Audio Drama Review: The Time Machine

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we finish up the fiftieth anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, with the Eleventh Doctor’s contribution, The Time Machine. Written by Matt Fitton, this story is read by Jenna Coleman, Michael Cochrane, and Nicholas Briggs. Let’s get started!

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

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November 23, 2013: Alice Watson is late for an appointment at Oxford. In her rush, she bumps into a young man in a bowtie, who is texting someone. In a nearby lab, Professor Cedric Chivers is at work on his device while he waits for Alice; on his desk sits a smoky, glassy cube—a Time Lord hypercube, though he doesn’t know it. The cube has given him, and continues to give, instructions for the construction of the machine—and the voice it uses is Chivers’ own. As Alice arrives, she meets the man in the bowtie again, who introduces himself as the (Eleventh, though he doesn’t specify) Doctor. She thinks he is from Cambridge (or possibly Yale or Osaka), and he plays along, claiming to be from St. Cedd’s, class of 1980. She accompanies him to meet Chivers, and see his machine…his time machine.

The Doctor asserts that the machine should not exist. He notes the hypercube, which Alice describes as a communication device. He warns her that the machine is impossible, and should scare her. Chivers joins them; the Doctor says he is here to dismantle the time machine. The Doctor confronts Chivers about his lack of real understanding of how the machine works; Chivers claims he trusts the instructions because they are coming from himself in the future. The Doctor inquires about the hypercube, calling it by name; Chivers says it arrived with the first parts of the machine. Chivers admits the cube represents a time loop [which actually is true—I’ll get back to this later], and says he intends to dismantle it himself—once he uses it to send the instructions and parts back to himself. Alice insists it can be duplicated repeatedly as long as every user does the same as Chivers. The Doctor takes the cube, and in response, something begins to materialize. A large, insectoid creature appears by the machine; Alice sees it, but Chivers cannot, because he is inside the causal loop. The creature and its people are the Creevix; the Doctor does not know them, but the creature claims the Doctor cannot stop them, because they are “already here”. Five more join the first. Suddenly the creatures vanish.

The Doctor says he sensed something wrong, which drew him here. He invites Alice to come with him. The Creevix reappear behind Chivers, who still can’t see them; the Doctor tells Alice to run. Outside, they see more Creevix mixed among the humans in the area. In a nearby library, they descend to the basement, where the creatures continue to hunt them. Back in the lab, Chivers unwraps the final component of the machine—the Time Core—and its schematics. He starts to install it.

In the Library, the Doctor leads Alice to the TARDIS; despite her lack of knowledge of fiction, she has a suitably impressed reaction to the ship’s larger interior. He tells her it is a real time machine, more so than the one in the lab. He begins trying to track the source of the hypercube’s messages—but the cube vanishes. He takes the TARDIS to track it. Chivers finishes installing the Time Core. He prepares to enter the machine—but one of the Creevix manifests itself to him, forcing him to admit the Doctor and Alice were right. The Creevix tells him one word: “Wait.”

The TARDIS gets stuck in the vortex, somehow—something is choking off passage, allowing them to travel only twenty years forward or backward of their starting point. They materialize back in Oxford, in the future, as the cloister bell sounds. In this future, the Creevix have overrun everything, and are visible everywhere. Copies of the time machine are all over the place, and more appear as they watch—the many copies are what has jammed the vortex. Each machine discharges another Creevix. They say they will consume the universe, as it is fractured, which is what allowed them to enter from their own universe. In that universe, they claim to be the masters of Time, and they are aware of the Time Lords. One Creevix takes a strand of Alice’s hair; the Doctor says that it is absorbing her potential time, her future. It says that if it did the same to the Doctor, and killed him, the future becomes unclear. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to disorient the creatures, inflaming their sense of time. The Creevix block access to the TARDIS, but the Doctor and Alice take one of the other time machines.

Elsewhere—and elsewhen—a man named Guy Taylor is in a time machine of his own. He works for the Time Agency, and is about to embark on his first mission, to resolve an anomaly in the 20th century. He takes a moment to reflect on his parents, who were early explorers.

In the glove box of Doctor and Alice’s machine, they find a photo of a couple, whom the Doctor finds familiar. Alice discusses her own past and her obsession with science and facts, and her father’s disappointment in her. The Doctor finds Guy Taylor’s Time Agency ID card, and concludes the couple are Taylor’s parents. [Presumably the items, like the machine, are copies.] The machine represents a paradox, but the paradox had to start somewhere—in Taylor’s time. Also in the glovebox is a copy of the hypercube. The Doctor and Alice send the machine back to its point of origin—Guy’s future.

