Audio Drama Review: Doctor Who and the Pirates

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week—and after a very long delay (more on that later)—we’re listening to the forty-third entry in the Main Range of audios, Doctor Who and the Pirates! (This story is also subtitled, in true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, as or, The Lass That Lost a Sailor.) Written by Jaqueline Rayner, and directed by Barnaby Edwards, this, err, unusual story is the first musical entry into Big Finish’s catalog, and features the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables). The story was released in April 2003. Let’s get started!

Doctor Who and the Pirates 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:

Evelyn drops in unexpectedly on one of her students, Sally. Over Sally’s repeated and strident objections, she begins telling Sally an unlikely story—one in which Evelyn, accompanied by a bombastic time traveler called the Doctor, landed their time machine, the TARDIS, in the hold of a sailing ship, the Sea Eagle. Unfortunately, that ship was in the middle of being captured by pirates, and its crew—to the horror of their captain—are throwing in their lot with the pirates.

Evelyn is no great storyteller, and her story is a mess of elisions, corrections, and clichés, such that Sally finds it impossible to believe—and Sally says as much. Nevertheless, Evelyn persists, first describing the capture of the ship and the murder of its first mate, then moving on to the theft of the TARDIS by the pirates. At last, Evelyn—in the story, that is—is left in a barrel on the sinking (and now burning!) ship, while the pirate captain turns instruments of torture on the Doctor. Sally believes none of this…until the Doctor himself enters her flat, and takes over the story.

Part Two:

The Doctor makes tea, and Evelyn brings him up to speed on what she has already revealed. They decide to split the storytelling, with Evelyn telling her experiences and the Doctor telling his. Evelyn picks up with story-Evelyn still in a barrel on the burning ship, and the captain, Swan, lashed to the mast above. However, a cabin girl—conveniently named Sally—rescues Evelyn, prompting the real Sally to object. The Doctor gently persuades Evelyn not to insert Sally into the story; the cabin boy’s real name was Jem. Evelyn continues.

Jem frees Evelyn and Swan, and in the absence of any boats or firefighting tools, helps them lash together a raft from deck planks. Meanwhile the pirate captain, Red Jasper, and his first mate Merryweather, prepare to torture the Docor. They want to know where to find a man named One-Eyed Trent, who possesses a treasure map for the Ruby Islands. The Doctor knows nothing, and gets Jasper to explain his history with Trent, in which their former captain hid the treasure. The captain and crew were then arrested and/or killed, but Jasper survived, and Trent’s body was not among the dead. Jasper had assumed Trent betrayed them; he then trailed the man to England before losing him. He now seeks any mention of Trent or the treasure, and refuses to admit defeat. Believing the Sea Eagle crew to know something, he kills one of them, and plans to continue killing them until someone talks.

Evelyn, Jem, and Swan paddle the raft, with some argument from Swan. Jem tells her that his father told him about the Ruby Islands and the treasure hidden on one of them, a donkey-shaped island; he also has his father’s compass, which Evelyn uses to steer them. However, they don’t find the islands, but rather, a ship—probably the pirate ship. Meanwhile, present-day Evelyn doesn’t want to continue the story; she knows the tragedy that is coming. The Doctor takes over, and details his confrontation with Jasper, who insists that the treasure is worth a few lives. The mate, Merryweather, insists that the Doctor doesn’t understand the life of a pirate; the Doctor denies this, and to everyone’s horror, begins to sing: I am the very model of a Gallifreyan buccaneer…

Part Three:

The Doctor tries, in his song, to convince Merryweather that murder is the wrong choice; Merryweather agrees, but insists he will follow his captain’s orders. The Doctor insists he wants to understand Merryweather’s thinking; and so Merryweather and the pirates respond with a song of their own, justifying their obedience. To the Doctor’s surprise, Sally joins this song, acknowledging blood on her own hands. The Doctor joins in as well, singing a counterpoint. Sally, now fully engrossed in the song, admits she is ready to accept blame and give it all up, despite the Doctor’s arguments.

In the present, Evelyn quietly admits that she knows why Sally joined in. Sally was involved in an auto accident that killed her lover, and she blames herself for driving too fast for the road conditions. Though she couches it in metaphor, it appears she intends to kill herself, out of guilt.

