I apologize for bombarding everyone with posts today; that was not my intention. I discovered that some of my posts didn’t make the transition from my other blog, or possibly from Reddit, and therefore I’m adding them back in today. Bear with me, please. ~Time Lord Archives
We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Enemy Aliens, the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Fiftieth Anniversary collection, Destiny of the Doctor. Written by Alan Barnes, the story is read by India Fisher and Michael Maloney. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard, fresh off a series of adventures, try to relax in the TARDIS—but the Doctor is interrupted by a message from himself. More to the point, it’s a future incarnation, leaving a badly-recorded message on a tape deck in the console. Part of the message is missing, but it warns them about some enemy aliens—and…William Tell?
The TARDIS leads them to London in 1935—pointedly NOT the fourteenth century, the home of William Tell—where a strange electronic fuzz blankets the area and blinds the TARDIS sensors. Charley irritates him by humming the William Tell Overture repeatedly, leading the Doctor to think of Rossini, the author of the overture. (As they depart, a group of local boys take up the overture, but are menaced by an unseen creature.) The Doctor locates a music hall, where a man named William Tell is performing feats of memory. The Doctor puts him to the test, and catches him in some numerical inaccuracies; he then challenges him about “enemy aliens”. Tell, acting strangely compelled, says that the “key is in the house of the straggly witch”—and then he is shot dead. Charley finds the murder weapon, but is immediately accused of the murder. The police arrive and take on the Doctor, while a man named Hillary Hammond rushes Charley out of the building.
Charley awakens to find herself in an unknown flat with Hammond, who is humming the overture. She insists on finding the Doctor, but Hammond refuses to let her leave; he says that she is in the newspaper regarding the murder. However, the article indicates the Doctor also escaped. They are interrupted by a window breaking downstairs. They flee the apartment, and head to Scotland by train; Hammond explains that “the straggly witch” is a colloquial name for a bay in Scotland, and believes the Doctor would have worked it out and gone there. Along the way, Charley dons a sailor uniform as a disguise; she also mentions having survived the crash of the R101, and mentions the TARDIS as well. Nevertheless, the police invade the train at a stop anyway, with a military escort. Charley tries to hide, and finds a coffin in the baggage compartment…with the Doctor inside! He admits to avoiding not only the police, but also the mysterious aliens, which he believes attempted to attack him at one point. The Doctor is forced to jump off the train and into a river, narrowly avoiding being shot by the soldiers; Charley is able to evade them and return to Hammond; but he is not alone. He is accompanied by two elderly women, who claim they want to help.
The four disembark at a small village, and Hammond says that the two old ladies believe that he and Charley are eloping. They are escorted to the church; Charley is outraged at the thought, but Hammond appears to be seriously suggesting it, on the basis that it would get them out of trouble with the police by changing their identities (as Hammond is using the name “John Smith”). Charley momentarily considers it, given that she herself is presumed dead after the R101 disaster, but she declines. Shortly thereafter, the Doctor arrives on horseback; Charley is amazed to see that he is alive. He is being pursued, however; and so they hide in the church. Charley takes advantage of the situation to suggest that they go through with the wedding, for the same logic that Hammond had used; but the Doctor realizes that the two old ladies were also in the audience at the music hall. The women produce pistols; and the Doctor and Charley are forced to run. They come upon a group of individuals, whom they recognize as Germans—a different kind of “enemy aliens”.
The Germans leave them in a cell in a ruined castle overlooking the “straggly witch” bay. Hammond arrives and takes them out of the cell, and down to a hidden jetty in a cave—not a “secret KEY”, but a “secret QUAY” leading to a hidden “LOCH”, not “LOCK”. Hammond reveals he is working for the Germans, and that he killed Tell because the Doctor got too close; Tell’s incorrect statements were actually coded communications in use by the Germans. As Tell exposed the straggly witch location, where the Germans came ashore, they are obligated now to pull out of that location. He admits he would have killed Charley as well, had she married him, which would have allowed him a new identity as a widower. He has also brought the TARDIS here, based on the things Charley let slip. He also mentions a strange radio transmission that had led him to believe the TARDIS was real; he plays a tape of the message from the future Doctor, including the part. The future Doctor makes it clear that the electronic fuzz is preventing him from contacting his other incarnations [as seen in previous entries in the series]; he wanted the Eighth Doctor to clear the interference. The aliens in question—actual aliens, not the Germans—are using the overture via radio broadcast to coordinate their plans, much as Tell was doing for the Germans. Hammond wants the Doctor to give him the secrets of the TARDIS; but they are interrupted by mortar fire. The Doctor reveals that the two old ladies were actually agents for the British, who have now initiated an attack on the German position. In the chaos, the Doctor and Charley escape in the TARDIS.
