Audio Drama Review: Orbis

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! After an extended delay, today we’re returning to the Eighth Doctor Adventures range with the first entry of Series 3, Orbis. Released in March 2009, this story was written by Alan Barnes and Nicholas Briggs, and features Paul McGann, Sheridan Smith, and Katarina Olsson. Let’s get started!

Orbis 1

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Part One: Picking up where we last saw her, Lucie Miller sits at home, six months after the death of the Doctor and the fabled Time Lord Morbius. She answers the door to find the Headhunter, who promptly shoots her with a strange gun.

Lucie awakens to find herself unharmed, inside the TARDIS, with the Headhunter at the controls. The Headhunter explains that the gun fires quantum-tipped time bullets, which can be “un-shot” as well as fired at various speeds; therefore she “un-shot” Lucie. She pilots the TARDIS (a bit roughly, admittedly) to what she calls “tweenspace”—a place where the dregs of the cosmos settle—where the Doctor is allegedly alive, having been transported away mid-fall by the Sisterhood of Karn. She insists the universe is being destroyed, and only the Doctor can save it.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is on the tweenspace world of Orbis. He whiles away his time on repairing a small spaceship, accompanied by the planet’s jellyfish-like inhabitants, the Keltans. He is approached by a Keltan named Selta, who warns him of a storm, but inadvertantly causes him to break the ship engine’s drive belt. He muses that a good pair of tights would fix it—but there are no bipeds on this planet, and Earth is a long way away. He diverts his attention to the storm—he has lived here much longer than any other inhabitant, and he knows something is wrong; the storm season should have long since ended.

Out in space, ships approach. They carry representatives of the Molluscari race, with whom the Keltans previously fought a minor war; the war was ended by the Doctor, who petitioned the Galactic Council for intervention. Molluscari Secretary Saccostrea meets with her leader, Crassostrea. The rather rotund Crassostrea is in the process of transforming from male to female in preparation for spawning. Saccostrea reports that Orbis has been scanned, and is confirmed to be experiencing atmospheric changes; this will be terrible for the Keltans, but fortuitous for the Molluscari. Crassostrea reports the findings to the Galactic Council in a bid to claim the planet. Meanwhile, aboard the TARDIS, the Headhunter tells Lucie that she acquired the ship from the Sisterhood, who had held it as a trophy of sorts. With some difficulty, she sends it heading for Orbis.

On Orbis, the Doctor helps rescue a young Keltan from a well. In the process he evaluates the recent storm damage, and decides to help the Keltans put their homes on stilts for safety from floods. The town’s leader, Yanos, thanks him, but admits that he worries for the planet in the face of its continuing changes. The Doctor encourages him, reminding him of how they overcame the Molluscari. Unfortunately, he is unaware that even now, the Council has decided that the Keltans’ claim to Orbis has become untenable—and they have granted the Molluscari permission to claim the planet.

In the TARDIS, the Headhunter explains that the TARDIS, without the Doctor, is dying, and expelling temporal waste, which is in turn the source of the danger to the universe. However, she doesn’t really want to save the Doctor—she wants him to regenerate the ship and then transfer it to her. She aims to use Lucie to compel him; she reveals that there is still a time bullet in Lucie’s brain, which will kill her unless the Doctor cooperates. Meanwhile the Doctor muses on the moon of Orbis; it neither rises nor sets, but is fixed over a point fifty miles out at sea. He and Selta are interrupted, however, by the arrival of the Molluscari ships. They rouse the village to alarm. Aboard ship, Crassostrea wants to blast the Keltans, but Saccostrea intervenes; their rights to the planet are not yet active, and they are here to warn the Keltans of the plan. Crassostrea addresses them, and debates with Yanos and the Doctor, and provides a data pearl containing the Council’s declaration, which states that the ecological changes have mooted the Keltans’ claim to the world. Crassostrea cuts off one of Yanos’s tentacles in the process of relinquishing the pearl; in response, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to begin vibrating the Molluscari out of their shells, inflicting pain on them. The invaders retreat, and their ships take off. The Doctor and Yanos begin plans for defense.

The TARDIS lands on the planet, and the Headhunter sends Lucie out…directly into the ocean. With a high salt content, it will buoy her up—but she’ll have plenty of time to think as she floats the fifty miles to the Doctor’s beach. The Headhunter then contacts an unknown recipient and transmits a set of coordinates, making plans for an ocean dive at dawn.

Lucie awakens to find Selta standing over her, and is frightened; she has a bad history with jellyfish. However, they patch up their differences—until Lucie mentions her soaked tights. When Selta hears that word, she recognizes it as the thing the Doctor previously mentioned, and she rips the tights off of Lucie and runs off. Lucie chases her back to the small spaceship, where she finds the Doctor—but he ignores her and takes the tights to repair the ship. He doesn’t seem to remember her at all; and Lucie realizes that he has lost his memory.

Part Two: Lucie is angry when she discovers that the Doctor can’t remember her, and she slaps him before storming off, leaving him to his work with Selta. However, he suddenly recalls that Orbis never had a moon before; he can remember it suddenly appearing a few decades ago. In the meantime, he uses Lucie’s tights to repair the spaceship’s engine and power it up. He laughs at Selta’s suggestion that he plans to return to Earth—a planet to which he no longer feels any attachment—but then tells her that the approaching moon is causing the increase in storms. He plans to contact the galactic council about this situation; but he really wants to visit the moon. Selta suggests asking Lucie about his TARDIS; and he realizes that the only reason Selta and Lucie can understand each other is because the TARDIS is translating—meaning Lucie’s story is true! He runs off to find her.

Elsewhere, the TARDIS lands aboard a Molluscari ship, and the Headhunter meets with Saccostrea. She forces Saccostrea to bring Crassostrea to her, instead of the other way around. They oversee the aforementioned dive, which is at first unsuccessful, costing the lives of the divers; the Headhunter insists on sending down more. Eventually they successfully retrieve the small object that she is searching for.

The Doctor finds Lucie, who tells him that the Headhunter—whom he only vaguely recalls—has the TARDIS. He makes her slap him again, and tells him that her fingers are charged with chronon particles from the TARDIS, which are slowly reviving his memory. She refuses, until he angers her by insisting that he is a different man now, and will not leave Orbis after saving it. Selta arrives at that time, and says that Yanos has received a message from the council. The Doctor unsuccessfully argues with the council for intervention, but they are not willing to act until a cooling-off period has passed. They are interrupted by the return of the Molluscari, who announce that they are claiming the planet. However, Crassostrea announces that, in a gesture of solidarity, she will transport select Keltans to an artificial habitat elsewhere in the galaxy. She asks for volunteers to come to the beach.

While the Doctor is trying to think of a solution, the Headhunter arrives and mocks him for his futility. She advises Yanos to take the Molluscari offer. Selta reveals that she is in league with the Headhunter, and also advises taking the offer; Lucie tries to intervene, and is forced to bite Selta to get free. The Doctor gives his screwdriver to Selta for protection and tells her to keep the Molluscari busy. Lucie tries to attack the Headhunter, but the woman shoots her with her time-bullet weapon. Saccostrea—aboard ship—tells Crassostrea that the Keltans are gathering; Crassostrea orders more ships in to begin “processing” them.

Lucie is not dead; the bullet is moving into her chest at a rate of one millimeter every thirty seconds. The Headhunter offers to save her, and even return the TARDIS, if the Doctor will do something for her. She produces the device found in the sea, and breaks off the encrusting coral, revealing the control device for Morbius’s stellar manipulator; the Doctor was holding the activator when he fell into the abyss centuries earlier. She says it will only respond to a Time Lord; as all the others are in hiding, that only leaves him. She orders him to turn it off. He refuses, believing that Lucie is working with the Headhunter and that they have planned this together, and he leaves to help the Keltans.

Meanwhile, Crassostrea tells the Keltans that many more Molluscari ships are en route. When she sees that Yanos is afraid, she tells her troops to terrorize the Keltans—after all, frightened Keltans make the best food…

Lucie intercepts the Doctor, but she cannot convince him of her innocence. He only relents when she tells him the TARDIS is also dying. The Headhunter joins them and directs them to the massacre—no, the feast—about to happen on the beach. Crassostrea tells Yanos that the Molluscari will use the waters of Orbis to spawn, but before they can do so, they must feast. Selta threatens her with the screwdriver in an attempt to rescue Yanos; forced to use it, she focuses on Saccostrea, who quickly dies. As she turns it on Crassostrea, the Doctor steps up and takes it from her, quietly condemning her actions—it’s a tool, not a weapon. Crassostrea, meanwhile, shrugs it off; she planned on eating Saccostrea anyway.

The Doctor reveals that he already knew the truth about Selta’s bargain with the Molluscari—the readings from the data pearl could only have been taken from the surface, and in fact they precisely match the atmospheric scanner he and Selta had used. She says that the catastrophe facing them was beyond even the Doctor, and she had only sought to save as many of her kin as possible—in fact, she herself has decided to stay behind and die with the Doctor. He rejects the offer—he only wanted a friend, not a martyr. He tries to order the Molluscari off the planet, but fails.

The Headhunter again mocks him for his efforts. She has the TARDIS brought out from the Molluscari ship and tells the Doctor he must leave the Keltans to die. He refuses; Lucie joins him, but is stunned to discover that the Molluscari plan to eat the Keltans. Crassostrea wants to kill the Doctor and Lucie, but the Headhunter stops her; he has not yet turned off the stellar manipulator. Lucie makes a speech, pleading for the Keltans’ lives; the Doctor finally seems to remember her. He takes out the activator and asks the Headhunter to un-shoot Lucie; she does so. However, the Doctor refuses to turn the activator off, and increases its power.

A clap of thunder is heard, and the sky goes white. The Keltans erupt into a panicked frenzy. The moon begins accelerating toward Orbis. The Headhunter berates the Doctor; the moon is the stellar manipulator! Now, through his stupidity, it will indeed destroy Orbis. He tries to deactivate it, but the controls are jammed. The oceans begin to boil, and the temperature rises; the Doctor orders Crassostrea to evacuate, but she can’t—the rising temperatures are causing her to spawn early. At the same time, the temperatures drive the other Molluscari into a feeding frenzy, and they begin to slaughter the Keltans.

The Headhunter congratulates him on his failure, and urges him into the TARDIS, but he refuses to leave the Keltans. He throws the activator into the sea to be destroyed with the planet. Suddenly horrified, the Headhunter prepares to leave in the TARDIS; the Doctor, meanwhile, declares he is no longer a time traveller, and is prepared to die here. Lucie grabs the time-bullet gun and shoots him.

Inside the TARDIS, and once safely away, the Headhunter un-shoots the Doctor, who recovers at once. He angrily denounces Lucie for saving him against his wishes, but she insists it wasn’t just for her; it was for the universe, as the TARDIS is still causing destruction. The Headhunter laughs and says that she made that part up to motivate Lucie. When Lucie tries to attack her, she threatens Lucie with the gun. The Doctor discovers that Orbis is gone; the Headhunter explains that the manipulator consumed the planet, and having also consumed its activator, it destroyed itself. She tells him that while he’s been away, she and others have had to save the universe in his absence; it really can’t do without him. Now, with him back, she can leave. She tells him he has to sort out his issues himself, and then she teleports back to her warp ship.

The Doctor is awash in guilt, and Lucie also apologizes for tricking him. Lucie gently reminds him that Earth and other planets still need saving; with nowhere else to go, he sets course for Earth.

Orbis 2

The Doctor and Lucie are back, but it’s not a happy reunion. For Lucie it’s been months; for the Doctor it’s been six hundred years—and worse, he doesn’t remember her. Without his TARDIS, he has renounced the time-traveling life and settled down on the world of Orbis, after a random teleport by the sister during his final fall in the preceding serial. If only the Doctor could find a world that isn’t in danger…

It’s a grim story, with no sign of a happy ending anywhere. Many Doctor Who stories can be viewed/read/listened to as standalone items; this is not one of them. It relies heavily on the events of last season’s cliffhanger; and its dismal ending just begs for redemption later in the season. It remains to be seen whether we’ll get it. Now, an unhappy ending is not altogether unheard of in Doctor Who. What sets this story apart—and I’m not calling it unique, but it is certainly rare—is that the Doctor utterly fails. It’s quite common for the body count to be high even when the Doctor wins; but win, he usually does. Here, he loses, thoroughly and handily; the fact that he takes most of his opponents with him in his failure doesn’t make up for that. He’s left wracked with guilt at the end, but reluctantly resumes his traveling life—older, perhaps wiser, but certainly more weary.

Guilt is a fairly common theme for the Eighth Doctor. He is a man of many regrets—just look at his last moments, in The Night of the Doctor, where his penultimate words are an apology. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that this story also includes another frequent Eighth Doctor theme: Amnesia. When he meets Lucie Miller in this story, he has long forgotten her, although he seems to remember events prior to his time with her. He regains his memory in the same story, but it’s not stated how much he remembers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this continue to be a factor. Personally, I think these two themes are a bit poetic; on the one hand, the Doctor has much for which to feel guilty, but on the other hand, he mercifully forgets a lot of it (over the course of his life, that is—not in the particulars of this story).

This story takes steps to codify a longstanding theory: The theory that the Doctor can’t remember how old he is. In speaking about his age—the Keltans call him “Old Doctor”, which he resents—he admits that he can’t remember it, and usually rounds a bit for the sake of local time anyway. Perhaps this is spelled out in other stories, but this is the first time I’ve seen it; and I, for one, am glad to see it acknowledged. Given that this happens, here, in the Eighth Doctor’s life, it makes the outlandish figures cited by the NuWho Doctors a little easier to understand. I was a little less thrilled to see six centuries randomly inserted into his lifespan—it’s the Siege of Trenzalore before it was cool. It is what it is, but I don’t have to like it.

I knew it was coming, after the cliffhanger last season; but I was happy to see Katarina Olsson’s Headhunter return. She’s proven to be an interesting character: a bit like the Master (or Missy, more to the point), but without the delusions of grandeur. She’s happy to be both a schemer and an accomplice; she likes to be in the thick of things, but doesn’t want to be the primary villain (well, of course she doesn’t think of herself as a villain, but you know what I mean). We find her with yet more plots in the works at the end of this story; I won’t spoil it, but then, it would be hard to spoil, as it’s couched in the usual evasive terminology. I found her weapon of the day, a gun using “quantum-tipped time bullets”, to be silly; it’s a ridiculous bit of technobabble even for a show that plays with time-travel like Play-Dough. There could easily have been better ways to threaten Lucie’s life; I hope that device will be abandoned from this point.

