Audio Drama Review: Starfall

I had some unexpected appointments today, so I’m running a little behind with the next Main Range entry. Therefore, for today’s post, I’m covering the next installment of the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures, Starfall. We pick up after last week’s A Shard of Ice. On Wednesday, I’ll return to the Main Range with Dust Breeding.

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review!  Today we’re continuing the Fourth Doctor Demon Quest arc, listening to part four, Starfall.   Written by Paul Magrs, this story features the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Mrs. Wibbsey (Susan Jameson), and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin).  Let’s get started!

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

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This entry is narrated by a New Yorker named Buddy.  New York, July 11, 1976: Buddy is working a street pretzel stand, as his girlfriend, Alice Trefusis, watches from her office window.  Alice’s supervisor, the elderly and awful Mimsy Loyne, employs her as a literary secretary, helping with Loyne’s memoirs; Alice hates the job, but needs the money.  Nearby, a cult meets to perform bizarre rites.  That night, a meteor crashes into Central Park; Buddy and Alice search for it, but fail to find it.  The next day, the Doctor, Mike Yates, and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive in the TARDIS; the Doctor is almost immediately struck with an ill feeling, which he attributes to something in the atmosphere.  He notes the now-empty pretzel stand, and then they go into the park.

Buddy, meanwhile, has abandoned his post to take Alice on a walk in the park while Alice vents over her boss.  They stumble upon the meteor; Alice says it is singing to her.  She touches it and is knocked back; Buddy sees her glowing with strange golden light.  The Doctor and his companions come upon Buddy and Alice, and offer to help; but Alice fears him, and tries to get rid of him.  Suddenly, energy bolts shoot from her eyes, and she can’t control them.  Wibbsey points out that this is all in the comic, which says Alice will become a loved superhero called Ms. Starfall—indeed, Alice seems to embrace the idea, before passing out.

The Doctor carefully collects the meteor (wrapped in a coat), and Wibbsey helps Buddy take Alice back to Loyne’s apartment, with Wibbsey recognizing Loyne’s name as a once-famous actress.  Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor feels better; while analyzing the meteor, it splits open, revealing half a golden heart, which is stamped “SEPUL”—short for “Sepulchre”, presumably.  He realizes that Mrs. Wibbsey is in danger, and takes Mike to find her.  Along the way, they find the brutally-murdered body of a young man, who has been desiccated like previous victims.  At that moment the police arrive, finally alerted to the strange happenings, and—jumping to entirely the wrong conclusion—arrest them both.

At Loyne’s apartment, Buddy at last meets Loyne, and takes Alice to her own room.  Alice awakens, and says that she feels amazing.  Loyne sees the police entering the park, and demands to talk to Buddy; Wibbsey goes to talk to her instead.  She accidentally leaves behind the comic, which is dated for today, and includes all of them, as previously described.  Alice likes the idea—and suddenly discovers she can fly.  She takes an old Hollywood Valkyrie costume from Loyne’s collection, and notes it is the same as in the comic; she puts it on, and starts exultantly using her powers, flying over the city.  Buddy looks again at the comic, and sees that the writer’s name is the same as his.  In the window, Wibbsey sees the Doctor and Mike escorted out of the park by the police.  As she prepares to go after them, Loyne orders Buddy to bring back her secretary, then leave.

Alice is using her powers to stop petty crimes and avert minor disasters.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mike are in a squad car; the Doctor continues to feel worse now that he is away from the TARDIS.  They discuss the Demon; the Doctor says it is “a potpourri of physiognomy and DNA”, and could be anyone around them.  They witness Alice flying around, and then watch as she lands in front of them and demands their release from the police.  When the police refuse, she disarms them, and removes the Doctor and Mike from the car.  At the apartment, Loyne gloats over the progress of the situation, shocking Mrs. Wibbsey; Loyne puts her out, with Buddy.  While exiting, they see glimpses of the Doctor, and return to the apartment in search of him—but the glimpses begin to pile up, as if there are multiples of him.  Buddy and Wibbsey hide on the stairs to watch as the figures go past, but none of them are the actual Doctor.  The figures go into the door at the top of the stairs.

Alice brings the Doctor and Mike back to the apartment through a window, landing in Loyne’s bedroom.  The Doctor feels his worst so far, and thinks he is near the epicenter of the effect.  Upstairs at the attic level, Buddy and Wibbsey listen at the door where the figures entered, hearing what sounds like ritual chanting; they peek in, and see a weird, dancelike ritual in progress.  The Doctor-like figures are dancing around the final piece of the spatial geometer, which is glowing.  The figures discover they are being watched, but they continue the chant.