The Doctor brings more tea, and the story resumes. Evelyn and Jem plan to board the ship and try to reach safety in the TARDIS; Swan, however, refuses to stow away, considering it an affront to his dignity as captain. Instead, he wants his crew to admit their errors and accept him back as captain. Meanwhile the Doctor and Merryweather continue to debate—in song, at that—and they engage in a contest of piratical skills. The Doctor tricks Merryweather—now quite intoxicated from drinking more rum than the Doctor—into walking the plank. Evelyn, Jem, and Swan hear the mate fall overboard, but can’t reach him; but this distracts the pirates and lets Evelyn and Jem climb aboard. Swan refuses, and stays behind on the raft. Meanwhile Jasper accuses the Doctor of mutiny, and the pirates prepare to kill him. However, the Doctor sees Evelyn and Jem arrive, and bluffs, telling the pirates that he serves “Evil Evelyn”, the most dreaded pirate of all, captain of the Lecturer’s Revenge! She tries to help him, but her warning pistol shot uses up all Jem’s gunpowder, and the bluff fails.

Merryweather, humiliated, climbs back to the deck, and Jasper has him lock up the Doctor. He confronts Evelyn and Jem and threatens to kill them. One of the Sea Eagle sailors, John Johnson, protests; but for his trouble, Jasper cuts out his tongue and makes him eat it.  Evelyn tries to calm the pirates with chocolate, but to no avail. She and Jem are dragged away. Hearing this, the Doctor breaks out of the hold, but Jasper makes him walk the plank.

Part Four:

The Doctor falls in, witnessed by Evelyn and Jem from Jasper’s cabin. She breaks the sternlight and directs the Doctor to the raft, where Swan still waits. As the ship starts to leave the raft behind, Evelyn throws the compass to the Doctor and directs him south-southwest. Jasper enters, and confronts Evelyn—who, not knowing about Jasper’s obsession, asks to be let off at the Ruby Islands that Jem had mentioned. Jasper confronts Jem, who admits that his father told him about the islands. His father, it is revealed, was One-Eyed Trent…but Jem knows nothing about any map. Jasper starts to beat him. Present-day Evelyn can’t continue the story at this point, because she blames herself for what happened next; the Doctor sadly confirms that Jasper refused to believe Jem, and beat him to death. Evelyn comments that she has learned there are no happy endings in real life. Sally agrees; she believes real stories only end one way. The Doctor insists that it doesn’t have to be that way; that when one story ends, another begins. He continues the story, relieving Evelyn of the burden—and this time without singing.

The Doctor and Swan reach the Ruby Islands, and search for the one shaped like a donkey. Using one island as a vantage point, the Doctor climbs a tree, and sees two likely islands—but is interrupted by Swan, who claims a dragon is chasing him. As Swan climbs the tree, the Doctor drops the compass. Swan reveals that he has a spyglass, which the Doctor uses to verify that one of the islands is the likely choice—and that the “dragon” was just an iguana. They climb down, and in the fragments of the compass, they find a treasure map.

The Doctor skips ahead in the story, glossing over the hunt for the treasure. He and Swan find the treasure—a cache of rubies—before the pirates arrive; but now they have to recover Evelyn, the TARDIS, and of course Swan’s crew, who are still in league with the pirates. The ship lands, and Jasper uses a boat to lead a party ashore. The Doctor finds that Swan let the raft drift away; and so he uses a few rubies to bribe the boat guards to let them board the ship. As they approach, the Doctor swims to the side of the ship, while Swan announces himself to his sailors. He claims to have the map, and Merryweather takes him on board. Merryweather takes the map, knowing it will fetch a reward from Jasper, and locks Swan up.

When Merryweather departs for the island, the Doctor slips aboard and frees Swan. He locate Evelyn, who is crying over Jem’s body. Meanwhile Swan tries to convince his crew to return to him; he fails, until the Doctor and Evelyn arrive with Jem’s body. The sight shames them, and they agree to switch allegiances back to Swan. They take control of the ship and sail away, leaving Jasper and the pirates to their fate. However, the Doctor explains that Jasper, Merryweather and the pirates followed the directions on the map…only to find a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey waiting, courtesy of the Doctor.

The Doctor and Evelyn opt to leave the rubies with Swan, considering what they have already cost. They leave him practicing his speech for the Queen. Evelyn is shaken by the events, but the Doctor points out that this means she can still be shocked by evil. Nevertheless, she needs a rest, and so the Doctor takes her home…leading to the current events with Sally. At the end of the story, Evelyn is tired again, and the Doctor lets her go home, assuring her he won’t leave without her. After she leaves, the Doctor produces a letter that was waiting for Evelyn at home—one written by Sally, announcing her suicide, which Sally has only just mailed before Evelyn’s arrival! The Doctor explains that he had taken Evelyn back in time by one night, to allow her a chance to talk to Sally and perhaps prevent this tragedy. The story reminds sally that, as the Doctor says, if you make it through the night, it can seem better in the morning. He leaves Sally in the morning light, with the knowledge that Evelyn cares, and some hope for the future.