Thirteen hours later, the TARDIS materializes in London. Charley checks the Radio Times, and learns that a pianist will be broadcasting Rossini’s overture shortly—the signal to begin the invasion. The Doctor says that they waited til the last minute so that the pianist could not be replaced in time; he is horrified to realize that the broadcast will be worldwide. Before they can move on the radio station, a large alien brute arrives from the direction of Hammond’s vacated apartment—and purrs at Charley. She realizes it must have been the creature that broke into the downstairs flat; and it has been waiting for her. The Doctor realizes that it is an advance sentry—and Charley had activated it by humming the overture. Now it is at her command.
The Doctor, Charley, and the creature rush to the broadcast studio, and interrupt the broadcast just before the overture. However, it’s too late—the alien mothership over London is appearing. However, the electronic fuzz is now gone; and the Doctor is free to send a radio signal. He sends a 20,000-terrahertz signal to the ship; the resulting wave disturbance is enough to give the aliens pause. They go to the roof to watch the ship respond. But, the Doctor realizes, his future self is also coming to their aid; the future Doctor sends a second signal, warning the aliens that Earth is protected by a race with higher technology than theirs. The ship—and all its companions around the world—depart.
Hammond meets them as they start to leave the roof, and threatens to kill them. Charley hums the overture, summoning the alien sentry, which grabs Hammond, but falls over the roof with him, eight stories up. The alien hits the ground and dies, but Hammond is left clinging to the minute hand of the clock on the face of the building; and he has four minutes until it is vertical, dropping him to his death. We are left not knowing if they let him fall.
As is common with Eighth Doctor stories, this entry races along at breakneck speed, seldom stopping to explain itself or flesh out its details. As a result, it’s a little hard to believe if you take a moment and think through it. Its aliens—the extraterrestrial kind, that is—are never really identified; the final encounter with them is reminiscent of the encounter with the Atraxi at the end of The Eleventh Hour, but they are clearly not the same, and physically they are more reminiscent of the Ogrons. The Doctor makes a number of mental leaps here, for which he lacks the required evidence; most notably, he assumes the Eleventh Doctor will interfere with the aliens, when he can’t really know that, given that his personality changes with every incarnation. He’s not alone in such leaps, however; Hammond correctly does the same when he assumes that the Doctor will go to Scotland. Charley, for her part, never really stops to question how Hammond can be so sure of the decisions he is making; a little skepticism might have saved her a lot of trouble.
This story takes place sometime after Storm Warning; but that’s as far as we can go. No references are made to any other known stories in Charley’s time with the Doctor, and the handful that she mentions don’t seem to be recorded anywhere. She has been with the Doctor long enough to begin to understand the very basics of the TARDIS, and to develop some habits with regard to the Doctor; there’s a comical line where she refers to having come up with a naming convention for the Doctor’s gadgets—his “thingummies, doodahs, and whatsits”. (She has a number of comical lines of that type throughout the story.)
The Eleventh Doctor cameo is very obvious here; as we’ve progressed through the series, they have become increasingly more so. Here, it’s in the form of a taped message at the very beginning, but we don’t get the full message until the end. Once again, he is not stated to be the Eleventh Doctor, just a future incarnation, but the mannerisms are very clear.
India Fisher’s portrayal of the Eighth Doctor is lacking with regard to her voice; not everyone can be Carole Ann Ford or Frazer Hines, I suppose. On the other hand, she captures his speech patterns very well. Michael Maloney’s portrayal of Hillary Hammond is not bad, either, though he seems to change accents periodically; it’s never really made clear if he is a German himself (under an assumed name) or a collaborator, and his accent could go either way.
Overall, I didn’t care for this story. While it ambitiously tries to misdirect the audience in several ways—for example, the local version of William Tell rather than the historic version, the coded reference to the bay, and the double meaning of “enemy aliens”—it mostly fails to carry it out properly, simply because it rushes so much. I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of material was cut for time, and the story suffers for it. Still, it’s the hinge between the classic and new eras as portrayed in this series, and it’s useful for that purpose.
Next time: On to the Ninth Doctor in Night of the Whisper! See you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story’s purchase page is below. This and many other stories may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.