The Doctor confronts Loyne, and says that he knew her in 1922, on Sunset Boulevard, when he had a different form.  Alice demands to know where Buddy is, and says she will find him; the Doctor asks her to bring back Mrs. Wibbsey as well.  When Alice leaves, Loyne changes demeanour and tries to paint Alice as her captor, and possibly the Demon, as well; she also admits to remembering the Doctor.  He does not believe her claims, though.  She claims to have heard Alice consorting with demons.  The Doctor expounds his own thoughts briefly, and then sends Mike to make tea.  While Mike is out, the Doctor admits that he never had a past acquaintance with Loyne, and therefore she is lying about remembering it—and is the Demon.  She admits it, but says that he is too weak to resist—and she needs him.

Mike returns and finds the Doctor weakened on the floor, and Loyne absent.  The Doctor insists that they must find the true epicenter of the debilitating effect.  The cultists in the attic admit to working for a mysterious boss, presumably the Demon; they say that she has ordered them to complete this ritual as the Doctor dies.  Alice arrives and breaks in to rescue Wibbsey and Buddy.  She easily overcomes the cultists, knocking them out; Wibbsey takes the opportunity to go after the spatial geometer component.  The cult leader intercepts her.  Loyne arrives and claims leadership over the cult.  The Doctor and Mike also arrive, and confront Loyne; the Doctor suddenly appears recovered, which he attributes to the interruption of the ritual.  Loyne is not dismayed; she changes to the form of the Demon, announcing that her preparations are already complete anyway.  She admits to having been all the villains of the preceding stories; she also claims to have been responsible for the meteor which gave Alice her powers.  She intends to dispose of the others as irrelevant now that she has the Doctor; the Doctor points out that they are never irrelevant, as Mike has just reclaimed the geometer component while she was distracted.  In retaliation, the Demon grabs Mrs. Wibbsey and drags her into the dematerialization chamber.  The chamber dematerializes, but not before the Demon announces that the Sepulchre is prepared for the Doctor.

The group returns to the TARDIS; the Doctor says they must go after Mrs. Wibbsey.  The Doctor tells Buddy and Alice they must stay in New York; but unfortunately, now that the Demon is gone, Alice’s powers will fade in a few hours.  Buddy is not dismayed; he plans to write a comic series about Alice, or rather, Ms. Starfall.

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This entry is timely, as it shares some similarity with the 2016 Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio.  [Full disclosure: it may not be timely by the time I get it posted; I’m writing this in mid-January 2017.]  Both concern unintentional, New York-based, Superman-like superheroes whose powers originate from mysterious stones.  Both stories exploit—and in my opinion, pay tribute to—Silver Age comic book tropes.  That’s where the similarities end, however; the two stories’ plots proceed very differently.  Personally, I like this type of story; I grew up reading old Silver Age comics, and watching the Christopher Reeves version of Superman, and I think those things are great.  This story does a great job of paying tribute to those sources, although it devolves into occasional caricature in doing so.  Buddy, for example, is a stereotypical New Yorker (though his accent is more New Jersey, I think) who would have been right at home in any parody of the early twentieth century.  (Now that I think of it, Daleks in Manhattan comes to mind…)  That would be no big deal, except that this story is set in 1976.  Mimsy Loyne is a caricature of a rich, vain, villainous former starlet; it’s perhaps understandable if she’s over the top, given that she’s actually the Demon in disguise, but it’s still very obvious.  And Alice—the titular “Ms. Starfall”, in her superhero persona—while taking quickly to her superhero role, sounds more like the traditional damsel in distress.

There are no large roles in this story, which takes place over just a span of an hour or so (excluding the meteor crash on the previous night).  Perhaps that makes it a bit more excusable that neither Mike Yates nor Mrs. Wibbsey actually does much here, but it still seems awkward in hindsight.  They do have some action at the end; Mrs. Wibbsey stands up to the cult leader, while Mike recovers the last geometer component.  Otherwise, it’s a bit dull on the action side for everyone, which is a waste in a superhero story.

The Demon’s plan here doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I understand that she needed Alice to have superpowers, because it inspired Buddy to write the comics which were then adapted to feature our main characters.  But, the book that led them here can’t be one of Buddy’s actual comics; the date of publication is the same date as the story, and that’s just not possible.  It does seem that the Demon is somehow incapable of leaving clues for the Doctor without existence; it requires humans to do this on its behalf:  Metafix the mosaic-maker in The Relics of Time, Lautrec the painter in The Demon of Paris, and Tiermann the storyteller-turned-author in A Shard of Ice.  But—getting back to Alice—it seems like a colossal oversight to give a superhero to the Doctor as an ally, when the plan is to trap the Doctor.  As well, though the Demon caused the meteor to hit the park, it could not have guaranteed that Alice—the one person close enough to the situation to suit her needs—would be the one to find and touch it.  I also was curious why the cultists were required to dress like the Doctor; if it’s for the purpose of establishing a connection to him, shouldn’t the spatial geometer be enough to accomplish that?  In general, the Demon’s plans seem to be quite convoluted, if all it wants to do is get the Doctor to Sepulchre; but I’ll reserve judgment until the end of the final chapter.

