Audio Drama Review: Masquerade

We’re back, with another audio drama review! Today we’ll round out our recent trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories with Masquerade, #187 in Big Finish’s Monthly Range. Written by Stephen Cole, and published in June 2014, this story features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and temporary companion Hannah Bartholomew.

Just a reminder, I have listened to, and reviewed, these audios out of order, both in regard to the rest of the monthly range, and in regard to each other. If you’re reading my posts in post order, you may be a bit confused! However, the “Previous” and “Next” links at the bottom of the post will put the stories in order of their placement in the range.

And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for those who have not listened to this audio drama! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip down to the line divider below. However, some spoilers are inevitable in any discussion, so read at your own risk!

The Doctor, his young ward Nyssa, and her governess, Hannah, arrive at the estate of the Marquise de Rindell near Paris, 1770. They find the area surrounded by heavy fog and cut off from the world. They meet the Marquise de Rimdell, her niece Helene, her butler Jean, and the visiting Vicomte de Valdac. They quickly discover that something is not right on the estate. The Doctor begins to hear the voice of someone calling himself the “Dead Man”; Nyssa visits the orangery on the grounds, where she meets with Helene, and hears vast machinery approaching. De Valdac takes Hannah to a strange, out-of-place pagoda on the grounds, and she begins to forget what she knows about herself. Meanwhile the Doctor realizes that he can’t remember who he really is, and becomes distressed at his and his friends’ apparent integration into the local time period. As his memories break through, de Rimdelle tries to have him removed from the property, but Jean is missing. The Doctor leads her to the wine cellar in search of Jean, but instead finds the voice of the Dead Man again. Helene confirms that the machinery Nyssa hears is real; she calls it the “Steamroller Man”, and says he is approaching. Hannah goes fully native, believing she really is Nyssa’s governess and that the Doctor is a visiting physician. Helene gets them all back to the house; outside the house, she begins to talk about something called “Shadow Space”, and then has a seizure. As the others go inside, the Doctor and Nyssa see the monstrous Steamroller Man looming over the treeline.

Two glowing figures appear, calling themselves the Maschera. Apparently by magic, they create a trench between the Steamroller Man and the Doctor, Nyssa, and Hannah, causing the Steamroller Man to retreat. Inside the trench, only shadows can be seen. The Doctor and his friends join the others in the house, finding that everyone’s real memories are restored. They learn that they are somewhere in Earth’s early future, and are engaged in an intergalactic expedition. This expedition is taking place before proper shielding has been developed, at a time when faster-than-light travel is known to drive humans mad; therefore the project utilizes the experimental technology called Shadowspace. Shadowspace is an artificial dimension into which a crew’s minds are placed, to occupy themselves in a simulation while their bodies sleep inside the ship. Rimdelle is a systems chief; Valdac is a neurologist; and Helene—or actually Helen, as she isn’t really French—is a professor, and the group’s leader. They quickly conclude that the TARDIS’s arrival seems to have caused problems in Shadowspace, damaging the interfaces that link them back to their “Home-D”, or home dimension, and thus to their bodies. The Steamroller Man is a data cleaning tool, now transformed into a rampaging monster; the Maschera are a protective program for the safety of the crew. They decide that the Steamroller Man is after the Dead Man in the cellar, as it would read him as anomalous data. They find the Dead Man, but he doesn’t appear to be a crew member. Meanwhile the Maschera disappear to stop the oncoming Steamroller Man again, and the Doctor manipulates the structure of the house via the damaged interface, thus warding the Steamroller Man off. Instead it finds a way into the cellar to attack Nyssa and Valdac. Rimdelle is then possessed by an unknown being, and declares they will all die without leaving Shadowspace. She passes out.

The Doctor leaves Hannah and Helen to watch over Rimdelle, and he runs to the cellar to help Nyssa and Valdac. Nyssa and Valdac aren’t waiting around; they are running for their lives, carrying the Dead Man with them. He seems to be regaining lucidity. The Doctor is interrupted by the Maschera, who tell him they won’t reveal the main interface with him because he is an alien, and not authorized to be here. He manages to convince them to let him help with the Steamroller Man. Helen realizes that the Orangery is the location of the main interface. The Doctor connects with Nyssa, Valdac, and the Dead Man, and Nyssa reveals that she thinks the Dead Man is also a program construct, the opposite pole to the Steamroller Man. The group reunites as Rimdelle recovers; she reports something cold and lifeless on the other side of the interface. The group heads to the orangery, where they find a destroyed Machera connected to the power source of the main interface. The interface is severed, apparently stranding them all here. The Dead Man becomes too heavy to move; the Doctor reluctantly allows Nyssa to watch over him, but warns her that he must be kept apart from the Steamroller Man. As the Doctor helps Rimdelle with the interface, they formulate a plan to turn its energy against the Steamroller Man. The Dead Man seizes Valdac and Nyssa as the Steamroller Man advances. Rimdelle tries to focus the interface energy, learning in the process that their ship is not in flight at all—so why are they even in Shadowspace? The Doctor sees the Steamroller Man roll over Valdac, Nyssa, and the Dead Man, and is unable to stop it; Hannah drags him inside. They execute the plan to attack the Steamroller Man, but the Maschera appear and try to stop the Doctor. The plan works, but Rimdelle passes out again; the Doctor demands answers from the Maschera, but they force him into the same energy field that was used against the Steamroller Man. Elsewhere, Nyssa awakens, strapped to a gurney, and find two Meschara watching her; they declare they are going to kill her now.

Valdac wakes up as well, and interferes, stopping the Maschera from killing Nyssa. He manages to kill one of the Maschera; the other claims that they were trying to save Valdac. Meanwhile in Shadowspace, the Maschera attacking the Doctor reveal that they have their own interface to Home-D. Suddenly the energy field fails as Rimdelle awakens; she reveals that she drained off the energy. The Maschera reveal they are aliens of a pair of races that humans have subjugated. They seize control of the minds of Helen and Hannah. The Maschera with Valdac also reveals its identity, and derides humans before Valdac kills it. He wakes up Nyssa, who thanks him; however he notes that he doesn’t actually feel anything. They find the bodies of the other members of the group, who are all still in Shadowspace. The Maschera in Shadowspace threaten to control Rimdelle as well, and to kill the Doctor, but they are destroyed by the suddenly revived Dead Man. He claims that as the Steamroller Man was made to cleanse, he was made to kill. Outside, Valdac reveals they are not on a ship at all, but in a research outpost called SORDIDE Delta—the “Scientific Outpost for Research and Development of Inter-Dimensional Energies”. It is the base where Shadowspace was developed—and he and his crewmates are part of the team responsible. But, where is everyone else? They find a large number of corpses, and realize they and the group still inside are the only survivors. Nyssa suddenly remembers that the TARDIS was dragged here by the distortions of Shadowspace; two of the now-dead crewmates, controlled by the Maschera, forced Nyssa, Hannah, and the Doctor into Shadowspace. Dead Man reveals that the Steamroller Man was intended to expunge the aliens, not the humans; he reveals that this is the research base rather than a ship. There was a plague aboard the base; everyone was placed in Shadowspace for safekeeping while a cure was found, but the Maschera took the opportunity to break in. He now has the power to destroy Shadowspace—a literal “Dead Man” switch—but the Steamroller Man is now gone from the equation. However, this all means that Nyssa and Valdac are still alive, in Home-D…along with the plague, and the invaders.

Valdac and Nyssa learns that the plague vastly increased emotions, turning people into killers. Valdac had devised a desperate cure—one that cuts off all emotion from humans, much as Valdac is now. Meanwhile the Maschera come for the Doctor and the survivors; the Dead Man tries to attack them, but fails. As all the pieces fall into place, it is revealed that the aliens—posing as Maschera—caused the plague, which Valdac then cured. The aliens then planned to quietly reinfect everyone, and with the “safe” travel afforded by Shadowspace, the humans would spread the plague everywhere, causing humans across the Empire to turn on each other. It’s a subtle but effective long-term plan of revenge—but to make it work, they must expel the Doctor from Shadowspace. Rimdelle warns that they are making Shadowspace unstable—but instead of using it directly, the Maschera seize control of Rimdelle, and set all three women against the Doctor. The Doctor locates the power packs where Rimdelle diverted the energy field, and deploys it to knock out the Maschera, freeing Hannah, Helen, and Rimdelle. The Dead Man states he can sense another power supply which he can use to end Shadowspace. Nyssa and Valdac find the TARDIS, but can’t get in; they instead decide to follow the Maschera to their interface. The Doctor and the others follow the Dead Man to the strange pagoda, the site of the Shadowspace side of the Maschera’s interface; the other side is in the base control room. Valdac tries to kill another Maschera, but fails and is shot; Nyssa kills it instead. Valdac succumbs to his wound and dies.  The Doctor and the others find the interface, as well as the entranced minds of the rest of the crew—it seems their bodies weren’t corpses after all—but they are accosted by the Maschera Prime, the leader of the Maschera. It refuses to see reason, and insists on retaliation against the human Empire. It gives them a choice—become the tools of the Maschera, or die. Nyssa activates the interface from the Home-D side; she can’t get in, but she manages to contact the Doctor. The Maschera Prime warns that an alien’s DNA will destabilize Shadowspace again, possibly trapping them all forever. Hannah intervenes, forcing the Doctor into the portal; he awakens in Home-D, as Shadowspace begins to collapse. Before the Maschera can react, the Dead Man draws power from the interface, and detonates.

The Doctor tries to bring everyone out, but is too late; the survivors awaken, but with the cure intact, they awaken emotionless. Hannah is among them. She urges the Doctor and Nyssa to leave, stating that without them, she can make a life here, where she may be able to integrate. She warns them not to worry, and says that millions of lives have been saved; “the matter”, she says, “has been concluded correctly.” The Doctor wants to bring them back to normal, but Nyssa agrees; it can’t be done. She leads the Doctor back to the TARDIS to make their exit, as Rimdelle and the others—also emotionless—awaken.

Masquerade piles on the mysteries right from the start! We have any number of questions that need answering. Who is the mysterious Dead Man, and what is wrong with him? Who or what is the Steamroller Man? How can this be eighteenth century France? (My first indication of that problem was the name of the Steamroller Man; the steam roller was only patented in 1867, nearly a century after the ostensible date of this story, and yet the locals know to call the Steamroller Man by that name.) Why are the Doctor and his companions dressed in period clothes, and why don’t they appear to know who they really are? What is the Vicomte de Valdac up to? (Nothing, as it turns out; he was playing a role, and didn’t know he was playing it.) Why does Helene seem to know more than she lets on?

Which brings me to the only real issue with this story: One could get whiplash from changing perspectives and plot threads so much and so often.  The story is lightning fast, and a bit hard to follow as a result. I was listening with my daughter in the car, and found it hard to give the necessary level of concentration to adequately pay attention to this story. Ultimately I had to re-listen to parts of it. But, it was worth it, because it all comes together in the end!

And I do mean “the end”, because the resolution of the story comes about a minute and a half before the ending theme. Even seconds before the end, one is left wondering if the Doctor won’t pull some final ace from his sleeve. Because, although there are relatively few deaths for a Doctor Who story, this is decidedly not a happy ending. Our heroes win, and many lives are saved—but at what cost? The survivors, except for the Doctor and Nyssa, are drastically changed by the events here, and not for the better. At best the story is, as Hannah Bartholomew says, “concluded correctly.” It’s a victory, but it feels a bit hollow.

I’ve heard it suggested that each incarnation of the Doctor is shaped by what he perceives to have been the problems with the previous life. Further, I’ve heard it suggested that the Fifth Doctor perceives himself to be less active and effective than other incarnations, leading to the bombastic, emotional, fully engaged Sixth Doctor. I won’t go so far as to say I believe that theory—at best the jury is still out—but if it’s true, this is the type of story that supports it. The Doctor is left at the end frantic at his own sense of failure, his desire to do more; so much so that Nyssa practically has to drag him back to the TARDIS and tell him to leave well enough alone. It’s a bitter pill for him to swallow, and I’m curious to see (eventually) where he goes next. After all, for better or worse, this is the exit story of a companion, and thus disproportionately emotional.

That companion, of course, is Hannah Bartholomew. Here at the end, I feel that she’s flown under the radar; she’s been a lesser character in each of her three stories. In Moonflesh, she precipitated the story’s problem, but she did so off camera, and then bailed out in the final episode. In Tomb Ship she was instrumental in the ending, but did little prior to that. It’s the same here; in Masquerade she is ultimately the hero who saves everyone, even the Doctor, but she does little before that except get possessed by the Maschera. She certainly could have used more character development; we still don’t have a strong picture of the kind of person she is. Even her affiliation with the Order of the Crescent Moon—arguably her most unique characteristic—is barely touched on. And that’s a pity, because in the end, she all but gives her life for the Doctor. Thus far, this trilogy constitutes her only appearance, but I’d like to see more stories with Hannah, possibly set between these installments (she hints that she’s been to several worlds with the Doctor, where in this trilogy she really only visits Earth, one spaceship, and one research outpost in an unrevealed location).

Continuity References: Only a few; keep in mind that our characters spend a portion of this story without their own memories, so they don’t make the usual offhanded references. The Doctor mentions seeing the Mona Lisa in Paris (City of Death, although he may not be remembering accurately at this point). He tells Rimdelle that he was present at the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (The Massacre). Hannah mentions the Order of the Crescent Moon (Moonflesh). Nyssa mentions tending the Grove on Traken (The Keeper of Traken). And, not a particular reference, but a thought about timeline placement: Humanity is referred to as a “Human Empire”, and yet this is very early in the spacegoing history of humanity. That would almost certainly place this story in what would retroactively be called the “First Great and Bountiful Human Empire” (first hinted in The Long Game, first seen in The Lost Flame).