Doctor Who and the Pirates 2

Credit to Martin Geraghty, DWM 329

I fear, up front, that this will be an “unpopular opinion” post, as I know this story is generally well-liked. I struggled with it, however; it took me multiple attempts to get through it, over a period of a few months, and even then I had trouble paying attention to it. I don’t have a solid explanation for why; I don’t think it’s because of the musical nature of the presentation, as the songs are all found in part three, whereas I had trouble with the entire story.

With all that said, I think that it’s a cleverly constructed story. The frame story, in which Evelyn and later the Doctor visit Sally, one of Evelyn’s students, seems irrelevant at first. Later, however, you find that the story Evelyn is telling is not just important to Sally, but vital—life-changing, even. That reveal is a bit sudden, but it’s less “deus ex machina” and more “Wait, did she mean what I think she means?” Yes, yes she did. This also adds some gravity to what would otherwise be just a silly story; I won’t say why that is, but it’s enough to make you reconsider your view of the entire performance.

I’ve been aware for some time that Evelyn’s overall arc is a sad one; I don’t yet know how it ends (and please don’t spoil it!), but I know it’s not going to end well. This story adds another brick to that edifice; there’s a sense of foreboding to Evelyn here. For once, even the Sixth Doctor is somber as we approach the end of the story—partly because of Sally’s issues, but also, I think, because of Evelyn’s. It’s enough to make me dread what lies ahead, though I am certainly looking forward to getting there.

The songs in part three are all homages (or parodies, if you prefer) of musical tunes and sea shanties, mostly from Gilbert and Sullivan shows. This is not a form of media with which I’ve had much experience, and I only recognized one of the source tunes from which the songs were constructed (“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General”, from The Pirates of Penzance, and thank you, Star Trek, for that one! Here it is rendered as “I Am the Very Model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer”). The tunes are catchy, though. One gets the impression that both the Doctor and Colin Baker have been waiting for a chance to sing for a long time (at least since Terror of the Vervoids, according to Mel…). I won’t list all the songs here; but you can find a complete list on the TARDIS wiki’s page for this story.

Continuity references: Hold on to your three-cornered hat, because there are a lot of these! Most occur in the Doctor’s previously-mentioned “I Am the Very Model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer” song, rattled off in rapid-fire mode. He mentions the following:

  • The Death Zone and the Game of Rassilon (The Five Doctors)
  • His Gallifreyan presidencies (The Invasion of TimeThe Ancestor CellTime In OfficeThe Five Doctors, and if we play with the timelines, the Sixth Doctor himself in *The Quantum Archangel)
  • Tobias Vaughn (The Invasion)
  • Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan)
  • Viking hordes (The Time Meddler)
  • Daleks (The Daleks, many MANY others)
  • Quarks (The Dominators)
  • Cybermen (The Tenth Planet, et al.)
  • Autons (Spearhead from Space, et al.)
  • Axons (The Claws of Axos)
  • Daemons (The Daemons)
  • Krotons (The Krotons)
  • Monoids (The Ark)
  • Vampires (State of Decay, stories in other media)
  • Voords [sic; I think it should be “Voord”, but he adds the -s] (The Keys of Marinus)
  • Manussa (Snakedance)
  • Dulkis (The Dominators)
  • Skonnos (The Horns of Nimon)
  • Tigella (Meglos)
  • He quotes Drax’s line from The Armageddon Factor: “Remember me to Gallifrey!” (here pronounced as “Gallifree”, for the sake of rhyming the previous line of the song.)
  • As well, he mentions Hecate from K9 and Company, though the canonicity is doubtful, and he wouldn’t have been there to know that story.
  • The Great Fire of London (The Visitation; not mentioned in the song)

Interestingly, all the above are from television episodes; I’ve made connections to a few stories in other media, but none of those are necessary for the references.

Overall: Not a bad performance, but not my cup of tea. While the story has value as part of Evelyn’s arc, it’s been the most difficult part for me to digest so far. Still, if musicals (and pirates!) are your thing, you’ll probably enjoy it much more than I did. For myself, I’m happy to move on.

Next time: After much delay, we rejoin the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in the experimentally non-linear Creatures of Beauty! 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.