While the Doctor has changed, Lucie hasn’t, and that’s a good thing. I’ve often found myself comparing her to Clara Oswald. In many ways the two companions are similar—both from Blackpool, similar ages, similar personalities and speech patterns (in fact, they’re close enough in age and time period that it’s not unreasonable that they may have met). However, if the Headhunter is Missy without the delusions of grandeur, then Lucie is Clara without delusions of grandeur; and for that I like her more. If the fans who have long wished for an Eighth Doctor series ever got their wish, I’d love for her to make an appearance. In this story, she is—to borrow an old pun—just what the Doctor ordered; it’s Lucie who brings him back to himself, though it’s a painful experience for him. It’s further evidence that the Eighth Doctor Adventures are really Lucie’s story as much as the Doctor’s—another way in which she’s similar to Clara, though I think the balance was tipped even more heavily toward Clara.

Continuity references are mostly to earlier EDAs. Lucie mentions the service station from Horror of Glam Rock, and the Dalek invasion from Blood of the Daleks. Morbius (The Vengeance of Morbius) is mentioned, but not seen; however, he’s not conclusively seen to be dead, either, leaving it open for him to return. The Doctor also makes general references to other companions and trips to Earth, but generally without specifics, though he does mention “Axons”, “Autons”, and other multiple-appearance villains.

Overall: This is certainly a downer of a season opener. It’s still a good story; but don’t come here looking for laughs or rainbows. I’m interested to see where it goes from here. Still, it’s good to have Lucie and the Doctor back; as it’s been a year since I last posted in this series, it actually feels like a significant gap for me as well as for the characters. I expect good things to come.

Next time: I’m still considering myself to be on hiatus from this review series, so I can’t guarantee it will be in the next few weeks; but when we return, we’ll continue with the Eighth Doctor and Lucie in Hothouse, the second entry in Series Three of the EDAs! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Orbis

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Audio Drama Review: The Vengeance of Morbius

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we wrap up the second series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Vengeance of Morbius. Written by Nicholas Briggs, this audio drama concludes the two-part story begun last week in Sisters of the Flame. Let’s get started!

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

Vengeance of Morbius 1

Desperate to avoid molecular dispersal, the Doctor and Lucie compare notes with the Sisterhood regarding Morbius, Zarodnix, and the Cult of Morbius.  The full story begins to come together—while on Karn, Zarodnix is arriving at level -1.087, the main laboratory.  Orthena explains to the Doctor and Lucie that Zarodnix forced the Sisterhood off of Karn, then mined the planet surface, searching for artifacts of Morbius.  Haspira was sent to infiltrate Zarodnix’s corporation; doing so, she befriended the Trell, but then learned that Zarodnix plans to revive Morbius.  Meanwhile, Zarodnix enters the lab and learns that the latest extraction experiment was a success; with his Trell, he prepares to complete his vision.  He is interrupted by Haspira’s ship about to land; he tells the Trell to either arrest or kill the occupants, as they may wish.  On the ship, Straxus grows more frightened as the ship lands; Rosto fails to understand his fear.

The Doctor explains that Morbius’s brain fell into a canyon and was destroyed centuries earlier.  Orthena agrees, but says that Zarodnix has been scouring space and time to try to capture a Time Lord.  Unknown to them, at that moment Zarodnix is detecting the presence of one in the ship on the surface of Karn.  Meanwhile, Orthena explains that Gallifrey has recalled all Time Lords and secured itself, which explains the Time Scoop that came for the Doctor; as he dodged the Time Scoop, he now owes Haspira his life for rescuing him.  However, now Haspira is urgent to have him executed.  She forces the Doctor and Lucie into the chamber, and Orthena orders her to switch it on.  Meanwhile Zarodnix’s Trell break into Haspira’s ship and inject Rosto with augmentation nanocytes, causing him to collapse.  They then turn on Strax.

The dispersal chamber activates, leaving the Doctor about 37 seconds to escape.  Lucie reveals the Time Ring, and the Doctor activates it.  An alarm sounds, indicating conflict between the Ring and the dispersal chamber.  However, it slows down, and the chamber powers up again; it grows hot inside as their molecules are agitated.  The Doctor bangs on the door and tells the Sisters that Zarodnix already has a Time Lord.  Orthena lets them out, and he tells them about Straxus; Haspira confirms that her ship is near Karn.  Meanwhile Straxus is taken to Zarodnix, who scans him to confirm his identity. Zarodnix dismisses concerns about the High Council on Gallifrey, and has Straxus taken away for the procedure.

Haspira still wants to kill the Doctor and Lucie, giving Lucie cause to re-evaluate her initial impression of the woman.  The Doctor points out what must have happened: in mining the surface of Karn, Zarodnix must have found a fragment of Morbius’s brain—but why does he need a Time Lord?  Meanwhile, Straxus is strapped onto a machine in Zarodnix’s laboratory.  Zarodnix mocks him and the other Time Lords, then says that Straxus will help him resurrect Morbius.

The Doctor theorizes that Zarodnix will use genetic fusing—like the dinosaurs in *Jurassic Park*, DNA from Morbius’s brain can be fused with Straxus’s Time Lord body to resurrect the dead tyrant.  Orthena admits that Zarodnix’s money has probably given him access to the necessary knowledge, culled from across the known universe.  As Morbius’s essentials will be contained in even a fragment of his brain, the plan can work—therefore Straxus must be rescued at once.  Orthena starts a teleportation chant, but the Doctor says that Karn will be shielded; however, the TARDIS can take him there by locking onto the coordinates in the Time Ring.  Meanwhile Straxus begs Zarodnix to stop, but it is no use; Zarodnix states that Morbius’s reputation is false, based on propaganda, and so he will resurrect him using living Time Lord DNA.  He also has Morbius’s presidential robes, as well as cells from the brain.

Orthena overrules Haspira’s objections and takes the Doctor and Lucie to the TARDIS, sending them on a mission to prevent Morbius’s rise.  She promises that the Sisterhood will watch over them; once in the TARDIS, Lucie asks about this, and the Doctor says that no one knows the full extent of the Sisterhood’s psychic power.  He explains that they can’t go back to the ship before it reaches Karn; this would require crossing his own timeline, which may have already happened earlier—this may be what caused the power to blink out in the TARDIS.  However, he decides to try it anyway, and prepares.  However, they are intercepted by the Time Scoop, which disables the controls and starts to pull them in.

The TARDIS materializes on Gallifrey, in a holding area.  Bulek calls to them, and explains that other Time Lords are in isolation; but his fear of Morbius is obvious.  Lucie reminds him that Straxus is in trouble, but he is unwilling to let them break the laws of time, and orders them to stay.  Records indicate Straxus was en route to Gallifrey—but the Doctor points out that they were tracking the Time Ring, not Straxus himself; and the ring is in the TARDIS.  Straxus remains in captivity—in fact, his processing is complete, though he is still alive.  The Trell confirm success, and when they open the Genotron device, they find a man in presidential robes.  Zarodnix asks Straxus to identify the man, but the man emerges and declares that he is Morbius.

In the TARDIS, Lucie and the Doctor wait for Bulek to drop the transduction barriers so they can leave.  However, the ship shudders, and they emerge to meet Bulek, who tells them Gallifrey is under attack—the shaking is from missiles bouncing off the transduction barriers.  The attacking ships are manned by Trell—they must work for Zarodnix.  Although they can’t reach the planet, they relay a hyperlink communication from Karn—and on the screens, Zarodnix introduces Morbius.  Morbius tells the High Council that he has returned, and promises them defeat.  As the Council does not respond, the Doctor does so, and tells Morbius to give up his plans for domination, as they will only result in failure and chaos.  Morbius recognizes the Doctor, and boasts that the Time Lords cannot stop his revenge, prompting the Doctor to mock him.  Morbius produces a medallion, which is the remote activator for a stellar manipulator—allegedly only one was produced, but that seems to be untrue.  Morbius activates the manipulator, and power begins to drain from the Eye of Harmony.  Soon the Time Lords will have no power for time travel.  Cutting the transmission, the Doctor tells Bulek to lower the barriers so he can move while there is still power for the TARDIS—even if it means breaking the laws of time.

Zarodnix notes that the barriers are down, and Morbius orders the Trell to fire on Gallifrey.  Meanwhile the Doctor and Lucie dematerialise in the TARDIS.  The Doctor reassures her that they will have enough reserve power even if the Eye stops functioning; Lucie insists that they go back to before the events began and stop Zarodnix there.  The console starts to spark—the manipulator is tearing the heart from the TARDIS.  There is an explosion—and then the TARDIS materialises again.  There is a little power left, but not enough to waste on the scanner, and so they trust the TARDIS and step outside.  They find themselves in a cell, along with a hooded man, who is revealed to be Straxus.  They hear an announcement from the Trell, announcing Morbius’s victory.  Straxus says it has been happening for ten years, and Lucie realises they have slipped forward in time, not backward.  Morbius has conquered every opponent, and this is his palace.  Further, his gene-splicing was not fully successful; his life force periodically fades, and each time it does so, he siphons more from the now-weak Straxus.  Now, Morbius is returning, and soon he will summon Straxus for another feeding, which the man may not survive.

Zarodnix greets Morbius, who calls for Straxus, then reviews the battle and the victory.  His empire is growing, and systems are surrendering without a fight sometimes, but some worlds still fight—Earth, for example, which he has just defeated, and brought back the Statue of Liberty as a trophy for the roof of his palace.  He muses on whether humans would make good soldiers, then is wracked with pain, and sends Zarodnix for Straxus.

The Doctor asks Straxus if Morbius still has the manipulator remote; Straxus says he always wears it.  The Doctor thinks it is holding back the Eye of Harmony, preventing the Time Lords from using it.  Lucie says that switching it off should repower Gallifrey and allow them to travel back in time to fix this situation.  It won’t be easy, but she is right.  The Doctor takes her back to the TARDIS, and uses the last power to activate the telepathic circuits and try to contact the Sisterhood.  He sends Lucie to take water to Straxus while he works.  Straxus tells her that Rosto is still here, though injected with the control nanocytes; he is the one who takes Straxus to Morbius.  He may retain some of himself, however; the only words he ever speaks are “Lucie Miller”.

The Doctor reaches Orthena, and tells her they must teleport him away as soon as he switches off the manipulator, or else Morbius will kill him and reactivate it.  He gets no response, but senses that she is there, and has no choice but to trust her—and then the last power fades.  Unknown to him, Haspira tries to get Orthena to abandon the Doctor and the Time Lords, insisting the Sisterhood owes nothing to anyone.

The Doctor returns to the dungeon in time to see Rosto arrive for Straxus; the Trell does indeed greet Lucie.  Meanwhile, Morbius grows weak, and muses that he will need another Time Lord if Straxus succumbs to death—but the Time Lords are nowhere to be found.  Moodily, he looks down at the canyon beneath his balcony, where he once fell to his death; Zarodnix notes he is always like this before a “feeding”.  Rosto arrives with Straxus, but when Morbius orders Straxus to remove his cowl, it is revealed to be the Doctor.  The Doctor grabs the remote from him.  Morbius yells for Zarodnix to kill the Doctor, but Lucie, Straxus, and Rosto break in, and engage the guards. Rosto is shot and falls.  Morbius grapples with the Doctor for the remote; the Doctor sends a telepathic signal to the Sisterhood while he tries to shut down the activator.  They stumble onto the balcony; Lucie calls a warning to the Doctor, but he cannot divert his attention.  He warns Morbius that the Time Lords have power back, and will be on their way, even crossing time streams to remove Morbius from history.  Morbius grabs the Doctor and drags him over the edge of the balcony, into the canyon.

Lucie checks the canyon, but the Doctor, it seems, is truly gone—although, so is Morbius.  A strange noise fills the air; Straxus says it is the Time Lords correcting history.  The scene changes around them, and they find themselves on Karn years earlier, before the arrival of the Zarodnix Corporation.  Bulek arrives, and explains that the Doctor saved them—but his death is integral to the events that allowed the Time Lords to make the correction, and therefore it cannot be undone.  Lucie threatens Bulek, and then breaks down crying when he tells her she must be returned to her own time and place; she says she would rather die with the Doctor.  Straxus offers to help her forget the Doctor so as to ease her pain, but she angrily refuses—she never wants to forget him.  Bulek agrees to respect her choice.  She asks him to send her home.

Later, Lucie is at home, when her doorbell rings in the middle of the night.  Lucie opens the door to find the Headhunter, who pulls an alien weapon on her and threatens to kill her if she moves.  When Lucie protests, the woman shoots her.

Vengeance of Morbius 2

Well, this was not what I was expecting—not that that’s a bad thing! Although the story progressed much as I expected, there were some surprises. Most notable—and perhaps not too much of a spoiler—was the ending, which leaves the Doctor ostensibly dead. I say it’s not much of a spoiler simply because we already know he’s not dead, or at least not permanently; it’s no secret that there are more Eighth Doctor Adventures to come, and of course all the future incarnations of the Doctor, which we know do not begin here. Still, it came as a surprise to me; I never saw it coming, and neither did Lucie Miller. It seems, as well, that Lucie is dead at the end (although I suspect that this cliffhanger is not what it seems)—I wasn’t expecting that, either.

The biggest surprise for me was the way that Morbius was portrayed. In The Brain of Morbius, he’s an angry, arrogant, overconfident villain (which makes sense, I guess—if all you have is a brain, you may as well go all in). Here, he’s softspoken and plagued with self-doubts; even as he conquers the galaxy, he’s more “alcoholic businessman” than “megalomaniacal tyrant”. It’s quite jarring, but in a good way. I like it when villains subvert the tropes, and Morbius—here played by Samuel West—does that in great fashion.

The story is a little reminiscent of He Jests at Scars, the Unbound story focusing on the Valeyard, in that it leaps ahead into an altered timeline that comprises a Time Lord-led dystopia. Morbius’s ill-fated empire is very similar to the Valeyard’s (once you remove the string of paradoxes), right down to collecting trophies of his conquered worlds and stealing away time travel from his rivals. Of course, the resolution here is more straightforward, but that’s only because the show must go on, as it were; Unbound can afford to give us an ending that puts punctuation on the end of the Doctor’s story, but other ranges have to remain open for sequels.

I was especially impressed with the means by which Morbius is resurrected. Using only a fragment of the dead tyrant’s brain (which is already remarkable—it survived centuries in a chasm without rotting away!), Zarodnix is able to merge it with DNA from another Time Lord and quite literally grow Morbius a new, fully functional Time Lord body, presumably complete with regenerations. (There is a flaw, which weakens him periodically, but that’s only because Zarodnix didn’t fully understand what he was doing—the accomplishment is still impressive.) This raises questions for which we don’t yet have answers, notably: how are his memories retained? Can Time Lords retain their personalities with just a small fragment of brain tissue? If so, how? The procedure here, I would think, must be similar to a regeneration; but I’ve always been under the impression the brain is required, undamaged, for a regeneration to take place. Perhaps not. Maybe someday we’ll get some elaboration. At any rate, it’s worth pointing out that Morbius may not in fact be dead (and if anyone knows more about this, from future audios, don’t tell me!), as he “dies” in the same manner as the Doctor, whom we know will return. We may see the mad dictator again!