Overall: It’s an enjoyable story, but I have mixed feelings about it. The pacing is uneven, and there’s a lot of content to unpack, probably more than its runtime supports. Hannah gets a bad deal in the end, as well. But, it’s a thought-provoking story, and it provides a glimpse into a time period that has been largely avoided in Doctor Who, and for that I’m grateful. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’ve already finished the other two entries in the trilogy.

Next time: Who knows! Ultimately we’ll get caught up to this point, and continue with Monthly Range # 188, Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories. But, as we’ve come here out of sequence, we’re not ready for that yet. Ideally we’ll get back to where we came from in the Main Range, with # 51, The Wormery (which we previously skipped). We’ll see! See you there.

The Masquerade and other stories in the Monthly Range can be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page can be found here. You can read the TARDIS wiki’s entry for Masquerade here.



Audio Drama Review: Moonflesh

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Welcome aboard!

You may recall that my last audio drama review was far out of order for its range. In October, I reviewed the Fifth Doctor audio Tomb Ship, which is number 186 in the Monthly Range (aka the Main Range)—and we previously left off at The Creed of the Kromon, a much earlier number 53. So I feel compelled to say that the plan hasn’t changed; my usual pattern is still to take the stories in order, and I listened to Tomb Ship out of order just for a moment of variety. We’ll go back to doing things in order (and even pick up #51, The Wormery, which we previously skipped).

But not today! You see, my random selection of Tomb Ship created a problem. At that point in the Monthly Range, stories were being released in trilogies—three stories featuring the same Doctor and companion(s), which are consecutive not just in terms of release dates, but also in terms of the in-universe storyline. Tomb Ship happens to be the middle story of such a trilogy. Further, those three stories are tightly connected by the presence of temporary companion Hannah Bartholomew. As such, it behooves me go ahead and finish out the trilogy before we go back to the mid-fifties.

Which, in turn, leads to another bit of confusion. If you are reading this post somewhere far down the road, when I’ve caught up all the intervening stories, you can navigate using the “Previous” and “Next” links I place at the bottom of each post, and you’ll be fine. The stories will connect in release order. Obviously if you’re reading before I finish everything between, you’ll find gaps. But even if everything is finished, if you’re reading in posting order, then you’re going to have some confusion here, as you encounter Tomb Ship first.

Hence, this long-winded explanation. Which I will no doubt go back and add to Tomb Ship, as well.

Now: On to the show! Today, we’re looking at number 185 in the Monthly Range, Moonflesh, written by Mark Morris. Featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Hannah Bartholomew, this story takes place in Suffolk, 1911. Let’s get started!

As always, spoilers ahead! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip to the second dividing line; however, spoilers are present throughout this post!

Suffolk, 1911: The Doctor and Nyssa land at the estate of one Nathaniel Whitlock, a big game hunter who has turned his land into a private hunting ground. They quickly befriend the transplanted Sioux warrior Silver Crow, who serves as Whitlock’s retainer; they also encounter Whitlock’s daughter Phoebe, and his guests: Father and son Edwin and Hector Tremayne, and Hannah Bartholomew. Hannah is concerned with the Moonflesh, a rock in Whitlock’s collection, previously belonging to Silver Crow, who claims to have received it supernaturally while in a trance. Later, the Doctor, Silver Crow, and Nyssa find Bartholomew under attack by an energy being.

Whitlock shoots at the being, naturally failing to harm it, but causing it to retreat via the chimney. In the commotion, Hector checks on Phoebe, and they see the being escaping into the grounds. Upon questioning, Hannah reveals she is part of the Order of the Crescent Moon, a group obsessed with spiritualist artifacts, who want to study the Moonflesh. She had tried to scrape samples from the rock, which released the being from the stone. In the morning, everyone but Nyssa and Phoebe goes out to hunt for the being; but they are attacked by a gorilla, clearly under the control of the being, which attacks and injures Edwin. While the gorilla is shot and killed, the creature escapes. The Doctor takes Silver Crow to the TARDIS to analyze the crystal scrapings; they confirm what they already suspected—the being is incorporeal, but can possess and control other creatures. This is all familiar to Silver Crow; he says that his people have encountered the creature before, and nearly defeated it—and in fact, they must have captured it in the Moonflesh. Heading back to the group, they see a number of meteors strick the grounds, yielding a red mist like the disembodied form of the creature. Meanwhile at the house, Nyssa and Phoebe are attacked by a possessed dog; they lock themselves in a room, but the creature gains entry anyway.

The group returns to the house and puts the wounded Edwin in the drawing room; he demands immediate medical assistance, thinking only of himself. Nyssa comes to get the Doctor, and takes him to Phoebe; Phoebe is now possessed by the creature, which speaks through her. It says that its name is Vatuus, and that it is a political refugee; it says the other meteorites are an assassination squad coming to kill it. Committed to helping, the Doctor sends Silver Crow, Hector, and Hannah to barricade the house, while he and Nyssa take the news of Phoebe’s possession to Whitlock. The Doctor offers himself to Vatuus as a vessel to carry Vatuus to the TARDIS and whisk it away; however his mind’s natural defenses reject the creature. Instead, Nyssa carries Vatuus, and they depart on horseback. Meanwhile, upstairs, animals start to invade the house, possessed by the newly-landed creatures. Edwin bribes Bartholomew to take him to safety in Whitlock’s carriage, leaving even his own son behind despite the danger. At the TARDIS, Vatuus shows its true colors and tries to possess the TARDIS itself via its telepathic circuits, but the Doctor prevents this; Vatuus escapes into one of the horses. The Doctor moves the TARDIS into the house—where he finds Hector, Phoebe, and Whitlock, all possessed by the newcomers.

The creatures express no intent to harm, and release Hector and Phoebe as a show of good faith. They say they were sent to track Vatuus, who is a “rogue element” in their society; they plan to capture and reabsorb Vatuus. But there’s a catch: If they haven’t succeeded by midnight, the entire cluster of their people, a billion strong, will come to join the hunt. Meanwhile, Vatuus, in possession of an element, attacks the coach leaving the grounds, and kills Edwin; Hannah escapes, and is not seen again. The Doctor realizes it was Silver Crow’s ritual Ghost Dance that caused Vatuus to be trapped in the Moonflesh. They perform the ritual again, and fall into a trance, their minds transported to a different plane of existence. The other survivors keep watch; they are soon attacked by Vatuus in the elephant. Whitlock kills the elephant, but Vatuus has leaped to one of the group: Whitlock himself. In the other world, the Doctor and Silver Crow locate a new Moonflesh rock, and return with it; Silver Crow draws Vatuus out of Whitlock, and traps it in the new Moonflesh.

Afterward, no one can account for Hannah’s whereabouts; however there is one good outcome: Hector decides to remain with Whitlock—much to the delight of Phoebe—and he has some ideas about turning the estate into a profitable safari park. The Doctor and Nyssa exit, taking the Moonflesh—and Vatuus with them to be returned to Vatuus’s people.

Moonflesh strikes me as a story with a great potential to go badly wrong. I’m not suggesting that it did go wrong, but that it could easily have done so. First, there’s the matter of big game hunting. That’s a topic that is very much out of style these days, and for good reason—just ask any of the relatively few remaining rhinos in the wild! It’s a topic that, while not exactly sensitive, is very much out of step with where we are as a society these days. But, this story is a pseudohistorical; and so it gets something of a pass by merit of being set in an era where big game hunting was not only accepted, but considered a point of prestige. I admit I was a little surprised that the topic is hardly even mentioned in the story, in terms of the social issues involved these days; I expected some sort of conversation between the Doctor and Nyssa about the barbarism of the practice and how it was common in that era. But there’s nothing of the type (possibly because Nyssa isn’t from Earth, and who knows how Trakenites would view the subject?).

Second, and much larger, there’s the matter of Silver Crow. Silver Crow is Native American—Sioux, to be precise—and portrayals of Native Americans, especially in a historical context, are very much a sensitive issue, at least in the USA. (And I admit to some ignorance here of how it’s viewed in the UK, where this story was written and recorded, so pardon me if I’m reading through too narrow a lens.) Now, I think that everything played well in the end; Silver Crow is portrayed as an intelligent, civilized man, not at all stereotypical. But he’s voiced by a white actor, which I think even now—just ten years after this story’s November 2012 recording—would be a highly questioned move. (John Banks did a fine job; I’m commenting more on the social situation than his performance.) As well, there’s the portrayal of the Ghost Dance ritual, which is very downplayed—and that’s probably for the best, because it would have been difficult to avoid cliché territory otherwise.

So, overall, I’m pleased with the outcome—but there’s a feeling in hindsight of dodging a bullet with regard to things that could have gone wrong, had the production been done by less capable people.

It’s a satisfying story with a solid resolution, which feels very contained—and not just in the sense of being the typical “base under siege” story. We never get a species name or an origin for Vatuus and the other creatures; they refer to the collective of their people as the “Prime Cluster”, but that’s hardly informative for us. Put another way, they could have come from anywhere, which in turn allows the action to focus on the here and now, the Whitlock estate.

Most interesting, of course, is the character of new (and temporary) companion Hannah Bartholomew. This story doesn’t actually establish her as a companion; but we’ve already reviewed the next entry, and we know that she’ll be joining the TARDIS crew. Hannah is strong-willed, stubborn, and motivated by her own agenda, which doesn’t have much in common with the Doctor’s plans. There’s potential for her to be a villain, though I don’t expect she’ll go that route. She’s not reluctant to join the Doctor—as we saw in Tomb Ship—but she’s the kind of person he would be reluctant to take on if given the choice. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

Continuity References: Not much at all here. In fact, this is one of the barest stories I’ve ever found with regard to continuity nods. Nyssa mentions the deaths of her father (well, sort of death—at least she thinks of it that way) and stepmother on Traken (The Keeper of Traken). Aaaaand…..that’s about it! (The wiki does mention a loose connection, but it’s hardly enough to count as continuity; Whitlock’s father was a Crimean War veteran who fought at the Battle of Inkerman, where Mollie Dawson’s uncle was killed—see The Evil of the Daleks.)

Overall: Not bad at all! I enjoyed this one. It’s not anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it’s solid and well-paced, and uses old tropes in new ways. If you want a good, middle-of-the-road story, you could do much worse.

Next time: That depends on how you’re finding these posts! As I mentioned, I’ve already covered the next story, Tomb Ship; if you click on the “Next” link below, it will take you there. But in terms of order of posting, next time we’ll be covering the third and final entry in this trilogy, Masquerade. See you there (either way)!

All audio dramas in this series are available for purchase from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.




Audio Drama Review: Tomb Ship

Welcome back! Not only has it been awhile, but also, it’s been an even longer while since we looked at (er, listened to?) an audio story. But, here we are! And I, for one, am glad to be back.

A bit of bad news, though: I’m not picking up where we left off–or at least not yet. Last time–all the way back in April of 2020!–we listened to number 53 in the main range of Doctor Who audio dramas, The Creed of the Kromon, where we found the Eighth Doctor, C’rizz, and Charley Pollard wandering the Divergent Universe. I’ll admit–and my posts of the time will confirm–that this has been a difficult stretch of stories for me, post-Zagreus. The Divergent Universe arc is pretty experimental as audios go, and often the stories are a sort of thought experiment, sometimes of a type that wouldn’t translate well to any other medium–in short, not your father’s Doctor Who! With all that said, I’m not saying that I won’t cover them; but I am saying that it’s a bit of a trudge for me, and I’m not quite ready to dive back in.

So, today, while we’re staying in the main range, we’re going to divert ahead a bit. We’re listening to a much later story, Main Range # 186, Tomb Ship! Written by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, this story was published in May 2014, and features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and temporary companion Hannah Bartholomew. Note that since we’re skipping so far ahead, I won’t be activating the “Previous” and “Next” buttons at the end of the post today; there are no relevant posts for them to link to. Once we (eventually) reach those posts, I’ll add the links. Let’s get started!

As always, there are spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip to the next line divider.

The Doctor and Nyssa land in a long stone passage, filled with dust and dark from disuse. They soon find it to be a part of a massive structure–a ship, as they will soon discover. After finding a dead and dried body, the Doctor deduces that the ship was built by the long-gone Arrit species, an advanced race that, he claims, could have grown to rival the Time Lords had they not met their end. Unknown to the Doctor, however, they are not alone on the ship. Elsewhere, a woman named Virna has broken in, along with several of her adult sons; they are a family of treasure hunters, and Virna is…obsessed, to put it mildly. So much so, in fact, that she is willing to sacrifice everyone around her, including her own sons, to get what she wants. She has already lost one to this ship, and just before the arrival of the Doctor and Nyssa, she loses another son, Rek, to one of the ship’s many traps. She is taunted by the voice of a mysterious woman, but conceals both this and Rek’s death from her other children.

The Doctor realizes, to his horror, that the ship is an Arrit tomb ship–the not-so-final resting place of the last of the Arrit god-kings. The Arrit, he explains to Nyssa, believed their kings were gods, and that in death they would become new stars in the sky, allowing their people to live on in their light. But, being both highly religious and highly advanced, they weren’t content to believe it; instead, they set about making it happen. Their tomb ships, they equipped with incredible explosives–powerful enough to turn the ship, its contents, and its surroundings into a supernova, which will settle into a new star! The ship would be set off into the cosmos on a journey of thousands of years–but this one is nearing its end; the Doctor can feel the hum of its engines cycling, a sign of its arrival at its destination. Meanwhile, Virna and her children discover the new intruders’ presence, and take them captive. They briefly break free and run, only to find that the TARDIS is not where they left it. Immediately thereafter they are recaptured–but Virna learns that the way back to her own ship has been cut off, as well. The whole group is now trapped–and the only way out, is in.