I can’t help wondering just how much of an investment the Demon makes in these trap scenarios.  In the previous installment, it was stated that the mountain lodge was actually the Demon’s dematerialization chamber in disguised form, and that it had been there for about forty years; likewise, the Demon had been in Ice Queen form that long, for most of Tiermann’s life.  Here, Mimsy Loyne had a real Hollywood career going back about fifty years at least, as corroborated by Mrs. Wibbsey.  Already that places us at about a hundred years of involvement, if we assume that the Demon was Loyne all along.

Buddy isn’t the greatest narrator.  While his accounts seem accurate enough, he wanders quite a bit, with a number of false starts and redirections.  He freely admits that he wasn’t there for most of the story, getting it instead from the other participants; at some points he has to be embellishing, given that no one in his group could have seen the things he reports.  I won’t say he breaks the immersion; but he’s definitely frustrating to follow.

With all of this, it may sound as though I disliked the story; but in the end, that’s not the case.  It’s certainly not the high point of the arc, but neither is it the low point; I would give that dubious honor to part two, The Demon of Paris (pending the last chapter, of course).  While the story has some flaws, those flaws are consistent with the Silver Age comics it seeks to emulate; those stories haven’t always aged well, and they are guilty of similar failings.  Still, there’s something nostalgic about a story in that vein, and I enjoy them, even with their flaws.  It requires a bit more suspension of belief to enjoy this story, as it doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny, but it’s worth the effort.  And as well, it’s of course necessary to get us to the final chapter.

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Next time:  We’ll wrap up Demon Quest with part five, Sepulchre!  See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

Starfall

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Audio Drama Review: A Shard of Ice

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing with the BBC’s Demon Quest arc, featuring the Fourth Doctor, Mrs. Wibbsey, and Mike Yates. We’re listening to A Shard of Ice, the third installment in the five-part series. Let’s get started!

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

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This story is narrated by an incidental character, Albert Tiermann, who is the author (or editor?) of the book of fairy tales which the Doctor received in the church sale bag two episodes ago. He also is the official storyteller for the local king. We open with his narration regarding his starting circumstances, in which he is snowed in at Germany’s Murgin Pass in the year 1847; and he is afraid for his life. He has been interrupted in his rushed journey to the palace, where he fears retribution from the king that he has failed [he had been ordered by the king, who is too blind to read, to bring a new story]. He is interrupted by the arrival of the TARDIS, bearing the Doctor and Mike Yates. The Doctor shows him the book, which he is unwilling to believe, and offers to help him by telling him new stories for the king. They turn back and find lodging for the night.

They take up temporary residence at a mountain lodge owned and operated by one Frau Herz, and Tiermann goes to bed early. The Doctor and Mike reminisce and bring each other up to speed on the current situation, until the Doctor sees a strange batlike creature out the window; unknown to them, Tiermann eavesdrops on them, and believes the Doctor insane. Plagued with nightmares, he prays for a visit from a woman who visited him in his youth, whom he calls an angel and credits with the seeds of all his stories—and he gets what he asks, when the mysterious Ice Queen visits him. She is aware of the Doctor, but not the book of fairy tales. She claims a debt on Albert, and claims to have worked hard to bring the book into his life…she orders him to keep the Doctor from leaving and pursuing his search. She then vanishes.

At breakfast the next morning, the travelers are still snowed in. Tiermann’s footman bursts in and finds that the coachman has been attacked, and is lying in the snow, nearly frozen to death. As they try to save him, the footman says that the coachman had run out of the stable during the night, claiming to see a woman in the snow. Mike suggests it may be the same thing the Doctor saw, but the Doctor is skeptical. Yates and the Doctor believe Tiermann knows more than he is letting on. Tiermann goes to the Doctor’s room and searches his coat pockets for the book; he finds a note that says “look behind you”, and turns around.

The Doctor and Mike confront Albert, having anticipated this move. Albert becomes frantic, and insists he needs the book; the Doctor sends Mike to check on Frau Herz. The Doctor challenges Albert regarding his actions and thoughts; Albert admits that he considers the book, and the legacy it represents, more important than the lives in danger around him. The Doctor hypnotizes Albert, and pushes for answers. They argue over the book, and the Doctor insists he will not give it up.

Mike returns, and says that Frau Herz is missing. The kitchen door is wrenched off its hinges; but Herz, outside, is okay. She says that a creature tried to take her, but instead got the footman, Hans, and took him to the mountain. The Doctor orders Mike to fortify the house, and takes Albert with him to follow the creature. A trail of blood leads the way; the Doctor comments that Hans is probably dead, and grows angry at Albert’s lack of care. The Doctor chides him for consorting with monsters, commenting that sometimes they appear as angels. They hear something go past, possibly the creature. They come upon a cave with a strange green glow inside; the Doctor compares the whole ordeal to a fairy tale.