Doctor Who and the Pirates, or, The Lass That Lost a Sailor

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Audio Drama Review: The Dark Flame

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week we’re returning to the Main Range with 2003’s The Dark Flame, release number 42 in the range. Written by Trevor Baxendale, this story features the Seventh Doctor. It’s part of Big Finish’s sporadic “Sidestep into Virgin Territory”, a very occasional series of stories set in the continuity established by the Virgin New Adventures line of novels. (While it can be argued that the VNAs fit into the same continuity as other stories, Big Finish usually refrains from setting stories during that portion of the Seventh Doctor’s life.) As a result, this story also features Ace McShane and Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, and takes place between the novels All-Consuming Fire and Blood Harvest (which I have not yet reviewed). It is the second and—so far—the last Main Range story set in the VNA continuity, although some Companion Chronicles have followed, as well as several novel adaptations. With that background, let’s get started!

The Dark Flame

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:

En route to the Orbos research station to pick up Bernice, the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits are struck by a massive cry for help—and it comes from an old friend of the Doctor, an elderly researcher named Remnex. This interruption leaves the Doctor and Ace with visions of black flames. Remnex, not so coincidentally, is stationed on Orbos, where he and two colleagues are experimenting with black light—a dangerous phenomenon of its own, separate from ultraviolet, which the Doctor has encountered before.

On Orbos, which orbits the dead and volcanic planet Marran Alpha, Remnex is alive and unharmed. He discusses with his colleagues Lomar and Slade—as well as Benny—the imminent arrival of the Doctor, who may be able to help with their experiments. However, Benny is more concerned about another friend, archaeologist Victor Farrison, who was supposed to have met her here by now. As it turns out, Victor is down on the planet with his android servant Joseph, excavating a burial pit. In it they find a seemingly human skull; though it is ancient, it feels strangely alive to Victor. They are met by their employer, a man named Broke, who demands the skull; Victor demands answers first. In reply, Broke knocks him out and takes the skull, despite Joseph’s concern for his master. Broke reveals he is a servant of the Cult of the Dark Flame, and the skull is that of the cult’s founder, Vilus Krull.

The TARDIS arrives on Orbos, and while Benny and Ace catch up, the Doctor chats with Remnex. At Lomar’s request, he examines their experimental apparatus—they are attempting a controlled black light explosion, something never done before. The Doctor uses his sense of time to determine that their control element, an isochronyte crystal, is unstable; they need one that exists partially outside the spacetime continuum. Slade insists it will work until they find a better one, and explains that Remnex is responsible for the first stage of the experiment—the creation of an artificial sun to power the explosion. The Doctor goes in search of Remnex again.

Benny enlists Ace to help with rubbish disposal. To that end, they dump the rubbish into a rather shoddy transmat, which sends it to the volcanic surface of the planet. Ace is concerned the transmat might be leaking exotic particles, and her fears seem confirmed when Benny experiences a migraine—but when it turns into a vision of black flames, she seeks out the Doctor.

The Doctor, meanwhile, hears a more natural scream from Remnex; and he runs to Remnex’s cabin, but finds it locked. Ace also arrives, at the same time as Lomar, and smashes the door open. Remnex is dead, stabbed through the left eye. Slyde and a now-recovered Benny arrive as well, as the Doctor sees that Remnex is holding the isochronyte crystal; its temporal properties seem to be what sent his scream rocketing through time, prompting the visions. The group confers on their experiences, and Benny remembers an ancient cult, the Cult of the Dark Flame, which seems related. The cult worshipped a being from outside the universe; but they died out centuries ago—or did they? Meanwhile, Slyde accuses the Doctor and Ace of killing Remnex. His allegations are dismissed by all, and Ace and Benny storm off. Slyde leaves as well; after some discussion with Lomar, the Doctor goes to speak with Slyde. Slyde catches up to Ace and Benny in the transmat room; as the Doctor approaches, he hears a struggle, and when he arrives he finds only Ace. She is disoriented, but claims that Slyde overpowered her and pushed Benny into the transmat; she is likely on the surface, and more likely dead.

Part Two:

Lomar confirms that the transmat was just used. The Doctor concludes that Ace was shot with a stunner, and takes her to sickbay; fortunately, her customary combat suit diffused most of the blast. He hypnotises her and makes her sleep, then goes in search of Slyde. Slyde, however, is not on the station; he has transmatted himself along with Benny, to a cavern beneath the surface. He meets Broke there, and locks Benny in a cell with Joseph and Victor. He intended to use Benny’s archaeological skills to find the skull, but it won’t be necessary, as Victor already found it. Slyde quickly returns to Orbos, then brings back the body of Remnex, which will be used as a host for the resurrected Emissary of the Dark Flame—Vilus Krull. Broke brings Benny and Joseph to watch as Slyde uses the skull to bring life to Remnex’s body—but it’s no longer Remnex inside it.