After a few mishaps with traps, Virna threatens Nyssa, forcing the Doctor to help her. She leaves Nyssa with one of her sons, Hisko, and takes her remaining sons Murs and Heff, along with the Doctor, to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the ship, using the Doctor’s expertise to disable or avoid traps. Along the way, they are confronted by giant insects, which the Doctor identifies as the Arrit-ko, slaves of the Arrit. He tries to talk Virna out of her plan, but she only adds urgency to the situation when she tells the Doctor that the tomb ship has entered a populated star system, thus endangering millions of lives. They find another body, this one better preserved; the Doctor notices several similarities to Virna’s current expedition, and his suspicions grow. At the same time, Nyssa outwits Hisko and escapes; he pursues her, but stops when she finds yet another body. They are attacked by the Arrit-ko, but are rescued by a strange woman, who seems to have some control over the creatures. She takes them along toward the inner sanctum, for what she calls a “family reunion”.

The Doctor, Virna, Heff, and Murs end up in a trap which requires someone to choose who will die. It quickly becomes evident to the Doctor–though not to Heff and Murs–that Virna will gladly sacrifice her sons to save herself. He struggles with her, and manages to execute the choice to sacrifice himself (as well as Virna); the trap then releases them. He explains that it was a test; only one who is willing to sacrifice himself would be allowed to continue. Proceeding on, Virna sends her sons ahead, where they encounter a mob of Arrit-ko, and begin to fight them. Virna has Heff hold them off while the others escape into the next room–and then she seals the door, locking Heff out to die. Murs, horrified, tries to stop her, but she threatens him as well. Unable to save Heff, the Doctor leads them toward the inner sanctum. Heff, meanwhile, is momentarily saved by a new arrival: Hannah Bartholomew, who stowed away in the TARDIS during the Doctor’s last adventure. He succumbs to his wounds, but not before begging her to stop his mother.

The mysterious woman introduces herself as Jhanni. She does not explain her presence here, but Nyssa figures it out; and as Jhanni runs on ahead, sensing trouble in the inner sanctum, Nyssa explains her conclusions to Hisko. She is sure that Virna has been here before, with other children with her–and Jhanni is one of them. Abandoned by Virna, she now only wants revenge; and her mind is somehow linked to the ship and the Arrit-ko. Meanwhile the ship comes under attack from the locals in the star system.

The Doctor’s group arrives at the inner sanctum, and discovers the dead god-king of Arrit, preserved in a stasis field. Jhanni contacts Virna and taunts her, telling her the Arrit-ko are coming for her. The Doctor figures out the final “catch” of the tomb: The god-king is not quite dead; its mind persists. A second mind must link with the god-king to form the psychic trigger that will activate the supernova bomb. The Doctor tries to link with the god-king, not to activate the bomb, but to persuade the god-king to steer the ship back out to deep space. While his under the link, the Arrit-ko arrive and attack Virna; Hisko runs on ahead to intervene, and the Arrit-ko also attack Nyssa. Hannah arrives and rescues her, and they head to the inner tomb. Once there, they find Jhanni confronting Virna; Virna sends Hisko on ahead. Nyssa and Hannah connect with him, then pull the Doctor from the link. The Doctor tells them his plan, but says he was unsuccessful; Jhanni’s mind is already linked, and is filled with nothing but rage, pain, and revenge–hence the ship’s presence in an inhabited system. When she goes, she’ll take millions with her.

The Doctor takes Nyssa, Hisko, and Murs to save Virna, because if she dies, Jhanni will have no reason to continue living, and will blow the ship up. However, this lets Virna escape, killing Murs in the process. At the Doctor’s insistence, Jhanni convinces the ship to head back into deep space; but she can’t stop the god-king from activating the supernova bomb. The survivors–the Doctor, Nyssa, Jhanni, Hisko, and Hannah–flee to the TARDIS (which had moved due to the HADS–Hostile Action Displacement System–when the walls closed around it, but has now returned). Meanwhile Virna confronts the god-king, and learns the awful truth: there was never any treasure. The promised prize is the opportunity to become a star along with the god-king, and thus, in the Arrit view, to ascend to godhood herself. As the TARDIS escapes, the supernova bomb detonates, taking the god-king and Virna with it.

Later, the Doctor takes Jhanni and Hisko to safety, before deciding what to do with Hannah. She wants to stay and travel with the Doctor and Nyssa, but of course the Doctor is having none of it, and sets the controls to take her home…casually mentioning that the destination he sets is usually the last place the TARDIS will take him.

I mentioned earlier that many of the Eighth Doctor’s main range stories are somewhat experimental in nature, and often would not translate well to the screen. Well, if you’re like me, and that type of story doesn’t work well for you, you’re in luck! Tomb Ship is exactly the opposite–a story that practically demands to be told onscreen. So much so, in fact, that it almost feels a bit wasted on audio.

That’s not to say that listening was a bad experience. Rather, I had a fantastic time with this story. It moves at lightning speed, but at the same time it is just tight enough and contained enough that one never loses track of the plot. No, when I say it would play well on television, I’m thinking of the implied visuals: the majestic setting of the tomb ship’s halls and corridors and columns, the explosion of the supernova bomb, the massed swarms of the Arrit-ko…it would translate to visual media so well!

But in the meantime, I appreciate what we have. The TARDIS team of Five and Nyssa is nothing if not efficient; the story moves along much more smoothly when the Doctor has a companion that is on his level, or near enough. Nyssa never has to be told, in agonizing detail, what to do; she anticipates, and usually correctly. She’s decisive but not headstrong, which plays well with the Fifth Doctor’s cooler temperament. When set up against a villain such as the matriarch Virna, who is calculating and shrill, but slowly falling apart under her obsession, it’s a small-scale but worthy match.

Then there is the matter of Hannah Bartholomew. She appears suddenly in this story, and obviously the intention is that the listener will have listened to the previous story, where the character is introduced. I hadn’t done so, although I had–entirely by coincidence–read a summary of the previous story, and so I had some idea of what to expect from Hannah. But her presence would be jarring to anyone who came into this story completely blind; and that’s the biggest weak point to this story. I suppose that’s an issue in any story that is part of a series; but in this case, it’s complicated by the fact that she doesn’t seem to be a focal character in the preceding story either. Oh well; we’ll check it out eventually! For the moment: welcome aboard, Hannah! (I understand the character will be short-lived as companions go; she only has one more appearance before departing. We’ll see.)

Doctor Who has no shortage of cruel villains, who stand in sharp contrast to the Doctor’s “never cruel nor cowardly” persona. Virna has a special place among them, though, and one that is especially emotional for me. After all, it’s not every day we find a villain who will sacrifice their own children for their cause. Virna did it, not once, but twice (at least!). There are few things sadder than a parent who chooses herself (or himself–we’re equal opportunity here) over his children, and especially to the point of death. Likewise, there are few things better calculated to create rage in the Doctor–and indeed, he lets her suffer the consequences of her actions, and die in the supernova. It’s terrible, it’s horrifying, and it’s incredibly satisfying from a story perspective.

Continuity: There’s very little in the way of continuity references here; this story is pretty independent and freestanding, as audio dramas go. What little there is has been thoroughly recorded on the TARDIS wiki, so I’m repeating their findings here. Nyssa makes reference to the character of Nathaniel Whitlock from the previous story, Moonflesh; Hannah also mentions the events of that story, and how they pointed her toward stowing away on the TARDIS. The Doctor mentions the TARDIS’s translation circuits (The Masque of Mandragora). Virna compares the Arrit-ko to the Wirrn (The Ark in Space). The TARDIS is moved by its HADS, or Hostile Action Displacement System (The Krotons).

And now, before we go, a bit of idle theorizing. I recently rewatched the revived series episode 42, with the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones. In that story, a star is found to be both alive and hostile; it can in some limited way possess individuals, accessing their knowledge while taking them over. I couldn’t help wondering if that star may be connected to Akhaten, the living celestial object in The Rings of Akhaten. I very carefully chose the phrase “celestial object” because, although Akhaten is portrayed as a planet of sorts, its appearance is much more like a star; and it is only once referenced as a planet, but that within the context of the viewpoint of the locals, which is heavily loaded with superstition. If the first appearance in 42 is early in the star’s life cycle, and The Rings of Akhaten takes place much later, it’s plausible to me they could be the same. (Or I would be content to have them be related phenomena.) Now: What if those objects originated as Arrit tomb ships? The Arrit are adamant that their god-kings become living stars–and it is made clear that their minds live beyond death. What if those stars are, indeed, living?

Just a thought, but one that I find intriguing.

Overall: Tomb Ship is a fun, rollicking story, and you won’t regret your time. That’s the most that can be said for it–but really, what more do we want?

Next time: Who knows? But, eventually, we’ll get back to the Divergent Universe, and also to the next story in this sequence, Masquerade! We’ll 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.

Tomb Ship



Audio Drama Review: The Creed of the Kromon

We’re back! Today we’re looking at the next entry in Big Finish’s Monthly Adventures (or Main Range, if you prefer) range of Doctor Who stories. This title, 2004’s The Creed of the Kromon, written by Philip Martin, is number 53 in the Monthly Adventures range, and also the second entry in the Divergent Universe arc of stories, featuring the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard. It picks up immediately after the events of the previous entry, Scherzo. Let’s get started!

The Creed of the Kromon

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

The Doctor and Charley Pollard walk out of the ruin of the experimental bottle, into an arid and deceptive landscape under two red suns. After some momentary hallucination, they manage to come to their senses, and see a number of habitat domes in the distance. They are stopped by a voice, who tortures them briefly; it is that of a being called Kro’ka. It bargains with them for admission to the world in front of them, which is called the zone of Eutermes; it wants a price to allow them in, and the price must fill a need in Eutermean society. The Doctor offers his knowledge of spacetime, but Charley offers a bigger prize: The TARDIS itself–if they can find it. Kro’ka lets them in; as they proceed, he notes that “experiment 2.70” has begun.

They encounter–and save the life of–a humanoid, reptilian local, named C’rizz, who is recently escaped from a habitat dome. As they progress, he tells them of the Kromon, termite-like insect creatures who rule Eutermes. C’rizz wants to return to the Alpha Sphere–the lead habitat dome–to be with his love, L’da. He explains that the Kromon rule his people, and that he and L’da were chosen to be “royals”, the leaders of their race–but that they will be made to take an elixir that puts them in tune with the Kromon. He further notes that despite the aridity of the area, the rains haven’t ceased; it later becomes apparent that the Kromon’s researches have caused the rivers and water table to dry up. They meet a subterranean creature called an Oroog; then the entire party is picked up by a Kromon patrol, and taken captive to the Alpha Sphere.

The Oroog is put to work as a laborer. The Doctor is assigned to research, and Charley is classed as breeding stock. C’rizz is forced to take the elixir, but he cannot tolerate it and spits it up. In the confusion, the Doctor and Charley escape. C’rizz is sent for execution, but is rescued by the Doctor and Charley. The Doctor finds that L’da has been made the subject of an experiment in hybridization between her species and the Kromon. The try to reach her on level five of the dome, but are intercepted; the Doctor is sent to Research, and C’rizz is put to work. Charley, however, is directed to the Reproductive center on level five.

The Doctor manages to get himself ingratiated into the Kromon space program, which is very rudimentary. He does, however, determine that they do not have the TARDIS, and indeed don’t understand the concept of time travel–or of time, at all. C’rizz manages to reconnect with the Doctor, and Charley–who has not yet been transformed by the experiment–is reassigned to the Doctor’s department. However, they find that L’da is not so lucky; she has been metamorphosed into a hybrid form to serve as a Kromon queen. C’rizz shoots and kills her with a stolen gun.

The Kromon arrest the trio. They immediately decide to use Charley as a replacement for the slain queen. The Doctor is forced to take elixirs to prompt his memories so that the Kromon can obtain his knowledge of space travel. In the process he becomes aware of the Kromon’s history; they were abused by a predatory mining company that ruined their world, but they survived by taking over the company and adapting its policies into their creed. Hence, they in turn have nearly ruined Eutermes. Meanwhile C’rizz is further tortured; and Charley is forced into the metamorphic process.She begins to change, but is disoriented by the process. C’rizz is rescued by the Oroog, and taken to safety. The Doctor helps the Kromon build a prototype rocket–but when it is activated by the Kromon director of space research, it explodes.

The Doctor flees, connecting with C’rizz on the way, and go in search of Charley. Not finding her, they retreat to level two. Her transformation is nearly complete, however. The Oroog reveals the existence of root plants that will clear the confusion from the minds of the Kromon’s victims. He uses them to attempt to free the rest of his kind, while the Doctor and C’rizz shut off the water supply–a crisis for the Kromon–in preparation for rescuing Charley. Charley learns to communicate with and control the larva that are newly hatched from eggs left by L’da–a success for the experiment. However, the lack of water causes chaos before she can be placed in the breeding chamber; without constant water, the Kromon royals begin to die off. C’rizz kills the Kromon breeding scientists, but it’s a needless gesture; as the royals die, so do the rest of the Kromon, who are mentally linked to the leadership. The Oroog tells the Doctor that his people are cutting off the water to the rest of the spheres as well, returning the water to the surface and eliminating the Kromon threat.

The Doctor places Charley in a pool, ensuring her survival, and gives her the roots, breaking the Kromon influence and starting her body on a path back to its human form. She mercifully sleeps through the process, and retains little memory of the transformations. With the crisis averted, and Eutermes saved, the Doctor and Charley leave for other lands, other zones–but C’rizz, now cast adrift from his old life, asks to come along, and is granted permission. However, in the interzone between zones, Kro’ka speaks to the Doctor’s mind again, and warns him to be wary of C’rizz; the Eutermesan was formerly a peaceful monk, but has been damaged by his experiences. As they move to the next zone, the Kro’ka comments that experiment 3.56 is about to start.

