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.

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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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Audio Drama Review: Death’s Deal

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Death’s Deal, the tenth entry in the Destiny of the Doctor fiftieth anniversary series. The story features the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; written by Darren Jones, it is read by Catherine Tate and Duncan Wisbey. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t listened to this audio drama!

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The Doctor gets a distress signal from a merchant ship called the Caliban–and then hundreds of others [693, the Doctor will soon point out], from a planet called Death’s Deal. Some of the signals are old, as the Doctor points out. Donna insists on helping anyone they can, and they head for the planet.

On the surface, they are at first isolated; but they are soon joined by a newly-landed ship…full of tourists (some human, some not). The group is led by an amphibian tour guide named Hickery Frimms, in the company of an imperious woman named Mistress Qwelleen. It’s the 49th century, and the planet is called Death’s Deal, as the distress signals said, and it’s reputed to be the most dangerous planet in the universe, where you show up, crash, and no one rescues you. Thrill seekers pay small fortunes to come here. While they talk, a huge creature bursts up through the ground—and swallows the TARDIS! The tourists flee in their ship, leaving a few behind, including Frimms—but the creature attacks and destroys it, before returning underground. Donna and the Doctor are nearly pulled under in its wake, but are pulled back by one of the tourists, an alien that Donna thinks of as a humanoid, walking barnacle, with many tentacles. It gives its name as Krux, a Nimosite from Ceratesh; he is an anthropologist. Qwelleen takes out her anger on Frimms, who can’t get them out of this, and takes charge of the group. It consists of Qwelleen, Frimms, Krux, the Doctor, Donna, a human girl named Lyric, and a human space pirate named Tad Groogan. Qwelleen is almost instantly grabbed by a different creature and eaten while Groogan watches.

Frimms tells them they are stranded because it is illegal to be here. He tells the Doctor that one ship, belonging to a rival company, will arrive, but not close by; but between them and the landing site are any number of dangers. As well, Groogan is looking for a lost ship, the Howling Jupiter, which crashed here years ago, and may be the reason the planet is off limits. He’s tracking a signal that is, oddly, in Morse Code; when Donna translates it, it spells out “Allons-y”. The Doctor realizes at once that the message is for him, and joins Groogan in searching.

The Howling Jupiter is at the edge of a massive coral field, in an arc on which the coral won’t encroach. The group finds it easily enough, and Groogan goes to investigate, Frimms with him, leaving Lyric to watch the others; but the Doctor, Donna, and Lyric also go in, on their own, leaving Krux on guard outside. The morse signal leads them to a video message…from the Eleventh Doctor [he doesn’t number himself, but at this point it should be obvious to the Doctor at least]. The Eleventh Doctor talks about something under the surface, called slaughter crystals. The Wraith Mining Cartel is coming for the crystals, and must be stopped. To that end, the Eleventh Doctor wants the Tenth to locate a man named Professor Merritt Erskine, who has proof of the crystals; the Doctor must save Erskine and transmit proof of the crystals’ existence to the Galactic authorities. The Doctor is familiar with the crystals; he knows they are used for incredibly powerful bombs and weapons, and nearly every planet has banned their extraction. Lyric is confused by how the man can also be the Doctor, but he waves away her questions.

On the way out, they meet Groogan and Frimms. The Doctor intends to go into the coral field, despite the danger; he sends Groogan to get everyone to safety, but Donna and Lyric both insist on staying with the Doctor, prompting everyone else to follow as well. As soon as they go outside, Frimms is killed by another creature. More creatures are approaching, driving them toward the coral field.

Donna and Krux fall into a deep hole, somehow surviving. They find a network of tunnels, and flee into them; the Doctor has no time to get them out, as the creatures are approaching. He gives her a flashlight and the TARDIS key, and sends her to find the TARDIS if she can.

The Doctor, Lyric, and Groogan continue on, dodging traps as much as possible. They encounter a wild man, who surprises them and pushes them into a crevice. The Doctor realizes that it is Professor Erskine; and Lyric, overwhelmed, reveals that she is Erskine’s daughter. He has lost his mind, and imagines himself the master of the entire world; and he doesn’t seem to recognize Lyric. He leads them deeper into the crevice.

Donna and Krux are still navigating the cavern. Krux realizes they are not natural, but excavated; but by the monstrous creatures, not any intelligent species. They stumble upon a half-rotten, partially-eaten body. They hear a creature approaching through the ground, and run down a random tunnel.

Erskine takes his group through a canyon. Lyric reveals that Erskine was a planetary surveyor; as such, he used to fall on the side of ecologists and protesters in battles with mining and other such interests. He disappeared six years prior. Lyric, after much time, found that Wraith was responsible; they tricked him into surveying Death’s Deal, then shot him down—but she never thought he was dead. She admits she used Groogan to get here. They reach a cave, guarded by beasts that Erskine has tamed, and go inside; they find it is the wreck of Erskine’s ship, now serving as his home. There are no records to be found—but the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver agitates Erskine’s tame creatures and coral garden. He concludes that it’s the technology from all the crashed ships—specifically the distress signals—that are making the planet deadly; everything on the planet is agitated by the electronics. Erskine threatens the Doctor with his staff, which is tipped with a slaughter crystal.

Donna and Krux are menaced by a massive, wormlike creature, which is chewing through the rock like a tunneling machine. It traps them at a dead end. Krux, whose species is like a large mollusk, opens his exoskeleton, and takes Donna inside, then hurls himself into the creature. Its simplified digestive system passes them through quickly as Donna holds her breath; and they make it out the other end. But, more worms are coming, and Krux cannot endure another passage. They hurry on, searching for the TARDIS.

Groogan tries to take the valuable crystal from Erskine, but Erskine scratches him with the crystal. Groogan quickly begins to decay as if poisoned, and dies in seconds. The crystals, it seems, possess a kind of radiation that transmits in lethal doses upon contact with bare skin. Erskine forces Lyric and the Doctor outside.

Donna and Krux come upon a deposit of crystals, which is guarded by a maze of deadly coral creatures. The TARDIS is right at the center of the mass. With the worms behind and the coral ahead, they are trapped.