While the new Emissary is distracted, Benny, Joseph and Victor steal the skull and run. Benny and Joseph are quickly recaptured, while Victor is shot with the stunner on full power; he manages to crawl into the transmat with the skull. Meanwhile, on the station, the Doctor finds that Remnex’s body is missing. Over Lomas’s objections, he wakes up Ace to help him investigate. As they talk, they encounter Victor near the transmat; he hands over the skull, but succumbs to his injuries and dies. The Doctor experiences something like a seizure when he touches the skull; he realizes it is parachronic, partially outside time—and this has horrific implications for the black light explosion. He gives the skull to Ace, who is unaffected. He tells her to guard it, and sets off for the transmat, which he suspects has been altered for safe transport. As soon as he reaches the cavern, he meets Joseph—who reveals that, unfortunately, the Doctor has walked into a trap. The Doctor is brought before the Emissary.

Slyde returns to the station in pursuit of the now-deceased Victor, and accosts Ace, demanding the skull. She breaks free and runs. She reaches Lomar, and warns her that Slyde is a member of the Cult of the Dark Flame—but as Slyde arrives, Lomar reveals that she also is a member of the Cult.

Part Three:

Ace has hidden the skull, and uses its location as a bargaining chip for her life. She then uses a smoke grenade to cover her escape, and hides in the dark light laboratory. Slyde and Lomar find her there, but it becomes a standoff; she threatens to detonate the smart bombs she is carrying if they attack her.

In the caverns, Broke locks up the Doctor and Joseph along with Benny. Joseph apologizes for trapping the Doctor, but says that Broke would have killed Benny otherwise. Broke returns and takes the trio for an audience with the Emissary. Benny mocks the Emissary, disbelieving his claims—until he reanimates the long-dead bones around them, giving them life and strength, if not flesh. He explains that he requires the skull of Vilus Krull—his own skull from his original life. The Doctor explains that Victor died to get it to safety, and it is now hidden. The Emissary threatens to burn the information free of the Doctor’s mind, but refrains, and puts them back in the cell. There, the Doctor explains that the Time Lords believe the Dark Flame to be an energy source from a pocket universe, which will be created far in the future at the death of this universe; the bizarre physics of that time will allow it to function backward in time to this day and beyond. The parachronic skull connects to that universe, making the black light explosion very dangerous indeed—it will spread the flame’s power throughout all of space and time.

Lomar reports to the Emissary about Slyde’s standoff with Ace. The Emissary gives the Doctor ten minutes to retrieve the skull, or else his skeletal troops will kill Benny. Back on the station, the Doctor tries, but fails, to reason with Lomar. In the lab, the Doctor convinces her and Slyde to let him talk to Ace alone; he uses that opportunity to fill her in on a plan. Meanwhile, in the cells, Broke antagonizes Joseph over Victor’s death, until the robot flies into a rage and attacks Broke, gravely wounding him. However, Joseph is shocked at his actions, and allows Broke to deactivate him. Elsewhere, the Emissary forces Benny to look into his eyes—and takes control of her.

Ace takes the Doctor and Lomar back to the transmat, and hands over the skull. She expresses concerns again about the safety of the transmat; to set her mind at ease, the Doctor adjusts its focusing coil. Once in the caves again, they are reunited with Benny. The Doctor breaks away and grabs the skull, tossing it to Ace, who throws it to Benny. The Doctor tells her to throw it into the transmat, which has been recalibrated to destroy it completely—but Benny hands it over to her new master, the Emissary.

Part Four:

The Doctor doesn’t believe Benny has really surrendered to the Dark Flame. To prove it, the Emissary has the skeleton creatures hold Ace down while Benny beats her. The Doctor gets him to stop, but remains unconvinced; he is sure Benny is being controlled by force. Meanwhile the injured Broke arrives, and offers himself as a new body for the Emissary, whose current body is decaying; the Emissary declines, and orders Broke to fix the transmat. The Doctor asks to follow the Dark Flame as Benny has done, but the Emissary refuses. When the transmat is fixed, the Emissary leaves Broke to die and takes Slyde, Lomar and Benny back to Orbos. He intends to kill Benny and take over her body; and there is still the explosion to oversee.

Broke destroys the transmat controls, and then dies. The Doctor is sure that the Emissary is not strong enough to control him as well as Slyde, Lomar, and Benny; that is why he refused the Doctor’s surrender. The Doctor reactivates Joseph and recruits him to help repair the controls. However, the control processor is ruined. Joseph offers his own processor—his “brain”—to replace it, knowing he will essentially die in the process. Reluctantly the Doctor agrees, and says goodbye to Joseph before pulling out the processor. He and Ace then transmat back to the station.