Inside the cave, they find the Ice Queen, unconscious on a throne. She awakens and is shocked to see them there; but she admits a connection with Albert. He explains his past with her; the Doctor calls her a goblin, and asks what she demanded of Albert in exchange. He explains that she placed a shard of ice in him, preventing him from feeling any love or sympathy for anyone—he only loves his stories. The Doctor calls him her slave, and derides her magic as cheap tricks; he tells Albert that she is the Demon, the monster that killed the others. She accuses Albert of failing in his final task. The Doctor shows him the book, with an illustration of the Ice Queen becoming the Demon, and says that she has manipulated him all his life so as to produce the book, which lured the Doctor here. The Ice Queen confirms it. The Doctor explains that she has had to recharge her energies to maintain her human form; the form he saw outside last night was her true form. She flees the cavern and flies toward the lodge; the Doctor and Albert follow, finding a cache of desiccated bodies along the way. The Doctor tells Albert that the book is a fake—the Demon wrote it, not Albert—and he gives him the book.

They find the lodge in shambles. The Queen dominates the kitchen, transforming into its true form; she has a battered Mike Yates in her arms. Frau Herz is out of commission with the coachman, possibly dead. Albert feels the ice inside him break as the Queen releases him from her control; he is outraged at her actions. The Doctor concludes she wants to take him somewhere; and the room transforms into the dematerialization chamber with the mosaic floor. Having acquired the Doctor, she releases Mike; the Doctor sends him out. Albert flees the building, taking Frau Herz with him, then looks back and finds it to be a plain box with one door; he slips back and watches as the chamber builds up to dematerialization. The creature claims that she originates from a place called Sepulchre, which the Doctor denies knowing anything about; she wants him to go there with her. The Doctor darts out the door just as the box dematerializes, leaving the creature howling in fury.

The Doctor and Mike drop off Albert and Frau Herz near the palace. Yates reveals that he picked up a strange item in the lodge, which the Doctor is happy to note is another piece of the spatial geometer. They then receive a message from Mrs. Wibbsey, who calls them home, and tells them that the final item in the bag, a 1970s-era comic book, features all three of them—and the message cuts off mid-word. It seems they will be making a side trip to New York.

Albert’s narration winds up as he explains that the Doctor asked him never to write down their story—but he had no problem speaking it aloud to the king.

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I was more impressed with this story than with its predecessor. It’s almost a gothic horror story, which is something I think that Doctor Who has always done well (no matter how improbable that may be!). This entry is not much of a mystery; the Demon is for once not masquerading as one of the humans in the story, though it does take a mostly-human form. Still, it’s a fair trade—we trade mystery for atmosphere, and I’m fine with that. The setting—a mountain lodge in a snowed-in pass—naturally limits the cast; there are none of the crowds we saw in Montmartre last time. There are still enough characters for the requisite blood and death, however; this is, after all, still Doctor Who (and unnamed characters, like the coachman here, are the Doctor Who equivalent of Star Trek’s redshirts).

I appreciate the addition of Mike Yates, who only had cameos in the first two entries. I’ve always liked all of the classic UNIT characters, and Yates is no exception, despite having failed and been quietly removed from UNIT some time ago. It’s unfortunate that Mrs. Wibbsey is relegated to cameo status here; but then, she’ll be back in the next entry, according to the teaser at the end.

This story is a bit of a subversion of the fairy tale genre; it’s deliberately set up in that form by the villain, and everyone is well aware of it. Doctor Who doesn’t often do fairy tales, at least not onscreen; when it goes gothic, it tends to stick to classical monsters such as vampires (State of Decay, The Vampires of Venice), mummies (Pyramids of Mars, Mummy on the Orient Express), werewolves (Tooth and Claw), and zombies (New Earth), and gives them a technological twist. It could have been much worse; I could see this story being heavy-handed with the fairy-tale motif, but it really isn’t. Nor is it a historical, despite its setting; the isolation of the characters and location negates everything that could have made it stand out as a historical. Even the science-fiction is downplayed; other than the TARDIS, the dematerialization chamber at the end, and a tiny bit of dialogue, there’s little sci-fi here. This story is a thing of its own, and that’s fantastic.

For all that we’ve seen, we still know very little about this demon. The Doctor seems sure that it’s not from Earth; that seems to be verified when it comments about taking him across the universe to Sepulchre. However, we don’t know its species, or anything about its technology; its dematerialization chamber seems similar to a TARDIS, but the Doctor makes it clear that it is not a TARDIS. There is still much to be learned (and as the final installment is titled Sepulchre, I think we’ll get there).

The TARDIS can now make some limited trips through space as well as time; each succeeding piece of the spatial geometer makes it easier (what a strange device! If you only have one piece of a car, you’re not going anywhere).

Again, references are few here, and mostly come from the Doctor’s dialogue. He plies Albert with stories of his own adventures early on; the scene is abridged, but we can pin down four of them. He talks about The Keys of Marinus, Colony in Space (making a meta-reference by calling it The Doomsday Weapon; the novelization was titled Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon), Genesis of the Daleks, and Pyramids of Mars (though he is cut off before actually telling that last story). He also refers to the Yeti, which he encountered in both The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear; with those stories, we have references to stories in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Doctor eras. Mike Yates also refers to the Brigadier, Liz Shaw, and Jo Grant, to whom he told the story of his adventures in the preceding series, Hornet’s Nest. As well, Albert mentions his father, Ernest Tiermann, who is a character in a Tenth Doctor novel, also by Paul Magrs, titled Sick Building.