Katarina Olsson’s performance bears some mention here. She plays two very different roles in this story. She appears near the end in her customary role as the Headhunter; and she also masterfully plays the role of the Sisterhood’s High Priestess, Orthena. The two voices sound nothing alike, and I had to marvel at her versatility. Meanwhile, Alexander Siddig reprises his role as Rosto, though with only a few lines this time; and Nicola Weeks returns as Sister Haspira, who gives an impression of being Lucie’s counterpart in many ways—young, hotheaded, potentially violent, and occasionally misguided, but always meaning well.

Continuity references: Naturally there are frequent references to The Brain of Morbius and Sisters of the Flame. Straxus’s last appearance (before Sisters, that is) was in Human Resources. The Doctor refers to meeting the Duke of Wellington before the battle of Waterloo in his second incarnation; this occurred in the novel World Game. As well, he was there at that battle in his sixth incarnation in The Curse of Davros. Morbius last appeared in the Fifth Doctor novel Warmonger. Lucie calls the Doctor “Sarcasmo”, a term she coined in Human Resources. Transduction barriers on Gallifrey were first mentioned by name in The Invasion of Time, though there are suggestions of their existence as far back as The War Games.

Overall: A great ending to a good series. Having this series running alongside the second “season” of Eighth Doctor/Charley Pollard stories in the main range has been interesting. I prefer the Eighth Doctor/Lucie stories, if only because the shorter format forces them to move more quickly; that’s not a complaint about the length, but rather, a compliment, as I think a fast pace and unhinged action suit the Eighth Doctor well. As this story and series ends on a strong cliffhanger, I’m looking forward to the future…

Vengeance of Morbius 3

…But not just yet. We’ll wrap up the Main Range Eighth Doctor series on Monday, and then, for a change, on Thursday we’ll begin a series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. 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.

The Vengeance of Morbius

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Audio Drama Review: Sisters of the Flame

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Sisters of the Flame, part one of the series finale of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, Series Two. Written by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs, this story stars Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller, and features Katarina Olsson—usually known as the Headhunter—in a very different role. Let’s get started!

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

Sisters of the Flame 1

In the TARDIS console room, the power cuts out.  The Doctor realizes the ship is completely dead, as though the Eye of Harmony did not exist.  The Eye could be shut down with a stellar manipulator, but the only one in history no longer exists.  Suddenly the power returns, but the Doctor denies responsibility.  A strange noise is heard, and the TARDIS is tossed around by a black hole ahead.  It is moving toward them, causing the Doctor to recognize it as a piece of ancient and nasty Time Lord technology.  He manages to evade, but wonders what the Time Lords wanted—and why didn’t they just call?  He lands the ship, and he and Lucie find themselves in a cargo hold on a freighter.  Over Lucie’s objections, the Doctor wants to look around—but they are overtaken by a group of ten-foot tall centipedes.

Elsewhere in space, an employee reports to his employer—Mr. Zarodnix—that they have found what they were looking for.  Zarodnix is pleased.

A spaceship, piloted by Police Marshal Rosto of the Trell, responds to a distress call from a Zarodnix Corporation freighter, the Euretz.  The freighter’s captain has a stowaway in confinement, and wants Rosto to deal with the matter quickly. The captive is a human from Earth named Lucie Miller.  Rosto can find no record of her, and she has no documentation.  Lucie, meanwhile, remains in a cell, until one of the centipedes enters.  Using a translation box, it reassures her, and introduces itself as a Trell.  She says she has seen Trell before—in fact, two days ago, about twenty of them attacked her and kidnapped the Doctor—but the freighter crew would not listen.  He explains that he is the police—Marshal Rosto, to be precise—much to her surprise.  Rosto realizes that she thinks he must be involved.  He tells her she is lucky to have stowed away on a Zarodnix ship—most freighters would simply blow a stowaway out the airlock, but Zarodnix has a reputation to maintain.  He demands an explanation, and records her statement, but keeps interrupting her with questions; Lucie grows more frustrated, and finally insults Rosto, calling him a bug.  She requests a human police marshal, and he agrees to arrange it, but warns that it will take time.

Once Lucie calms down, she tries again to tell her story.  She explains about landing in the TARDIS, and says that the Doctor told her to run when the centipedes attacked.  She saw him being overpowered, and when they turned on her, she ran.  She mentions that one Trell spoke with a mechanical voice; Rosto notes that this is very strange.  She explains that the other Trell were wearing metal accessories and hats with lights.  Rosto realizes she must have hidden in a waste pipe; the smell hid her scent and allowed her to escape, though it was close.  She says she saw that the Trell were accompanied by a humanoid female in combate gear, with a dark visor.  She assumes the Doctor was taken off the ship.  Rosto leaves to continue his investigation, leaving Lucie to await a prison ship.  Once alone, Lucie gives in and begins to cry, suspecting she may not see the Doctor again.

Rosto begins his crime scene report, recorded in Trell and humanoid speech.  He concludes that Lucie’s story is unlikely, as history notes that the Trell are a peaceful race.  To corroborate the report, he scans for particle traces that would serve as evidence.

Lucie hears the TARDIS, but is let down when it is not the Doctor who appears—it is the Time Lord Straxus, using a Time Ring instead of a TARDIS.  He explains that he has been sent to locate the Doctor, who is missing.  He realizes he is off target by two days, and is happy to have arrived so close, but now must report back and try again.  Lucie requests to go with him, but he refuses, as lesser species are not allowed on Gallifrey.  He tells her that the less she knows, the better off she will be.  Something terrible is happening in the universe, and she should trust no one.  Using the Time Ring, he vanishes.

Rosto detects two unusual DNA traces.  The first is unknown, but from a highly evolved humanoid species.  The second is Trell—Lucie, it seems, has been telling the truth.  The Trell DNA includes indication of technological implants; accompanying it is a two-millimetre metal artifact, origin unknown.  He returns to interrogate Lucie further.  In the meantime, a woman calling herself Haspira enters Lucie’s cell; Lucie assumes she is the humanoid police officer promised by Rosto.  Playing the role, Haspira suggests relocation to the nearest Earth embassy, arguing that Lucie’s life could be in danger.  AS well, the embassy can circulate a description of the Doctor around the galaxy.  Impressed, Lucie leaves with her.

On Gallifrey, Straxus meets Co-ordinator Bulek, who tells him that the Time Scoop is active and Zarodnix is playing with time travel.  That makes Time Rings the only safe way to travel.  Straxus explains that the Doctor was kidnapped before his arrival in the cell; Bulek demands to know why he did not bring Lucie back with him.  Over Straxus’s objections, Bulek explains that she could have useful information.  He orders Straxus to go back for her, as she is their only link to the Doctor—and Zarodnix cannot be allowed to capture the Doctor, as the whole universe hinges on it…

Haspira’s ship is unusually luxurious for a police vessel.  As the ship departs, Lucie ponders her situation, and realizes that whoever captured the Doctor must have been waiting for them; but how could they know where the TARDIS would land?  Perhaps the Time Lords are responsible?  And if so, who is the mystery woman from the attack?  Haspira regrets that Lucie did not see the woman’s face—it could be circulated along with the Doctor’s.  As Lucie is tired, Haspira sends her to her cabin to clean up, change clothes, and rest; but as Lucie drifts off, she hears a female voice chanting “sacred flame, sacred fire”.  She begins to feel strange, and wonders what is going on, until a banging from the main deck pulls her awake.

The banging is from the airlock, which opens to admit a Trell.  Lucie yells that Haspira is a police officer, but the Trell—revealed to be Rosto—says that she is not, as he has not put in the request for a human officer yet.  Haspira begs Lucie not to listen, and accuses him of being in league with the Trell from the attack; but Rosto counters that she knows a lot about the case, despite his report not yet being submitted.  Haspira tells Lucie to take her gun and shoot Rosto, but Lucie silences them both.  Rosto says that he thinks Haspira is the woman from the attack; she is wearing one ear stud, and he found its mate in the cargo hold—the metal artifact he found.  Lucie agrees with him; in response, Haspira takes out her other ear stud and throws it down.  It bursts, releasing a cloud of gas.  Haspira runs to her cabin and locks the door.  Lucie shoots the lock, and enters with Rosto, just in time to see Haspira chanting “sacred flame, sacred fire”; Haspira disappears.  Rosto assumes it is a teleport, but he can find no mechanism.

With the chant still echoing, Haspira appears in a chamber, and is met by an old woman named Orthena, who rebukes her for returning empty-handed. Haspira explains that she was interrupted en route by Rosto.  Meanwhile, the crew of the Euretz had no inkling of Zarodnix’s plans, which is why they reported Lucie as a stowaway.  Orthena re-emphasizes that Lucie must be brought here, as she may have Time Lord knowledge; Haspira says that Lucie knows Straxus.  Fearful that Lucie may unintentionally help Zarodnix, and decides that all links with the Doctor must be destroyed as if he never existed.

Lucie remembers the chanting she heard earlier, and realizes she was nearly teleported away herself.  Rosto tells her he has found evidence that the Trell are being controlled, and the two apologise to each other.  Lucie finds a flame motif on the ear stud, consistent with the “sacred flame” chanting, and suggests researching it.  Rosto uses the Galactinet—a faster-than-light information network—and begins searching.

Zarodnix learns from his Trell agents that they have lost their Time Lord prisoner—he was taken by Haspira during the search for Lucie after the attack.  When they arrived on the planet Karn, they found the cell empty; a device was sending out false bio-signatures, but the captives were gone.  Zarodnix concludes that the device is Time Lord technology, indicating that Haspira is working for the Time Lords.  The Trell tell him that their prisoner was the Doctor—a legendary name, known even to him, and known to have been to Karn before.  He is angry when he learns that they no longer have the TARDIS, either—the Doctor must have escaped in it.  However, they still maintain a lock on its time signature.  He tells Operations Control to locate the TARDIS, but they lack the power to do so, having depleted their supplies on the first tracking; he does not accept the excuse, and indicates that the Time Lord Time Scoop will also be seeking the Doctor, making him easier to locate.  He tells them to sell another planetary system so as to buy sufficient energy.  He begins to rant, saying that nothing is more important than the future Empire they are building.  From there, he goes to a processing chamber—it is nearly time for the “final extraction”.

Accompanied by her Sisters, Haspira meets the Doctor in a cell.  They unchain him to take him elsewhere, but refuse to tell him about Lucie.  Meanwhile, Rosto and Lucie track down the symbol; it is the emblem of the Sisterhood of Karn.  Rosto states that Karn is owned by Zarodnix, who is alleged to even live there.  He is believed to be the richest man in the galaxy, and possibly the universe.  When the planet was bought, fifty-two years ago, the Sisterhood departed it for parts unknown.  However, they are known to possess great mental powers, possibly explaining Haspira’s escape.  All other files on them have been expunged, probably by Zarodnix.  Lucie cross-references for information on the Time Lords, but most of the records on that race have been expunged as well.  Lucie suggests going to Karn; while Rosto sets their course, he reassures her that she should not feel guilty for obeying the Doctor’s order to run.  Now, they will both seek the truth, each for their own reasons.

Under the surface of Karn, Zarodnix orders that the final extraction proceed without him so as to avoid delays.  Space Traffic Control, meanwhile, has detected an approaching ship; Zarodnix tells them to deal with it in the usual way.

Aboard Haspira’s ship, Lucie and Rosto approach Karn.  Rosto reveals that he has learned something disturbing: several Trell worlds have been recently purchased by Zarodnix, and their records have been expunged as well.  It seems he is using augmented Trell as a private army.

Orthena, the Sisterhood’s Mother Superior, orders the Sisters to bring in the Doctor.  He refuses to say anything, as they have not been forthcoming about the situation; he demands to be taken back to Lucie.  Orthena says she may be able to comply, in a manner of speaking.  She points out a nearby door, and tells him it leads to oblivion.

Haspira’s ship makes orbit, but is caught in an energy web.  Before anything can happen, Straxus materializes in front of them.  Straxus orders Rosto to stay out of the situation, until Rosto asks Lucie if he should restrain the newcomer; Straxus becomes nervous.  Lucie explains who he is, and takes his Time Ring so as to prevent him from leaving again.  He demands that she return to Gallifrey with him, but she demands to know about the Doctor.

The Doctor recognizes the door as a molecular dispersal chamber—a barbaric piece of technology which, to his chagrin, originated with the Time Lords.  Orthena says they need his help to find Lucie; but Haspira’s recording from the cell on the Euretz indicates that they already know where she is.  Orthena knows she is on Haspira’s ship now, but when she tries to make telepathic contact, she is stunned to learn it is in orbit over Karn.  However, this world is not Karn; she confirms that they left that world many years ago, but refuses to reveal their location.

Straxus blames the Doctor for what has happened—if he had not avoided the Time Scoop, this would not have happened.  Lucie realizes he is referring to the black hole which the Doctor narrowly avoided.  Straxus defends the Time Lords’ choice, saying that communication would have been unsafe.  Before he can continue, the energy field begins pulling them to the planet—and Straxus is horrified to learn that it is Karn.

Orthena tells the Doctor that Lucie is in danger, though the Doctor doubts it.  She demands that he link his mind to theirs, as he has an affinity for Lucie; she threatens him with the molecular dispersal chamber if he refuses.

Straxus, now panicking, demands his Time Ring back, promising to take Lucie with him.  Under pressure, he even agrees to take Rosto if possible.  He explains that Zarodnix bought Karn because he is the leader of the Cult of Morbius.  Lucie agrees to leave, but before she can give the Time Ring back, she is teleported away by the Sisterhood.  She materializes in the chamber with the Sisterhood and the Doctor.  She is relieved at first—until Orthena reveals that they will both be placed in the dispersal chamber.  There will be no trace of the Doctor.  She gives the order to place them inside.

Sisters of the Flame 2

I sometimes tend to overlook the placement of audio stories with regard to release dates. That matters here, because it was lost on me at first that we had not seen Karn or its Sisterhood in the revived television series when this audio was released. At this point, the only appearances of Karn in any licensed stories were its original appearance in The Brain of Morbius; the prequel/sequel to that story, found in the 2002 novel Warmonger; and the 1970s stage play Seven Keys to Doomsday, which has since been adapted for audio by Big Finish (but had not yet at the time of this release). As such, there is a lot of room for this story, released in July 2008, to give us new information. It does so immediately, by establishing that the Sisterhood has relocated to another planet and sold Karn (assuming they actually owned it to sell) to galactic businessman Zarodnix. One wonders how this affects their control of the Elixir of Life, as it can only be produced from one location on Karn. (Perhaps the final entry for this series, The Vengeance of Morbius, will elaborate; I’ve avoided looking ahead, so we’ll find out next week.)