Slyde and Lomar prepare the experiment, and install the skull. They activate the solar generator, creating the artificial sun; Benny then activates the converter, and the light from the artificial star begins to darken. The Doctor and Ace arrive as the black light explosion begins. The cultists begin to feel the Dark Flame burning inside them. However, Benny is shocked back to awareness, and sees her hand on the converter withering with age. It’s too late to shut it off, however. Ace tries to shoot the Emissary, but he shuts down her weapon with his mind. He then freezes the Doctor in place; as the Doctor screams in pain, the Emissary gloats that with the Dark Flame’s arrival, he is now strong enough to control even the Doctor. Ace knocks the Doctor out in order to save him, and she flees with Benny. However, this was all part of the Doctor’s plan; and now Ace has had a good look at the converter.

As the Doctor recovers, he taunts the Emissary; he insists that the Dark Flame is not a being, but a simple force of nature. It has no will; it simply obeys Krull. He challenges Krull to a battle to prove it; they will both put their hands on the skull and battle for control of the Flame’s power. Enraged, the Emissary agrees, and joins battle with the Doctor. However, the Doctor had adjusted the transmat after using it; and now Ace and Benny use it to teleport back into the lab, catching the others off guard. Benny deactivates the converter, and time twists back on itself, wiping Krull from existence. The artificial star returns to normal, and Benny’s hand is restored. Slyde and Lomar are knocked unconscious.

Lomar awakens to find things changed. She and Slyde are now free of the Flame’s control; Slyde is naturally unpleaasant, but no longer directly dangerous. However, the Doctor suggests that his researches be redirected. The Doctor explains that he tapped the Flame’s power briefly; he fought down the temptation to set everything right—a level of power even he should not wield—but couldn’t help fixing a few things—like Benny’s hand, and Remnex’s death. No, the old researcher is not restored to life; but his death was peaceful, in his sleep. The skull has been sent out into the continuum forever, and Krull is no more.

Before the Doctor and his companions depart, he takes the omnitronic processor—all that is left of Joseph. In honor of Joseph’s bravery, he intends to take it to someone who can try to salvage Joseph’s memories; and he hints that Benny may need Joseph’s help again someday.

The Dark Flame 1

While this story isn’t a direct port of the New Adventures—we’ll get to those eventually with the Novel Adaptations—it feels like one. Those adventures, I find, tend to be a bit darker and grimmer than the average televised story (and by extension, the average Big Finish story), though not terribly so. They often feature large, world- or universe-ending threats, often involving ancient resurrected evils and paranormal phenomena, some of which are explained away in scientific terms, but very often not. All of those points are present here. While I often find myself getting impatient with the New Adventures, I didn’t feel that way at all here; I think that’s largely because of the format change instead of the content. The novels are brooding and slow, often leaving the action behind to examine what’s going on in the characters’ heads—this seems to be true regardless of which author we’re reading. Audio doesn’t lend itself well to that kind of literary indulgence, and so we’re forced to cut the story back to its essential action; and Doctor Who thrives on action! We end up with a story that’s very much a New Adventure in tone and content, but very much the Main Range in execution, and that’s a great combination.

The story deviates a bit from the typical pattern with regard to its major villain, the titular Dark Flame. Typically, when Doctor Who stories set up an overpowered or supernatural villain, they follow through; the Doctor’s ingenuity may be what triumphs, but the threat is real. Less often we get a story like this, where the villain is not at all what it seems—still dangerous, perhaps, but not what was advertised. There’s potential to fall flat in stories like that, but here it’s an integral part of the plot, and it’s played triumphantly. The final confrontation is a bit abbreviated, but the lead-up is fantastic.

The voice acting for the secondary villain, the Emissary of the Dark Flame (and also for one of his henchmen, Slyde) is a bit over the top, but it’s easy to forget about that once you reach, say, part three. (I’d say part two for Slyde; however the Emissary doesn’t actually show up until part two.) The other supporting characters are decent; and Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Lisa Bowerman all turn in their usual great performances.