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Overall, not a bad story—in fact, the best in the arc so far, in my opinion. Next time: We’ll continue with the fourth installment, Starfall! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

A Shard of Ice (Out of Stock at time of writing; check back later)

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Audio Drama Review: The Demon of Paris

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Continuing our side trip into the BBC audio range (as opposed to Big Finish), we’re listening to Demon Quest part two, The Demon of Paris, written by Paul Magrs and directed by Kate Thomas. Let’s get started!

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

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Unlike the Big Finish audios, these begin with a brief recap of the preceding part(s) (and you can find my review of part one here if you would also like a recap).

Based on another clue from the bag left at the church sale in The Relics of Time, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey travel to Montmartre, Paris, 1894 (being obligated to travel via train from Surrey, as the TARDIS still can’t travel in space). The clue is a Tolouse-Lautrec poster of Aristide Bruant (who, in a bit of meta-reference, is considered to be an inspiration for the Fourth Doctor’s costume), which has been “doctored” (pun DEFINITELY intended) to feature the Fourth Doctor’s face—and portrays him holding a piece of the spatial geometer. He immediately meets a girl calling herself La Charlotte, and buys her dinner while seeking information. The crowd thinks the Doctor is Bruant, who is missing and presumed dead; they want him to sing. They have arrived in the middle of a mystery, much to Mrs. Wibbsey’s dismay.

While the Doctor is occupied, Wibbsey meets a drunken man who insists that Lautrec, the artist, is responsible for not only Bruant’s death, but also many other murders—dozens, as La Charlotte mentions—many of which are young women of ill repute. Lautrec is not unaware of the suspicions, and has isolated himself. La Charlotte leads the Doctor and Wibbsey to Lautrec’s home, then leaves them.

The concierge grudgingly lets them in, and they check Lautrec’s studio—but it is empty, Lautrec missing, with the skylight smashed and sketches everywhere. Alarmingly, many of his paintings—many of which are famous in the future—have been defaced, slashed at the wrists and necks of the subjects, and with red paint splashed on like blood.

They leave and return to Montmartre, seeking out the worst part of town, and find the Moulin Rouge dance hall. Inside, the Doctor sees Lautrec enter. The Doctor quizzes Lautrec about the poster, but Lautrec denies having painted it, claiming it was vandalized by someone else. He is unhelpful, but comments that La Charlotte and the other girls should look out for themselves; but he denies being the killer, and claims the public wants him as a scapegoat. Lautrec rids himself of the Doctor by telling the crowd that the Doctor is Bruant, forcing him to sing (badly, but hilariously). Lautrec leaves, and Wibbsey follows him.

Lautrec detects her, and confronts her. She is captivated by him, and frightened; while she is dazed, he asks her to model for him. Again, he denies hurting anyone, and mentions wrestling with his demons. Reluctantly she goes with him, leaving the Doctor searching for her. The Doctor is intercepted by a drunken La Charlotte, who is bleeding from several stab wounds; she hints that Lautrec caused them, in the nearby cemetery. She is disbelieving that Lautrec could do it, but is certain it was him, though she never saw his face, due to the smell of the absinthe that he had been drinking. She takes the Doctor to the cemetery to show him the scene of the attack; he thinks that Lautrec and Wibbsey are there, but is wrong; they have returned to his studio. Lautrec is shocked at the destruction of his art.

Lautrec denies that he destroyed his work, and denies that he hurt La Charlotte earlier in the night. When the concierge exits, he admits that he has blackouts. At the cemetery, the Doctor and La Charlotte meet the concierge coming down the hill, and the Doctor notices an odd green glow as she approaches; the woman insults La Charlotte and drives her away. The Doctor is angry, but the concierge mentions that Wibbsey is with Lautrec at the house; she tries to divert the Doctor, but he insists on returning there.

At the house, Lautrec busies himself preparing to paint Mrs. Wibbsey—but suddenly they both notice a piece of the spatial geometer on his desk. She accuses him, but the Doctor arrives at that moment with the concierge. [editorial note here: Lautrec insists that there hasn’t been any time for him to attack La Charlotte, but there actually is: between the time she runs off outside the house the first time, and the time Lautrec comes to the Moulin Rouge, he could have done it.] Lautrec insists again that he did not hurt La Charlotte; but the concierge breaks down and says she has covered for him. She takes them to the attic, where he says he has never been; a dozen or more desiccated bodies of young women are there. The concierge and Lautrec leave, locking the Doctor and Wibbsey in.

Trapped, they take a moment and look at another item from the sale bag: a book of fairy tales. One of the illustrations, of an ice monster, contains the images of the Doctor and Mike Yates; it seems that Yates is part of this mystery as well.