Erskine leads the Doctor and Lyric to a huge crater, which is filled with a gigantic coral creature. He intends to kill them here; bloodstains indicate he has killed many others. Lyric tries to get him to open the locket he wears, which has pictures of herself and her mother, but he will not; and he sends his pets to drive them off the cliff.

Donna and Krux run for the TARDIS. Krux is attacked by the coral, and injured badly. She uses the flashlight to lure the polyps away; the coral’s tentacles accidentally touch the crystal deposit, and begin to die. Donna gets Krux inside the TARDIS, and locks the door. He is amazed by the TARDIS, but assures Donna that he will live if he doesn’t move. Donna tries to signal the Doctor from the control console.

The Doctor receives the signal on his screwdriver, but he drops it as Erskine lunges. Lyric attacks her father, and he drops the staff, but they both go over the edge, landing on a lip of the slope. The Doctor nearly falls, but recovers the screwdriver, and sends a signal back to the TARDIS with it—although using it agitates every creature around them, and causes Erskine’s pets to fall to their deaths. Erskine has a moment of clarity, and looks at his locket; he falls to the coral below, but throws the locket to Lyric before he does. The Doctor latches onto Lyric, but they both begin to slip.

The TARDIS carries Donna and Krux to the lip of the crater. The Doctor sends her to get a long cable from the console room, and uses it to get himself and Lyric back to the top.

Lyric opens the locket. Inside, she finds a microdrive memory device, and gives it to the Doctor. On it are the survey results for the planet’s crystals, which he sends to the galactic authorities as asked—but the TARDIS sensors reveal there are three automated mining ships approaching. As they are unoccupied, he sends a signal to cause the ships to self-destruct. Immediately afterward, the authorities respond, and initiate security procedures for the planet.

The Doctor takes them back to the planet briefly, where things have changed. He reveals that he has stopped all the distress signals, and now the planet is calm. Having patched up Krux, he prepares to leave; and Lyric and Krux stay behind to meet the rescue team that is coming, and explain everything. Krux intends to return later with an expedition to study the planet’s biology. Lyric thinks the Doctor failed in his mission, but the Doctor says that the message said to save Erskine—it didn’t specify WHICH Erskine. He gives back the microdrive, and its data.

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One thing that has impressed me about the Destiny of the Doctor series is how each entry has been so well fitted to the era of its Doctor. Some of that is inevitable; you write about these characters, and you have to mold your story to what we know of them. But that’s not all; the stories fit from the audience’s perspective, as well. We don’t learn anything in each one that we would not have known in that era (with the exception of the occasional sentence from the Eleventh Doctor, which are just non sequiturs when taken out of context), and the background and even writing style fits very well. If I may be permitted to ramble a bit, here’s a rundown:

  • In Hunters of Earth, we are shown practically nothing that we couldn’t have learned in An Unearthly Child, and the First Doctor is firmly in the camp of “Don’t meddle with time”.
  • In Shadow of Death, the Doctor is very mysterious even to his companions, and they are left with only the most minimal understanding at the end (as are we), which was very common in the Second Doctor’s era.
  • In Vengeance of the Stones, we’re tied to Earth, and the Third Doctor is both cooperating and at odds with UNIT, and the setting is a mostly-rural area with a lot of otherworldly secrets—all very common Third Doctor-era tropes.
  • In Babblesphere, there’s the very familiar pattern of “Land on a planet, immediately get in trouble, companion must rescue the Doctor, the Doctor must risk his own identity to solve the mystery”, plus a generous helping of Fourth Doctor-era nonsense and gibberish.
  • In Smoke and Mirrors, there’s a revival of the historical/pseudohistorical format, which was very common in the early Fifth Doctor era; and the Master shows up, as he did every season. Also, though it’s not as obvious, the story doesn’t sit comfortably for three companions, and would probably have been better with just two—another common Fifth Doctor issue.
  • In Trouble in Paradise, there’s the very common (for season 22, anyway) trope of Peri being at odds with the Doctor and rushing off into trouble in response. There’s probably less here to tie this story to its seasons than in the other entries, but that’s mainly because the Sixth Doctor’s seasons weren’t very good, and didn’t give us much to work with. It IS, however, more consistent with his other audio appearances.
  • In Shockwave, we have the familiar pattern of Ace and the Seventh Doctor showing up in the middle of a calamity that’s already in progress, the Doctor ranting about being unable to save the situation (or do what Ace wants him to), and then proceeding to spend a lot of time sputtering and growling while he does, in fact, save the day.
  • In Enemy Aliens, there’s a fast-moving, disjointed story which leaves a lot unexplained at the end—it could only be more typical of the Eighth Doctor if he got amnesia.
  • In Night of the Whisper, we have a great mystery in a futuristic setting that employs modern-day (or even past) tropes, like the noir setting and superhero references (compare stories like The Long Game, which give us then-current television tropes in a future setting). It couples all this with a very Ninth Doctor resolution, and a great appearance by the relevant companions.

This entry, Death’s Deal, is no different. Here we have—as we so often did on television—the Tenth Doctor and his companion landing on a far-flung planet with a terrible and deadly secret, and racing the clock to find a solution. We have the Tenth Doctor wanting to save everyone, and grieving over his failure to do so. We have Donna being, well, Donna—wildly opinionated, passionate, but WAY out of her league, and yet rising to the challenge. We have a split in the story that sends Donna off on one thread, while the Doctor follows another—it compares very favorably to, say, The Doctor’s Daughter, where Martha gets separated from the Doctor in the company of a very odd alien. It’s a bizarre and improbable environment, with humans (or one, anyway) who is different in a crucial way. These are all very common occurrences in the Tenth Doctor era, and I’m thrilled to see this story follow suit.

We’re getting close to the end, but still, the story has played out in such a way that it’s impossible to grasp what all of this is leading up to. While the Eleventh Doctor continues to give clues and orders, they don’t seem to relate much to each other, and it will be interesting to see how it works out. The Tenth Doctor’s reaction to the Eleventh is interestingly vague; since he must know at this point that he only has one life left to live, one would think he wouldn’t want any indication of that future, but if that’s the case, he keeps it to himself.