I never know how much to expect from part one of a two-part story; usually it’s given over to setting up for part two. In this case, it certainly does that, but still it’s an enjoyable story, owing mostly to its timing. Events are staggered in just such a way as to create suspense, without appearing to do so artificially. Further, it does this mostly without the Doctor; in fact, it could almost be considered a Doctor-lite episode. The Doctor appears briefly at the beginning and at the end, but the episode focuses on Lucie. It’s a great story for her; for what may be the first time, she shows some weakness and acknowledges that she needs the Doctor, where most stories have leaned toward emphasizing his need for her (an admittedly common theme with numerous companions—the point has been made repeatedly that the Doctor isn’t himself when alone). She shows some strength as well, successfully standing up to a nonhuman police officer, an abrasive Time Lord, and a member of the Sisterhood. This is Lucie after being refined by her experiences with the Doctor; she may still sometimes be rough around the edges, but she’s no longer the panicky, hotheaded teenager she once was.

The Time Lord Straxus returns in this story, after his last appearance in Human Resources (I begin to wonder if that’s how we know it’s a series finale—Straxus shows up). He’s his usual arrogant self, but we begin to see him taken down a peg near the end, as he finds himself forced to land on Karn. I do hope that he won’t be killed in the next story; as boring as the Doctor finds the Time Lords, they sometimes make good incidental adversaries for him, and Straxus is especially useful for that purpose. Also worth noting is the character of Rosto, the Trell police officer sent to investigate Lucie; this decidedly non-human (read: centipede) character is played by Alexander Siddig, better known as Dr. Julian Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Siddig may be somewhat typecast, but I don’t mind; no one plays calm, collected, courteous characters better than him, and Rosto fits that bill precisely. It may sound boring in description, but in performance the character is anything but boring; he is instrumental to moving this story along, and he quickly became my favorite supporting character. Another returning actor (or actress, as the case may be) is Katarina Olsson, who usually plays the Headhunter in the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Here, she plays the Sisterhood’s current Mother Superior, Orthena, presumably the successor to Ohica (who would have succeeded Maren after the events of The Brain of Morbius). One can guess that she will later be succeeded by Ohila (The Night of the Doctor, et al) who is the Mother Superior at the time of the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration.

I’ve already addressed most of the continuity references in this story. In addition, a Time Scoop (The Five Doctors) is seen, and a stellar manipulator (a la the Hand of Omega, Remembrance of the Daleks) is mentioned. Although it will be a few weeks before I cover this in my reviews, the Molecular Dispersal Chamber (also known as the Oubliette of Eternity) also featured in Neverland.

Overall: There are not many surprises in this story; just knowing the title (and especially the title of the finale to come) should be enough to lay out where this story is going. It’s all in the presentation, in my opinion; and the presentation here is good. As it is, in fact, part one of a two-parter, I’ll reserve judgment on any negative points until next week. For now, it’s a good beginning of the end.

Sisters of the Flame 3

Next time: On Monday, we’ll revisit the Eighth Doctor in the Main Range for The Time of the Daleks; and on Thursday, we’ll wrap up Series Two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Vengeance of Morbius! 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.

Sisters of the Flame

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Audio Drama Review: The Zygon Who Fell To Earth

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we continue Series Two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, written by Paul Magrs and featuring the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith). Let’s get started!

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

Zygon who fell to earth 1

Mervyn Urquhart and Humphrey Mims are en route to the Lake District on a mission.  As they arrive at the Bygones Guest House near Lake Grasmere, it becomes clear that they are not what they seem, as Mims refers to Urquhart as Second-in-Command Urtak.  Inside the hotel, the Doctor and Lucie are having dinner and debating whether the Doctor was really with Wordsworth during the writing of his poetry.  He admits to having misjudged the landing once again, but not by much; he has brought them to 1984, and Lucie has somehow managed to bump into her “Aunty Pat” again—if an older version of her.  It seems the TARDIS has taken a liking to Aunty Pat.  Meanwhile Urquhart and Mims check in; Pat is working the reception desk, and gets them a room.  Mims notices the necklace she wears, a gift from her husband Trevor.  Urquhart says that he and Mims work in the music industry; Pat suggests that they may be here for the annual Folk Festival at nearby Kendal—she met her husband there.  Urquhart says that he knows her husband, and that they are former colleagues.  Pat calls for Trevor, but before he arrives, Mims and Urquhart begin to argue.  Trevor meets them and is dumbfounded; he then becomes hostile toward them, and says they are from his former record company, Satsuma.  Mims asks Trevor to help them make a comeback, but he refuses; he is content with his life here, and does not want to revisit events of twenty years ago.  He insists he is not the same person anymore.  Urquhart is not dismayed; he intends to change Trevor’s mind.  Pat escorts them to their room, and Trevor swears they will not take him back without a fight.

The Doctor is surprised by Pat’s success, remembering that Lucie had once said Pat never amounted to much; Lucie admits she also never knew that Pat had owned a hotel in the eighties.  Pat, meanwhile, recognizes that the Doctor and Lucie both look the same as her last meeting with them, ten years ago.  Lucie mentions a rumor of a monster in Lake Grasmere, but the Doctor says they have come to visit Pat and not to investigate.  Pat admits that time travel still confuses her—Lucie technically hasn’t been born yet—and Lucie admits that she doesn’t recall Pat owning a hotel.  The Doctor tries to stop her, but the damage has been done; Pat realizes that in the future she won’t be happy or successful, and tells Lucie to stop telling her about the future.  Lucie tries to change the subject, and asks to meet Trevor, but Pat says he is in a bad mood, and describes the encounter with Mims and Urquhart.  Trevor was once a folk singer with a few hits, and perhaps the remix album—which Mims and Urquhart have just released—will bring in some income.  Still, Trevor seemed scared.

Later, Lucie asks the Doctor about Pat, and why she never mentioned this part of her life.  They are interrupted by the arrival of Mims and Urquhart; they hide and eavesdrop on the duo.  Mims mentions a suspicious room beneath the lounge bar; he also says that Trevor goes to the lake every evening to drink supplies.  They leave for the lake, walking in the moonlight.  Lucie decides to follow them, intending to meet the Doctor back here at midnight.

At the lake, Lucie watches as Urquhart and Mims are met by an alien—a female Zygon, named Grakus.  She reports seeing their target earlier in the evening.  Urquhart tells her to summon the beast, as he and Mims also need “supplies”.  Grakus uses a device to summon a creature from the catacombs under the lake.  A sea creature—a Skarasen—rises from the lake; Mims draws lactic fluid from the creature for the three Zygons—for that is what Mims and Urquhart are as well.  Disgusted, Lucie steps on a twig, and is seen by the Zygons; Mims recognizes her, and Urquhart grabs her.  They refuse to let her go.

Later, Lucie finds the Doctor in the hotel bar, which is closed.  She drinks half a pint of vodka at once, which shocks the Doctor; she insists that Urquhart and Mims are normal people, but that she and the Doctor must investigate the cellar.  The Doctor agrees, and goes downstairs with her.  Inside the cellar, they find Trevor encased in a  machine.  The Doctor recognizes it as a body-print machine, used to allow a shapeshifter to mimic someone’s form and personality on a continuing basis.  He looks well, and is only hibernating, but he could have been here for years.  Aunty Pat, it seems, is married to a Zygon!  Lucie wants to tell her at once, but the Doctor opts to leave it for morning.

In the morning, the Doctor and Lucie meet Pat at breakfast.  She talks briefly about Trevor, who still considers himself a radical, even refusing to have a car because of its effect on the atmosphere.  Lucie tells her that something terrible is hidden in the cellar; Pat tries to let the topic go, but Lucie reveals that Trevor is a Zygon.  Pat stuns them both when she says that she already knew; in fact, she turns the conversation and says that they are showing prejudice against aliens.  The Doctor insists that Zygons are evil.  Pat calls Trevor in to challenge that view, and tells him that they know about him, and are unhappy about it.  However, she denies knowing anything about the real Trevor in the body-print machine.

When Trevor arrives, the Doctor challenges him, but Trevor insists he’s not planning anything.  He insists he has been here for years, and loves humanity, but especially Pat.  He reverts to Zygon form to prove that Pat doesn’t mind his true form; she hugs him to demonstrate it.  Finally the Doctor acquiesces, and apologizes for Lucie’s rude behaviour, saying that she has not been herself today.  Trevor leaves to return to the reception desk, with Pat reminding him to change back to human form.

In the hotel room, Urquhart says that the Skarasen has returned to the ship under the lake, and Phase Three can begin.  He sends Mims to retrieve a Zygon device from Pat, but first they are interrupted by the arrival of Lucie…who changes into Grakus.  She describes her encounter with Pat downstairs, and explains that Warlord Haygoth—that is, Trevor—is in love with Pat.  They conclude that Trevor is about to betray them.  Urquhart decides to accelerate Phases Three and Four, and Grakus decides to do something about Pat.

Downstairs, Pat hears the remix of Trevor’s old song, “Falling Star”, on the radio, and calls him to listen in the kitchen.  Mims comes as well, but she tells him he is not allowed there.  He apologizes and changes the subject to Pat’s unusual necklace.  She admits that Trevor gave it to her at the folk festival in 1979, and she has worn it sense.  Mims tries to snatch it back, shouting that it is crucial to the Zygon plans; but Pat cries out in pain, and he realizes it is fused to her flesh.  With no choice, he renders her unconscious and takes her with him.

Later, Trevor blames himself for her kidnapping.  Lucie offers him a drink, and when he refuses, she drinks it herself.  He tells her that the necklace is a Zygon device.  The Zygons are based five miles away—or three by underground travel—at Ullswater.  He admits to being reliant on the Skarasen’s lactic fluid, which is why he couldn’t take Pat away from here.  He had arranged a tunnel from Ullswater to Grasmere for the creature, and programmed it to obey him above all others.  He tells the Doctor that he expects the Zygons have some plan that requires him as their Warlord.  The sun is setting, and so the Doctor takes them to find the tunnel; Lucie expresses distrust of Trevor.

Meanwhile Urtak and Mims revert to Zygon form.  Urtak debates with Pat about her love for Trevor, and about the validity of love in general.  Finally Urtak tells Mims to render her unconscious again.  Mims admits—to Urtak’s disgust—that he may have experienced some human emotions.  Urtak decides they must hurry back to the ship; they have been away for ten years, and it may have repaired itself by now.

At the tunnel, Lucie yells ahead several times, until the Doctor stops her.  He allows her to lead the way in, hoping the Skarasen is away.  Trevor mentions that there have been sightings of it in the area in the past; the Doctor notes that Lucie doesn’t recall this from last night’s conversation.  When Lucie changes the subject, Trevor explains that the ship is damaged, and explains how the Skarasen feeds the crew.  Lucie inquires about the Doctor’s past defeats of the Zygons, but he claims to have forgotten how he did it.  The Skarasen approaches, and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to confuse the electronic half of the beast; Lucie accuses him of leading them to their deaths.

Mims and Urtak watch the tunnel on the ship’s scanners, but note that Grakus is also vulnerable in human form.  Although Urtak would sadistically allow the creature to hurt them, he sends guards into the tunnel to bring them in.  Meanwhile, Trevor reverts to Zygon form and  declares himself the Warlord Haygoth, in an attempt to control the Skarasen.  He sends it away, but not before it strikes Lucie and dashes her against the wall.  She is bleeding, but refuses to let the Doctor help her.  Mims arrives to capture them, and welcomes the Warlord home.

Pat wakes up near Urtak, but fails to appreciate the ship.  As Mims arrives with captives, Pat tries to warn Trevor, but Urtak silences her.  She asks to see her husband before the prisoners are taken to cells, but Urtak refuses, and says that Haygoth is confused and needs their help to think clearly.  He has them placed in a cell, as Trevor reverts to human form in an insult to the other Zygons.  The Doctor demands to know where the real Lucie is, and tells Grakus to stop pretending; he has known since last night that she was an imposter.  Grakus reverts to Zygon form, but retains her injury, which Mims notices.  Grakus trades arguments with the Doctor, who tells her that there are other Zygon ships on Earth; she tells him that Lucie and Pat are safe, as there is a body-print chamber on the ship.  Grakus leaves.

The Doctor begins getting them out of the cell with the sonic screwdriver.  As he works, he tells Trevor they will have to discuss the real Trevor’s fate.  Trevor says the real Trevor has been dead since a motorcycle accident in the late sixties; only his body is kept alive in cryogenic suspension.  The Doctor apologizes for making assumptions, and pledges to help the Zygons get offworld in exchange for Lucie and Pat.  However, Trevor is sure they won’t give up so easily—they plan to adapt the Earth to their own needs by accelerating global warming.  Their early forays into the music industry have given them capital to invest into heavy industrial projects around the world.  In addition, they have biochemical warheads on the ship; Phase Five of the plan will detonate the warheads in the atmosphere for further gases.  However, they need the device Pat wears in order to activate the torpedo tubes.

Mims reunites Lucie and Pat in front of Urtak, and they update each other on the situation as they know it.  Urtak reveals that he needs the necklace, but it remains fused to Pat’s flesh.  Lucie begs Pet to surrender it, and then tries to rip it from her; finally, Lucie reverts to Zygon form, and manages to pull the necklace free, although it nearly kills Pat—and in fact, it leaves Pat’s throat torn open.  Elsewhere, the Doctor denounces Trevor for giving such a dangerous object to Pat; Trevor admits his foolishness, but could not take it back once it was given.  They are interrupted by an alarm; Urtak announces that Phase Five will begin, and orders the crew to arm the warheads.  This means they have obtained the necklace, which may have killed Pat; Trevor says that if Pat is dead, he can’t care what they do to Earth.  However, the Doctor still cares; and he takes Trevor with him to the control room.

With the necklace in place, the warheads are awakening.  The injured Pat calls to Lucie for help, but this Lucie is still the Zygon duplicate.  Another alarm sounds; power levels are too high and are overwhelming the ship—as Grakus explains, only the Warlord would know the right settings.  Before Urtak can send for Trevor, he arrives, still in human form, and rushes to Pat’s side.  The Doctor has him put pressure on her wound.  Pat thinks she is dying, and asks the Doctor if Lucie was ever real; he assures her she is, and promises to save her.  She says she sees disaster, death, and darkness around the Doctor; and then she falls quiet.  The Doctor tells Trevor she is dead.

Urtak urges Trevor to focus and launch the torpedoes.  Grakus adds to the temptation, telling him he can have as many human women as he wants—even Lucie, if he wishes.  The Doctor encourages him to take the necklace and allow the Doctor to hide it; but Trevor says that it would fuse with the Doctor as with Pat, and he would become another target.  He appears to give in to Urtak, saying there is nothing here for him now.  He sends the Doctor to the body-print chamber to wake Lucie, against the others’ protests; then he tells the Doctor to leave with Lucie and warn Earth—and the rest of the galaxy—of what is coming.  The Doctor leaves, and Trevor reverts to Zygon form.  He tells Urtak that he has triggered the warheads; then he summons the Skarasen, allowing Urtak to believe he is sending it to kill the Doctor and Lucie.  He orders it to attack.