La Charlotte rescues them, and says she saw Lautrec and the concierge leaving. Lautrec left in a carriage, but the concierge is at the cemetery; it seems she is more involved than the Doctor thought. The trio rush to the cemetery. Arriving there, the Doctor suddenly realizes that La Charlotte’s wounds don’t seem to be troubling her anymore; he confides to Wibbsey that the girl may have been faking. The green glow can also be seen again, near a small mausoleum. They find the concierge on the ground, and she claims that Lautrec came back to attack her, but pulled back at the last second. She claims Lautrec is inside the tomb.

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When Lautrec calls out for help, Wibbsey darts inside…and finds herself in the mosaic-lined chamber from Claudius’s hut in the preceding story. Lautrec is tied in the floor, but the Doctor frees him. The concierge drives them back inside, and activates the chamber; the Doctor and Wibbsey try to stop the door from sealing, and La Charlotte joins them. The concierge kills La Charlotte by sapping her life force.

The Doctor explains to Lautrec that the concierge is a shapeshifter and an alien, who has framed him while carrying out the killings. She admits it, and says that they can now depart. Lautrec attacks the concierge, giving the Doctor and Wibbsey enough room to lever the door open, allowing the three of them to escape. As they do so, the mausoleum vanishes, as it did from the tribal hut before.

The Doctor thinks La Charlotte was killed some time ago, and kept alive just as a slave. The bodies in the attic will disintegrate, and Lautrec will be free of suspicion; he can also try to find the real Bruant. The Doctor urges him to forget it all, and to plead ignorance.

Back at the TARDIS, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive back at Nest Cottage on the same day they left, December 23, 2010. They have just enough time to prepare a bit for Christmas, when Yates (and his hound, Captain) arrive. The Doctor admits they have enough time for dinner…and then they must get back on the case.

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I was not as impressed with this story as with its predecessor. I found it difficult to pin down why, exactly; it’s certainly not a bad story, just not as interesting to me. Certainly it’s not the terrible entry that the Discontinuity Guide would suggest:

“Hm. Perhaps best filed next to The Stuff of Nightmares under ‘story ideas designed to appeal to the star’ — in this case, setting the Doctor’s adventure in Bohemian Paris, allowing Tom Baker to indulge his inner Francophile.”

Still, in some ways it is better than The Relics of Time; while that story was quite predictable, this one is anything but, as it gives us several likely candidates for the identity of the titular Demon, and manages to withhold final revelation until the last few minutes. Fortunately, we are spared the ordeal of listening to the Doctor sing in the cabaret; there’s that for which we can be thankful!

This is a period of history with which I am not very familiar, nor am I an art scholar; therefore most of the real-world references were lost on me. It’s not so deep as to present an obstacle to enjoying the story; but it probably has more depth for someone who does know their art history (or their French history, for that matter). I was not aware of the influence of Aristide Bruant on the Fourth Doctor’s costume until I started to read up on this story; it’s impossible to miss here, however, as the Doctor spells it out in the dialogue. In researching, I learned that the “vandalized” poster of the Doctor is based on an actual poster of that type, which was produced as convention merchandise in the 1980s and 1990s; I haven’t seen those posters myself, but I think that’s a clever bit of meta-reference.

Again, we get few if any references to stories outside this series. Mike Yates appears in the flesh this time, though only momentarily; he will have a larger role in the remaining entries. He makes no mention of UNIT, however. I should have mentioned it last time, but it’s worth mentioning that this is not the only house on Earth that the Doctor will ever own; he also owns Smithwood Manor on Allen Road in Kent, which he purchased in his third incarnation while working for UNIT. That house was used most often by his seventh incarnation, appearing for the first time in the comic story Fellow Travellers and subsequently in many other comic and prose stories. We do get some of the history of Mrs. Wibbsey’s family, but that does not refer back to any other stories.

All in all, there’s little to report about this story. It’s a decent entry, but I hope for more exciting things to come; it does give us some satisfaction, at least, in that it identifies Claudius/the concierge as an alien of some sort (although it doesn’t name the creature’s race or origin, and the Doctor still calls it a demon). It’s narrated by Mrs. Wibbsey, giving us some variety (the Doctor narrated The Relics of Time, in first person, no less). Otherwise, it’s a decent but unremarkable period piece.

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Next time: We’ll check out Demon Quest, part three, A Shard of Ice! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

The Demon of Paris

Audio Drama Review: The Relics of Time

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! I don’t usually post on Wednesdays, but I’ve decided to take on something different for a few weeks. As I have a series of Big Finish audio reviews fairly well established on Mondays and Thursdays, I didn’t want to interrupt that project; so, for the next few Wednesdays, I’ll be taking advantage of some temporarily-available audios and looking at a series of audios published by BBC, rather than Big Finish Productions. It’s a different take on the audio drama format, but just as entertaining; BBC has published far less Doctor Who audio, but their quality doesn’t suffer for that. We join the Fourth Doctor and a BBC Audio-exclusive companion, Mrs. Wibbsey, in Demon Crest:  The Relics of Time, written by Paul Magrs. Let’s get started!