References are thin here, once again. The Tenth Doctor makes a reference to Frobisher, of all people, when he refers to an old friend who was a shape-shifter (The Shape Shifter, The Holy Terror, probably other comics that I am not familiar with). He refers to the Master as well, calling him his arch-enemy and noting that he was a master of disguise (Castrovalva, The King’s Demons, others). The Eleventh Doctor, meanwhile, refers to his desire to be ginger (The End of Time, also The Christmas Invasion).

If I have any complaint about this episode, it has to be the voice acting. I have a lot of respect for Catherine Tate, but in comparison to some of the earlier voice actors in this series, it’s clear that she’s just reading. Her portrayal of Donna, of course, is animated; but she doesn’t do well with the other characters, most notably the Doctor, and relies heavily on the fact that the dialogue is well-written. The secondary actor, Duncan Wisbey, does well as Krux (though of course a bit of voice-changing is involved, as he’s not human), but not so well as the mad Professor Erskine.

It’s worth mentioning that this was the final entry under the auspices of AudioGo, as that company went bankrupt. Therefore the next (and final) release in the series, The Time Machine, was in some jeopardy for awhile, but was ultimately released by Big Finish without AudioGo. That release was made on time (November 1, 2013) in download format, but was released late on CD.

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Next time: We’ll finish this series with the Eleventh Doctor’s contribution, The Time Machine! See you there.

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

Death’s Deal

Destiny of the Doctor

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Audio Drama Review: Night of the Whisper

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Night of the Whisper, the Ninth Doctor’s contribution to the Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, and read by Nicholas Briggs and John Schwab. Let’s get started!

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

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It’s the 23rd century on the environment-domed colony of New Vegas…and Rose Tyler is a waitress. It sounded like fun when the TARDIS landed, but that was then—now, she’s not happy with how the Doctor’s plan has worked out. Yet, here she is, working for a werewolf named Cyrus Wolfsbane in his Full Moon Nightclub. And that’s only the beginning, as someone is raiding the club!

A tall man in a cape and a mask invades the club, whispering about justice being served. It’s a vigilante, recently arrived in New Vegas, known as the Whisper. Rose flees the club in the chaos, and runs into Jack Harkness, who stops her from going back to intervene as the police arrive—but then they are picked up by the police. Jack is released on the basis of his faked credentials—he is temporarily working as a reporter from the Daily Galaxy–but Rose is taken in for questioning. Jack lingers long enough to see the Whisper leave the scene.

Rose is questioned by police commissioner James McNeil, who is much more interested in her identity and history than in her involvement with the Whisper. Rose has no documented history of her travels, which makes McNeil suspicious. However, she is saved by the appearance of the Doctor, who claims to be Inspector George Dixon from New New New Scotland Yard on Earth, here to investigate the Whisper. He provides a digital record for Rose, which does not entirely satisfy McNeil, but silences him; the Doctor takes custody of Rose, and gets her out of the precinct. Outside, he comments on the weather; it’s raining, but it is never supposed to do so under the dome. Wolfsbane intercepts them and offers Rose a ride back to the nightclub. Meanwhile, at the offices of the Daily Galaxy, Jack is researching the Whisper and his victims. He is interrupted by a woman named Daisy Hewett, who has a strange story; she wants him to investigate the disappearance of her best friend, Lillian Marsh, who vanished shortly after the death of her husband. Daisy attributes the disappearance to Wolfsbane, for whom Lillian’s husband worked. Jack at first pushes her away, but then becomes intrigued.

Wolfsbane tells Rose he is promoting her to Senior Waitress in the private lounge area of the nightclub, because he is watching out for her—in fact, he is just watching her, via monitors. He suspects something is up with her, as the police let her go. He watches her meet up with the Doctor; the Doctor fakes a robbery with Rose, to attract the Whisper. The Whisper arrives, but dodges the Doctor in favor of killing a graffiti artist across the street, and then flees again. The Doctor and Rose borrow a hoverbike to go after him. While chasing the Whisper, the Doctor tells Rose that the police are at a loss for dealing with the Whisper; the vigilante has gone from stopping major crime to killing even petty criminals, causing far more trouble than it stops—but the press love him.

They fail to catch him, but when they are forced to stop, they see an electronic billboard with a strange display. The Eleventh Doctor (although he doesn’t name himself as such) appears, and delivers a message to the Ninth Doctor, telling him that McNeil must live, and will eventually be the mayor of New Vegas. (Rose is left confused, as she does not yet know anything about regeneration.) Wolfsbane arrives and pursues them as they chase the Whisper, who escapes. They evade Wolfsbane, but end up inside the police precinct. The Doctor grabs several devices and constructs a tracker for the Whisper. McNeil confronts them, but the Doctor brushes him off.

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Jack and Daisy sneak into Wolfsbane’s office and check his security records. They find video of Lillian confronting Wolfsbane about her husband’s death. The video shows that Wolfsbane had Lillian killed by dumping her outside the atmosphere dome; he also killed her husband, and sabotaged the atmosphere systems (later he will say that he changed the atmosphere to send a message to the mayor regarding the true power in New Vegas). Jack calls the Doctor and updates him, but is interrupted. Daisy takes the opportunity to drug Jack, knocking him out.

The Doctor and Rose track the Whisper to its lair, in a residential neighborhood. He finds the name “McNeil” on the house, and rushes in to find the Whisper about to kill McNeil. He and Rose intervene, saving McNeil; the Doctor is about to attack the Whisper, when McNeil stops him. The Whisper is revealed to be Lillian…who is McNeil’s daughter. McNeil then saves Rose from the Whisper, which flees the house.

McNeil admits that he was behind the situation. He and Lillian had fought over her marriage to Ralph Marsh, who worked for Wolfsbane; McNeil had been working on taking down Wolfsbane. However, Lillian had come back to McNeil from the murder attempt, but changed. She had been possessed by a Star Marshal, an electronic law enforcement agent from an alien collective outside the Earth Empire. The Marshal had previously crashed on the moon; wounded, it found the dying Lillian and merged with her. When the mixed organism asked McNeil for instructions, he gave it more than that: he gave it the personality of a vigilante, and sent it against Wolfsbane—but he never anticipated that it would turn on every form of crime. To the Whisper’s defective thinking, everyone is guilty of something—and everyone must pay with death. And, worse: it intends to serve justice on everyone at once, by shutting down the containment dome.