With difficulty, the Doctor rescues Lucie from the body-print machine, just in time to hear the Skarasen roar.  They run as the ship starts to shake.  Meanwhile the Zygons are stunned to see the Skarasen attacking their ship.  Urtak begs Haygoth to call it off, but he refuses; reverting to human form, he says that his name is Trevor.  He reveals that he sent the Skarasen to attack the warheads; they accuse him of betrayal, and remind him that the warheads are primed.  He knows; when damaged, the warheads will vent into the ship.  Urtak and the others sting Trevor to death.

Lucie is confused when the Doctor tells her Trevor has saved the planet; she never knew he was a Zygon.  They will discuss it later; for now, they have about thirty seconds until the tunnel floods.  They run from the inrushing water…

Trevor refuses to die from the Zygon stings; he tells them their time has passed, and they will soon be dead.  He insists their race has done enough damage, and doesn’t deserve to live.  As the controls overload, he dedicates his actions to Pat; then the ship explodes.

At the hotel, Lucie brings the Doctor some tea.  In a few hours, the guests will awaken, but there is no one to make breakfast.  The Doctor reveals that the machine in the cellar has crumbled to dust, along with the original Trevor’s body.  Lucie muses about Zygon Trevor’s death, and wonders how they will tell Pat; the Doctor prepares to tell her that Pat is dead.  Before he can do so, Lucie pieces together what he is about to say; but she denies it, and insists that Pat must be alive, as Lucie will see her as late as 2007.  The Doctor explains that the Web of Time is resilient enough to allow some events to be changed—and as Pat was known to live a quiet, unobtrusive life, history may be able to miss her.  This upsets Lucie even more, but the Doctor says that Pat was a heroine.  Nevertheless, Lucie wants to stay and wait, so the Doctor sends her to bed.

The Doctor takes his tea to the terrace to watch the sunrise.  Once alone, he tells Trevor to come out of hiding in the bushes.  He is glad to see Trevor, but Trevor wishes he could have saved Pat.  He plans to use his last power to disguise himself in human form again; to the Doctor’s surprise, he can do so even without a body-print, and create a form that will endure for decades, but only if he assumes the form permanently.  He is content to be human, though; and when he changes, it is into Pat’s form.  Thus Lucie will be pleased, as her memories will remain intact.  Trevor/Pat asks the Doctor not to tell her the truth; he reluctantly agrees.

 

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We’re back on familiar territory this week: this is an overwhelmingly sad story. Chiefly this is because it brings personal tragedy to Lucie, although she ends the story unaware of it. I expect this will be the last we see of Lucie’s “Aunty Pat”, but I could be wrong; stranger things have certainly happened. At any rate, this is Pat’s second appearance (her first being found in The Horror of Glam Rock), and from her perspective this story occurs ten years after the previous encounter. She is fully aware of the Doctor and Lucie’s time-traveling situation, although she finds it hard to believe, given that they are approximately the same ages as in the previous story.

The story has some elements in common with Series Nine’s The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, in that the Zygons have the potential—not always realized—to be good and sympathetic characters. This is one of the things I appreciate about Doctor Who: with such a range of characters and scenarios available, sometimes we can see villains being redeemed, and enemies becoming allies. If the Doctor had his way, that would happen every time; how many heroes actively try to save their enemies? Sadly, this story actually deviates from that trait of the Doctor—at one point he comments to Pat that all Zygons are evil. (She corrects him quickly, which is to her credit.) More to the point, this story lays some groundwork for the two-part episode I mentioned; we see Zygons engaging in business and otherwise blending in with human culture, which is later a major part of the peace plan facilitated by the Doctor. Granted, they’re doing it here for selfish reasons—they want to further the alteration of Earth’s climate—but it at least sets a precedent.

Lucie spends most of this story as a captive of the Zygons, and therefore we don’t get much of a performance from her, as the Lucie we see is a Zygon duplicate. Perhaps that’s just as well; she is always awkward where her personal history is concerned. The duplicate, of course, is different enough from the real Lucie to tip off the Doctor; actually, it’s more over-the-top—especially with regard to drinking habits—than necessary, so as to tip off the audience as well. Zygons on television are usually better at mimicking their templates.

This is the first Big Finish audio drama to feature the Zygons, which may account for their less-impressive performance here. Trevor/Warlord Haygoth is fantastic; the others, not so much. Urtak is a caricature mad general; Grakus is just sleazy; and Mims (who almost seems to vanish in the second half of the story) seems as though he will defect to the humans, but nothing comes of it. The flaws are by no means bad enough to ruin the story, but I think they weaken it a bit.

There are not many continuity references here. There are several references, naturally, to the events of Horror of Glam Rock, in which we previously encountered Auntie Pat. The Doctor also mentions his past encounters with Zygons in Scotland (Terror of the Zygons) and London (The Bodysnatchers). The Bodysnatchers, in particular, is a fairly recent story in the Doctor’s timeline, giving the lie to his claim not to remember how he defeated the Zygons due to it being so long ago. Of course, Lucie wouldn’t know this, and her duplicate would be even less aware. While not a direct reference, mention of the Web of Time and its resilience is reminiscent of the Main Range audios I’m reviewing alongside this series; in those audios, the contrary point is made, that the Web of Time is NOT resilient enough to handle the changes being made. As well, although the Eighth Doctor theme is used for the opening, the closing theme is the one used previously in Terror of the Zygons–a nice nod.

Overall: A fairly simple story, but with some major complications for Lucie, although I doubt that we’ll see much come of it in the future. This story is the calm before the storm, I suspect, as it will be followed by the two-part series finale. It’s a bit sad, and a bit flawed, but still a good listen.

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Next time: On Monday we return to the Main Range with Embrace the Darkness; and then we return on Thursday for Sisters of the Flame! 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.

The Zygon Who Fell To Earth

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Audio Drama Review: Grand Theft Cosmos

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re continuing series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Grand Theft Cosmos. Written by Eddie Robson, this entry features the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith), and includes the return of an old enemy. Let’s get started!

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

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Aboard a train, the Doctor and Lucie talk about their trip, and about the train they are riding.  The year is 1898, and though Lucie is enjoying herself, she would rather be using her MP3 player.  They part ways, the Doctor going to find some food, Lucie going to the observation car.  Unknown to either of them, Lucie’s former coworker from Hulbert Logistics, Karen Coltrane, knocks out a guard, then picks a lock to enter the security compartment.  The head of security, Henrik, confronts her; she offers not to shoot him if he tells her where to find what she is looking for.

In the dining car, the Doctor meets a man named Frederick Simonsson, who talks with him about the train, and about their destination: Stockholm. Simonsson explains that he works for the king, acquiring art for the king’s collections and for museums.  Elsewhere, Lucie bumps into Karen, and is shocked to find her alive; before Lucie can find out how Karen came to be in 1890s Sweden, Karen makes a distraction and runs away.

For the Doctor and Simonsson, the conversation turns to art.  Simonsson reveals he is trying to collect the works of one Claudio Tardelli, whom he believes to be Italy’s greatest artist.  The Doctor knows the name; few of his works survive.  Simonsson intends to unite any remaining works; he already has two paintings and one statue, and is just returning from acquiring another piece.  At that moment, Henrik arrives and announces that a thief is aboard the train.  Meanwhile, Lucie is chasing the thief in question, Karen, who finally reaches the end of the train.  At the last door, she finds her partner, the Headhunter, pacing the train on horseback (instead of the expected hover platform)!  Karen manages to leap to the horse as Lucie arrives; as Lucie tries to process the presence of her old enemy, Karen confirms that she has what they came for, and the duo rides off.

It seems that Karen was after the Tardelli work.  The Doctor offers to help Simonsson retrieve it, but Simonsson declines; he says that the actual work was never on the train, and the thieves have stolen a decoy.  He shows the Doctor photographs of the other Tardelli works, some of which don’t fit the artist’s usual style, and were likely commissions; one, in particular, is an abstract work, years before the abstract movement.  Simonsson thinks it will revolutionize scholarly perception of art history.

Well away from the train, Karen turns over the stolen item: a large diamond.  She comments that it is unlike other diamonds, and the Headhunter hints that it is not, in fact, a diamond; however, she realizes that it is a fake.  With their first plan now thwarted, the Headhunter sets out a new plan.  Meanwhile, Lucie rejoins the Doctor and reveals that Karen and the Headhunter are present, and are the thieves.  The Doctor explains that the Tardelli work was the stolen item.  He explains that Tardelli is obscure because he, the Doctor, has worked to make it so; he had previously met Tardelli, and found that his works somehow warp reality, even to the point of changing the people that observe them.  Tardelli, as it turns out, was not human; and he was trying to gain control of the Pope.  Although that adventure ended badly for Tardelli, the artist escaped to Florence; since then, the Doctor has destroyed any Tardelli works he could find.  Their presence in the home of the otherwise-respected King Oscar of Sweden is a dangerous development; and the Headhunter’s presence is even more disturbing.  He decides that they must steal the real work of art before the Headhunter can do so.

Arriving in Stockholm, the Doctor and Lucie examine the outside of the island-based Drottningholm Palace, where the art is supposed to be kept.  If they can locate the paintings inside, he can take the TARDIS in and scoop them up in one trip; but they must know, because the TARDIS’s noise will attract unwanted attention.  Nearby, Karen and the Headhunter are watching the Palace as well, and see the Doctor and Lucie.  They move to put their plan in action; Karen goes to approach a guard, but recognizes him from the train, and switches tactics, following another man up the steps.  Unfortunately, the man is Henrik, who is checking in on the guards.  At the same time, Lucie sets a similar plan in motion, faking a faint at the feet of the guard.  When the man goes to help her, she accuses him of robbing her; he offers to get her a doctor, and instead she gets him to accompany her—very reluctantly—to a restaurant.  Seeing this, the Headhunter realizes the Doctor and Lucie’s involvement may work to her advantage.

Lucie manages to ply the guard, Anders, with wine, until he begins to tell her about the situation at the palace.  The King is currently away, with most of his guards with him; due to the events on the train, the rest of the guards are on alert for anyone trying to steal the new work of art, which is arriving tomorrow.  It is called the Black Diamond, but he admits that it is not really a diamond.  He reveals that it is to be kept in the vault, as are all works not on display.  The Doctor joins them and extricates Lucie from the situation, and Anders returns to his post, leaving Lucie to share her newfound information with the Doctor.  En route back to his post, Anders is knocked out and kidnapped by the Headhunter and Karen.

After debating with Lucie about whether their plan constitutes a crime, and whether it is justifiable, the Doctor and Lucie return to their hotel to test some equipment.  Meanwhile, the Headhunter hypnotizes Anders and gives him directions; tomorrow, he won’t remember her, but will accept her claims to be an aristocrat, Elizabeth of Bohemia.  After playing around with the hypnosis, she sets a trigger phrase in Anders’ mind: “Elvis Presley”.  The phrase will make him remember speaking to them, and in this era, no one will say it accidentally.

The Doctor puts together a machine that creates a short-range feedback loop in a subject’s brain.  He demonstrates its effect to Lucie; he uses it to cause a book to disappear from her hand, then explains that he actually took the book from her, but the machine caused her not to perceive that event.  He intends to use it on the guards.

Lucie, using a borrowed aristocratic identity, meets with Simonsson, who has just checked in with Henrik.  She offers him the chance to see and purchase a new item, which may be of interest to the scientifically-minded King Oscar.  The item is the TARDIS; Simonsson has it unloaded from a cart, and examines it.  Lucie persuades him to step inside.  He is caught off guard by its internal size; Lucie claims not to know how it works.  The King will be happy with it, and invites Lucie into the library to discuss the price; Lucie claims to be fearful of leaving it outside, and asks him to move it into the vault.  He agrees.  As soon as they enter the palace, the Headhunter arrives in a carriage and executes her own act; her feigned outrage at the King’s absence gets her into the palace.

Lucie uses a walkie-talkie to communicate with the Doctor, who is inside the TARDIS with the door locked.  He intends to claim the paintings immediately, but may have to come back for the statue, which is twelve feet tall.  The Headhunter has her own walkie-talkies, and contacts Karen, who is on the roof, trying to bypass the guards en route to the cellar.

While Lucie talks with Simonsson, Anders arrives and explains to Simonsson about “Elizabeth of Bohemia”, whose demand to wait for the King’s return is simply not possible.  Simonsson goes to talk to her, and takes Lucie with him; she is shocked to see that “Elizabeth” is the Headhunter.  Lucie makes her excuses and leaves; the Headhunter warns Simonsson against associating with Lucie, whom she alleges to be lying about her status.  Meanwhile, Anders and Henrik supervise the arrival of the Black Diamond.  They take it to the Vault, but Anders insists on putting it in a different case than planned, to thwart any would-be thieves.  Meanwhile, Lucie warns the Doctor about the Headhunter.  He already has the paintings and is waiting on the Diamond to arrive; he has the feedback device ready for the guards, but warns Lucie to turn on her own neuristor device, which prevents her from being affected.

As Anders and Henrik arrive in the vault, they hear a noise, and suddenly the diamond is gone.  They retrace their steps, searching, when they run into Lucie, who runs off.  She reaches the TARDIS and goes inside; but when the Doctor checks the Diamond, he finds it is the fake that Karen stole on the train.  Where is the real Diamond?  Meanwhile Karen makes her way to the vault, where she finds Anders.  She uses the “Elvis Presley” phrase to place him in a trance; he confirms that he switched the real Diamond for the fake, as per the Headhunter’s instructions.  He gives her the real Diamond, and she tells him to escort her out—but the statue comes to life and starts pacing toward them.  They run from it.  The Doctor sees the statue moving on the scanner, but has to leave that for later; right now he needs to find the Headhunter and Karen.  He moves the TARDIS to the main hall, where it happens to materialize just as Anders and Karen arrive.  The Doctor and Lucie exit and demand the real Diamond, but Karen sets Anders to delay them while she runs.  Anders draws a sword, forcing the Doctor to grab a sword from a wall display and fight back; the Doctor sends Lucie to stop Karen.

The Headhunter is still with Simonsson in the library when Karen runs in with the statue behind her.  The statue demands the Diamond, and grabs Karen; the Headhunter tells her to throw the Diamond to her, promising to help her later.  She throws it, but it lands on the floor just as Lucie races in to scoop it up.  Lucie runs back out, taunting the Headhunter and Karen as she does so.  The Headhunter shoots the statue with a laser weapon, stopping it; Karen is not amused when the Headhunter explains that she hesitated so as not to hit Karen.  The Headhunter knocks out Simonsson to stop him from interfering.

Lucie finds a carriage outside, but the driver is working for the Headhunter to stop anyone else from leaving with the Diamond.  In the interim, the Headhunter and Karen arrive and take Lucie hostage, ordering the driver to take them all to the station.