Continuity gets a bit tangled in this story. It ties into not only the Doctor’s portion of the New Adventures, but also Benny’s, as well as other audio dramas, especially regarding the character of the android Joseph (whom, incidentally, I can’t help picturing as Michael Fassbender in the role of the android David in Prometheus). Much of this tangled continuity involves stories I haven’t read or heard yet, and so I’ll borrow a summary quote from the Doctor Who Reference Guide:

Joseph the porter (whom we shall refer to here as Joseph-2) was first introduced in the [Bernice] New Adventure Oh No It Isn’t!, which on the face of things suggests that the Doctor supplied Joseph-1’s omnitronic processor to the University of Dellah. However, in Tears of the Oracle it is revealed that Joseph-2 was in fact a front for the People’s [The Also People] ship J-Kibb, which therefore suggests that the Doctor instead gave the omnitronic processor to the People for them to incorporate into their fake University porter. However again, J-Kibb and Joseph-2 were destroyed, and thus in The Doomsday Manuscript Irving Braxiatel gave Benny a new porter whose personality and appearance were based on Joseph-2. Since Joseph-3 in The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy and The Green-Eyed Monsters is performed by the same actor who voiced Joseph-1 in The Dark Flame, it’s at least possible that the Doctor in fact supplied Joseph-1’s omnitronic processor to Braxiatel for use in Joseph-3, and simply advised on the programming of Joseph-2 in order to maintain the historical balance. In any case, one thing is clear: for any of this to work, the Doctor most likely already knew something of Benny’s future by this point, devious little git.

All in all, it sounds like I have my work cut out for me in catching up with the novels.

Other continuity references: Black light was first encountered in The Mysterious Planet. Ogrons, mentioned here by Benny (but not actually seen), first appeared in The Day of the Daleks. The Cult of the Dark Flame will reappear in another Benny story, The Draconian Rage. The Doctor mentions Chelonians, which first appeared in the VNA The Highest Science; his actual line, “Sleep is for Chelonians”, is an oblique reference to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, where the Fourth Doctor commented that “Sleep is for tortoises” (the Chelonians are a tortoise-like race). In conversation with Remnex, the Doctor mentions that Mel is traveling the universe with a con artist (Dragonfire; Remnex gets the Best Comeback award here, when he remarks to the Doctor that “nothing has changed, then”). Ace’s military and paramilitary career (Deceit) gets a reference. In trying to wake Ace, the Doctor says “We’ve got work to do” (a reference to his last line in Survival); he uses her surname “McShane”, which originated in the VNAs (sorry, could not track down which novel specifically revealed it), and finally succeeded in waking her by calling her “Dorothy” (Dragonfire).

Overall: After the lackluster Nekromanteia, it was nice to get back to a story that was genuinely enjoyable. While I do, as I said, get impatient with the New Adventures, I mostly enjoy them; and this story is a refreshing take on the kind of material we get in that series. Ace has always been one of my favorite companions; Bernice, not as much, but she’s at least entertaining when she’s not being mind-controlled (wait, no, that happens to her here as well…never mind). Well, at least Bernice is very well represented here. Although the New Adventures tend to be a bit cut-and-paste in their broad strokes, this story breaks away from that a bit by giving us a unique adversary, and a very comfortable running time as well. I wasn’t expecting this to be a great story—it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s list of the best Main Range audios—it was surprisingly good. It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

Next time: We’ll check out something unusual: a Doctor Who musical! The story in question is Doctor Who and the Pirates, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. 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.

The Dark Flame

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Audio Drama Review: Nekromanteia

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re resuming our trip through the Main Range of audios with Nekromanteia. Written by Austen Atkinson and released in February 2003, this story features the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem. Let’s get started!

Nekromanteia 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

On the planet Talderun, the temple of Shara is attacked by a fleet of corporate ships. Its priestesses, led by Jal Dor Kal, move to its defense. The flagship Tempest’s commander, Harlon, fears their approach; he contacts the corporation’s CEO, Wendle Marr, and the board of directors, and tells them that the witches are capturing the ships, but the men will surely die—or worse. He then evacuates the ship and sets it to self-destruct. Angered, Marr orders his aide, Tallis, to track down and punish Harlon’s children.

The witches slaughter and devour the fleet’s crews, not knowing that Harlon and his lieutenant Cochrane have survived, and landed near the temple. Jal Dor Kal knows that a figure called the Other is coming to begin a new era. Cochrane is furious at her shipmates’ deaths, more so when she learns that Marr sent them to die in an attempt to control the temple, a massive energy converter. They search for survivors, but are themselves observed; the stranded archivist Yal Rom is watching them.

At the Garazone Bazaar, the Doctor goes to meet a Pakhar named Thesanius, who has a deal for them. He has some illicit equipment to sell to the Doctor, equipment the Doctor needs to repair the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits without the help of the Time Lords. Thesanius doesn’t like human woman, so the Doctor leaves Peri and Erimem to explore. The Doctor meets him in the midst of a bank robbery; but for the sake of the equipment, he holds his peace, and even helps Thesanius escape. Meanwhile, Erimem meets a Pakhar beggar who is sculpting a wooden statue of a demonic, centaur-like figure, called Shara. She is intrigued; he says he saw the creature once in the Nekromanteia district. Shortly thereafter the Doctor whisks her back to the TARDIS; but she asks him to visit Nekromanteia, unaware that the beggar was being controlled by Jal Dor Kal.

