). That story, which she has only told to her daughter, will inspire her granddaughter to lead humanity’s expansion to the stars—but only in the presence of Adelaide’s death on the base. When she asks why he is telling her this, he says it is as consolation.
They determine that the water was fine until the filter broke, allowing the virus in, just that morning. But, it would only have infected the biodome; the rest of the water would not be exchanged for another week; this means the others are not infected, and can leave. This prompts the Doctor to admit to Adelaide that it is their deaths that constitute the fixed point—she must die here, today, and he cannot interfere. This is something the time-sensitive Daleks would have sensed, as well, which is why it let her live in childhood. Angrily, she sends the Doctor away with his spacesuit.
However, before the crew can leave in the shuttle, Andy and Tarak climb the outside of the main dome and begin flooding it from above. As the water pours in, it infects Steffi Ehrlich, and then Roman. Roman warns the others to run, just before he transforms. Ed preps the shuttle for takeoff, but Maggie manages to infiltrate it and infect Ed. Before he can transform, he tells everyone goodbye, and triggers the self-destruct system. The shuttle explodes, trapping the virus, but also trapping the survivors. The Doctor escapes the blast, but is tortured by the suffering behind him…and he makes a fateful decision. He decides that, as he is the last of the Time Lords, the laws of Time belong to him—and he can make his own rules. He returns to save the crew.
Only Adelaide, Mia, and Yuri remain, and the base is collapsing. Adelaide tells him to save himself; he remarks about the prophecy of “four knocks” preceding his death, and insists it won’t be here and now. At that moment, Andy begins slamming his fist on the door; but after three knocks, the Doctor electrifies the door, cutting him off. The Doctor decides to heat the environment and boil the water, killing the virus. Adelaide reminds him of his own words about their deaths; he declares that the laws of Time will obey him.
An explosion destroys the environmental controls before he can act. His suit is damaged in the impact. He plans to get another from storage, but finds that section flooded. Maggie heads to the ice field and screams, cracking it; realizing the final death of the base is at hand, Adelaide activates the nuclear failsafe device under the base, planning to destroy the Flood even at the cost of their lives.
Taking his final chance, the Doctor deploys Gadget to the TARDIS, and remotely pilots it to the base. Just before the explosion, the Doctor brings the TARDIS inside and gets the survivors inside. Just after they escape, the explosion destroys the base, taking the Flood with it.
The TARDIS lands on Earth, near Adelaide’s home. In shock, Mia and Yuri run off. Adelaide demands to know what will happen to humanity’s future now, and the Doctor tries to justify his actions; he states that she can now inspire her granddaughter in person. He insists that he didn’t survive the Time War; he won it, and that makes him the “Time Lord Victorious”. He claims this new power will allow him to save influential people such as Adelaide, and also little people like Yuri and Mia; Adelaide rebukes his arrogance, insisting that he can’t decide who is important. She enters her house. The Doctor thinks all is well; but as he turns away, a laser blast is heard inside the house, and he realizes she has killed herself, undoing his changes. The fixed point, it seems, has reversed itself; though history records that Adelaide died on Earth, her granddaughter will still lead the way to the stars, based on stories of Adelaide’s heroism as told by Mia and Yuri.
The Doctor is struck with horror at what he is done, and knows there will be consequences. He sees a vision of Ood Sigma, and questions whether it is time for him to die. He stumbles in to the TARDIS, and hears the cloister bell ringing. He activates the controls, defiantly trying to put off his own death.
The Waters of Mars was something quite different from the average Doctor Who episode, and it shows in the reception: the episode won a Hugo Award in 2010 for its writers. (I’m not making commentary there; I think the show in general is great, but it doesn’t usually win Hugos.) While it wasn’t the first story to mention fixed points in time, it was perhaps the first in the television series to explore the concept so deeply. As a consequence, it also introduced a new (and mercifully brief) direction for the character of the Tenth Doctor: the much-debated “Time Lord Victorious”. Interestingly, it’s also a Mars story that doesn’t deal with the Ice Warriors, although it mentions them in passing.