Simonsson awakens and assumes to Henrik that the Doctor and the three women are all accomplices.  The guards bring the Doctor in to be interrogated, but it soon becomes clear that they are not accomplices after all.  He tells the truth about Tardelli’s works; when Simonsson denies any ill effects, the Doctor attributes it to the brevity of Simonsson’s exposure to the actual works.  The statue starts moving again as it shrugs off the effects of the laser.  Faced with a situation he can’t explain, Simonsson offers to help the Doctor recover the Diamond.  They leave in the TARDIS.  Meanwhile, the Headhunter, Karen, and Lucie board a train which will leave for Russia in ten minutes.  Karen tells Lucie that this is all business, not evil; the Headhunter explains that she took Karen on as a personal assistant.  Karen is still angry at Lucie for leaving her for dead at Hulbert, however.  The Headhunter explains that there is a purpose to this heist.  She tells the Diamond to “come out”, at which point an elderly man appears in the compartment.  He is Claudio Tardelli, and the Headhunter wants to offer him a job.  He has been inside the diamond—which is bigger on the inside—since the seventeenth century.

The TARDIS materializes at the station, disgorging the Doctor, Simonsson, Henrik, and several guards.  Simonsson sends Henrik to stop all departures while the station is searched.

Tardelli explains that the Diamond contains a small, artificial universe three light years across, which he created as a bolt-hole.  He is from the planet Parrimor, but was exiled to Earth.  The Headhunter explains that she represents the Emperor Vassilar-G of Ralta, who wishes to hire Tardelli as a well-compensated court artist; but she intends to give the Diamond to a Russian named Yashin, who wants to use it for energy for his industrial endeavors.  Tardelli agrees to cooperate in return for a share of the Headhunter’s profits.  As the guards approach, the Headhunter says that she has already hypnotized the driver of the train to leave at the first sign of trouble.

The Doctor and Simonsson manages to hop the train as it leaves, but Anders and Henrik are left behind—and communications with the next station are down.  The statue arrives and follows them as the train pulls away.

Karen reveals that the Doctor and Simonsson have arrived; Tardelli is frightened at the mention of the Doctor.  The Headhunter declines to use her ship; the ion engines could fracture the Diamond, which would be catastrophic.  The Headhunter tells Karen to shoot Lucie if there is any trouble.

The Doctor and Simonsson find and open the compartment, only to find Karen holding a gun on Lucie.  Tardelli comments that the Doctor looks different from their last meeting.  The Doctor identifies Tardelli for Simonsson’s benefit; but when Simonsson learns about the pocket universe—and the people Tardelli has created inside, but will soon destroy—he is appalled at the artist’s character.  Suddenly the statue breaks in through the roof.  Tardelli tells it to stand down, as he is safe; but Lucie realizes its orders are to protect the Diamond, not Tardelli.  The Doctor uses this to delay the creature; but the Headhunter escapes with the Diamond, leaving Karen behind.  Lucie overpowers Karen and takes her gun, and the Doctor gives it to Simonsson to cover Karen and Tardelli while he and Lucie chase down the Headhunter.

The statue cuts her off at the other end of the carriage, trapping her between itself and the Doctor.  Lucie manages to kick the Diamond out of her hand; when the Headhunter insults her, Lucie knocks her out.  The Doctor tells the statue that the best way to protect the diamond’s population is to free them.  He rejoins Simonsson, who is discussing art with Tardelli.  The Doctor reveals he has struck an agreement with the Guardian to fracture the Diamond; now, in a very short time, it will erupt into the real universe, causing a cataclysm.  This forces Tardelli to make a fifth-dimensional jump, allowing the pocket universe to emerge into the gap between universes where it can safely survive.  It will then be outside Tardelli’s control, which satisfies the Doctor.  Tardelli releases the universe as agreed, and then gives the now-useless Diamond to Simonsson.  Karen snatches her gun back and takes everyone at gunpoint; but Tardelli reminds her that the Headhunter is still obligated to take him to Ralta for his new job.  She allows him to leave with her.  However, they happen to meet Lucie coming the other way with the Headhunter in restraints.  The Headhunter is horrified to learn that the Diamond is now useless to Yashin, the Russian; he will kill her if he can, therefore she cannot return to Earth at this time period.  She says her goodbyes to Lucie, and leaves the train with Karen and Tardelli to summon her ship.

Simonsson is disillusioned over his artistic idol, Tardelli.  He asks the Doctor to destroy the two paintings in his possession, but the Doctor declines; he intends to study them and find out if there is a way to display them without their dangerous effects.  Destroying them would make any others that much more valuable.  Meanwhile, the Guardian is now free of obligations; Simonsson tells it about legends of stone trolls in the woods near Stockholm, and it leaves for the forest, hoping for a place to fit in.

Lucie apologizes for letting the Headhunter escape, but the Doctor dismisses it.  He declines to visit the former pocket universe; and he declines to follow Tardelli, as the Emperor of Ralta is known to be very fickle—he has a reputation for eating artists who fall out of favor.  Instead, it’s dinnertime…and they make their way back to the city.

 

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There’s a lot going on in this story, though that is for once not a bad thing. Often a story will have too much going on, and won’t be able to weave all those disparate threads together (for reference, read The Pit, which I reviewed earlier this week). There’s none of that here; this story holds together very well. It’s a heist story, though not of the complicated Ocean’s Eleven variety, where a master thief has to assemble a large team to accomplish a theft while working against the authorities. Instead, this story pits two small teams against each other, with the authorities being pulled back and forth between the two. That may sound improbable, but it works out well, given the nature of the second team.

The Headhunter returns, played (as she was in Series One) by Katarina Olsson. Accompanying her is Lucie’s former coworker from Hulbert Logistics (Human Resources), Karen Coltraine (Louise Fullerton), whom the Headhunter saved and took on as an assistant at the end of the series. It was not obvious then, but they make a great foil and counterpart for the team of the Doctor and Lucie Miller; in fact, it’s almost too good. Their dialog is on point, easily as entertaining as that of the Doctor and Lucie. The two teams are after the same goal here—the Black Diamond, which is not a diamond at all—but their methods differ in comedic ways; where the Doctor talks his way into situations, the Headhunter knocks people out. She’s filling a role usually occupied by the Master, but with much less finesse and much more humor; there’s even a possible humorous nod to the Master, when she hypnotizes one of the palace guards. When the guard receives his instructions, he responds with an entranced “I obey” reminiscent of the Master’s “…and you will obey me!” Then the Headhunter and Karen promptly switch his programmed reply to “Cream cheese!”—silly, but still funny. I would be quite happy to see them go on to be an occasional nemesis/comic relief for the Doctor and Lucie, and perhaps they will; I haven’t looked ahead to find out.

The story holds together well, as I said, but it criminally underuses one of its elements: the would-be villain, Claudio Tardelli, who is played by Christopher Benjamin in his only audio appearance to date that is not in the role of Henry Gordon Jago (the Jago and Litefoot series, The Talons of Weng-Chiang). As played here, he’s a half-hearted, casual villain; I’d probably describe him as chaotic-neutral, to borrow Dungeons and Dragons terminology. He’s in it for himself, and doesn’t care what trouble he causes. I call him underused, however, because of the implications of what he can do. Not only do his artworks warp reality, but also, singlehandedly and casually, he created an entire pocket universe, then created viable, intelligent life within it! This man is a god in disguise, it seems, and yet he’s simply an exiled criminal from his homeworld (whose sentence is up, as stated by the Headhunter). The life he created is validated by the Doctor, who insists on letting the pocket universe survive in some form, indicating that it’s not just a simulation. In addition, he creates life in the outside universe as well; the statue he creates to guard the pocket universe while he is inside it is a lifeform, albeit silicon-based, and in fact is commended for being a better man than its creator. There are any number of stories that could be written with Tardelli as a pivotal figure, if not the villain; but it’s thrown away, as the Doctor expects him to be eaten not long after this story. Yes, eaten. What a waste!

As a former prison guard, I felt obligated to mention one notable flaw that might be missed on a casual listening: Anders, the guard who is later hypnotized, is a terrible guard. Well before being hypnotized, he allows Lucie to get him at least somewhat drunk, then tells her quite literally every secret he is supposed to be keeping with regard to the Black Diamond. With guards like this fellow, it’s no wonder there are multiple successful thefts on the same day—he may as well have handed Lucie the keys. (We can perhaps forgive him for helping the Headhunter later—first she knocked him out, although he admittedly should have been prepared for that; then she hypnotized him. “Cream cheese!”)

There isn’t much in the way of continuity references here. Most of the references are to Human Resources, as I previously mentioned. There’s a very small reference to The Horror of Glam Rock, in regard to Lucie’s MP3 player. The Doctor alludes to a lengthy history with Tardelli, but that adventure has not been recounted anywhere. He also makes a reference to Robin Hood; in hindsight it’s very clever, given that the Twelfth Doctor will later insist that Robin Hood was a myth (Robot of Sherwood). Here, the Doctor very carefully avoids answering Lucie’s question about whether he knew Robin Hood, thus allowing for the later story’s assertion. I know it’s unintentional, given that this story predates that one, but it’s always impressive when little details like this come together.

Overall, this story is much like Max Warp: a fast-paced, rollicking, fun story. In bringing back the Headhunter, it adds a bit to the series’ continuity, but really that’s not the point. It’s intended to be light-hearted and fun, and that’s a good thing, as we’re approaching the more lore-heavy end of Series Two. It’s doubly impressive, given that Sheridan Smith was not able to record her parts along with the rest of the cast (due to a schedule conflict); a stand-in was necessary, and she completed her part later. Really, it works well.

Grand theft cosmos 3

Next time: With The Chimes of Midnight yesterday and Grand Theft Cosmos today, it’s been a good week in our visit with the Eighth Doctor. Next time: On Monday we’ll cover the main range with Seasons of Fear; and then Thursday (if I can get back on schedule) we’re back to the EDAs with The Zygon Who Fell to Earth! 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.

Grand Theft Cosmos

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Audio Drama Review: The Skull of Sobek

I’m posting a few days early because I’m going to be away later in the week and through Monday, so I want to stay ahead of things. Also because I am a slow reader this week, and haven’t finished reading  The Pit yet, so I can’t post about it today.

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we continue series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Skull of Sobek. Written by longtime Who author Marc Platt, and directed by Barnaby Edwards, this entry features the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller. Let’s get started!

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

Skull of Sobek 1

In an unknown religious order, Abbot Absolute and Sister Chalice begin a service, reading from “The Burning of the World”, the last chapter of “The Triumphs of Sobek”.  It tells the story of a battle between the Old Prince of Sobek and his would-be heir, Snabb, who fought over the Skull of Sobek and the power it affords.  The Prince disinherited Snabb, calling him Snabb the Reckless, and called the skull to witness against him.  After the reading, the Abbot tells the brothers and sisters that the sanctuary gates have been barred, and they are alone.  With Sister Chalice, he leads them in a prayer for deliverance.

One monk, Brother Tangent, secretly calls a colleague named Dannahill, and says he has an hour to find what they seek.  Tangent says the monks have had no visions or other signs for days.  With Dannahill still on the line, he goes to the forbidden New Hall, which is filled with water.  Suddenly it fills with fire, but Tangent is unharmed; however, suddenly he says “they’re here”, and then is ripped apart.

The TARDIS materializes on a roof overlooking the Blue Desert of Indigo 3, where the natives have 83 words for the color blue—possibly a coincidence, as a storm sweeps the desert every 83 years.  Lucie notes that the dunes are all the same size and shape; the Doctor tells her the monks here, at the Sanctuary of Imperfect Symmetry, believe that too much perfection is a bad thing.  He warns her that if you wander into the dunes, you will be lost—and thus the sanctuary is isolated.  However, Lucie sees and waves to an encampment outside the wall; but the people shoot at her, forcing her to duck back.  With the Doctor, she heads down into the Sanctuary, but they meet an angry blue-faced monk, Brother Proximus, who tells them they are not welcome, as the sanctuary is closed.  The Doctor says the sanctuary is under siege, and they are there to help.

Sister Chalice and Abbot Absolute try to put Tangent’s body back together.  As they do so, they debate the “guests” outside, and how they are covering up a murder.  Absolute proposes that they declare themselves contagious, but Chalice objects, saying it will attract more attention.  At that time Proximus arrives with the Doctor and Lucie.  Absolute tries to send them away, but the Doctor offers to help, seizing on Absolute’s mention of contagion.  Reluctantly Chalice lets him see the body.  The Doctor quickly identifies the killer as a reptilian predator, which ripped Tangent in half before he was put back together.  Chalice interrupts and has Proximus lock the Doctor and Lucie into guest room three—a cell, as it turns out.

Escape won’t be easy.  However, Lucie has nicked Tangent’s cell phone, which is wet with water and blood, but still functional.  It contains a video of a dark room filled with flames; when Lucie looks, she finds herself inside the room in the video.  She sees something approaching, and screams.  The Doctor calls her name, pulling her back to reality, and she tells him about her experience; the vision included two large attackers with helmets, swords, and tails—and they were not blue.  The Doctor finds documents and a message from one Sister Thrift, which point him toward the dead planet of Sobek.  Sobek was an empire ruled by a crocodilian race.  Thrift asked Tangent to meet her at the New Hall before evening prayers.  When the Doctor dials it back, the line to Thrift is dead.  Tired of waiting, Lucie begins tying sheets together to escape.

Absolute and Chalice are confronted with a vision of the Old Prince, who demands to know who the newcomer is.  Absolute tells him about the Doctor.  The Prince says that the Skull has chosen the Doctor as its champion for the final battle that approaches.  The Prince tells its followers that the time is approaching for revenge, and that Snabb must find his own champion.

The monks commune regarding the visions they have all had: the flames of perfection burning the centuries clean.  The monks pray for salvation for the people outside.

The Doctor and Lucie escape from their cell window via the sheet rope and find no one in the courtyard—but the Doctor hears hints of the monks’ thoughts.  Lucie heard it too, but thought it was thunder—but the 83-year storm is still two decades away.  The Doctor chooses to find the New Hall, commenting that it is the imperfections of life that make things interesting.  The Hall contains a “healing pool”; Lucie remembers that Tangent was wet, indicating he died here.  They go inside and find the Hall flooded.  There is a display of hand weapons, ostensibly from Sobek—they have miniature crocodile jaws on them.  Lucie admits to a fear of crocodiles stemming back to a childhood experience with Peter Pan.  The Doctor sees Sister Thrift’s body floating, and pulls her in—but Lucie sees something in the water, and the room fills with flames.  The Doctor hears the Prince calling him down to their world, though he doesn’t know who it is.  Suddenly the door opens, and the visions cease.  Sister Chalice chastises them, but sends another sister, Sister Radiance, to get the Abbot.  She sends Brothers Benedict and Alleric to get the body.    She tells the Doctor the flames in the sky are apocalyptic prophecies, and that the refugees outside are seeking safety here.  The Doctor counters by explaining that the visions are coming from the sanctuary.  He asks who she is hiding.  The abbot arrives and demands answers, and Chalice tells him about the death of Thrift; he immediately blames the Doctor and Lucie.  Against Chalice’s wishes, he orders Proximus to throw the Doctor and Lucie out via the nearest window.  Lucie plays on Chalice’s sympathies by offering to join the nuns, and thus avoids ejection.  The Doctor is thrown out, though the drop is not high enough to be fatal.  She then takes Lucie to have her head shaved…

The Doctor lands on a tent, scaring off a camel, whose owner is angry.  The owner asks him how to get into the Sanctuary, but the Doctor only knows how to get out.