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After the experience of Scherzo, I was, I admit, relieved to have a more linear, stable story here. Call me a traditionalist, I suppose, but I think that Doctor Who works best when it tells more traditional stories, with a clear antagonist and a situation to overcome–as opposed to the internal-view type of story presented in Zagreus or Scherzo. In that light, the Divergent Universe’s circular nature becomes an asset, a nice twist, rather than a source of confusion for the audience.

And The Creed of the Kromon delivers. It capitalizes on the idea that this is all new territory for the Doctor; his usual vast store of knowledge about the universe and its history is useless here. Worse: it’s a liability–several times he makes assumptions and guesses that would probably have panned out back in N-Space, but here are terribly wrong. In the midst of all this, we get some nice touches: a slow-burn body horror (though unfortunately without much in the way of stakes, because it’s a safe bet that Charley will be normal again at the end), and a new companion, C’rizz. I was completely unfamiliar with this character; I knew he was mentioned in The Night of the Doctor (among a rush of Big Finish companions that got a canonical nod), but that was it. It’s easy to overlook that he isn’t actually human, only humanoid; in fact he is of reptilian stock. The body horror here is along the same lines as the Krynoid all the way back in The Seeds of Doom, or the Wirrn in The Ark in Space; both of those stories scared me witless as a kid, but this story is less terror and more tragedy. In that sense, it’s more like Peri’s transformation in Vengeance on Varos.

I want to point out something else that I think is especially relevant to the current state of Doctor Who. The Eighth Doctor is most definitely a classic series Doctor, despite bridging between classic and modern. We can see this most in his attitude toward the deaths of his enemies. The current Doctor as of this writing (Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, at least until someone gets around to numbering the pre-Hartnell Doctors) is a diehard pacifist. Not only will she not kill, but also she will neither engineer deaths secondhand, nor allow her companions to in any way be responsible for a death. She holds that line even when it results in greater deaths through inaction–a point which has infuriated many fans. (To be fair, it’s an outgrowth of the Doctor’s growth after the Time War; but it seems sometimes to be a hard line just for the sake of a hard line, rather than any practical decision.) There’s none of that here. Eight is witness to the death of the entire Kromon race, and hardly blinks. He tacitly admits that justice demands their deaths; that by letting it happen, he is saving the Eutermesans, who are helpless victims. it’s a straightforward morality that has become increasingly grey and muddled in modern times, ultimately giving us its own antithesis in the Thirteenth Doctor–a transformation about which I have not made up my mind.

Continuity References: While doling out information to the Kromon scientists, the Doctor mentions Zeiton-7 as a fuel for his ship (Vengeance on Varos). The Kro’ka will return in The Twilight Kingdom. Charley (AGAIN) relives her averted death on the R101 (Storm Warning, and if we could stop referencing the same story every week that would be great, thanks). The Doctor mentions meeting Charles Darwin (Bloodtide), and visiting Mars before its dessication (The Judgement of Isskar). C’rizz is revealed to be a monk, which will be further explained in Faith Stealer and Absolution.

Overall: I like this one. I think it’s a better setup for the rest of the Divergent Universe arc than Scherzo, and it’s an enjoyable, well-paced story in the bargain. it makes me feel better about the situation overall.

Next time: If you’re keeping up, we’re right in the middle of four in a row in the Divergent Universe arc. Next time–if I don’t take a break to finish up The Wormery–we’re listening to The Natural History of Fear. 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 Creed of the Kromon



Audio Drama Review: Scherzo

All my friends are dead

All My Friends Fans Are Dead (!)

Well, I hope not, anyway. But they may have fled the site by now, which comes to the same thing from a readership perspective. After all, this blog has been, for most purposes, dead for some time now. My last post was almost exactly six months ago; and at that point, I left two projects unfinished, in addition to leaving off with our regular series of reviews. I will try to back up and finish those projects, but that’s going to take some work, so bear with me.

In the meantime: I have not forgotten you! Or this site. The lack of posts here has largely been due to a lack of time and energy to experience the stories I cover, not a lack of effort to cover them. In short, I haven’t watched, listened to, or read much Doctor Who for a long time now (with the exception of Series 12 of the television series, and I’m not ready to cover that anyway–I still need to cover the Eleventh Doctor era, let alone Twelve or Thirteen). There’s a variety of largely pointless reasons for that, but suffice it to say I want to take another stab at catching up. If you’re still with me after all this time, bless you and thank you…and if not, and I’m just speaking into the void Time Vortex, well, perhaps future generations of digital archaeologists will uncover these ramblings. Bernice Summerfield, at least, would be pleased.

Today, we’ll take the plunge back into the world of Big Finish’s Main Range (or Monthly Adventures Range–that seems to be their preferred term these days) of audio dramas. It’s a conspicuous time, because I’ve heard rumors that they may be preparing to phase out the monthly adventures as they increasingly move toward a box set model. Definite plans haven’t been announced, but the rumbles have been felt. (My personal thought is they’ll go to three hundred entries before stopping; they’re at 263, Cry of the Vultriss, with placeholders up to 275 on the website.) We left off with the fiftieth entry, the large-scale insanity that was Zagreus; you can read about it at that link. I’m going to do something I usually try not to do, and skip the next entry, The Wormery, for now, chiefly because I haven’t finished it. It’s a bit of an odd man out, a Sixth Doctor (and Iris Wildthyme!) story sandwiched between several continuous Eighth Doctor stories. As soon as I’ve finished it, I’ll post about it and fix the “previous” and “next” links to match. These next few entries will also be a bit abbreviated, as I want to hurry and catch up a bit.

So, with all that said, let’s get started! Today, we’re covering the next Eighth Doctor story after Zagreus, the first in the Divergent Universe arc, Scherzo.


Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this story!

Following on the events of Zagreus, Charley Pollard finds herself, the Doctor, and the TARDIS thrust into the bizarre and counterintuitive Divergent Universe. This universe, as we previously learned, was spun off by Rassilon in ancient times to trap its inhabitants away from the real universe. It is a universe without time, where everything constantly circles around to the same point; but Charley doesn’t yet grasp the implications.

She has bigger problems to worry about, though. The Doctor is apparently free of the Zagreus entity, but is far from himself, spouting sad nonsense and refusing to act to save himself or Charley–and the TARDIS is vanishing. They find themselves abandoned in a featureless world, one that sometimes even lacks sight, name, identity. They make their way repeatedly through a world that seems almost circular, leading them in circles–no, spirals–around and around. Repeatedly they encounter a mysterious and variable figure, who tempts them each to give up on the other. Charley faces her own past; the Doctor faces the reality that he has, indeed, lived as though his friends and companions were disposable, interchangeable, for which he is ashamed. And yet, when confronted with the choice of whether each would live for themselves or die for the other, both pass the test.

With the TARDIS fully vanished, the world is revealed to be the inside of a large glass experimental jar; they have been circling it, slowly making their way upward. Now, they are able to shatter the glass and move forward into a new world, which they will explore together…though enemies are already arraying themselves in the shadows.

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There’s experimental, and then there’s experimental. Big Finish has done quite a bit of experimentation with their audios over the years–we’ve covered a few of their experimental pieces, and I expect to cover more. Doctor Who is a series that lends itself well to the practice, at least when not on television (where viewer counts are paramount).

But there’s a vast difference between experimenting with the format (as in Flip Flop or Doctor Who and the Pirates) and experimenting with the content. The former is often a welcome change, a bit of variety in a long series. The latter…well, it either works for you or it doesn’t. For me, in this case at least, it doesn’t. I was fairly kind to Zagreus in my review; for all that it’s the most bizarre piece of DW fiction I’ve encountered, it tells a cohesive story, and it’s a compelling one even if it’s not what anyone expected. Scherzo, though…Scherzo is a bit like dry heaves. It’s not very pleasant, but it’s not even particularly productive as a bad thing. I mean no insult at all to the author, Robert Shearman, who is quite capable in general. I feel, though, that he had a bad task to accomplish here: The transition from Zagreus to the Divergent Universe arc. We went from a scenario of mindscapes (but orderly ones) to a universe with no rules; it was bound to be a bumpy ride.

And that’s exactly what this story is: a transition. It makes no secret of that, and it shouldn’t. The consequence is that it doesn’t have much identity of its own–which is appropriate, given that identity is a major issue for our characters in this story. (It will get better though; we’ll re-establish some order in the next entries in the arc.)

As an aside, the story does do something unusual: It is one of only a handful of performed Doctor Who stories to only involve the main cast, and at the time of its release it was only the second story ever to do so, after 1964’s The Edge of Destruction (which was also the first bottle episode–ironic, given that this story takes place in a literal bottle). It’s also the first “two-hander” story in Doctor Who history, the first (performed) story with only two roles.

Continuity References: Things are going to get weird for awhile, I’m afraid. I don’t usually include references to stories that are still in the future of the same range as the story under discussion; I prefer to look back for references, not ahead. That’s not a valid plan when we’re talking about the Divergent Universe. The universe itself is circular in terms of time, and so stories go out of their way to behave as such. Hence, the Doctor makes reference to several things he has not yet encountered: The Kromon and Kro’ka (The Creed of the Kromon), the Censor (The Natural History of Fear), and Major Koth (The Twilight Kingdom). Additionally, Charley mentions the crash of the R101, as she often does (Storm Warning).

Overall: Not a favorite for me, but I grudgingly admit we need Scherzo to get us over to the Divergent Universe. Better things are coming. Moving ahead!

Next time: Unless I catch up on The Wormery, we’ll continue with The Creed of the Kromon, and meet a new companion! 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. 




Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today—finally—we have reached the fiftieth entry in the main range, which also serves as Doctor Who’s fortieth anniversary story: Zagreus, written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell. The story was released in November 2003, fifteen years ago as I write this review, and was directed by Gary Russell. It featured every Doctor and companion actor to have performed in Big Finish’s productions to date, although nearly all appeared in new roles here. The story is famously bizarre and trippy; and, well, I will say up front that the rumors are both correct and unable to do it justice. I can’t promise that anything I say here will do it justice, either; it’s hard to even wrap your head around a story like this, let alone sum it up. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a try. Let’s dig in!

Zagreus 1

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

Due to the extreme length and detail of this story, I’m going to break my own pattern today and leave out the usual plot summary. Several good summaries already exist; therefore I will point you to the summary that can be found at the TARDIS wiki, or the summary at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Zagreus 2

Yep, it’s exactly this weird. Credit to Roger Langridge, DWM 340.

Despite having discussed it many times on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, and despite having listened to the audio dramas that lead up to it, I still didn’t truly know what I was getting into with Zagreus. For one thing, the story is very long; it’s the longest entry to date in the main range, at three hours and fifty-six minutes, and the second longest in all of BF’s Doctor Who audio dramas. (Only UNIT: Dominion–which is excellent, and which I hope to cover eventually—is longer, by a measly two minutes.) If the average main range audio is a serial, and the average Eighth Doctor Adventures story is a NuWho episode, then Zagreus is a feature film, or possibly a trilogy of films. For another thing, the story takes many familiar actors and scrambles them like eggs (via new roles); the resulting omelette is…well, it is definitely different.

Zagreus picks up where Neverland–which feels like a very long time ago to me; I covered it more than a year and a half ago)–left off, just after the TARDIS and the Doctor absorb the explosion of the anti-time casket. This transforms the Doctor’s mind into a strange, raging beast that takes the name and identity of the mythical Zagreus. Most of the story then proceeds inside the TARDIS, and also on a place called the Foundry of Rassilon, which is at least nominally located on Gallifrey. The Doctor, Zagreus, and the TARDIS all battle their respective foes and selves to establish their identities. At the end, it is discovered that there is another hand at work in these events; and in the end, the characters are—for the most part—saved from destruction. However, the Doctor still is not rid of the anti-time infection; and he cannot be allowed out into the universe any longer. If he makes contact with the normal universe, the infection will escape, and bring all of time to an end (or worse: a state of never having been). Instead, he chooses exile in the anti-time universe, called hereafter the Divergent Universe after the name of its dominant species, the Divergence. Unknown to him, Charley Pollard chooses to go with him.

Most actors appear in different roles, as I have mentioned; but a few appear as their usual characters. Lalla Ward appears as President Romana; Louise Jameson appears as Leela; John Leeson, as K9 (Romana’s K9, in this instance; Leela and Sarah Jane, of course, have their own, who do not appear here). Miles Richardson appears very briefly as Cardinal Braxiatel, and Don Warrington appears as Rassilon. Charley Pollard is the true central character of the story, and as such, India Fisher appears in her usual role; and Nicholas Courtney, while not appearing as the actual Brigadier, appears as a simulation thereof. As well, posthumous voice clips of Jon Pertwee (taken from the Devious fan production) were used to reproduce the voice of the Third Doctor, though he does not appear corporeally in this story. The entire cast, with roles, can be found on the story pages for Zagreus at the TARDIS wiki and at Big Finish’s site. Of special interest is that Big Finish’s site does not credit Paul McGann as the Doctor, but only as Zagreus, though he fills both roles. This is the first appearance in audio of both Leela and K9, though both will go on to figure prominently in the Gallifrey series and other places. Likewise, Braxiatel appears for the first—and only—time in the main range here, though he too will appear in Gallifrey. The story is a three-parter, and only four actors—Peter Davison, Nicholas Courtney, India Fisher, and Paul McGann—appear in all three parts. More sadly, it is Elizabeth Sladen’s only appearance in the main range, and her only work with any of the Doctor actors in Big Finish, due to her untimely death.