In Guy’s machine, something is wrong. He sees Alice’s reflection in the canopy, with Creevix outside—and then he ceases to exist. In the other machine, Alice sees Guy, and sees him vanish. A Creevix pulls them from the machine, where they witness a devastated world covered in Creevix. It tells them it is the end of their universe. The Creevix demonstrates that it can anticipate their every thought and word. It tells them that they come from another universe, and that they were able to come through because the Doctor’s TARDIS struck Guy’s capsule in the vortex, creating a crack in the universe. This pushed Guy’s capsule into the Creevix universe, allowing them to force their way back through—and formulate this plan. Now they have devoured all life in the universe; and they have manipulated the Doctor to that moment in order to retroactively set the plan into motion.

They entrap the Doctor, rendering him immobile to witness the death of his universe. They also seal off the TARDIS. They give Alice the hypercube and send her back to deliver it to Chivers, just a few minutes or hours into his future, where he will start the loop by sending it back in time with the capsule and instructions. She is forced to go.

Once she arrives, she gives the cube to Chivers, and three Creevix are present as well. However, they are interrupted by the Doctor! He gives a lengthy-but-rapid rundown of his plan and how he has outwitted the Creevix [note—I’ll elaborate shortly; his explanation includes an explanation of all the parts of the plan that occurred in the preceding ten stories]. In the middle of it, the TARDIS is heard; the Doctor says it was breaking free of the Creevix’s trap in the future, materializing around his frozen form, and transporting him to just minutes before this confrontation. Hidden in the room are a psychokinetic manipulator, and the chunk of therocite [from Vengeance of the Stones]; the Doctor uses the manipulator to hurl the therocite at a structural weak point in the capsule, destroying it. This breaks the temporal loop, creating a void which sucks in all the wreckage of the capsule, the Creevix, and—finally—the hypercube, blasting them back to the Creevix’s home universe. In the future, the hordes of Creevix will never exist, as that timeline now ceases to exist.

At the last moment, another capsule materializes—and Guy Taylor steps out. For him, it’s only been a moment since he left his own time; he is quite surprised to find a welcoming party. He witnesses as the Doctor reintroduces himself to Professor Chivers, or Cedric, as Susan once knew him—and reflects on how Chivers’ life has changed. In the end, Alice is offered a chance to travel with the Doctor; but she declines. She asks, instead, to travel with Taylor, who grants her request.

time-machine-2

For a story that happens over the course of a matter of hours, this entry is quite complex, and a bit difficult to follow. I enjoyed it; for all its complexity, it’s a satisfying resolution to the series arc. Doctor Who has long been known for stories that involve paradoxes and quirks of time travel, and this story is one of the best in that regard.

There’s a good explanation of the Doctor’s plan on the TARDIS wiki, but I’ll try to summarize it here; it’s essential for understanding how the story works out. So, with each Doctor working at the direction of the Eleventh:

  • The first Doctor introduces the young Cedric Chivers to the music of Bob Dylan in Hunters of Earth. This changes Cedric’s life, and through attending concerts he eventually meets his wife and has children. Having a family makes the elderly Cedric hesitate to cooperate with the Creevix, allowing the Eleventh Doctor time to stop them. The Doctor also uses Dylan lyrics to identify himself to the elderly Cedric.
  • The Seventh Doctor and Ace saved the life of OhOne in Shockwave. OhOne would go on to become the father of Guy Taylor.
  • The Tenth Doctor and Donna saved the life of Lyric Erskine in Death’s Deal. Lyric would go on to become the mother of Guy Taylor. The pair’s adventures would inspire Guy to join the Time Agency.
  • The Ninth Doctor saved the life of James Joseph McNeil, who went on to become the mayor of New Vegas, in Night of the Whisper. As mayor, he created the Memorial Hotel, which is where OhOne and Lyric had their second honeymoon, on which they conceived Guy Taylor.
  • The Third Doctor, in Vengeance of the Stones, ensured that the super-dense therocite was present in Chivers’ office, which previously belonged to Dr. Raynard, UNIT’s geology expert. The rock was too heavy to be moved by Chivers, therefore it stayed put for decades; and it was sufficiently dense to destroy the capsule. However, it was too heavy to be moved by the Doctor, as well, so…
  • The Fifth Doctor returned the sphere to the Ovids in Smoke and Mirrors. This generous act impressed them enough that they eventually, some centuries hence, share their knowledge of psychokinesis with humanity. Humanity uses this to develop a technological counterpart. The Doctor is able to—at some point—acquire a psychokinetic manipulator device based on that technology. He uses it to throw the therocite at the capsule.
  • The Eleventh Doctor was already caught in the causality loop. Therefore he was obligated to ensure that the entire loop took place. To that end, he sent a message to the Creevix while they were still trapped in their universe, which led them to Chivers when they crossed over. He sent that message using sub-pulsar communication technology learned from the Quiet Ones in  Shadow of Death. He also sent the messages to his past self by implanting them in the hypercube while in the Creevix-infested future, and then keying it to activate when placed in the TARDIS by the Seventh Doctor in Shockwave. However…
  • …those messages were blocked in the vortex by the interference placed by the invading aliens in Enemy Aliens. Therefore one of the messages (received in a non-linear way) led the Eighth Doctor and Charley to eliminate the interference.
  • The sub-pulsar message was transmitted by the copy of the Fourth Doctor that existed inside the Babblesphere when it was copied at the end of Babblesphere. That copy was placed in a museum that would later have the technology to build a sub-pulsar transmitter.
  • And finally, the TARDIS escaped from the Creevix trap—and from the timeline that was ceasing to exist—using the power of the omniparadox hidden aboard by the Sixth Doctor and Peri in Trouble in Paradise.
  • The only true paradox in the entire ordeal is the existence of the hypercube. The cube was placed on Tarsus by the Doctor’s TARDIS—or rather, sent there by the TARDIS—and then collected by the Seventh Doctor, who gave it to OhOne, who gave it to Guy, who had it in his capsule. The Eleventh Doctor and Alice got it from there, or rather, from one of the copy capsules. Alice returned it to Chivers. The Doctor then tossed it into the void, sending it to the Creevix, who ultimately gave it to Chivers, thus allowing the Doctor to collect it at the beginning of the story and place it on the TARDIs, which then sent it to TARSUS. As such, it’s an ontological paradox—the origin of the cube is unaccounted for. But we can guess that the Eleventh Doctor created it, though we don’t know when.

I’ve picked at this complex plan for some time, and I can’t find any other flaws. Still, like any story, it’s open to analysis.

References in this story are mostly to other stories in the same arc—it’s not as though there is time for anything else. However, the Doctor does refer to Ian Chesterton, stating that Cedric had Ian as a science teacher, and a good one at that. St. Cedd’s college is a reference to the audio (Eighth Doctor) version of Shada. There’s a brief UNIT reference when discussing the therocite. When Chivers mentions Susan, the Doctor’s comments are an oblique reference to the loss of his family in the Time War.

Jenna Coleman does a great job with the voice acting here. While her usual character of Clara Oswald doesn’t appear here, it’s been suggested that Alice Watson may be one of Clara’s echoes (The Name of the Doctor); I personally like this bit of head canon, although I’ll admit it has some flaws. In Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, the Doctor lists only the echoes he has encountered onscreen, and Alice’s stated lack of imagination is out of character for Clara. Still, we don’t know that every echo is just like the original, so it’s possible.

In keeping with my discussion last week of how these entries fit their respective eras: The Eleventh Doctor’s era is known for stories that focus on causality and manipulation of time, much more than previous incarnations. This story’s use of paradox and time travel is in a similar vein to The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and its discussion of parallel universes fits in with The Doctor’s Wife. As well, it’s fast-moving and sometimes hard to follow, but it resolves itself suddenly at the end with the Doctor’s victory.

So, that’s that! The series as a whole is very good, in my opinion; and in scope, it proves itself worthy to be linked with Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary festivities. It does have its weak moments, but those weak moments serve as a sort of meta-commentary on the very history of the show itself. It would have been better to have the original Doctor actors as much as possible; however, barring that possibility, it was completely appropriate to rely on companion actors instead. (It’s unfortunate that it became a bit inconsistent near the end, though.) It’s an excellent series, and I wish I had encountered it in 2013, when it came out.

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Next time: Having wrapped up Destiny of the Doctor, we’ll start something new. Stay tuned as we listen to the War Doctor, volume one: Only the Monstrous! And, prior to the audios, on Tuesday we’ll take a brief break from the VNA novels to look at the first non-televised War Doctor story, George Mann’s novel, Engines of War. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  This and many other audio dramas may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Time Machine

Destiny of the Doctor

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