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

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Before I get started, I should explain that I’m arriving at this series in the middle. Three story arcs have been released for the Fourth Doctor in this series; the first, Hornet’s Nest, I have not yet had opportunity to hear. Demon Quest is the second of the three arcs, consisting of five two-hour stories, each divided into two parts. Should I have the opportunity, I will back up and pick up Hornet’s Nest as well, and possibly continue the final series, Serpent Crest.

The Fourth Doctor returns to Nest Cottage, his “vacation home” of sorts in West Surrey, just before Christmas 2010. He spends some time buttering up his housekeeper, Mrs. Wibbsey, who is from Cromer, 1932 (having been rescued and brought here by the Doctor in Hornet’s Nest). He is here to relax, and to complete some repairs on the TARDIS; as a result, he disassembles much of the console in the parlor. He gets into trouble, however, when she sells some things from the cottage at a church charity sale—and suspects that she may have put some TARDIS components in the sale. In fact, a stranger has bought some components—specifically, the spatial geometer—but he left a bag of odds and ends in exchange.

The bag contains, among other things, a bit of mosaic tile, and a photo of the Roman-era mosaic of which it is a part. More shocking is the mosaic itself: it is the image of the Fourth Doctor! Also, a cartoon is there, which also includes the image of the Doctor. Mrs. Wibbsey is upset at herself; but the Doctor is intrigued by the objects.

He patches the TARDIS back together as best he can, and has its navigational system analyze the tile. The tile was unearthed in West Sussex in 1964, along with the rest of the mosaic, an apparent anachronism for the local Celts of its time period. He finds a reference to a local goddess named, oddly, “Wibbsentia”…

Without the missing components, the TARDIS cannot travel in space, only in time. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, he takes Mrs. Wibbsey with him—bullies her, really—back in time. He admits that he has not been to that time period “in this body”, confusing her, but she goes along; he tells her that the reference to “Wibbsentia” implicates her in the mystery as much as him.

In the Roman era, they make their way overland to the nearest settlement, and are intercepted by a group of Celts. The Celts take them in and lodge and feed them overnight; the Elders meet to discuss the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey. The Elders hope that the Doctor is a Druid, of the “lost tribe”. He at first denies it, but—as that hope is the only thing keeping them alive—he quickly introduces Mrs. Wibbsey as a prophetess and priestess skilled in reading goat entrails. They dub her “Wibbsentia”, and promptly sacrifice a goat for her to use in divination. She plays the part well, describing a rival group, a tribe from the hills that is raiding the Celts, and getting help from a powerful wizard with a monstrous pet…it begins to become clear that she’s not faking, but actually getting a message from somewhere. And the message prophesies destruction for the Celts.

The Doctor confers with her about her message, but is interrupted by the Elders, who offer them freedom in exchange for helping them; they want the Doctor and “Wibbsentia” to go to the other tribe…and kill the wizard. On threat of death, and with no options, they accept the mission.

The next morning, the tribe sends them off, unaccompanied; Mrs. Wibbsey comments on this, but the Doctor thinks they fear the other side too much to go along. They come upon a number of dead bodies, dessicated, but with clothes that indicate the deaths were recent. The bodies seem to come from the rival tribe. The Doctor reflects that nothing in this time can kill in this way.

They reach the other settlement, which is a little better off than the Celtic village. The Doctor marches straight in and asks to see the wizard; the woman who first meets him raises an alarm and draws a crowd. With some comical misunderstanding, they meet the alleged Wizard, who admits to being a foreigner himself. He’s a nervous and stuttering man, but he invites him to his dwelling…and also, casually, he has an elephant, affectionately named “Nelly”.

The man appears to be from Rome; his hut is decorated in Roman items, and he has trained a local Briton, Metafix, in mosaic-work. (Metafix is making a mosaic of the wizard.) Mrs. Wibbsey warns the man about the Celtic tribe, which will be attacking later today. However, he seems partly unconcerned. The Doctor outs him, however; putting together several clues, he realizes that the man is actually the Emperor Claudius, who should NOT be here in any circumstance! History makes no mention of him being here. It turns out that he bolted, abandoning his duties when the opportunity presented itself, during a journey; he just wanted to get away, and he’s done it. The Doctor assures him that he is, in fact, defying history, but can’t stay there; at a minimum, the Celts are about to attack, and will overwhelm Claudius’s tribe. The Doctor urges him to go home (making a great pun in the process: “Now, don’t get all…imperious!”) as his presence will change history drastically. He is stubborn, and won’t go; the Doctor tries to prove he is from the future so as to convince him. Most of the Doctor’s odds and ends don’t impress him, but the Doctor plays an answering machine message of Mike Yates talking about travel plans. Claudius lets slip a reference to “it all [being] on microchip someday”, and then shrugs them off.