I’ve described this story as trippy, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s hard to follow. It flows very directly, with two parallel plot threads (one for the Doctor/Zagreus, one for Charley). However, the story is filled with mindscapes and illusions and visitations by past Doctors; in that sense, it can be thought of as a sort of bookend for The Eight Doctors. Both the Doctor and Charley are subject to these visions; and, given that they provide the viewpoints for the story, it becomes a little difficult to know what is real and what isn’t. (Here’s the cheater’s version: almost everything in parts one and two is illusory—though valid and important; there are few red herrings here—while part three is reality.) At first the story feels as though it’s wandering; it tells several narratives that don’t seem to be related to anything. I didn’t have any trouble maintaining interest, though, as each narrative is well-told and interesting enough on its own. Soon enough, they all come together, as Zagreus—the monster, not the story—reaches its endgame.

The problems, I think, are twofold. First and foremost: this story is not what we were promised. Not that I’m saying that we, the audience, were literally promised anything; but the lead-up in the various preceding stories would have suggested something much different than what we ultimately got. Zagreus is supposed to be a universe-ending monster that consumes the unsuspecting and undoes time itself; but when you consider that the entire story occurs within the confines of the TARDIS (or the second location, which is also confined), with no one in danger but the Doctor himself, it quickly becomes apparent that Zagreus is sort of a joke. Were he to be unleashed on the universe, he might become the promised monster; as it is, he’s a Schrodinger’s Cat of unrealized potential. Indeed, the story itself uses the same metaphor in part one, and it’s very apt. It subverts the usual Doctor Who trope of the universe-ending catastrophe, but it doesn’t feel clever for subverting it; it just feels like we were a bit cheated. The second problem is related: this is, for better or worse, an anniversary story; and we’ve come to expect something exceptional from an anniversary story. (Well, perhaps not as much as we expect it after The Day of the Doctor, but still…) As the Discontinuity Guide puts it: “Oh dear. An eighteen-month wait – for this!” I’m not sure what I would have done differently; but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.

Still, it’s not entirely out of step with Big Finish’s other stories; and we did just come off of a run of experimental stories. Perhaps Zagreus is best thought of as the last of those stories, rather than as an anniversary story; in that regard it fits right in. For me, the worst part is that I greatly suspect that Zagreus–the monster, not the story–will turn out to be forgotten and never mentioned again. You can’t just create a universe-ending threat and then pretend it didn’t happen–but it won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. So much wasted potential!

Continuity: There are a great many continuity references here, and I can’t be sure I’ve found or compiled them all. Charley has met the Brigadier before, in Minuet in Hell; Romana also has done so, in Heart of TARDIS. This story proposes that Romana and Leela are meeting for the first time; but this contradicts the events of Lungbarrow, which takes place at the end of the Seventh Doctor’s life, and which makes it clear that they have known each other on Gallifrey for some time. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS briefly as Bessie (last seen in Battlefield). The Doctor finds a copy of Through the Looking-Glass; Ace previously read it in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible. There are hints that Project Dionysus (seen in one of the simulations) was under the auspices of the Forge (Project: Twilight, et al). The Brigadier paraphrases the Doctor from The Five Doctors regarding being the sum of one’s memories—a quote he shouldn’t know, but…spoilers! The Yssgaroth get a couple of mentions (State of DecayThe Pit). The Doctor sees a vision of the planet Oblivion (Oblivion), the Oracle on KS-159 (Tears of the Oracle), the removal of one of his hearts (The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) and a crystal Time Station (Sometime Never, and possibly Timeless). The effect of all of these latter visions is to place the novel series—from which all of them are drawn—in a separate continuity from the audios, which allows for various noted contradictions going forward. Likewise, another vision shows the Time Lords with great mental powers (Death Comes to Time).

The Sisterhood of Karn appears, though not by name (The Brain of Morbius, et al). The TARDIS has a history of generating sentient avatars (A Life of Matter and DeathThe Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe). Gallifrey has a watchtower (The Final Chapter). The statue from Sivler Nemesis is mentioned, as well as Rassilon’s various accoutrements and the De-Mat Gun (The Invasion of Time). The Oubliette of Eternity is mentioned (Sisterhood of the Flame). Cardington appears in a vision (Storm Warning). The Doctor mentions meeting Rasputin (The WandererThe Wages of Sin). Charley mentions the Doctor escaping from Colditz Castle (Colditz), which she did not witness, but the Doctor has mentioned. The Doctor refers to John Polidori (Mary’s Story). Charley and Leela have met before, but do not remember (The Light at the End). The Fifth Doctor paraphrases the Fourth Doctor from Logopolis: “I very much fear that the moment’s not been prepared for.” The Tower of Rassilon appears, along with the Death Zone (The Five Doctors). Fifth Doctor lines from Warriors of the Deep and The Caves of Androzani are also quoted, as well the Seventh Doctor from Survival: “If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!” Gallfrey will in the future be empty (Dead RomanceHell Bent). The Doctor suggest that power will corrupt Romana; this comes true in The Shadows of Avalon. The Doctor mentions a beryllium clock (TV movie). Vortisaurs are mentioned (Storm Warning, et al). Transduction inducers are first mentioned in The Deadly Assassin. The Rassilon Imprimature—mentioned here, but not by name—is first mentioned in The Two Doctors. The TARDIS has a back door (LogopolisGenocide). Various monsters are mentioned in quick succession—Mandrells, Hypnotrons, Drashigs, Daleks, Yeti, Quarks.

Overall: Not a bad story. I enjoyed it quite well. On the other hand, it’s definitely not what I expected—if I expected anything. Certainly it feels more appropriate as an experimental story than as an anniversary story, as I mentioned. Most importantly, it serves to get the Doctor and Charley into the Divergent Universe, where they will spend the next several adventures. It’s a story I am glad to have heard once, but I probably won’t come back to it. Still, it’s unique, and I can’t say I regret it. Moving on!

Next time: Well, that was a lot to take in. We’ll take a break with the Sixth Doctor (and introduce another popular character, Iris Wildthyme!) in The Wormery. See you there!

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




Audio Drama Review: Master

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Master, the forty-ninth entry in the Main Range, and also the penultimate entry in the tetralogy of villain-centered audios which ends with Zagreus. Released in October 2003 (just in time for Hallowe’en!), this story was directed by Gary Russell, and features Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Geoffrey Beevers as the Master. Let’s get started!

Master 1


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

Trailer: A Doctor John Smith reads off a letter he is sending to some dear friends, inviting them to a celebratory dinner at his old and expansive manor house.

Part One: An old man awakens from a nightmare of evil voices promising death. Elsewhere, overlooking a parade and a large crowd, an assassin waits for his target. However, he is interrupted by the arrival of a strange little man, who offers him a story—and all the assassin must do is wait. The assassin begins to listen to the story:

In an imitation-Edwardian village called Perfugium, on a colony world of the same name, Dr. John Smith meets his guests at the door. They are Adjudicator/Inspector Victor Shaeffer and his wife, Jacqueline, who is a well-known philanthropist. They are met by John, and also by his maid, Jade. They talk of various local matters; but later, as Jacqueline goes in search of a kitchen knife to replace hers (which has gone missing), Victor reveals that there has been another murder. It is the latest in a series of murders of young women, mostly prostitutes, though this one was not. Victor is quite unsettled by the deaths,  They are interrupted by Jade’s cat. Meanwhile Jacqueline speaks harshly to Jade, assuming that Jade has romantic designs on John Smith. She reveals that John has amnesia, and doesn’t remember anything before his arrival here ten years earlier; she suspects an accident, perhaps fire, which would explain not only the amnesia, but the disfigurement of his face. Nevertheless Jade has no such designs. After dessert, Victor suddenly grows moody and has a brief outburst against John, which nearly turns to violence; but it passes, and the group returns to their talk. Jacqueline gives John a birthday present—a sort of primitive Ouija board. Against everyone’s better judgment, they try it out; it spells out the letters D-O-C-T-…and suddenly there is a crash of thunder, followed by two screams.

Part Two: One scream is Jacqueline; but the other is from a man outside the window. John and Victor bring him in, finding he was struck by lightning; he is incoherent at first. Meanwhile, the assassin argues briefly with the storyteller about the veracity of the story, before letting him continue. Victor and Jacqueline temporarily withdraw, letting John work on the man; the man recovers, and seems to be healing quickly. After some awkwardness, the two begin to discuss the murders, and find much common ground. The man calls himself Dr. Vaughn Sutton. They discuss the nature of evil in the heart, and whether a man can be purely evil without motive. The Doctor—for that is who Dr. Sutton really is—tells Smith about a truly evil man he once knew, called the Master. Pushing the issue, Smith reveals his own evil impulses, for which he cannot account, but which he steadfastly resists. Does this make him evil?

John is taken by a sudden fit; and a new voice speaks through his mouth, promising death to all present if the Doctor does not do what he came to do. As John revives, a book–*Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde*–falls off the bookshelf. John goes to check on the others, and the Doctor picks up the book, getting the point at once; the voice speaks again, telling him he has one more chance to keep his word, or everyone will die.

Part Three: The assassin wants to know if John Smith really is the Master, as the storyteller—who is obviously the Doctor—implies. And what other force is at work here? The Doctor resumes his story.

Jacqueline thinks the newcomer is dangerous; but regardless, some force is at work, as she slaps Jade and drives her out of the room. However, Smith tells them that the Doctor will be staying the night, as will they, due to the storm outside. They are interrupted by Jade’s scream; her cat is dead, its throat cut and its heart removed—just like the murder victims. Victor believes the killer is taunting him personally now. They gather with the Doctor, who now claims to have been attacked by books in the library—and indeed, the library is a wreck. In the midst of it all, John admits to having invited his friends over to test the alleged curse on this house—but now he regrets it, because they all seem to be in danger. John becomes convinced that the Doctor knows him from his past life, but why won’t he admit it? Smith feels something evil inside him—and he happens across Jacqueline’s missing kitchen knife. The Doctor tries to get Victor and Jacqueline to leave, but John interrupts by taking Jacqueline hostage with the knife, and demanding to know the truth. The Doctor gets him to relent by agreeing to talk—and talk he does.

He tells the story of himself and the Master as children. They were bullied by an older boy—but one day, one of them had enough. In the midst of the bullying, he killed he bully. The two boys burned the body together, but after that, the killer become more distant and angry, full of guilt, while the other went on to be a good man. One became the Doctor; the other, the Master. And John, he reveals, is the Master—though he does not remember it. Worse, the Master’s innate telepathy has projected that evil onto those around him, affecting their actions tonight. Jacqueline defends him; the Doctor offers to take them all away from here. However, they are interrupted by Jade—who reveals her true identity: Death itself.

Part Four: Jade—no, Death—mocks them all, and especially the Doctor. She quickly shares everyone’s secrets: the Doctor is here to  kill the Master; Jacqueline is in love with John; and Victor is the murderer. Victor flees the room, screaming from the revelations, and the lights go out. In the dark, Jacqueline admits that she has always loved John, and still does—but he rejects her, accepting the revelation of who he is. He cruelly dismisses her, and she leaves in tears, leaving only John and the Doctor. The Doctor says that he knows John truly loves Jacqueline, and ran her off to save her from Death. He says that the Master has been Death’s servant—her Champion—but that, ten years ago, he struck a deal with Death. For ten years, Death would release the master, allowing him a normal life, but at the end, the Doctor had to kill him. She arranged tonight to push the Doctor to do just that, perhaps in punishment for his past role as Time’s Champion. The Master urges him to do it, and hands him the kitchen knife. Meanwhile Jacqueline finds Victor in the scullery, and talks with him about whether anyone is truly too hopeless to be saved.

The Doctor refuses to kill him. Instead he realizes that John’s love for Jacqueline—which Death never anticipated—could save John from the Doctor’s deal…but only if they get to Jacqueline first. They head for the scullery. However, Death is whispering to Victor, and ultimately he kills Jacqueline. The Master shrieks in despair.

Death pauses time so she can gloat over her victory. The Master—with his true personality revealed—scoffs at Death’s influence; he is evil of his own will, regardless of her actions. However, she reveals the truth: Even the Doctor has forgotten that there was an earlier deal. It was not the Master that killed Torvic, but the Doctor. Death gave the child Doctor a choice: remember his guilt and serve her, or let it pass to his friend. The Doctor chose to let his friend serve death…and the rest is history. The innocent suffered, and the guilty forgot. However, the remnants of John Smith forgive the Doctor; after all, they were only children. Death gives John a choice: Go back and save Jacqueline by killing Victor first. However, he sees the trap: if he does so, he will become Death’s servant again, but if he does not, Jacqueline will die. John again forgives the Doctor, and chooses—and Death sends the Doctor away before he can learn the decision, as punishment for breaking their more recent deal. The story ends where it began, with the guests arriving; but John threatens Victor with death.

The assassin wants to know what he chose, but the Doctor does not know, and cannot tell him. However, the assassin knows why the Doctor is here now; he has been sent by death to fufill his bargain another way, by killing an innocent—and he is to take the place of the assassin to do it. The assassin offers him the gun, but the Doctor refuses; this again breaks his bargain. The assassin reveals himself to be Death in a new guise, and resumes Jade’s form to mock the Doctor again.  She promises to find new ways to punish him, and stalks off to kill an innocent. Meanwhile the Doctor vows to someday find and free his old friend.

Master 2

The Doctor doesn’t lack for enemies who want to compare him to themselves. There’s Davros, as we mentioned last time; the Daleks and Cybermen have done it; many others wait their turn. And of course, there’s the Doctor’s oldest friend, the Master. In this story it’s a little more on-the-nose than usual; there’s a twist near the end that reveals that the two are more alike than either of them thinks. I won’t reveal the twist, but it caught me by surprise.