Prior to rewatching for the sake of this review, it’s been a few years since I last watched this episode. I had gotten impatient with it in the interim, and developed a fairly negative opinion of it. Chiefly that is due to the Time Lord Victorious arc. This is a subject that falls into the category of “small issues that get an undue amount of attention”, at least in my opinion; and I was frustrated with the way that it seems to be such a popular subject for debate, when it essentially begins and ends within ten minutes of a single episode. Now, rewatching, I realize that it’s unfair to judge the episode badly for that reason, when in fact it’s a great story, with a great presentation. I do remember being very impressed with it the first time I watched it, not long after it premiered. It’s one of the best examples of the base-under-siege format in NuWho; it layers body horror atop that format, which is usually a good strategy; you have attack from without and from within at the same time, thus upping the tension. (For reference, compare The Seeds of Doom in the Fourth Doctor Era, which does the same thing via the Krynoid.)
The episode is an early example of a companion being the voice of reason over an out-of-control Doctor. This is something that we’ll see a little more under the Eleventh Doctor; but it becomes a prominent theme with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald (though I hate to admit it, because I can’t stand Clara in that time period—it kills me to admit she may be right on some occasions). The Waters of Mars is more remarkable yet, because it has the companion doing so at great personal cost, not from a sense of heroism, but simply because it’s what must be done.
My only real complaint about the episode is that it serves as a hasty patch for an issue the production team likely didn’t see coming. I can’t verify, but I suspect that Russell Davies formulated the ending he wanted for the Tenth Doctor’s era (as we’ll see in the final special), and then realized that it was going to require considerable setup. There wasn’t enough time left to execute that setup properly, and so it was squeezed into a single episode. The Time Lord Victorious arc was a good innovation (all debate about it aside, anyway), but it really needed more development time in order to set up for the next story. With a little more time, we could also have seen a little more of the aftermath of this choice, in the Doctor’s attempts to put off facing his death. Another minor issue: at this point, we had reason to think that the Doctor still had two more lives (having not discovered the War Doctor yet), and so his reluctance to regenerate seems less warranted than it would ultimately prove to be. Admittedly, this is partly because the Tenth Doctor’s life had been particularly short compared to his other lives, but it would require some studious observation to realize that fact.
Some continuity references: Fixed points have been referenced in too many stories to mention; however, the concept in a more generalized form dates back at least as far as The Aztecs, where the First Doctor was reluctant to tamper with history. That was his general stance on all historic events, but with good reason, knowing that some events MUST not be changed. The Doctor mentions his visit to Pompeii (The Fires of Pompeii; he has been there many times, but is almost certainly referring to this episode). Adelaide Brook encountered a Dalek during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. “Knock four times” is a reference to the prophecy revealed in Planet of the Dead. The Doctor’s space suit was first seen in The Impossible Planet. The Doctor mentions the Ice Warriors, first seen in the serial of the same name. He previously electrified a bulkhead door in The Ark in Space. Adelaide mentions an “oil apocalypse” (The Infinite Quest). The Doctor sees a vision of Ood Sigma (Planet of the Ood). The Time Lord Victorious arc continued in an alternate timeline in the comic Four Doctors. The cloister bell rings to represent the Doctor’s impending death, something last seen in Logopolis. The Doctor’s line about the laws of Time—“And they will obey me!”—is reminiscent of the Master’s frequent “and you will obey me!”.
Overall, I think it’s a fantastic episode, and the high point of the “year of specials” leading up to the regeneration. (Or perhaps the low point, from the Doctor’s point of view.) Unfortunately, in terms of argument, it gets a bit overshadowed by the next special, the much-debated The End of Time. It’s still very much worth a watch, however, especially if you’ve never seen it.
Next time (whenever that may be): We’ll wrap up the Tenth Doctor’s era with The End of Time, a serial that’s either loved or hated. After that, we’ll look ahead to the Eleventh Doctor’s era with The Eleventh Hour. See you there!
Please note that all previously-cited links to Dailymotion have been removed by the user at that site. Doctor Who may be viewed on Amazon Prime and Britbox.
Good news: It’s not forever!
Wait, hold on…time travel. Right. Have to put things in linear order. That means put the bad news first, THEN the good news.
Alright. Let’s try again.