The attack begins, and the Celts besiege the town. Mrs. Wibbsey finds a piece of the spatial geometer in the hut; Claudius sneaks off and gives them the slip. The Doctor can’t deal with him now; he goes to confront the two tribes and end the hostilities. The Celts want to kill him; but he uses the recorded message from Mike Yates (presenting it as a message from the gods) to scare them into submission. This time, it works, and they cease fighting, and eventually collaborate to prepare for their midwinter festival.

Mrs. Wibbsey has cornered Claudius in his antechamber. It’s an elaborate room, with additional mosaics; but there’s a strange light inside, and something isn’t right. Mrs. Wibbsey suspects it might be a TARDIS, but Claudius says it isn’t; the Doctor gets them out just before the room—and Claudius—disappears. His attempt at kidnapping them failed.

The Doctor drops a suggestion that Metafix may want to change the subject of his mosaic; but Metafix tears up the mosaic. Apparently the picture of the mosaic with the Doctor was a fake…but why? And who did it come from? They have a brief confrontation with the tribesmen over the elephant—the tribesmen want to eat it—and, after rescuing it, they take it with them. Along the way back to the TARDIS, they review the other items from the bag…and deduce a connection with Paris in the 1800s. That will be their next stop—the Moulin Rouge!

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I really enjoyed this story, even though, truth be told, it’s not much of a story. By the Doctor’s standards, next to nothing happens; really it serves better as a prologue to the rest of the arc. Still, it’s very entertaining, and reminds me just why I’ve always liked the Fourth Doctor. He’s as cryptic and witty as ever, if a little slow on the uptake sometimes; but then, he WAS on vacation, so we can cut him some slack. He gets a few great lines; there’s the “Imperious” line I mentioned above, and in regard to his image in the mosaic, “I don’t usually take a good mosaic…” and later, this exchange in regard to Nelly the elephant: “She’s been a good companion to me.” ~The Wizard. “Oh, perhaps I’ll try it myself one day!” ~The Doctor. (Admittedly, an elephant would be a better companion than the talking cabbage that Tom Baker is reputed to have wanted at one point; but maybe a smaller animal would be better—a penguin, maybe?) He’s a bit confounded by Mrs. Wibbsey, who seems to get under his skin in a way that most of his other companions never manage (Romana, perhaps, or maybe K9). Their dynamic is very reminiscent of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Mrs. Wibbsey herself is a somewhat sad character. She’s out of her time and out of her depth in more than one sense; I don’t know much about her background, other than that she originates in Cromer in 1932, as I mentioned before, and that the Doctor assures her there is nothing there for her now. She does her best to keep up with the Doctor, but it’s a struggle for her; she would really be happier just going home, at least at this point. Still, it’s hard not to like her; she has a very grandmotherly, “church lady” demeanor, and her actress, Susan Jameson, nails the role.

There aren’t any real surprises to be had here. While Claudius’s real identity isn’t revealed here—presumably we’ll see him again—it’s obvious from his first appearance that he’s more than meets the eye. The Doctor doesn’t really pick up on the “microchip” reference, but it’s an obvious bread crumb for the audience. In that regard, it’s not much of a mystery; but it sets up some intriguing clues for the next entries in the series.

For once, there are next to no references to other stories (or at least, outside this series—there are some minor bits of review of Hornet’s Nest). The Doctor makes no references to other companions or past adventures outside this series, and even says precious little about the TARDIS; even the spatial geometer which figures so prominently here, doesn’t appear in any other stories of which I am aware. He does offer Mrs. Wibbsey some jelly babies, and uses the sonic screwdriver at one point. Mike Yates of past UNIT fame does make a brief appearance in the form of an answering-machine message, and will appear in future entries; courtesy of actor Richard Franklin’s appearance, he does figure in Hornet’s Nest as well. As this is a Fourth Doctor story, I would assume that from Yate’s point of view, this is after his betrayal and subsequent restoration as discussed in Planet of the Spiders and other places. The Doctor has never before been to Roman-era Britain, at least not onscreen; however, while traveling with Leela, he will visit the Iceni tribe in the later Roman period (Wrath of the Iceni; the Doctor Who Reference Guide places this story between The Invasion of Time, Leela’s last serial, and The Ribos Operation, Romana’s first; if true, this would mean he has already visited the Roman period in Wrath of the Iceni), and will return to the Roman period as the Eleventh Doctor with Amy and River (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang). The Celts speak of Julius Caesar as still being alive, and the Romans have not invaded in force yet.

Overall: It’s alright. It’s certainly not the most exciting story, but it’s entertaining enough. One gets the impression that Tom Baker, at least, had fun recording this one; and the Fourth Doctor is as good as ever. If the subsequent stories step things up a bit, this one will be worth the time.

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Next time: Tomorrow we’ll be back to Big Finish with Night of the Whisper, and Monday it’s the Main Range with Minuet in Hell. On Wednesday, we’ll be listening to Demon Quest, part two: The Demon of Paris! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

The Relics of Time

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