We start out the story with a man named John Smith—usually one of the Doctor’s aliases, but here used (if unknowingly) by the Master. I don’t think it’s a great spoiler to say that Smith is the Master; for anyone even slightly familiar with the character (or even the title of the story!) it will be obvious almost instantly. It’s the Master who doesn’t know, and I found that fascinating. Of course, in the years since this story was released, we’ve had such an occurrence on television (Utopia, etc.), but this version takes a different view; for one, the Master didn’t put himself in this situation, and for two, unlike Professor Yana, John Smith doesn’t want to go back to being the Master.

I want to call this another character study, but that’s only on the surface. The real story here is of the relationships among the Doctor, the Master, and Death itself—that’s Death as an incarnate being, as previously portrayed in Timewyrn: Revelation and other novels. This is her first appearance in an audio, however. It’s long been established that the Doctor is Time’s Champion; here it’s confirmed that the Master is Death’s Champion. What matters is how it came about—but, that strays into spoiler territory! I will say, however, that the explanation for the Master’s life choices is quite different from (though not entirely incompatible with) the version we saw in The End of Time, regarding the drumbeats; or the version from The Sound of Drums regarding the Master’s look at the Untempered Schism. The guy really can’t catch a break.

One thing is certain: Missy was right. The Doctor really is her truest and oldest friend. Listening to this story adds considerable depth to the Twelfth Doctor stories where their friendship is discussed. (She’s still a liar with regard to him being a little girl, though; when the Doctor and Death tell a childhood story, they both refer to the Doctor and the Master with male pronouns. Score another for the Doctor not having faces prior to the Hartnell incarnation, I guess?)

At any rate, I have much greater appreciation for the Master as a person here, though he is still evil, of course. I’m also okay with the level of ambiguity with which this story end; the Doctor doesn’t know how it ends, but we can surmise the answer, because we know that the Master lives to fight another day—and we know which side he fights for.

The acting here is average for the most part; but I want to take a moment to compliment two aspects of it. First, Charlie Hayes as Jade does double duty as Death; and the transition between the two roles is just amazing. Compliments for both roles; it’s excellent work. Second, the trailer for this story is unusual; instead of clips from the story, it consists of John Smith reading out loud the letter of invitation he is preparing for his dinner guests. It’s simple and not at all scary—and yet, having an inkling of what is to come, you’ll still feel a chill. Very well done. (The trailer can be found on the story’s purchase page at the Big Finish website.)

Continuity References: The Doctor is referred to as Time’s Champion (Love and War); this is slightly expanded on, when Death reveals that she wanted the Doctor as her champion, but “someone had other plans”. The Doctor mentions Traken (The Keeper of Traken) and Duchamp 331 (Dust Breeding), where he previously encountered this version of the Master. (The Master’s history is a bit complicated, here, and there may be some contradictions with other stories, notably First Frontier, which I have not yet read.) The Doctor uses the alias “Vaughn Sutton”, which refers back to a character in Excelis Decays (although I have not listened to that audio myself yet, I found an indication that for the Doctor, it is recent). The Doctor mentions having known other Adjudicators (Original Sin, et al.). He mentions being disowned by his own family (Lungbarrow). He quotes a line from Primeval: “Exposure to evil, even the smallest amount, can corrode the soul.” Death mentions the Seventh Doctor’s mixed metaphors and playing the spoons (Time and the Rani); however she says that now he is busy destroying planets and old enemies (Remembrance of the DaleksSilver Nemesis, et al.) Death appeared personified in several previous novels (Timewyrm: RevelationLove and WarHuman NatureThe Also PeopleSo Vile a Sin), but never before in an audio drama. In fact, this entire story has several parallels with Human Nature. One of Bernice Summerfield’s books is mentioned here, though it doesn’t seem to be a reference to any particular Benny story. John Smith’s request to the Doctor to “end my life” parallels the Doctor’s conversation with an assassin in The Happiness Patrol, though that may be unintentional. And—most relevant to this tetralogy—Jade recites a version of the Zagreus poem, then wonders what put it in her head.

Overall: Not the typical Doctor/Master encounter at all! And yet, it foreshadows—quite unintentionally—the interactions of the Twelfth Doctor and Missy (and also the Simm Master from recent times) in years to come. That’s a very nice bit of serendipity there, and it’s all the better for being completely unintentional—as far as I can tell—on the parts of every writer involved. Besides that, it’s a great story, and perfect for the Hallowe’en season: Spooky old (possibly cursed) house; a series of murders; a thunderstorm, lightning, screams; Death incarnate (!); and of course, the Master—what’s not to love? I’m very glad to have heard this one.

Next time: And now, for something completely different! Finally we reach the famous and infamous fiftieth Main Range audio, Zagreus. It’s been a long time coming. See you there!

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




Audio Drama Review: Davros

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Main Range entry #48: Davros, written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell. The second in a loose tetralogy of stories leading up to (and including) the fiftieth Main Range entry, this story features Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, squaring off against an old enemy: Davros, creator of the Daleks! Notably, this is Davros actor Terry Molloy’s first appearance in a Big Finish audio drama, and his first appearance as Davros in any medium since 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. With that said, let’s get started!

Davros 1

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

I am attempting to make these plot summaries less lengthy, less detailed, and—perhaps most importantly—less spoiler-filled (though spoilers will always be available here, so be warned!). Please bear with me as I work toward that end. Detailed summaries are usually available at the Doctor Who Reference Guide and the TARDIS Wiki (see the sidebar for links).

Part One: In a flashback, the Kaled scientist Davros survives a bombardment by the Thals, but sustains horrible injuries. His people expect him to die honorably at his own hand, and they give him a poison injector. Davros, instead, chooses to live, that a stronger race may replace the Kaleds.

Arnold Baynes, the CEO of the corporation TAI, and his wife Lorraine (a dedicated scholar of the Daleks and Davros) steal the body of Davros from a freighter. They transport him to their home planet and facilities, planning to revive him. As they do so, they get more than they bargained for, when the Doctor arrives. Over the Doctor’s protests, they revive Davros—and offer him a job in research and development. Seizing an opportunity, they force the Doctor to join them as well—and to work with his old enemy. The Doctor agrees, planning to keep an eye on Davros. Soon the two old enemies are playing the Baynes and their associates against each other, each trying to expose the other as a villain and interfere with each other’s plans.

Along the way the Doctor meets an investigative reporter named Willis, and the two assist each other with their own goals. Meanwhile Davros continues to have flashbacks to his early life, before the Daleks, and examines his own mind and upbringing. As things progress, Davros does at first seem to have turned over a new leaf; he produces technologies which will help address famine in the galaxy, and a formula that will give mastery over the stock market. Meanwhile the Doctor produces a new neural matrix. One of the Baynes’ employees, Kim Todd, leads the Doctor and Willis to a hidden production area that manufactures mining robots, and the Doctor discovers that the new matrix has been implanted into them, which makes them very dangerous indeed. Suddenly one of the robots activates, and attacks…

Part Two: As Arnold speaks with Davros, he gets an alert about the robots. Davros takes the opportunity to insinuate that the Doctor may be responsible—and maliciously so. Baynes and his guards destroy the robot, but Baynes accuses the Doctor of provoking it, and has him locked in his room. Meanwhile, Davros begins to corrupt Lorraine, telling her about what he can do with the stock market formula, and the power it could give him; but he slips and refers to her as Shan, which is the name of a female Kaled scientist of whom he was once fond.  Nevertheless, Lorraine keeps the formula secret from Arnold. Instead, she discusses the Doctor and Willis with Arnold; he wants to deport them, but she wants to have them killed, so as to prevent them from linking the Baynes to the attack on the freighter. Davros intervenes and asks to have the Doctor kept close at hand, but under surveillance, to which Arnold agrees.

Davros then contacts Willis and reports that Baynes possesses an atomic bomb, which is highly illegal. He gives Willis the bomb as proof, and also tells him about the stock formula. However he warns Willis that, should Willis share the formula with everyone, stock would become meaningless, and the economy would collapse into anarchy. This is what Davros wants, however, as he could then implement a new, war-based economy and power structure. Willis is appalled, and asks the Doctor to meet him in the mines beneath the company dome. However, Arnold hears this and tags along.

Davros collects Kim, needing her to transmit the formula and other messages on the galactic data net (as he lacks the authorization to do so). Lorraine arrives, and Davros tells her about Shan, the woman who first proposed the idea of the Daleks to him—even the word itself. However, he also explains that it was he who put the idea into practice, and he denies that he loved Shan, or anyone. He then explains how he had her framed and killed for treason, and refused to even credit her for the scientific matters. Now, Lorraine will witness as he destroys his enemies again. And with that, he activates the detonation sequence on the bomb—which, of course, he himself built. Beneath the dome, the Doctor is able save himself, Willis, and Arnold, but only by dropping the bomb down a fifteen-mile-deep mine shaft before it detonates. The mines are still heavily damaged and polluted—but the dome above is intact. Water begins to flood into the mines, clearing enough of the irradiated environment to prevent them from dying at once—but Arnold and Willis are separated from the Doctor. In that opportunity, Arnold kills Willis to prevent him from ever revealing what he knows. He manages to make it look like an accident, fooling the Doctor as well. Meanwhile, Davros strongarms Lorraine into making him the new CEO, on the assumption that Arnold is dead.  He orders Kim to transmit the formula; she refuses, and he punishes her, and threatens her with death if she disobeys again. He also tells Lorraine to begin liquidating TAI’s assets to fund a mercenary army…while money still means anything at all.

The Doctor and Arnold escape the mines, but the dome is sealed. However, the Doctor has an unexpected ace—his TARDIS is nearby. He uses it to transport them into the sector where Davros waits. Lorraine quickly tells them what Davros is doing. The Doctor pauses to summon the mining robots to help them, but Arnold runs to confront Davros. He takes the chance to try to enlist Davros in a scheme to save the company and grow rich—but if Davros won’t, well, he can still escape in Arnold’s personal ship, which is close by. Davros fires electricity at Arnold to torture him into revealing the access code; Arnold dies, and Davros prepares to flee. The Doctor holds Davros at gunpoint, but Davros knows the Doctor won’t shoot him; he takes Kim hostage using the Kaled poison injector, and demands the formula disc. The Doctor instead shoots the communications console. Davros flees with Kim into the ship, making one last unsuccessful attempt to kill the Doctor as he does so. He is enraged, knowing it’s the Doctor who has power over life and death here, not him. The ship launches. Lorraine reveals that as long as it is in the atmosphere, they can override its controls; but Davros realizes it as well, and tries to activate the hyperdrive and escape, knowing the Doctor won’t cause a crash with Kim aboard. Kim realizes it as well, and grabs the injector and kills herself with it. The Doctor then steers the ship back toward the planet, and—not without regret—activates the hyperdrive, crashing the ship.

Still, he fears that Davros is not truly dead. TAI is not dead, either; and with no evidence that Davros was ever here, it will rebuild. This leaves the Doctor angry, and he downloads the records of the ship’s last flight—the one in which Davros was pulled from the freighter. He intends to use it to see Lorraine held responsible—even though he blames himself for all the deaths.

Davros 2

Unlike the previous entry, Omega, there’s no big twist here. That’s largely due to the fact that this story serves as a bridge between two well-known Davros stories: Season 21’s Resurrection of the Daleks and Season 22’s Revelation of the Daleks. You can only do so much with the plot when you already know where you have to land, as a general rule. I should point out that the story isn’t entirely successful as a bridge; it ties nicely into Revelation, but not so much into Resurrection. I’d go so far as to suggest that there really should be another Davros story between Resurrection and Davros, explaining how he gets from the prison station (or its pod) and his encounter with the Movellan virus, to the freighter where he begins this story in apparent good health. (Well, good for Davros, that is.) Maybe one day we’ll get that story.

What we have, instead of a twist, is another great character study for Davros. All of his stories tend to turn into character studies, really; he’s such a fascinating character that, despite the fact that he’s actually a very one-note individual, we never feel like we get to the bottom of his characterization. Even if the things he says about power are appalling, I could listen to him rant about them all day, simply because he believes them so strongly. The man is evil, no question about it—but he believes in what he says. I don’t even suggest that he believes he’s right; every average villain believes that about himself. Davros doesn’t care if he’s right; he has, quite simply, made his choice, and he stands (er, sits) by it. I have yet to find a Davros story I didn’t like, simply because that’s such a rare and unflinching trait for a villain (or even a hero!). And of course the Doctor, when it comes down to it, is not that different; while he does believe in doing what’s right, he has less justification for the rightness of his actions than he has conviction that he is right. Davros, perhaps—no, definitely–sees the similarity more than the Doctor does…and so their conflict goes on.

Fifteen years may have passed since Terry Molloy played Davros, but he hasn’t lost it at all. He’s as convincing here as ever, despite being in what is, admittedly, a very contrived situation (the Baynes’ hero worship of him, their desire to give him a job, etc.). Or maybe it’s not so contrived—after all, America is currently seeing a resurgence of the Neo-Nazi movement, which isn’t so different. At any rate, Molloy’s performance is spectacular. Supporting actors aren’t bad, but they don’t stand out, either; however, this audio does set the foundation for 2006’s I, Davros series, in which Molloy, Katarina Olsson, and David Bickerstaff would reprise the roles of Davros, Shan, and Ral. That series would take the flashbacks present here and expand on them, delving into Davros’s early life up to a period about six months prior to Genesis of the Daleks. I should also mention that a few other veteran DW actors appear here: Bernard Horsfall (most notably, Chancellor Goth) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot) play the roles of Arnold and Lorraine Baynes here. Lorraine Baynes, in particular, is likely a nod to the character of the same name (spelled “Baines”) from Back to the Future.