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Jack awakens in Wolfsbane’s custody; Daisy has turned him in. She is revealed to be working for Wolfsbane. Wolfsbane wants to get to the Doctor, but more than that, he wants to get to the Whisper. He promises to kill Jack after he gets information from him…but Daisy lets slip that they are not at the nightclub, but at the atmospheric control center. And none of them know that the Whisper is on its way.

The Whisper arrives, and attacks Wolfsbane’s men. McNeil, the Doctor, and Rose also arrive, and find the gates already opened, and the guards down—the Whisper isn’t just killing, but draining the life force of its victims to keep itself alive. The Doctor and Rose go in, but the Doctor warns McNeil to stay outside, remembering the Eleventh Doctor’s warning. Wolfsbane uses Daisy as a shield, and recognizes Lillian’s corpse. Daisy escapes and runs, but is killed by the Whisper. It grabs Wolfsbane, but the Doctor intervenes, sending Rose to free Jack. The Whisper begins cycling down the dome’s generators. McNeil admits his own wrong, and tries to talk the Whisper down with the Doctor’s help. Wolfsbane takes advantage of the opportunity to strike the Whisper, breaking something vital inside it. He escapes, leaving the Whisper to die in McNeil’s arms. While the Doctor, Rose, and Jack regroup, McNeil slips out to chase down Wolfsbane.

The Doctor goes after him, intent on keeping him alive, and finds him cornering Wolfsbane on a gantry over a drop. The Doctor tries to stop him from murdering Wolfsbane, begging him to bring Wolfsbane to justice instead. McNeil nearly falls with Wolfsbane, but the Doctor catches McNeil and halts his fall. McNeil demands to fall and take Wolfsbane with him. Wolfsbane drags the Doctor over—and Rose catches the Doctor’s hand. Wolfsbane loses his grip on McNeil and falls to his death.

As the four survivors regroup, the police arrive. McNeil orders them to arrest him for collaborating with the Whisper, and as an accessory to murder. However, it seems the timeline is intact—and one day, McNeil will still be mayor.

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This story is notable for being the first audio drama to feature the Ninth Doctor, and the first to occur during Series One of the revived series. To date there are still only a handful of stories that involve the Ninth Doctor, due mostly to Christopher Eccleston’s consistent refusal to return to the role, but also to Big Finish’s still-limited collection of new series audios. Also notably, this story is not read by any of the television actors from the Ninth Doctor era, but by Nicholas Briggs. He does an admirable job—as well he should, as he has a long history of covering a variety of characters in the audios—and he covers fairly well for the Ninth Doctor here. I feel that the supplementary voice actor, John Schwab, is wasted here—his voice is a dead ringer for Jack Harkness, and that’s clearly the role he should have played, but instead he plays Police Commissioner McNeil. It’s convincing enough that I caught myself a few times thinking that McNeil’s lines were Jack’s. This story is also the longest of the Destiny of the Doctor entries, at nearly eighty minutes.

This story must occur between The Doctor Dances and Bad Wolf, as demonstrated by Jack’s presence with Rose and the Doctor; it must also occur after Boom Town, as Rose refers to having visited Raxicoricofallapatorious and Woman Wept. Rose, as well, does not know about regeneration yet, and thus misses the fact that the message is from a future version of the Doctor, though it is not lost on the Doctor himself. Again, the Eleventh Doctor is not named as such, and in this case only context makes it clear that he is a future incarnation—he refers to breaking laws of time to communicate with his past self. He mentions Amy Pond in the past tense, indicating that he is speaking from a time after her departure in The Angels Take Manhattan. Also consistent with Series One, there is a Bad Wolf reference; Wolfsbane says that it is thanks to Bad Wolf Holdings that he is owner of the atmospheric-control consortium. Unlike Series One, this story takes place away from Earth; every episode took place on or near Earth. At the end, Jack, the Doctor, and Rose discuss visiting other worlds.

The entire story is a reference to classic Batman stories, with the Whisper (though clearly the villain) using many of the same tricks that Batman uses. Rose even makes a Batman reference at one point, commenting that the Whisper’s lair is “not exactly Wayne Manor”. As such, the pacing of the story is very much like a Batman adventure, as is the environment—with its rain and its organized crime and the steam-filled atmospheric works, New Vegas may as well be Gotham City. It sounds strange on paper; but for the Ninth Doctor, it works, especially with Jack and Rose along for the ride. Supporting the reference, you have a highly-involved police commissioner, and a gimmicky secondary villain in the form of Wolfsbane (who, though not directly stated to be a werewolf, is so clearly described as one that there is no mistaking it—he is even called a “wolf man” at one point). It’s probably for the sake of this motif that the TARDIS is hardly even mentioned, let alone seen—in this case, it would almost break the immersion.

There aren’t really many references that I haven’t already mentioned; but there are a few. The Doctor mentions the Judoon (Smith and Jones, et al.), which confuses Rose, as she has never encountered them. Jack acknowledges that the Doctor confiscated his sonic blaster (The Doctor Dances), but he has a spare (and we know from The Long Game that he’s creepily good at hiding them…). The Doctor uses his “stupid apes” line, which originated in Father’s Day; also he uses his “Fantastic!” catchphrase immediately after receiving the message from his future self, but Rose thinks that it’s the first time he ever used it without at least some enthusiasm. He claims to have been in a film with—and lost a game of chess to—Humphrey Bogart, but this adventure occurred offscreen.

Overall, I think this story is—to borrow a catchphrase—“fantastic!” Nine episodes into Destiny of the Doctor, this is my favorite so far. In part, that’s because I’m an unabashed fan of noir fiction and detective stories, and this story is gleefully cast in that style [all it’s missing is a detective voiceover]. As well, anything new with the Ninth Doctor is well worth my time, I think; I hold out hope that someday Big Finish will manage to persuade Christopher Eccleston to resume the role. If anyone can, it’s that company. In the meantime, this story is a good time in every sense, and I highly recommend it.

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Next time: We’re getting close to the end! We’ll look at the Tenth Doctor in Death’s Deal; and on Monday, we’ll continue the Main Range with Minuet in Hell. 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 selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Night of the Whisper

Destiny of the Doctor

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Audio Drama Review: Enemy Aliens

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!