Using Tangent’s communicator, the Doctor makes contact with Dannahill, who saw the Doctor get thrown out.  They meet, and the Doctor tells him about Tangent’s death.  Dannahill asks about Sobek; the Doctor describes it as a jungle world that fell to a great war.  Dannahill agrees, but regards the war as a revolution against slavery and oppression.  He says that his job is to hunt down the last fugitives from the royal family, who stole the planet’s great treasure—the Great Skull—as they fled.  The Skull is not just a relic; it’s a repository of the planet’s history and memories, using—according to the Doctor—molecular data encryption.  Dannahill admits to working for General Snabb, and says that the clues lead here.

The Abbot tells the Prince that the Doctor is out of reach now.  In retaliation for Absolute’s disobedience, the Prince bites off the abbot’s hand.  But where will he find a champion now?

Proximus registers Lucie as a sister, but Lucie refuses to shave her head.  Proximus leaves it for Chalice to sort out.  Lucie questions him about what the Abbot is hiding, but he evades her questions.  Sister Apocrypha arrives to shave Lucie’s head, and Lucie flees the room.

Outside, Dannahill confirms for the Doctor that the Skull is inside the Sanctuary; scans indicate massive cerebral activity inside.  The Doctor theorizes that the visions are cerebral emanations “leaking” from the skull.  Dannahill appeals to the Doctor’s love of freedom, and asks him to help them.  The Doctor agrees, as this also helps him toward rescuing Lucie.  A rope ladder drops from a window, and the Doctor starts to climb it.  Before following, Dannahill quietly contacts Snabb and says it’s time for Snabb to make his move.

Chalice finds the Abbot, who attributes the lost hand to a disagreement with their guests.  He refuses to take the time to reattach it, as long as the bleeding has stopped.  He intends to try to restore the balance in spite of the looming battle, and Chalice calls him a fool; she wants to let the fighting run its course, causing both sides to destroy each other.  She has put plans in place to that end.  Proximus interrupts and tells them Lucie has run off.

Lucie returns to the pool and calls out to the Prince, who calls her down into the water.  She is surrounded by crocodiles, and finds herself in a vision of the world that was.

Chalice admits to the Abbot that she has gone too far.  She has allowed the Doctor back inside.  The Doctor arrives and thanks her for the rope ladder.  He tells her he is here to find the Skull of Sobek, which he insists is real, despite Chalice’s objections.  He explains that it is the source of the visions, and must be found before worse occurs.  The Abbot calls the Brethren to prayer while Chalice explains that Lucie is missing and probably in danger.

Lucie is caught up in the vision of old Sobek with its riches, and of the flames that would snatch it away.  Soon she is fully in thrall of the crocodiles, and her voice changes to a reptilian growl.  The Prince—or rather, the Skull—has chosen her as his champion; and now Snabb is coming.  Lucie will avenge the theft of their world.

Abbot tells the monks and nuns of the darkness coming, and shows them his wounded arm.  He calls them to prayer, but the Doctor interrupts and challenges him to tell them who he is hiding.  Chalice says that the Doctor is searching for the Skull of Sobek, and it is here—the visions are coming from the Skull.  Suddenly the room fills with flames.  The voice of General Snabb chooses the Doctor to be his champion.  The Doctor only reluctantly agrees, to save Lucie.

When the flames disappear, the Doctor tells Chalice that the Prince must have the Skull, and that he must recover it.  The Abbot interrupts and reads a description of the Skull from “The Triumphs of Sobek”, which describes it as three hundred by thirty cubits—far too large to hide…or is it?  The Doctor inquires as to who paid for the construction of the New Hall; Chalice admits it was the Old Prince of Sobek.  The Doctor says that the Skull is the structure of the Hall itself.    Suddenly shuttles can be heard outside—Dannahill has brought troops.

The shuttle engines cause the windows to implode, and the gate is blown open.  General Snabb and his crocodilian soldiers invade the Sanctuary, rounding up the civilians.  Dannahill promises Snabb that his champion will be there soon.  The Abbot confronts Snabb about his violation of the Sanctuary, but Snabb knocks him down.  Dannahill identifies the Doctor as Snabb’s champion; Snabb tells him to prepare for mortal combat against the Prince’s champion.  However, the Prince arrives first to confront Snabb.  Snabb offers Dannahill to the Prince as a gesture, and the Prince kills him and eats him.  The Doctor reveals that the Hall was built over the Skull, and asks the General to take it and leave.  Snabb refuses, and insists that the Doctor win the Skull in combat.  The Prince’s champion arrives…and the Doctor sees that it is Lucie.

Her voice is still reptilian.  The Old Prince explains that his mind is joined with hers.  She is impervious to reason, and the Prince exults in the Skull’s choice of her, as she knows the Doctor well.  The Doctor refuses any weapons.  Chalice prevents the Abbot from intervening.  Snabb allows the Skull to show everyone how the conflict began, and a vision begins…

Within the vision of Old Sobek, the Doctor tries again to reach Lucie, but she attacks him.  The Doctor overcomes her and locks her in a cupboard, and he calls out to the Abbot and Chalice.  He orders them to destroy the Skull and save themselves, but they refuse to commit violence.  He tells them to use the power of prayer, or rather, the resonance of prayer.  At the same time, Lucie breaks out of the cupboard, as Chalice and the Abbot try to figure out what the Doctor meant.  They gather the Brethren in the New Hall.  As Lucie confronts the Doctor again, Snabb and the Prince banter like old friends over the battle.

The Doctor tells the reptiles that the Skull is using them both, but they disagree, considering the Skull a god.  He assures them that the Skull doesn’t care who wins—it only wants an outcome.  To thwart the skull, he concedes defeat and declares Lucie the winner.  The Prince and Snabb tell him the Skull will only accept a death; the Doctor, saddened, walks away.  At the same time, the prayer gong sounds.

The Doctor tells Lucie she has won, but she refuses to accept it, and chases him toward the New Hall.  He promises to fight her there.  At the Hall, he tells Chalice to continue the chant.  Lucie arrives, but her connection to the Skull is interrupted, and her voice reverts to normal.  The Doctor says that the prayers are balancing out the darkness of the Skull.  Lucie breaks free and throws off her weapons; the Doctor urges her to concentrate on the chant and remember herself.  The Skull tries to penetrate the Doctor’s mind, bringing back the visions of flames.  He tells the Abbot and Chalice to increase the tone of the chant.  The resonance reaches a critical point as the Prince and Snabb arrive. The Doctor taunts them, but they decide that in the absence of champions, they must fight personally.  They fight as the room begins to crack—the Skull of Sobek is breaking up.  Everyone except the two crocodiles flees the room as it begins to collapse.

In the aftermath, Chalice is unwilling to let Lucie resign her admission to the Sisterhood, and counters the Doctor’s arguments, insisting that Lucie needs the Sisterhood.  The Abbot intervenes, and argues that the purpose of the Sanctuary is to provide balance—and Lucie provides that balance to the Doctor.  Reluctantly, Chalice lets Lucie go—but declares that she is still a member of the Sisterhood, and that the Doctor is in her spiritual charge.  The Doctor thanks Absolute, and asks how they plan to pay to rebuild the damaged Sanctuary.  Absolute says that the fragments of the Skull will make lucrative archaeological relics, even if they require care to handle.  He offers the Doctor confession, and the Doctor makes a hasty exit.

Dead London 2

I’ve commented before that Eighth Doctor stories seem to follow a very loose pattern: lots of rapid-fire action, quick changes in scenery, usually an early separation between the Doctor and his companion of the day, and (often but not always) many tongue-in-cheek references to past adventures. The preceding stories of this series fit that mold, but this story is much more a traditional Doctor Who story. One could easily see the Fourth Doctor, for example, in these events, and see them turning out similarly. That’s not to belittle the Eighth Doctor; he always brings his distinct brand of wit and dialogue to the story; but every now and then, it’s nice to see echoes of the past come up. Here we have reptilian monsters with ostensibly-supernatural mind control powers; a relative confined setting; the Doctor at a calmer moment, working to persuade his enemies to drop their goals; an ancient and dying warlike civilization; and a supernatural artifact of tremendous power. I’m reminded of such stories as Image of the Fendahl, City of Death, and Kinda/Snakedance; the events aren’t exactly the same, but the themes are similar.

Last week I suggested that Max Warp was the moment of fun before the series settles down to more serious work, and this story suggests I was right. I don’t mean that it’s not fun; but it’s certainly a grimmer, more serious story. I have a personal rule of thumb that says that anytime a Doctor Who story is set (even partially) in a religious establishment, there’s going to be major destruction to said establishment; and that proves true here. (For comparison, check out Nightshade, where a monastery gets similarly blown up.) It’s hard to escape the labels of “grim” and “serious” when your baseline is blowing up churches.

This story takes place over a very short span of time—perhaps two or three hours, I think—but as such, it moves slower than the average Eighth Doctor story, having less ground to cover in the hour of running time available. For the Doctor and Lucie, this is almost a vacation. Lucie is strangely serious during most of this story, with little of her usual humor, and there’s a good reason why: Early in the story, she wrestles with the question of whether she’s becoming dangerously used to all the death and destruction. She’s in good company, of course; several companions have left the Doctor for exactly that reason, including Tegan (in Resurrection of the Daleks) and Ace (Love and War). I know, judging by the cover blurbs for many EDAs to come, that Lucie doesn’t leave (or at least not permanently) for quite some time, but still, she has to face down this personal demon, and we’re seeing it begin here. I wonder how much of a character arc this will become for her.

Religious orders always come off looking a bit naïve in Doctor Who, and this is no exception. The Sanctuary of Imperfect Symmetry and its acolytes have admirable (if esoteric) ideals, but when it comes down to it, their beliefs hamper them in facing the crisis they’re dealing with. The Doctor, of course, makes use of this, using their pacifism and dedication to prayer as weapons in dealing with the titular Skull of Sobek; it’s clever, but nothing particularly revolutionary in Doctor Who. In real life, I’d never mock those kinds of religious beliefs—I’m a Christian myself—but the story leaves them looking a bit foolish and backward. It is played up for a bit of humor at the end, when the monastic order refuses to let Lucie Miller go after she had rashly promised to enter the order; instead, they declare her to be the Doctor’s spiritual advisor. It’s a cute scene, but not one that I hope they revisit—I think that would become awkward quickly.

The voice acting is on point here, even for the reptilian characters (as the residents of Sobek are of a crocodilian race). There’s a good scene where Lucie falls under the control of the Skull, and her voice changes to the same type as the other reptilians; I listened to the CD extras, but I couldn’t determine if Sheridan Smith managed the change personally, or if a voice changer was used, though I expect the latter. One notable guest spot: The Old Prince of Sobek was voiced by Giles Watling, the brother of Doctor Who alum Deborah Watling, also known as Victoria Waterfield.

This story was written by longtime Doctor Who author Marc Platt, who is perhaps best known for Ghost Light and Lungbarrow, but has written more than fifty stories in all, covering every medium except the revived television series. It’s not his best work (though certainly not bad) but it does feature the oversized, gothic atmosphere that is common in his works. I personally like his work, though I realize from researching this review that I have a lot left to experience.

For once, there are next to no continuity references. I only caught one; Dannahill mentions the Galactic Federation, which was first introduced as such in The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon. Curse was set in the year 3885, which gives us our closest estimate for the date of this story; I can’t pin The Skull of Sobek to a particular year, but it can at least be isolated to that era. The planet at stake, Indigo 3, has not been mentioned in any prior stories to my knowledge.

Overall: We’ve reached the middle of the series, and it shows. I don’t want to call it wading through, but there’s a definite sense of having a lot behind and a lot still to come. Still, it’s a good story, and I enjoyed it. I expect the pace is about to pick up again, so enjoy the slower pace while it’s here.

Skull of Sobek 2

Next time: On Monday Tuesday, we’ll cover The Chimes of Midnight; then on Thursday, we return to the EDAs with Grand Theft Cosmos! 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.

The Skull of Sobek

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Audio Drama Review: Brave New Town

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re continuing series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Brave New Town. Written by Jonathan Clements, this story features the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith). Let’s get started!

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

Brave new town 1

For once, the Doctor manages to land by the ocean as planned; but it’s not Blackpool, as Lucie was hoping.  Instead, some nearby ruins loom by the shore—and where is the sea?  The Doctor assumes the tide is out, but Lucie is not so sure.  Nearby, local newspaper shop owner Jason Taylor hears movement, and thinks it is his daughter Sally, who has been missing since yesterday; but it is a customer, Margaret.  She buys a paper, and comments that the radios are all on the blink.

The Doctor assures Lucie that despite the sandy, dusty, post-apocalyptic atmosphere, it is actually 2008.  He tells her that the area is safe, with no unusual radiation or diseases.  They encounter a group of people headed to church; the Doctor avoids contact, thinking there is something strange about them.  Lucie comments that their clothes are outdated; she calls the village “the village that time forgot”.  This is supported by 1990s-era movie posters on a nearby wall.  They check the newspaper shop and find it empty and without power; there are empty drink cans on a shelf, dated “best by October 1991”.  Outside he encounters a police constable, who asks about the police box on the beach.  He suggests that the Doctor is Sally Taylor’s “replacement”, as she has been missing since yesterday, which was Saturday…and so is today.  The Doctor comments on the oddities of the town, and asks to accompany the constable on his rounds.  Meanwhile, Lucie, still in the shop, knocks over some items in the gloom, unintentionally summoning Jason from upstairs.  He realizes she is new in town.  He tells her it is 1 September, and that Sally left because he had a go at her for singing “that wretched song”—Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do”.  She returns to the Doctor before he leaves with constable Sharp; the Doctor asks her to stay with Jason and find more information; and if possible, any diaries left by the mysterious Sally.

Jason shows Lucie Sally’s bedroom, which he has begun to clean up.  She jokes about Sally’s outdated CD collection, which dates back as far as 1988, when Lucie claims to have been born; Jason is puzzled, as he says that 1988 was only three years ago.  Meanwhile Sharp takes the Doctor to a nearby fallout shelter, but Sally is not there; the constable reveals that there are two dozen public shelters in town, with most homes having private shelters as well.  However, the Doctor notes that there is no food in the shelter; and he realizes that no one has been seen to eat or drink yet, despite hours of searching.