Researching this story, I found unofficial statements to the effect that this is chronologically the earliest audio appearance for the Sixth Doctor (in-universe, that is), but I could find no actual justification for that placement. His companion at this point is Peri, but she is absent here; he mentions in passing that she is attending a biology symposium on the other side of the galaxy. I also saw a suggestion that the story occurs between The Two Doctors and Timelash. If anyone has any further information regarding any part of this placement, I’d love to hear it! As for the in-universe date, there isn’t one, as is common with most stories involving Davros, Skaro, or even Gallifrey. (Davros may occasionally time travel, as do the Daleks, but when dealing with his natural lifetime, the writers have always been reluctant to pin it down. Some events just never really get a solid placement, I suppose.) However, humanity doesn’t appear to have spread outside its home galaxy yet, so we’re not dealing with the far future.

Continuity References: There are numerous items that will be picked up on in I, Davros, so I won’t list them separately. Davros mentions the Fifth Doctor threatening him in Resurrection of the Daleks, and he describes his own imprisonment as discussed in that story. Arnold Baynes mentions that Davros was ostensibly killed by the Daleks shortly after their creation (Genesis of the Daleks). The reporter Willis mentions having reported on events on the planet Stella Stora in which the Doctor was involved (referenced in Terror of the Vervoids). Davros claims to have no eyes, ears (or at least the receptors in his ears), or taste buds, all due to the Thal bombardment that nearly killed him, but this is ultimately contradicted by The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, in which Davros uses his natural eyes. Also, not so much a reference as a lack of one, but I was disappointed to find that there were no references to the upcoming Zagreus here, as we had in the preceding story. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Overall: No complaints here. As I said, I have yet to meet a Davros story I don’t like. I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to this one.

Next time: The Seventh Doctor faces another old enemy in Master! See you there.

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




Audio Drama Review: Omega

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Whoaudio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with Omega, the forty-seventh entry, and the first in a short tetralogy leading up to the fiftieth entry, Zagreus. Written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell, this story was published in August 2003, and features the Fifth Doctor, traveling briefly without companions. Let’s get started!

Omega 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: The Fifth Doctor appears aboard a Jolly Chronolidays time-travel tour, which visits the Sector of Forgotten Souls, an area of space prone to strong distortions…and mental disturbances for its visitors. It is also the place where the legendary Time Lord Omega used his stellar manipulator to create the Eye of Harmony…and where he vanished into a black hole, leading to an antimatter universe. His ship, the Eurydice, is rumored to appear here every 100 years. Indeed, the ship does appear, prompting the Doctor to spring into action—only to learn that it’s a sham, a play put on for the tourists. The ship is, in fact, the heritage center ship of Jolly Chronolidays. However, things take a turn for the worse when actor Tarpov, reenacting the role of Omega’s associate Vandekirian, plays his role a little too well, and attempts to assassinate Daland, the actor playing Omega. Later, he fulfills another bit of the legend, and burns off one of his own hands in the ship’s waste disposal system. The Doctor and tour guide Sentia, accompanied by an odd old historian named Ertikus, save Tarpov’s life…but then the real Omega comes to kill him.

Part Two: Omega is interrupted by a medibot, which is then destroyed by another, unknown assailant. Meanwhile the Doctor, now unconscious, meets Omega in a sort of dreamscape, where Omega rehearses their recent encounter in Amsterdam. The old Time Lord asks the Doctor’s help in returning to the antimatter universe, where he feels much more at home, having given up his ambitions against the Time Lords (though not his fear of them). After some argument, the Doctor agrees. During this time, Sentia locks the remaining elderly tourists in the heritage center’s cafeteria. Daland summons her to Tarpov’s unconscious body, surrounded by the wreckage of the medibot. Sentia knocks him out. Soon the Doctor awakens and joins her, saving Tarpov from bleeding out; Ertikus soon joins them, and says that the real Eurydice has appeared, surrounded by a dimensional anomaly (which, unfortunately, is fatal to humans—though a Time Lord can survive it). Ertikus wants to explore it; the Doctor calls him out, demonstrating that Ertikus is a Time Lord, with a hidden TARDIS. He admits it, though he is on his last life. But, where is the Doctor’s own TARDIS? With it not present, the Doctor joins Ertikus and travels over to the Eurydice. As Ertikus goes to explore, Omega—now proven to be a non-corporeal entity after his battle with the Doctor in Amsterdam (Arc of Infinity)—contacts the Doctor and directs him to repair the engines, which have been affected by the dimensional instability. He suggests using Ertikus’ TARDIS to stabilize the area, which the Doctor does; however, the engines still won’t start, as they require the handprints of the original—and now dead—crew. The Doctor works on a remote bypass. As he does so, he debates with Omega about Omega’s legacy on Gallifrey. Meanwhile, Sentia brings the heritage center to meet the Euridyce. Ertikus, meanwhile, finds a mass of psionic energy…which appears to be a race of thought-based beings, who call themselves the Scintillans. The creatures attack him.

The Doctor finishes the remote, and plans to activate it once he and Ertikus leave the Eurydice, sending Omega back through the black hole as requested. However, they are interrupted by Ertikus, who insists that the Scintillans represent some great hidden crime of Omega—it is this knowledge, he alleges, that led Tarpov to madness and harm. The Doctor convinces him to leave the modifications to his TARDIS in place, at Omega’s urging—but why? He soon realizes that Omega’s plan is to allow Sentia to enter the Eurydice. She brings the heritage center to dock, and says she has brought Daland as well…to officiate her marriage to Omega! However, Tarpov bursts into her control room with a gun, and fires.

Part Three:  Tarpov has destroyed the comm system. Now, with Omega not listening, he tells Sentia about the Scintillans, trying to turn her against Omega. He then gives her the gun, and flees the control room. Sentia joins Omega on the Eurydice, but the Doctor refuses to allow the marriage; he knows that Sentia will only survive joining Omega in the antimatter universe if Ertikus’ TARDIS remains here, but that means that he, Ertikus, and the tourists will die. Omega and Sentia storm out, and the Doctor connects with Daland to gather information. He then encounters two old ladies from the tour group, and leaves Daland to wait as he returns them to the heritage center. Meanwhile Tarpov is accosted by Scintillans—and then murdered by Omega. Daland and Ertikus hear him scream, and separately come running; the Doctor is examining the body when they arrive. But, how is the incorporeal Omega carrying out these acts? As the mystery deepens, the Doctor leaves Daland and Ertikus—who now suspect each other—to watch each other as he goes to question Sentia. Omega gives Sentia the engine remote, which he has somehow taken from the Doctor, and tells her that this now means the Doctor has no choice but to help them. The Docttor tries to reason with her regarding Omega’s obvious madness and lack of concern for everyone else, but she is not swayed. However, he broadcasts their conversation through the PA system, warning Daland and Ertikus to get all the tourists into Ertikus’ TARDIS. Omega arrives and kills Ertikus. The Doctor reveals a plan to trap Omega in a piece of Ertikus’ TARDIS’ telepathic circuit, but now he doubts it will work. Instead he uses it to send a telepathic distress call to the Time Lords, much to Sentia’s horror. However, with Daland and Sentia at hand, he sets up a mock wedding, hoping to lure Omega in. During this time, Daland sees video footage of Ertikus’ murder—and he turns on the Doctor, pulling a gun on him. He plays the footage, revealing that it was the Doctor who murdered Tarpov and Ertikus! Moreover, the Doctor in the footage speaks in two different voices—and one of them is Omega’s. It seems there are two minds in the Doctor’s body. They are both stunned when a TARDIS—the Doctor’s TARDIS—materializes, and the real Doctor steps out.

Part Four:  The real Doctor explains that, when Omega copied his bioprint, he also got a copy of the Doctor’s mind print. Surviving their battle in Amsterdam cost him his sanity, and now the two personalities vie for control. Omega passes out, missing this explanation, though that personality is aware of it; the pseudo-Doctor personality is not. As he revives, the Doctor agrees to send him home as quickly as possible, and with his TARDIS here, he can leave Ertikus’ TARDIS behind to secure the dimensions, taking the tourists with him in his own TARDIS. Sentia, it seems, can join Omega after all. However, they hear a ship docking, which Omega believes to be the Time Lords. The Doctor talks him down—after all, wouldn’t the Time Lords arrive in TARDISes? However, his argument is sabotaged by the sound of a TARDIS. It proves to be Ertikus’ TARDIS, which in its grief is trying to flee into the vortex. The Doctor tries to calm it, but to no avail. It vanishes, and the anomaly begins to return, causing Sentia to phase in and out. Meanwhile Omega is attacked by the Scintillans, who cause him to recall his childhood and the Academy, and the story of how he got his name. The story ends with him launching the stellar manipulator—and wiping out the Scintillans. The Doctor uses his own TARDIS to stabilize the anomaly, and then learns that the docking sound was the heritage center docking with the Eurydice. Daland comments on the Doctor’s uncanny knowledge of the situation; the Doctor explains that he was given the transcript of the distress signal sent by his doppelganger. He scans for psionic energy, and finds Omega under attack; but the Scintillans, it seems, are not real—they are extensions of Omega’s own mind, fueled by the psionic energy loose in the region. This also explains all the other psychic phenomena, including Tarpov’s madness. Worse, the Doctor recognizes the name “Scintillans”…he leaves the engine remote with Daland and runs to deal with Omega. Sentia reveals that she already knows that Omega killed the Scintillans, for which he can’t forgive himself—but she forgives him. He cannot accept her forgiveness, considering that also to be a crime, and he attacks her. The Doctor finds her battered form, and she explains that Omega—still in his Doctor form—stowed away in Ertikus’ TARDIS while the historian was visiting Amsterdam for research, and came here. She says that she nursed him back to health, and joined him, thinking that once in the antimatter universe she can help him be free of the Doctor persona. He gets her help to free the tourists and get them aboard his TARDIS, but they are all affected by the psionic energy and channel the Vandekirian persona. The Doctor pretends to be Omega to get them to the TARDIS, where they will be safe. Omega then arrives, raging in his guilt; the real Vandekirian’s long-ago betrayal caused his ship to malfunction, killing the Scintillans, and he cannot forgive himself.

However, the Doctor stops him, and tells him the real story. The Scintillan matter is not Omega’s crime; it is the Doctor’s. He once accidentally caused the Scintillan genocide while helping another species, and Omega has absorbed and adapted that memory. The Doctor, it seems, is much more guilty than Omega—if not by choice. However, Sentia announces over the intercom that she has stolen the engine remote; and she activates the engines. The Eurydice plunges toward the black hole. The Doctor realizes that Sentia has made her choice, and cannot be saved; but now he faces a dilemma: stay and risk the lives of the tourists and Daland (not to mention himself), or leave and risk Sentia’s life (plus the two old ladies, who are once again missing from the group)? Daland chooses for him, activating the TARDIS. As it disappears, the anomaly reasserts itself again, and Sentia is torn apart; and Omega, still screaming, is pulled into the black hole.

The Doctor tries to work through it all in his mind; but suddenly, one of the old ladies materializes in the console room—much like a TARDIS! In fact, she is a TARDIS, and her companion is the pilot, who emerges into the room. They claim to be from the Doctor’s future, representatives of the Gallifreyan Celestial Preservation Agency, which exists to keep history under control. They have come to maintain the story of the Time Lord who made a mistake…but it is not Omega they seek, but the Doctor. They state that they can’t have the story of the Scintillan genocide getting out, and to that end, they pick up the only surviving witness: Daland. They offer him a role in a future Gallifreyan museum; it will be his greatest role yet, playing the part of the Doctor himself. The Doctor, it seems, is a hero in their time, and they want it to stay that way. But before they go, the offer the Doctor a story—the story of his encounter with Omega as it will be remembered in the future.

Omega 2

Nyssa: Is Omega dead?

Doctor: Well, he seemed to die before, yet he returned to confound us all.

–Arc of Infinity

I’ve been hearing about this audio drama for quite some time, so I was excited to finally get here (even if I ended up delaying it by several weeks or months—apologies!). Since reading Lungbarrow a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated with the founding era of Time Lord history, a much-debated bit of history to which our antagonist, Omega, belongs. We’ll revisit and expand on that history here, if not in the direct way that Lungbarrow and some of the other New Adventures did.

Chronologically, we last saw Omega on television in Arc of Infinity, in which he copied the Fifth Doctor’s bioprint and took on the Doctor’s form before being defeated in Amsterdam. Here, we discover that the ancient Time Lord didn’t meet his end there, but continued on in a…we’ll say “fractured” form. I should pause here and say that, though this is Omega’s next adventure, it’s a little unclear where this story fits in the Doctor’s timeline. Going by production codes and the lack of companions, the Doctor Who Reference Guide authors suggest that it occurs during the brief local holiday referenced in the closing minutes of Arc of Infinity. (I’m a little rusty on that serial myself, and I don’t remember it being set out that way, but I just report this stuff, I don’t make it up.) Allegedly during that time, Tegan and Nyssa remained on Earth while the Doctor responded to the situation laid out in this story. Take that as you will; my thought on the issue is that it doesn’t really matter, as the Doctor could experience these events during any solo period after Arc of Infinity.

There’s a major twist in this story that I really don’t want to spoil here, and I expect it will be hard to dance around it if I begin to get into the plot—so, pardon me if the review seems sparse on that point. We open with the Doctor on a spaceship, touring the Sector of Forgotten Souls with Jolly Chronolidays time-travel tours (though “time-travel” is a misnomer; real time travel has fallen out of fashion, and the tour line is given to recreating historic events these days). Jolly Chronolidays is highly reminiscent of Nostalgia Trips, the travel firm from Delta and the Bannermen, though on a larger scale—but, as it turns out, just as shady. The tour is visiting the area where, legend has it, the Time Lord Omega detonated a star to gift his people with the power of time travel—and where he was subsequently lost to a black hole. It is said that his ship, the Eurydice, reappears here every hundred years. No one expects the story to be true—but it is. Likewise, no one expects the real Omega to attend the event.