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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.

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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.

Enemy Aliens

Destiny of the Doctor

 

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Audio Drama Review: Shockwave

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re looking at the seventh in the fiftieth anniversary Destiny of the Doctor series, Shockwave, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. This story is written by James Swallow, and read by Sophie Aldred and Ian Brooker.  We join the Seventh Doctor and Ace for the death of a world in this installment. Let’s get started!

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

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The TARDIS lands on a space station in the 49th century. The station orbits a world called Tarsus Six, part of a system that has been heavily colonized by humanity. It’s a world in chaos, and for good reason: it only has minutes to live. The planet’s sun, Tarsus Ultra, is a red giant, but something is wrong: it’s tearing itself apart, not as a supernova, but in some other, unknown way. Truthfully, the damage is done; the star has already released a massive shockwave that has destroyed the inner colonies, and is closing in on Tarsus Six. Ace wants to save everyone, but the Doctor sadly tells her they can’t—it’s too late. Ships are fleeing the planet, some making it, some not. It’s the same on the station. The Doctor and Ace meet a ship captain, O1 (OhOne, indicating an unusual naming convention on this planet; his first officer is called K6, or KaySix). Masquerading as authorities from Earth, manage to get themselves onto the Obscura, the last ship leaving the station. They have the TARDIS brought aboard as well. On the way, Ace sees a group of cultists who worship the star and believe the shockwave will cause them to evolve. She makes contact with one girl in the group, 9J (NineJay), and at the last minute uses the ship’s transmat cubicle to bring her aboard and save her life—though it angers some of the passengers, who blame the cultists for the destruction of the star.

The ship, with the Doctor’s help, barely outruns the shockwave just as it destroys the station and Tarsus Six. The Doctor takes Ace to check on the TARDIS, and tells her that they are trapped for now, as the TARDIS can’t leave due to interference from the shockwave. She asks why they are here; he tells her they are here to rob a bank vault.

Ace is understandably disturbed, but the Doctor promises that they are not actually stealing; the artifact he wants belongs to him, sort of. It’s a cube called the Voice of Stone, in the locals’ vernacular. They had to come here, because the Voice’s location can only be verified here and now. The Doctor says it will speak to him, if he can get to it. They reach the vault, and Ace goes to distract a sound-seeking security drone that has been following them, thus buying them some time. The Doctor has found the vault to be already unlocked—and the Voice has been stolen. Suddenly the alarms go off, and they are arrested by the captain.

It is revealed that they are not diplomatic envoys. The Doctor reveals that the Voice is missing, and that they did not steal anything. They are interrupted when the engines suddenly fail. OhOne takes them with him to check the engines, as the door won’t lock without power; the Doctor restores the power, but the engines are still dead. The Doctor bargains for their freedom, in exchange for helping with the situation. KaySix discovers that the engines were actively sabotaged; security reveals that it was the girl, NineJay, whom Ace rescued. Ace goes to find her, and finds her in Ace’s stateroom. NineJay reveals she was sent to join the ship so she could disable it, thus allowing everyone aboard to die in the shockwave and evolve; she says she almost missed the ship, and is grateful that Ace helped her. Ace lectures her for taking the choice from everyone aboard, but NineJay is unpersuaded; and she reveals that she took the Voice of Stone, or rather, “set it free”. And now the shockwave is beginning to arrive; its outer fringes act as a warning shot against the ship. Time is running out.

NineJay gives the Voice to Ace, and reveals that she used the ventilation shafts to sneak around. The cube feels and seems to be alive; it reminds Ace of the TARDIS, and she thinks it is from Gallifrey. (In fact, it is a Gallifreyan hypercube, though Ace has never seen one before). It responds to her, stunning NineJay. KaySix arrives and tries to break into the stateroom; Ace escapes through the vents, with NineJay following.

As they make their way to the engine room, OhOne broadcasts an announcement, indicating that the ship cannot escape the shockwave. However, they have a plan to use the main power unit to create a counterforce that will shield them until the shockwave passes. The ship will then be adrift, but can be recovered later with its passengers. However, someone must stay with the power unit to trigger it, and will die in the process. OhOne volunteers.

Ace arrives after the power unit is launched. Ace tells the Doctor her story, and turns over the Voice to him. The wakes up. It releases an image of a strange man, who is revealed to be the Doctor (the Eleventh, to be specific), which speaks to both of them. It can’t hear them, but it remembers the conversation, and speaks accordingly. He acknowledges that he sent messages to the previous six, and asks the Seventh Doctor for help. The Seventh Doctor and Ace must save OhOne…who is on his way to die right now. He also tells the Seventh Doctor to be nicer to Ace. Ace realizes that this means the Doctor will survive…but what about anyone else?

The shockwave is arriving, just two minutes away. OhOne has activated the counterforce wall, and is still alive…but the Doctor insists there is no way to save him now. He must be there to keep it active. Ace suggests that someone could take his place, but the Doctor won’t let her do it. NineJay volunteers, however; she had long since chosen to die in the shockwave anyway. The Doctor is distrustful, thinking she will deactivate it and let everyone die; but she concedes that Ace was right to say that she can’t take the choice from everyone else. It’s a conflict of faith for her, not on her own behalf, but on that of everyone else. She transmats herself to the power unit, and transmats OhOne back.

With the shockwave passing by, the Doctor and Ace are free to go. Ace can’t help wondering if there’s some chance that NineJay was right—could she, somehow, have survived? They may never know. She cautions OhOne to be grateful—and maybe, he’ll return the favor for someone in the future. They leave him shocked at the sight of the departing TARDIS.

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For a story in this series, this entry is very self-contained. By that, I mean that it is mostly lacking in references to other stories. The Eleventh Doctor mentions having sent messages to his previous selves, which we’ve covered in previous entries. The Voice of Stone is clearly a hypercube, which we’ve seen on television as far back as The War Games (though not necessarily under that name) and as recently as The Doctor’s Wife, though this particular cube is not one that we’ve seen before. We’ve seen transmats in enough stories that it hardly counts as a reference at this point. Other than that, there’s really not much.