First, the bad news.
You may have noticed, if you read this blog (and to be honest, I’m not sure anyone does, but if you do, thank you!) that there’s a severe lack of content lately. It’s been a month and a half since my last post. There’s a simple, appropriate, and totally unsatisfying reason for that, and I want to go ahead and announce it so that any potential readers I may have don’t give up and disappear forever.
The truth is, I’m a little burnt out right now. Oh, I still like Doctor Who as much as ever–I’ve been a fan since childhood in the eighties, and that’s not changing. There’s so much material to explore, between television episodes and books and comics and audios and fan works and films and stageplays and and and… On the one hand, there’s so much that I’ll never cover it all (though I’ve certainly tried!). On the other hand, there’s never a dearth of new things to discover! Moreover, I love the fan community; fans may have a reputation for fighting among themselves, but that has not been my experience. Y’all are great, is what I’m saying.
But, even Doctor Who once took a hiatus, and that was despite the efforts of a multitude of people on the production side, not to mention a veritable ocean full of fans. I’m one person, not a multitude, and I get worn out too. My TARDIS has crashed for the time being.
So, I’m taking a hiatus as well. I do intend it to be a hiatus; at a very minimum, I’ve invested quite a bit in my collection of audios, and (thanks to the wealth of items available on Spotify for free) I’ve barely touched on that collection yet. Aside from the fact that there’s a great many good stories there, I don’t want that investment to go to waste. We also have quite a bit of the revived television series left to cover; we left off some months ago with only one Tenth Doctor story left, and that’s a crime for which I have no excuse.
This TARDIS may have crashed for now, but it’ll fly again (Lord willing anyway; I’d never want to be presumptuous about it). I don’t know exactly when, but I hope to get going again before Series 11 premieres in October.
In the meantime, I’ll still be blogging over at my writing-oriented blog. It’s a mix of topics, ranging from writing and authorship issues, to reader issues, to book, television, movie, and videogame reviews (plus some older family-oriented content from before I split the blog up). You’ll also find duplicates of some of my older Doctor Who posts there, as this content originated over there.
Thanks for reading! See you soon.
We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, the Second Doctor’s tale in the fourth Short Trips collection. Written by Foster Marks, and read by David Troughton, this story features the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. Let’s get started!
A man named Jack sits down with his breakfast in his cabin on the planet Juno 1-0. He hears a strange grating sound outside, and checks it out; it turns out to be three people coming toward him. He meets them outside. He warns them about a hole in the ground ahead of them. They check it out; it is more than twenty meters wide. They introduce themselves as Zoe, Jamie, and the Doctor. The Doctor thanks him for the warning, and inquires as to how long Jack has been here—a few centuries, it turns out. He claims he is a Larian, with a bit of Terian blood; the Doctor thinks the job—warning people about the hole—is a bit menial for a Larian. Zoe says that they want to look around; the Doctor’s scans had detected an extensive series of cavities beneath the surface. Against Jack’s will, they go to check out the hole, leaving Jack at the cabin.
The hole seems to go down forever. The Doctor muses on Jack’s expertise. They are interrupted by a series of explosions behind them—another hole opens up, pulling the trio in! Jack watches, completely unperturbed, then returns to his cabin. He reveals a hidden control console behind a wall, and brings up audio and video of the companions’ fall into the hole. To his surprise, he sees that the trio have survived the fall, the debris having broken their tumble.
The Doctor determines they are in a metal-clad tunnel, not a natural hole. They hear a mewling sound down the tunnel, and go to check it out. Jack tries to follow their progress, growing more irritated; he determines that, no matter who they are, they are in his caves, and he is going to kill them all. He sets up a quick flush of Hadron gas in the tunnels, which should kill them without disrupting the work schedule. However, he is interrupted by an alert: his holding stock is nearly full—and his buyers will be waiting. While the Hadron flush is preparing, he activates the launch sequence for the stock. Rocket engines can be heard, and he goes outside to watch the rocket launch. However, his happiness turns to horror as the rocket comes apart on launch and explodes. He runs to check out the wreck.