Jason takes Lucie out on Sally’s paper route, which he is completing in her absence; but it is far from normal.  Instead of delivering papers, he collects them from each doorstep, and returns the money; it is clear he will sell the same papers back tomorrow, which will also be Sunday, 1 September.  When Lucie points this out, he laughs it off.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and the PC arrive back at the beach, near the TARDIS, as the sun sets; the Doctor questions him about the town, and admits that he has seen no road out of town.  Sharp says the town is Thorington in Suffolk, and suggests the sea is just out with the tide.  They are interrupted by a tank with a thermal imager; to escape, the Doctor pulls Sharp into the TARDIS.  Aboard the tank, a soldier named Vitas radios Captain McCarthy at headquarters and says that they have found the town, but there are no signs of life.  McCarthy orders Vitas and her subordinate, Andropov, to take a proper scan with no shortcuts.  Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor realizes from Sharp’s reaction that he has no idea what the interior of a police box should look like.  He explains that they can’t be detected here, and uses the scanner to watch the tank head into town.

Jason and Lucie see the tank coming, and Jason insists on finding a shelter despite the tank’s Union Jack flag, which Lucie thinks indicates it may be friendly.  He says that they have always been told to go to a shelter in these circumstances, but he can’t recall who told them to do so.  Lucie approaches the tank, but Vitas comes out and shoots her with a tranquilizer dart.  She calls HQ and reaches a contact named Karimov, and speaks to him in Russian, but Karimov insists on English for McCarthy’s benefit.  Vitas reports that they are bringing in Lucie as a suspect, and that there were no other life signs in the village.  McCarthy insists Lucie could have been up to no good.  Meanwhile the Doctor approaches the shelter and knocks, and when Sharp declares it safe, Jason emerges and tells them that Lucie left voluntarily.  The Doctor wonders why the tank did not detect Jason; Jason attributes it to luck.  Sharp leaves to see if anyone else was taken, and the Doctor follows the tank’s tracks in the sand.

Lucie recovers, by way of a dream about white rabbits.  She finds herself in a hospital bed, watched by Karimov, who thinks she is American, but she tells him that she comes from Blackpool.  He says it is 24 October 2008.  He brings in McCarthy, who explains that she was brought from a ruined village ten miles away, which used to be an island.  He says the area is restricted and under martial law, with its oil wells under military guard.  He suspects she is an engineer, a mercenary, or simply a troublemaker.

With Jason, the Doctor has realized some things about the town—its island nature, and that no one eats or drinks.  In fact, there is no food, drink, or electricity, and no petrol in the vehicles.  He suspects that Sally, who was predisposed to leave, waded out as soon as the water was shallow enough.  Jason confirms that there was a ferry in the old days, leading across to New Town.  Soon Jason becomes able to see the ferry, which is not far away, though beached on the sand.  The Doctor explains that it has been there all along; Jason simply couldn’t see it.  Scratched in the side are the words “Sally was here”, but the ferry has been abandoned for years.  Inside it, the Doctor finds some charts, which are written in Cyrillic!  The town, it seems, is not in England; it’s in what was the Aral Sea, in Uzbekistan!  While the Doctor tries to dredge up his knowledge of Uzbekistan, Jason says he can hear a voice in his head, calling him.

Karimov tells Lucie that during the Soviet Union’s rule, this area was a combination of a beach resort and a spy training center.  Thus the village: it was built to allow spies to practice behaving like the English.  However, Karimov says it all came to an end in 1991.  On 1 September 1991, Uzbekistan gained its independence; shortly thereafter, most of the water of the Aral Sea was diverted for agriculture and recreation.  On the bright side, this allows drilling for oil in the area.  However, Karimov can’t explain why there are British mercenaries guarding the oilfields.  Meanwhile, Vitas tells McCarthy that a teenaged girl is by the oil derricks to the southwest; McCarthy orders that she be shot.

The Doctor and Jason reach the oil derricks, just in time for gunshots to ring out.  They take cover, but it isn’t them that the soldiers are shooting at; it’s Sally.  As soon as they can get clear, they approach her, but she insists that Jason is not her father, but a part of “the Mind”.  She insists that “the essence” must be preserved at all costs, and she runs off.  The wells are now on fire, and he drags Jason away.  Jason realizes that Sally must have set the fires; suddenly there is a great explosion.  The explosion triggers an alarm at HQ, and McCarthy tells Lucie that Vitas found another saboteur, but failed to stop her.  He warns Karimov not to get too cozy with Lucie, who may also be “one of them”.  He locks her into the infirmary and posts guards, and takes Karimov to check things out.

Jason is struck with a headache, and a voice in his head says that “contact has been restored”.  It calls him back to his “place of origin”, to the “Mother Consciousness”.  When he tells the Doctor, the Doctor realizes that the voice is coming from somewhere near the wells, and approaching would be unsafe for Jason; also, Sally is probably hearing the voice as well.  The voice seems to get stronger as they approach New Town.  Meanwhile, in the village, Margaret meets with Sharp, and finds that they both are hearing the voice.  Sharp rounds up everyone in the village and brings them to the sea bed to hear the voice.  In the infirmary, Lucie begs to use the restroom, and the guards grudgingly agree, threatening to shoot her if she tries to escape.  The Doctor and Jason are met by Vitas in another tank; she holds them at gunpoint and summons McCarthy.  As he arrives, Jason’s headache returns, and he cries out in pain, saying he can hear the voice again.

While Lucie is in the restroom, she hears the guards outside being gunned down, and hears a strange weapon.  Outside the restroom door, she finds Sally waiting, but the girl tells Lucie that she will be dead if she makes a move.  Meanwhile, Jason apologizes to the Doctor for what he is about to do, but the voice’s instructions are clear.  His hand opens to reveal an Auton weapon, and he fires on the Doctor, but misses.  The Doctor laments that he should have expected this.  Vitas returns fire as Jason runs off.

Lucie tells Sally she is a friend of her father, but Sally says that her father should be focusing on the people destroying the planet.  She has an Auton gun in her wrist; and she says she came to the base to steal grenades.  She is wounded, but there is no blood.  The voice warns her that Lucie is not one of them, and tells her to leave; she leaves Lucie alive as she goes.  At the oil field, McCarthy suggests the Doctor may be bulletproof like Jason, but the Doctor says he has just become sure that Jason is not human.  Lucie is heard on the radio, and she reveals that Sally killed the guards.  She compares notes with the Doctor regarding their encounters.

The voice is the Nestene Consciousness, and it tells the Auton villagers that the humans are against them, and plan to destroy the essence of the Auton race.  It will stop the humans at any cost.

Soon, Sally and Jason are reunited, and make up.  However, they both hear the voice of the Nestene Consciousness.

McCarthy sends Vitas to secure the base.  Lucie reunites with the Doctor.  The Doctor explains the Autons to McCarthy, but the man is skeptical.  Lucie explains about the former spy training center; the Doctor suspects the spies were mostly Autons.  It sounds laughable, but makes sense; they have no physical needs, and don’t show up on thermal scanners.  What humans existed in the village would have left on 1 September 1991, leaving behind only the Autons.  The Autons kept up the illusion for years, until the water dropped and access to the mainland became possible.  Still, something is missing from their understanding…he asks to see the thermal recording of Jason’s escape.  Meanwhile, the Auton residents have gathered by the former shore, and await orders.  The voice calls them closer, and tells them they must be united against the humans.  The Autons retain enough independence to question this briefly; they thought they were humans.  Sharp has no answer for this.

The thermal scan reveals that Jason is mostly invisible to heat scanning, but that a tiny bit of heat is in his chest.  The Doctor states that this is a bit of the Nestene Consciousness.  If all the Autons have it, it makes them something new—autonomous Autons, which don’t rely on contact with the Consciousness in one central location.  He suggests that Nestene meteorites must have fallen in the Soviet days, and been experimented upon.  There should be records; McCarthy says he thinks he may know where they are—and leads them to a dump.  They find the documents, which are unfortunately—but predictably—written in Russian.

Vitas contacts McCarthy, and tells him that thirty to forty villagers have been sighted, approaching on the sea bed.  He orders her to dispatch a mortar team; these are no ordinary civilians, after all…

Lucy finds the Nestene’s energy unit inside an old urn at the dump.  Prior to this, it was shielded by the bunker from which McCarthy tossed out the rubbish, which is why the villagers never before heard the voice.  Now, it is broadcasting, and calling them to arms.  He explains that their first act—via Sally—was to destroy the wells, not because they are environmentalists, but because they want the oil for themselves; oil is the source material for plastics, and they can use it to make more Autons.  McCarthy plans to destroy the villagers, but the Doctor insists that they are innocent if separated from the voice; he wants to seal the energy unit back inside the bunker permanently, freeing the Auton villagers.  McCarthy sends Karimov for explosives to seal the bunker, but promises to stop the Autons himself if the Doctor fails.

The Doctor sends Lucie to safety via radio, and puts the unit in the bunker.  He is confronted by Jason and Sally, who now have trouble hearing the voice.  Jason is persuaded to let it go, but Sally threatens the Doctor with her gun, and orders him to re-open the bunker.  Meanwhile the Auton villagers are confused, having lost the voice; however, Sharp suggests continuing toward New Town in case they catch the voice again.

Jason and the Doctor try to talk Sally down, and the Doctor tells her he can stop the voice forever; but she threatens to kill him if he does so.  The Doctor carefully eases them away from the bunker, and surreptitiously activates the radio so that Lucie and Karimov can hear them.  The two Autons conclude they no longer know who or what they are; the Doctor promises them that they can decide, and don’t need the voice to do it for them.  With no option, he reveals that they each contain a fragment of the Consciousness inside them.  He lets out a coded message to Karimov, telling him to activate the explosives, as he has reached a safe distance.  However, nothing happens, and Karimov suspects the wiring to the dynamite is damaged.  Lucie goes to check.

With the villagers still approaching, and no explosion as yet, McCarthy orders Vitas to prepare to fire.

At Karimov’s direction, Lucie finds the break in the wiring, and reconnects it, setting off the explosion.  On the seabed, the villagers are suddenly returned to normal, and can’t remember why Sharp led them out here; he can’t recall either, and they begin to head back home.  McCarthy tells Vitas to stand down.

A little later, the Doctor pulls up on the sea bed in a bus and collects the villagers for a ride home.  Meanwhile, McCarthy and Karimov discuss the Autons, and conclude—as others did before them—that these people would be unsafe if unleashed on the world, but could make very lucrative spies and soldiers.  In fact, the Doctor should stay on as their scientific advisor…he sends Vitas to collect the Doctor for the good news.

The Doctor speaks with Jason and the others about their future, and tells them to stick together at all costs; there is safety in numbers.  In the meantime, he may be able to persuade McCarthy to restore the power and make repairs to the village.  They see Vitas’ armored personnel carrier approaching in a hurry, and so the Doctor and Lucie say goodbye and head for the TARDIS.  Vitas sees them enter it, and then sees it dematerialize; reluctantly she reports back to McCarthy.

Aboard the TARDIS, the Doctor and Lucie discuss the Autons.  He doesn’t know what will happen to them, but at least now they have a chance.

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With this audio drama, we reach another noteworthy moment in Big Finish history: The first appearance of the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness in an audio drama. In true Doctor Who fashion, the story adds a bit to the villain’s history, while at the same time muddying the waters; we learn that the shower of Nestene meteorites in Spearhead from Space was only one of several over the intervening decades, but this also gives us the odd possibility that there is somehow more than one Nestene Consciousness (as it isn’t really clarified whether it’s the same group mind in each arrival—it seems like it may not be). Does this conglomerate consciousness span every occurrence of the living plastic being? What about if—as Rose clarified later—they are on different worlds? We don’t really know at this point. At any rate, these Autons are a little different; they were at least partly engineered by the Soviet Union. Each Auton contains a tiny fragment of the Nestene control unit (meteorite?), meaning that they don’t strictly depend on a central source for their continued existence—they are, as the Doctor cleverly points out, “autonomous Autons”. Now, if only they knew it! (I may have spoiled some things by saying as much, but as this is the very core of the story, I don’t see much of a way to avoid it; however, rest assured, the story makes most of this obvious fairly quickly, and I have not disclosed the resolution.)

As is typical with Eighth Doctor stories, this one proceeds at a fast pace; in-universe, it takes about a complete day, but feels much faster, as we gloss over most of the exploration and travel done by the Doctor and Lucie. Also as usual, they spend most of the story split up, but there is still enough time in common to get some of their usual witty dialogue. Where Max Warp felt like a fun romp, this story feels urgent; and indeed, we spend the later portion of the story on a time limit, as the Nestene Consciousness tries to make its move and the soldiers prepare to strike first. The Nestene Consciousness is definitely adversarial here, but with hints of what we have learned over the course of its many appearances: It is hostile because it believes the universe—and humans in particular—are hostile to it, not because it is inherently evil. I suppose it’s unreasonable to expect that a plastic organism would understand human motivations.

This is the second story of the season to play with the idea of a city or town that isn’t what it appears to be, and I wonder if that is going to be a theme this series. In Dead London, the people were real, but the town was artificial (existing, as it turns out, inside the villain’s head); and here, the people are artificial, though the town itself is at least partly real (created as a simulation of a real town, but its structure is real enough). In both cases, the Doctor leaves the residents to their own devices at the end, with their problems not entirely resolved, which is unlike him; but neither story really addresses the issue.

On a personal note, this story feels a bit nostalgic to me. While it takes place in 2008, the Autons—in their human personae—think it is perpetually 1 September, 1991. I was a child at that time—twelve years old—but I remember the era clearly enough, and this story is peppered with a handful of historical and pop cultural references to the period. It was almost a disappointment to find out that it wasn’t actually that date in the story. As an aside, this story gives us the date of Lucie Miller’s birth: 31 July 1988.

There aren’t many continuity references, but there are a few. The most obvious is the Nestene meteor shower from Spearhead from Space; the description of the Autons, however, is more consistent with their new series appearance in The Pandorica Opens, although that story had yet to be filmed when this one was released. I think it is likely (though I haven’t tried to confirm) that this story inspired their appearance in that episode. The Second Doctor previously visited Uzbekistan in 1919 with Jamie and Zoe in The Memory Cheats, although that story was published after this one. The Doctor still recalls these events in his tenth incarnation in Autonomy. Lucie refers to being unable to read Russian, which conflicts with other instances in which the TARDIS allows translation of written material (A Good Man Goes To War, et al). I don’t usually get into real world references, but there’s a clever joke that is not spelled out: Lucie makes a veiled reference to the #1 pop song on the day she was born, which, in the UK, was “The Only Way Is Up” by Yazz and the Plastic Population—a fitting name for a band, all things considered.

Overall: A good, solid story for our third entry this series. After a slow start and a fun interlude, it seems the series may be settling down to the more serious entries now, and that’s not a bad thing—I don’t think we’re going to get a series arc as such this time, which is unfortunate, but we can counter that lack by having good stories along the way. I liked this one, and I’m curious to see what’s next.

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Next time: On Monday, we’ll drop in on the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard with Invaders from Mars; and on Thursday, we’ll be back to the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Skull of Sobek! 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.

Brave New Town

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