It’s downplayed, but this is a story with a very high body count. Tarsus Six is far from fully evacuated when the shockwave arrives, and many of its refugee ships don’t escape. The remaining population is annihilated, as are the populations of the inner colonies and the space station. It’s a common thread in Seventh Doctor stories to have him comment on what can’t be done, and what changes can’t be made; but often he pulls through and does it anyway. Not so, here; he knows he can’t save everyone, not because it’s already written in time, but because it simply cannot be done. The shockwave is an enemy that can only be dodged, not defeated. It’s so overwhelming that there’s no point in diving into the matter of what, exactly, is going on with Tarsus Ultra, although I think that that may have made for an interesting story; we only get that it is not a supernova.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly when in the Doctor’s timeline this story takes place; we get very little indication within the story. Ace seems to be more like the younger, televised version of herself; but if cover art is any indication, this is a later take on the Seventh Doctor, as he’s wearing his later outfit. Without links to other stories, it’s hard to say what’s already passed.

My comments sound like complaints so far, but they aren’t, really. I like the brooding, grim, sometimes-defeated take on the Seventh Doctor; he wears it well, and this story suits him. Not every story can end happily; sometimes you have to be content with what good you can accomplish. Ace is, as always, a breath of fresh air. Sophie Aldred’s reading was excellent; she does well even with the Seventh Doctor’s accent. The story focuses more on Ace than the Doctor, making his lines relatively few.

In a word, I’d describe this story as “small”. It’s quick, self-contained, and really doesn’t cover much ground; even in-universe, its events probably cover no more than about five or six hours at most. It’s worth its short running time to listen, though; and it’s vital for the ongoing arc of the series. I would not recommend listening out of order, however; we’ve reached the point where successive Eleventh Doctor appearances are building on one another, and you really miss a lot if you don’t take them in order. It helps to remember that, truly, this series is one long story.

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Next time: It’s an entire week of the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard: In the Main Range, we’ll look at The Sword of Orion, and in Destiny of the Doctor, we have Enemy Aliens! See you there.

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

Shockwave

Destiny of the Doctor

 

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Audio Drama Review: Trouble In Paradise

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Sixth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Trouble in Paradise, read by Nicola Bryant and Cameron Stewart, and written by Nev Fountain. Let’s get started!

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

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This episode differs from its predecessors right from the start. Rather than finding it incidentally and later, we get an appearance by the Eleventh Doctor right at the outset, as he uses the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits and viewscreen to contact the Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown. He makes it clear that he is a future incarnation of the Doctor (with Peri at first reflecting that he is what she would expect from the Doctor’s son, if he had one), and compliments his previous self; and then he makes a request. He wants the Sixth Doctor to obtain an omniparadox, a most dangerous item. After he leaves, the Sixth Doctor explains that an omniparadox is a sort of power cell, created by the conflict between two versions of time, much as nuclear power is created by smashing atoms together. The omniparadox, however, possesses energies that, if misapplied, can destroy the universe.

The Doctor constructs a device to track the signal of an omniparadox; it does so by mimicking the signal to create a resonance. Tracking, they land aboard a ship—not a spaceship, but a sailing ship—and find the paradox hovering above the TARDIS. However, they are quickly captured by a most unlikely man and his crew, and find that they are in the presence of the famed Christopher Columbus, aboard the Santa Maria; and he has just sighted land. He assumes they are natives of the island he has discovered, and that they have somehow come aboard to worship the invading Europeans. (The fact that he can converse with them without trouble seems to be lost on him.) The misunderstandings are interrupted, however, when it is revealed that a man on board is dying—and claims to have seen the devil.

Unfortunately, Peri has seen it too, albeit briefly. The Doctor gives her the TARDIS key to fetch a medical kit; and en route, she sees a demonic creature in the shadows for a moment. The Doctor determines that the man is dying of tuberculosis; he has the ability to cure him, but refuses to do so, as introducing modern medicine to the year 1492 could be disastrous. Enraged at him, Peri runs off through the hold where the TARDIS is parked, stopping only to throw the key at the Doctor.

Moments later, we find that Peri—intending to just stand at the prow and think—has fallen overboard. The Doctor panics, and tries to enter the TARDIS to save her, but cannot find the key. He is diverted, however, when he sees that the omniparadox is now gone; and shortly thereafter, the universe begins to unravel, violently. The Doctor realizes that something has caused the paradox to be removed, which means that the Eleventh Doctor’s mission in the future will fail, bringing about this destruction; but he stabilizes the situation briefly with his tracking unit, using its false signal to “trick” the universe into stability. It will not last, however, and he has about an hour before things fall apart. Columbus, having had his beliefs challenged repeatedly, now believes the Doctor is a wizard, and orders him to find the key and fix the situation; if he does not do so in twenty minutes, Columbus will cut off his hands, a punishment that history attests he used often on the native populations.

Peri, meanwhile, is not dead. She finds herself washed up on the shore—and is immediately captured by natives who are under the control of a monster. The monster is the devilish figure she saw; it confronts her, and reveals itself to be the Herd Leader of the Bovine race, a race of intelligent buffalo. Once they ruled the continent, and the primitive humans worshipped them; but then the herd leader was trapped in ice. Without its mind, the herd regressed into common buffalo, and were hunted to extinction. In the future, when the herd leader thawed out, he found he had no herd to lead. Adopting time travel technology which had since been developed by humans, he traveled back to conduct experiments which would save his people. He believes that Peri and the Doctor were sent to stop him.

The Doctor determines that a goat in the hold has eaten the key. However, he retains a psychic connection to it; and he is able to telepathically connect it to the TARDIS despite the goat (and much to the goat’s alarm) and get the door to unlock. With Columbus in tow, he determines that Peri is alive, and travels to her location; unknown to him, Columbus—now convinced the Doctor is a superior explorer—plans to kill him out of jealousy.