The nose section, thrown free by the explosion, lands safely, and its hatch opens. Creatures stream out—furry halflings, a few dozen of them; and they are followed by the Doctor and his companions. The halflings become aggressive when they see Jack.
Jack demands to know how they got aboard the rocket’s capsule. Zoe claims to have cracked its security code; and the Doctor says that the eject sequence was printed out inside the cabin. Jack claims ownership of the halflings, and demands to know why and how the Doctor freed them. The Doctor explains that he played his recorder to lull them. The creatures are hybrids, bred for mining branzine, a dirty power source that is unfortunately lucrative. The way Jack was mining this planet would soon implode its core—and the implosion would pollute the entire quadrant. Jack knew, and didn’t care; his plan was to take the money and buy another planet in the Paradine system, which he would continue mining. He already owns six planets in that system. The Doctor points out that Jack’s Larian caste values the means of commerce over the ends, and will not stop this pursuit. However, the issue of revenge is taken out of their hands when the halflings surround Jack. Still, the Doctor does have a plan; and he asks Zoe to prepare Jack’s transmat.
On Paradine Alpha—one of the planets owned by Jack—the Larian awakens on a beautiful beach. However, he roars in anger as he realizes he is trapped here—a paradisiacal world, but one where there is no chance of advancement, only contentment. Truly it is the worst possible punishment for Jack.
Let me take a moment and talk about another popular science-fiction franchise: Star Trek. While remaining wildly popular, Star Trek has gotten more than its share of criticism over the years, for various reasons, some of which are valid. One such reason is the series’ tendency to portray one-note alien races; that is, races which are defined by one or two characteristics, such as Vulcan logic, Klingon violence and honor, and—most relevant to us today—Ferengi greed and commerce. Star Trek does this again and again, and it’s rare that individuals of those races have much personality or character development (well, beyond the main characters of each installment; Spock and Worf get their moments, but not so much the others of their races). On the one hand, it’s almost a necessary form of shorthand in science-fiction writing; it’s nearly impossible to invest the time and energy necessary to understand true alien complexity, and so we use these shortcuts to display alienness. On the other hand, it’s very easy to devolve into lazy writing.
For the most part, I find that Doctor Who avoids this trope. While alien races in Doctor Who do have their quirks—“Exterminate”, anyone?—this series seems to make a mission out of subverting and exploring those quirks, in a way that many other franchises never attempt. How many stories have we had which explore the inner workings of the Dalek mind? How many Ice Warrior stories have explored the idea of Ice Warrior honor and when and how it should apply? And frankly, that’s fantastic. The Doctor himself is an alien, and shouldn’t react with the standard human trope of generalizing everyone he meets. Indeed, he doesn’t do that; he tries to look past the surface even of his enemies, and draw out the best in them.
That’s why a story like this, Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, seems a little out of place to me. This story pits (literally, and I definitely intended that pun) the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe against a Larian named Jack, who is performing legal-but-highly-dangerous mining on a planet called Juno 1-0. In the process, he’s enslaving an engineered race, though that’s sort of a footnote here; if you removed the Halflings from the story, it wouldn’t change substantially. That’s all fair enough; the Doctor has stood against corporate greed and environmental hazards many times (the VNA Cat’s Cradle: Warhead comes to mind). But the villain, Jack, is portrayed as having no real choice in the matter; he’s a product of his race and caste, who always single-mindedly pursue commerce with an eye on the means rather than the ends. Sound familiar? Jack may as well be a Ferengi! It makes for a clever ending, in that Jack ends up in a situation that would be paradise for anyone else, but is torture for him or anyone of his race and caste; but it comes across as lazy to me. As well, any punishment seems like a harsh punishment for something that can’t be helped; Jack’s crimes are serious, certainly, but he’s literally wired to commit them—it’s in his nature. That renders the otherwise-clever ending unsatisfactory, and makes the Doctor seem a little malicious.
I hate to make the complaint over which I’ve labored, because it’s a fun story, right up to the end. It’s only in the last few minutes, when the statement about Jack’s race and caste is made, that it goes south. Otherwise, I enjoyed it completely.
Next time: We’ll join the Third Doctor and Jo Grant for Lost in the Wakefield Triangle! 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.