The only real negative about this story is that it can be a bit hard to follow. I post these reviews on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, as well as here on the Time Lord Archives; the version here on the blog includes a (skippable if necessary) plot summary that doesn’t fit on the subreddit. For that reason, I often consult the wiki and the reference guide to ensure I’m not missing important details. In doing so, I was able to follow this story much more closely; I don’t think I’d have been as successful if I was only listening. I think that that is probably intentional; Nev Fountain clearly had to jump through some hoops to obscure the aforementioned plot twist. Still, it’s nothing so immersion-breaking as, say, the dual renditions of Flip-Flop, so I can live with it.

Strongly on the positive side: This story does a great deal to humanize Omega. His appearances in The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity leave one with the impression that he’s just another one-dimensional villain. He wants revenge, and he doesn’t care who he hurts in the process. That impression doesn’t fit with the fact that the Doctor has cited Omega as one of his heroes, though. This story brings forward the often-overlooked fact that Omega’s experiences have driven him insane—even more so after his battle with the Doctor in Amsterdam. The Omega we see here, while still possessed of a violent side, is broken, and he just wants to go home and be healed. We get glimpses of his past, including the story of how he got his name (based on terrible marks at the Academy); and we learn that not all of his crimes are as straightforward as they may seem. He ends up both tragic and pathetic; but you find respect for the good man that he once was. I think the Fifth Doctor is especially well chosen for this story, not only because he was the last to battle Omega, but also because he tends to see the good in people perhaps more than the Fourth or Sixth of Seventh; and here we get to see Omega through his eyes.

I find it interesting that the Time Lords are quite well known here. Not only is the species known, but their history seems to be common knowledge. That fact alone leads me to think that this is quite far forward in history (although of course we don’t know if the tourists we see here are human! They could be simply humanoid). It’s a situation that really could only happen before the Time War, as the war seems to have fractured or removed knowledge of the Time Lords all up and down the corridors of time.

This story is, as I mentioned, part of the tetralogy that ends with Zagreus; and I gather that each of the three stories prior to Zagreus have a bit of foreshadowing of that story. Here, it comes in the form of a hologram of Zagreus (or what he is believed to look like anyway) on the Jolly Chronolidays ship. It will be interesting to see where it shows up in the next two entries.

Continuity: Not a lot of references, but enough to firmly establish this story. I’ve already mentioned Omega’s last appearance. The Doctor makes reference to the Sontaran invasion in The Invasion of Time. The Shabogans are mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). The Eye of Orion is mentioned, several stories before the Doctor finally makes it there in The Five Doctors. Praxiteles, first mentioned on television in Planet of Fire, is mentioned here (though chronologically earlier for the Doctor). The Hand of Omega is referenced (Remembrance of the DaleksLungbarrow, et al.). The creation of the Eye of Harmony is mentioned (Remembrance of the DaleksThe Deadly AssassinJourney to the Center of the TARDIS). The Doctor sits in seat 6E on the tour ship, which is a subtle reference to Arc of Infinity–that serial’s production code was 6E. The Doctor first discovers the far-future Celestial Preservation Agency here; I am a little surprised to discover that this seems to be its only appearance so far. However, I mention it because its representative travels in a human-form TARDIS, which—although not declaratively stated as such—appears to be a Type 103 TARDIS (The Shadows of Avalon, many other books in both the Doctor Who and Faction Paradox libraries). The Doctor here claims to be almost nine hundred years old. The Doctor mentions that TARDISes sometimes hurl themselves into the vortex out of grief; this is mentioned in the charity anthology Seasons of War in the short story Corsair. The Doctor comments that they must end up at some sort of graveyard at the end of time; he will later visit that location in The Axis of Insanity. The Doctor at one point mentions helping a group of Lurmans; this species was first seen in Carnival of Monsters, though he is not referring to the events of that story here.

Omega 3

Overall: A very enjoyable story, with a twist that I honestly should have seen coming, but didn’t. I expect it will be that way for most people—right from the beginning, and especially if you have seen Arc of Infinity (which you really should), you have everything you need to figure it out. The story does a good job of hiding the fact that there will BE a twist, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I hope that the other upcoming entries—before the reputed trainwreck that is Zagreus–are this good.

Next time: We visit the Sixth Doctor and an old enemy in Davros! See you there.

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




Audio Drama Review: Flip Flop

We’re back, with another Big finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to the forty-sixth entry in the Main Range, Flip Flop. This story continues Big Finish’s brief experimental period in the Main Range; this story consists of two discs, one white and one black, each consisting of two episodes. You can listen to either disc first; the story plays with timelines and events in such a way that the order doesn’t matter. I was listening on Spotify, which puts the white disc first, and so that is the order in which I listened, though that should have little effect on this review. The story features the Seventh Doctor and Mel, landing on the planet Puxatornee; it was written by Jonathan Morris, and directed by Gary Russell, and released in July 2003. Let’s get started!

Flip Flop 1

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

White Disc, Part One:

The Doctor and Mel arrive on Puxatornee on Christmas Eve, 3090, in search of Leptonite crystals, for use in dealing with the Quarks in another system. They are immediately arrested by security agents Reed and Stewart, who accuse them of being spies for the Slithergee—and they insist that the two have already confessed! However, they are soon rescued from their cell by…Reed and Stewart?! Not the same Reed and Stewart, as it turns out—but before they can explain, they are killed. Still, something weird is going on; everyone seems to know who the Doctor and Mel are. The rather paranoid President, Mitchell, sends his security forces through the city to find them. The Doctor and Mel discover a Professor Capra, who has invented a time machine; but it can only work once, and only in one direction—to the past. He reveals that, thirty years earlier, the planet was approached by the Slithergee, who asked for asylum on one of the planet’s moons. However, the then-President, Bailey, was assassinated by her secretary, Clarence, which led to a war with the Slithergee. While the humans won the war, their planet was ruined and poisoned, and soon everyone will die. Capra—with Mitchell’s blessing—plans to send agents Stewart and Reed back in time to prevent the assassination. The Doctor determines not to let that happen; the humans must not change their own history. In the struggle, Stewart and Mel are sent back in time; the Doctor and Reed follow in the TARDIS. Behind them, Capra’s machine overloads, destroying the entire planet. The Doctor and Reed find Mel and Stewart, but fail at stopping Stewart from killing Clarence before the assassination.  Reed and Stewart then tell Bailey that she must make peace with the Slithergee, in order to prevent a terrible war.

White Disc, Part Two:

Reed and Stewart’s mission is finished, and so they demand that the Doctor take them forward. He takes them to Christmas Day, 3090. Things have changed; the war never happened, but all is not well. Bailey is now called “The Great Appeaser”, having given in to the Slithergee’s demands. This eventually brought the Slithergee to occupy both moon and planet. Subsequently, through various maneuvers, the Slithergee have enslaved the humans. This is not the outcome Stewart and Reed wanted, and so they order the Doctor to take them back to the previous note so they can stop themselves from leaving to the past. The Doctor does so, but they are dismayed to learn that they cannot return to their original timeline; it no longer exists. Their story ends when they are killed by Potter, who was an agent under them in their original timeline, but here is a Slithergee collaborator. However, the Doctor and Mel then run into the other Reed and Stewart, who are freedom fighters against the Slithergee. This is an earlier moment in their timeline, and they do not recognize the Doctor or Mel; but they quickly discover that the duo has a time machine. Meanwhile the Doctor realizes that, just as there are doubles of Stewart and Reed (and Potter, as well), there will be alternate versions of themselves, who will probably arrive soon. The problem: they will most likely land their TARDIS in the same spot as the current version—and that would be disastrous! With their Leptonite crystals in hand, they hurry back to their TARDIS and leave; the Doctor refuses to stay and help, trusting that his alternate self will figure things out.

Black Disc, Part One:

The (other) Doctor and Mel land on Puxatornee on Christmas Eve, 3090, attempting to obtain Leptonite crystals to deal with a Quark incursion in another system. They find a world that is both occupied and enslaved; the Slithergees, in their weird hivelike buildings, have made slaves of the humans. They are promptly arrested by Slithergee collaborator Potter, who takes them to Professor Capra for interrogation. This Capra has not built a time machine, but rather, a Leptonite-powered torture device. The Doctor and Mel are freed by two freedom fighters, Reed and Stewart, who somehow know who they are. More strangely, they know that the Doctor has a time machine, and they want to use it to go back and kill President Bailey before she can begin the peace process that led to the Slithergee occupation. Meanwhile, Bailey suspects that her deputy, Mitchell, is secretly a Slithergee agent; she thinks he staged the failed assassination attempt that led to the peace process, so as to keep her from going to war. She confronts him, and ends up dead for her trouble; Mitchell calls it suicide. The Slithergee Community Leader designates Mitchell the new president, but then kills him, taking direct control of the planet. Meanwhile, Stewart threatens to shoot Mel if the Doctor won’t transport them; and he reluctantly agrees. He takes them back thirty years, where they kill Bailey’s secretary, Clarence. They then kill Bailey to prevent the peace process, and stage the scene so as to frame Clarence for the murder.

Black Disc, Part Two:

The Doctor then takes them forward to Christmas Day, 3090, where they find things changed. Mitchell, having assumed power after Bailey’s death, believed Clarence was a Slithergee agent, and so he went to war against the Slithergee. While the humans won the war, it left their world a wasteland, and soon the remaining humans will die. Potter—here a security agent under agents Stewart and Reed—arrests the Doctor and Mel as enemy agents; but the rebel Stewart and Reed pretend to be his superiors, and take the time travelers into their custody. This is not the future they sought, and so they demand that the Doctor take them back to last night, so that they can stop themselves from going back to complete the assassination. He does so, but they find that this is still the new timeline; and they leave, disappearing into the city. However, the Doctor and Mel run into agents Stewart, Reed, and Potter; from the agents’ point of view, this is their first meeting. The Doctor remembers that tomorrow, Potter will arrest them as spies, and so he confesses to being such, in order to preserve the timeline. Once in a cell, Mel realizes that they, too, must have counterparts; the Doctor realizes that their counterparts will soon land, in the same spot as their own TARDIS—a catastrophe in the making. He gets them out of the cell, and they rush to the TARDIS to depart, trusting that their other selves will set things right.

Flip Flop 2

I have to say up front, I appreciate what they’re trying to do here. Flip Flop is actually a very clever application of alternate timelines. We have the Doctor and Mel from one timeline contributing to the actions that create the other timeline—and this happens in both directions! That’s very clever; but in practice, it’s a mess, and hard to follow. There’s no shame in needing a few runs through this story in order to follow along!

I love stories about alternate timelines, not just in Doctor Who, but in other franchises as well. While trying to piece this one together, I realized that it conforms with a theory of my own. If you follow the idea that any choice can result in a new timeline splitting off, you have the basis for multiverse theory. However, when we’re talking about time travel, we have to ask: what happens if you go back to a point before the split? I theorize that it only makes sense if each new timeline also happens retroactively, splitting off both forward and backward in time. There’s no such thing as a unified timeline before the split (sorry, Legend of Zelda fans—of which I am one, so I’m apologizing to myself, too). This story must follow that notion, because there are two versions of the Doctor and Mel. While their timelines were identical up to the events on Puxatornee, they differentiate at that point—but the split must be retroactive, or else we’d only have one TARDIS team here. Interestingly, the story ends with each team in the opposite universe from the one in which they started!

Confused yet? Yeah, me too.

With all that said, I reiterate my initial point: I appreciate what they’re trying to accomplish, but in execution, it doesn’t work out so well. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m looking forward to getting past this experimental phase in the Main Range. Everyone has an adolescence; I suppose this is Big Finish’s. On the plus side, the voice acting is pretty good; I never had trouble discerning which version of each character was being portrayed. In a story like this, that’s priceless.

We do get some continuity references here. The Quarks (The Dominators) get a few mentions; they represent the inciting incident for the story, as the Doctor and Mel (in both timelines) come to Puxatornee to obtain Leptonite crystals, which cause Quarks to explode. (According to the Doctor Who Reference Guide for this story, the Quarks mentioned here—being mentioned sans Dominators—are more likely a reference to the 1960s comic strip stories Invasion of the Quarks and The Killer Wasps (and others; I don’t have a complete list) than to The Dominators. In those strips, the Quarks were billed as a conquering race on their own. However, I’m not familiar with those stories myself, so I can’t comment.) The Doctor mentions the musical group “Pakafroon Wabster” here; I don’t usually mention future references, but as I am not likely to reach the referenced story anytime soon, I’ll say that they will be mentioned a few times in the future before actually appearing in the comic story Interstellar Overdrive. The Doctor mentions “anti-radiation gloves” invented by a previous incarnation; this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to The Daleks, where William Hartnell mistakenly said “anti-radiation gloves” instead of “anti-radiation drugs. The cloister bell is heard when the two TARDISes are at risk of colliding (Logopolis, et al.) The Doctor quips several times that “I’ll explain later”; while I haven’t identified the first appearance, this line has appeared as a running joke on many occasions. I should also mention that the planet’s name, “Puxatornee”, is a slightly-altered reference to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for the film Groundhog Day (and coincidentally, a few hours from my hometown, though I haven’t been there). That film, like this story, focuses on repetitive sequences of time, though the resolution is much different.

Overall: The story is ambitious, and it does, I suppose, accomplish its goal. For the listener, getting there is a mess. I applaud the attempt, but I don’t think I’ll come back to this one.

Next time: We begin the villainous countdown to the fiftieth Main Range entry, with Omega! See you there.

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

Flip Flop