Arriving at the Herd Leader’s time machine, they learn its plan. It was the herd leader that led Columbus to the new world—Columbus being an incompetent navigator on his own—in hopes that the Europeans will exterminate the native Americans, thus preventing them from exterminating the Bovine herd. In that way he can return to the future and resume his place as herd leader. They are shocked to see another Herd Leader appear and interrupt, however; or rather, the same one, but older. The second leader says he is from the future, and has come to stop the experiment, because it will be a failure—the Europeans, too, will hunt and control the Bovine. The Doctor uses this opportunity to surreptitiously remove the time element from the machine. Warned by Peri, he dodges out of the way as Columbus tries to kill him with a sword; Columbus misses and destroys the time element by accident. The second herd leader vanishes, being unable to have time-traveled without the machine; the first is forced to flee. After removing the time machine, the Doctor, Peri, and Columbus return to the ship.

Columbus is forced to acknowledge that the Doctor and Peri are not natives after all; this does not change his plans, but he debates recording these events. He sends his men ashore to hunt down and kill the herd leader, convincing them it is not a devil, but an animal. The Doctor sees that the omniparadox has returned, and collects it; he theorizes that it disappeared because of the likelihood of Peri’s death. Without her to warn him of Columbus’s strike, the timeline would have been vastly different; and it was the collision of the timelines of the two herd leaders that created the paradox in the first place. Having a final change of heart, he cures the man with tuberculosis, and then they depart.

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Dating this story is easy; the date is clearly given as October 12, 1492. Dating the point of origin of the herd leader is a little harder; however, as he states he gets his time travel technology from the humans of the future, it is likely at least the 50th century. In fact, I would place it definitively in that century, as time travel exists, but not in the more compact and refined form of a vortex manipulator, which is known to exist by the 51st century; the machine here is apparently bulkier, and involves a time element large enough to be struck with a sword. From the Doctor and Peri’s point of view, this episode must occur prior to the past-time events seen Trial of a Time Lord, part two, Mindwarp, as that episode involves Peri’s death (later overturned, I know, but their travels here are clearly prior to that occasion). I would further suggest that it is at about the midpoint of their time together; Peri is not the frightened child she was for most of their early adventures, but neither is she fully her calm, collected self. Still, it’s hard to be precise.

Continuing the tradition started by Carole Ann Ford in Hunters of Earth, Nicola Bryant proves to be a versatile voice actor, doing an excellent job of catching the Sixth Doctor’s mannerisms and speech habits. Her take on the Eleventh Doctor is not as convincing, though still effective. I had never heard her speak without the affected American accent she uses for Peri; and now, hearing the contrast between her reading voice and Peri’s voice, I realize she’s incredibly skilled at this type of work. It would be very easy to assume that two different voice actors were involved. Cameron Stewart displays similar skill; he voices Columbus and the herd leader, two very different voices.

This story departs from the established structure significantly. In the previous stories, the Eleventh Doctor took advantage of adventures that were already under way for his past incarnations, using those situations to obtain what he needs. Here, he is the reason for this mission in the first place; but given the seriousness of an omniparadox—as an object the Doctor would not ordinarily seek out—I think that’s a fair strategy. We get a bit of the occasionally-recurring theme of whether it’s okay to change history here; Peri is in favor, the Doctor is not, but in the end she gets her way. As it turns out, however, the change they make is minor; he cures the sailor with tuberculosis, but doesn’t leave any indication of how it was done.

This has been my least favorite story in this series so far. Although I like the Sixth Doctor, and his audios are usually very good, I’ve always felt that Peri is the weakest of his companions. Rather, I should say, it isn’t that Peri is weak; it’s that I think she is not a good match with Six. Had she been able to stay with Five, they would have done much better together. Still, none of that is to say that this is a bad story; I think it’s weakened in part by Peri’s presence, and also by having its focus primarily on the larger story arc rather than the local story, but I think neither of those things ruin it completely. As part of this series, it’s still vital, and still worth a listen.

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Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Ace on Tarsus Six in Shockwave! See you there.

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

Trouble In Paradise

Destiny of the Doctor

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Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Disclaimer:  In the near future, I’ll be changing the way these Doctor Who-related posts are made.  I hope to have an announcement post by tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you are following this blog via social media, you may see two of today’s post, coming from two different blogs.  That’s by design, and should only affect posts made today and tomorrow.  After that, it will return to single posting.  More on that tomorrow!

Posting a day early because I’ll be unavailable to post on Friday. Will also make my rewatch post a day early, tomorrow, for the same reason.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Fifth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Smoke and Mirrors, read by Janet Fielding and Tim Beckmann, and written by Steve Lyons. Let’s get started!

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

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While attempting to take Tegan to Heathrow airport for her flight attendant job, the Doctor diverts to London in the 1920s (the specific date is not given). Tegan, Nyssa and Adric are of the opinion that the Doctor has once again failed to pilot the TARDIS properly, but for once they are wrong; he has followed a psionic distress call received via the telepathic circuits. It leads them to a fairground, and an old and famous friend: Harry Houdini.

Tegan is suitably impressed, and thrilled to meet the renowned escape artist and illusionist. The reference is lost on Nyssa and Adric, but even they are caught up in his charisma; and when he knows more than he should about Tegan, they are intrigued. Houdini plays it off, however, and diverts to another matter: He has come to the fair to debunk its fortune teller, who has inexplicable abilities of her own, but he has not been able to do so. Now he wants the Doctor’s help.

Something is not right, though. Houdini seems intent on drawing information from the Doctor which he should not have, regarding his own future and the workings of the TARDIS. Before it can be addressed, however, the group is split up; Houdini and the Doctor go to check out the fortune teller, and the three companions find themselves inside the fair’s menagerie.

The Doctor and Houdini don’t find the fortune teller, but they do find something else—her crystal ball. It proves to be no ordinary prop. The Doctor recognizes it, and refers Harry back to a previous adventure they shared (in the Doctor’s first life, along with Ben Jackson and Polly Wright) in which they encountered the Ovids, beings of pure thought. The Ovids used crystal spheres to communicate and influence the world; spheres just like this one. And this one is already in use.

In the menagerie, the companions are menaced by animals that have been released from their cages, including a tiger. Adric runs, leading the tiger away from the others, giving them time to try to escape. Tegan shouts for the Doctor, but to no avail. Adric is rescued, however, by a group of fairground workers and performers; but it is short-lived, as it becomes clear that they are under some kind of mind control. They escort him to a theater on the grounds. Meanwhile, Nyssa also has an odd encounter, with a man wearing the face of her lost father: The Master. He takes hypnotic control of her, and forces her to abduct Tegan and bring her to the theater as well.

The Doctor tries to make telepathic contact with the sphere, and is successful, though it hurts him. As he is about to make progress, he is interrupted by the image and voice of a young man wearing a bow tie—the Eleventh Doctor. He tells the Fifth Doctor that he will soon be tempted to destroy the sphere, but he must not. Instead, he must return it to its rightful owners, the Ovids. At the same time, he is interrupted by Tegan’s scream, which the sphere has also picked up; he realizes that they are in danger, and he has failed to help them. The Doctor and Houdini hurry toward the theater; but Houdini stops him and takes him captive. He places the Doctor inside a crate that is intended to be used in his famous underwater escape trick, and tells him that he has met an old friend of the Doctor, who revealed to him that the Doctor has manipulated him and withheld information. It’s all a lie, of course; and the Doctor recognizes the source as the Master. Nevertheless, in an effort to persuade the Doctor to tell him more, Houdini pushes the crate into the water…and watches as the Doctor fails to escape.

On the theater’s stage, Adric is seized by the Master, but he cannot see him. In the struggle, he sees a mirror propped up on the stage, and realizes that the Master is visible in the mirror, and their reflections are struggling. It defies science, but there’s little time to think about it, as he struggles to break free. Tegan intervenes, and sees the situation, and starts to throw a chair to break the mirror; Adric shouts at her to stop, not knowing what effect it may have on him. Instead, she throws the chair at the spotlight that is trained on the mirror, creating the reflections; it breaks, and the Master vanishes.

All is not saved, though. In rage, the Master starts to use the Ovid sphere to release massive amounts of electricity through the fairground, setting things on fire and destroying buildings. Houdini catches up with the companions as they try to escape, but they are cut off. Suddenly the Doctor returns, and reveals that he picked Harry’s pockets for his lockpicking kit, using that—and his Time Lord ability to bypass respiration—to escape the trap. He had suspected Harry was not himself all along. They make their way back to the fortune teller’s booth, the Doctor explaining that the Master was never corporeally there at all; he seems to be still trapped in the collapsing dimension where they last saw him (Castrovalva). Instead he was using the sphere to exert his will remotely, and even project himself. He locates the sphere, and is tempted to destroy it—just as promised—but instead, he makes contact with it to try to soothe it and end the energy discharge. It isn’t enough, however, and Tegan joins the link, adding her own thoughts to bring the crisis to an end.

As the smoke clears, the fairground workers awaken from their trance, having no memory of the last twelve hours. Houdini convinces them they have been unwitting participants in an experimental new act, which seems to satisfy them. He again attempts to persuade the Doctor to let him see inside the TARDIS, but is gently rebuffed, and admits that it’s better to make his future than to know it. As the Doctor and companions leave, Tegan again asks to be taken to Heathrow, but the Doctor tells her they must first make a stop: To return the sphere to the Ovids.

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There is a very narrow range of episodes, all in Season 19 of the classic series, within which this story must fall. It must be after Castrovalva, as the Master is still trapped there, and before Earthshock, as Adric still lives. As well, there is no room for an extra story between Four to Doomsday and Kinda, as Nyssa is ill between those episodes. Also, the Doctor comments that he has recently lost his Sonic Screwdriver, which occurs in The Visitation; therefore the story can only occur between The Visitation and Black Orchid, or Black Orchid and Earthshock. I favor the former, because it is hinted that Houdini is the first historical character Tegan encountered with the Doctor; although Black Orchid’s noble characters are fictional, in this universe Tegan would consider them real, and therefore she has not met them yet. The Visitation is also a historical setting, but with fewer noteworthy pseudo-historical characters, and at any rate we have already established that that story is already past. I should comment that it’s rare that we can pin down an audio’s placement so exactly; usually we are left with only an approximation.

The Doctor has had past encounters with Harry Houdini, enough that they consider themselves friends. All of those appearances have been in novels, which I have not read yet. Interestingly, one of those encounters—the first, from Houdini’s perspective—was with the Eleventh Doctor, whom he pointedly does not recognize here. It’s possible, I suppose, that he was advised to play dumb when dealing with earlier incarnations. One reference in particular, to Houdini and the First Doctor’s encounter with the Ovids, has not been seen in any medium as yet, and seems to have been created specifically for this story.

Above all else, this story is about Tegan. Although she’s not the center of the action, she is definitely the central viewpoint. It serves as a bit of a redemption for her character, as Tegan was historically portrayed as a glum, fretting individual; here, she escapes that mold a bit, and becomes very happy for awhile, so much so that Nyssa even remarks on the change. She also is crucial to both defeats of the Master here, breaking the spotlight and calming the sphere. I’ll admit to ranking Tegan in the middle of the field of companions—26 out of 46—when I ranked them; but that by no means indicates that I dislike her as a companion, and in fact I always felt some pity for her, as she was surrounded by otherworldly geniuses. This story is a nice break from that, and gives her some better footing.

Janet Fielding is a decent reader, though she doesn’t try for the voices the way that some previous readers have done. It’s a fair trade-off, however, as the Fifth Doctor has fewer vocal distinctives than his predecessors. The voice actor for Houdini, Tim Beckmann, is great, and comes off as smooth and charming even when revealing Houdini’s bitterness (as caused by the Master).

The visits from the Eleventh Doctor continue to become more explicit with each passing story in the series. Again, the Doctor recognizes him as a future incarnation, and even seems to have some idea that it is the Eleventh Doctor, specifically; he makes an offhanded comment about having “another life or six” to go. Oddly, this is a completely TARDIS-free story; the crew are not seen entering, leaving, or piloting the ship. It’s a good entry—not quite as fun as Babblesphere, not quite as morbid as Vengeance of the Stones, or as technical as Shadow of Death, but still very enjoyable.

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Next time:  On Monday Tuesday Wednesday (thank you, Christmas), we’ll look at Main Range #15, The Mutant Phase; and then on Thursday, we’ll return to Destiny of the Doctor with Trouble in Paradise, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri! 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 selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Smoke and Mirrors

Destiny of the Doctor

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