The telepathic circuits seem to indicate the TARDIS is being used as a telepathic relay. The Doctor suggests that the cat, Antranak, is responsible, but doesn’t have time to follow up on it. Erimem insists on visiting Nekromanteia—and the Doctor realizes that the statue she acquired has temporal coordinates on the side. Meanwhile, Jal Dor Kal and her sisters bring up a holy relic—a skeleton of a huge centaur, possibly Shara. Yal Rom hides nearby and watches, noting with surprise that the skeleton is alight with power. Harlon and Cochrane are outside, and detect power in the energy converter. They see witches searching the captured fleet for bodies. They stage an attack, and manages to eliminate the witches on hand; they break into one of the ships to set its self-destruct.

The TARDIS approaches Talderun, but is shaken by a temporal distortion. The Doctor manages to materialise inside one of the corporate ships. Erimem takes Antranak to explore, but finds a room full of bodies. One of them is still alive, though only just, and urges the Doctor to leave before the witches arrive. At that time, Harlon and Cochrane enter the chamber, and mistake Erimem and Peri for witches; Antranak moves to Erimem’s defense, and Erimem tries to catch him, prompting Harlon to shoot her.

Part Two

Harlon demands answers from the Doctor; but Jal Dor Kal has detected them, and resurrects her fallen witches to attack them. They manage to kidnap Peri before Harlon activates the ship’s emergency transmat. The Doctor, Erimem, Antranak, Harlon, and Cochrane are all transmatted away, but Peri is not. Jal Dor Kal stops the attack, satisfied that the Other is safe and Peri—the chosen sacrifice—is now inside the temple. The bodies of the witches dissolve as she sends Peri to be cleansed for the ceremony. Yal Rom watches all of this from hiding, recording his observations in his log. Peri is annointed with oils by the witches, and hears Jal Dor Kal’s voice in her head; the purpose of her sacrifice is to bring the Other into the temple.

Meanwhile, Marr’s corruption is nearly getting the better of him. He faces an accusation from a board member, who claims he has abused a workforce at the corporation’s Alpha Project on Challis Prime, and now has lost the fleet in the Nekromanteia district. He manages to thwart the attempt and has the board member executed, prompting the board to vote an extra 20 billion credits for the Alpha Project. Marr then promises the workers pensions and safety if they complete the project…and then issues orders to Tallis to kill all the workers when the project is done, and place the credits in his personal accounts (with a provision for Tallis, as well).

Harlon mocks the Doctor’s belief that Peri is alive, but allows him to treat Erimem with the ship’s medical supplies. The Doctor then deceives Harlon into believing he is an agent of Harlon’s superior, who ordered this mission. Harlon says he intends to complete a backup plan, releasing poison gas into the temple to kill the witches; energy weapons won’t work this close to the energy converter. The Doctor detects particles coming from the converter, particles which seem to defy physics; this is why Marr wants the converter. Unknown to any of them, Marr is on his way to Talderun in person at this moment—and he has already betrayed Harlon with another alliance…

Yal Rom, against his personal oaths, breaks into the baths and frees the drugged Peri. She is disoriented, but follows him out. They pass through the chamber that holds the relic, beneath the witches’ amphitheatre, where Rom examines the relic, and finds that it cannot be touched—his hand passes through it.

As Erimem recovers, the Doctor explains that he thinks she was influenced to come here. To resolve the mystery, he needs to see the converter—but that means eluding Harlon and Cochrane. Erimem offers a distraction, as she is too weak to go with him. She threatens to detonate a powerful grenade; Harlon realizes it’s a bluff, but the Doctor has escaped by then. He sends Cochrane after the Doctor—and he intends to have his way with Erimem while they are alone.

The Doctor reaches the temple…just as Jal Dor Kal determines that Peri is gone. She raises the relic, and sends her witches to attack the Doctor. He warns her of a massive temporal disturbance, but she ignores him—and beheads him, then sets the witches to devour him.

Part Three

Peri and Yal Rom escape, and run a scan for the Doctor’s life signs. Meanwhile Cochrane returns to Harlon, and finds that the man has beaten Erimem nearly to death. He berates Harlon, but then Yal Rom and Peri arrive with gas grenades, knocking them out. They escape with Erimem, who says that she fought Harlon off, preventing him from doing worse than beating her. However, Rom reveals that his scan revealed only two male life signs on the planet—himself and Harlon. The Doctor, it appears, is dead. Erimem and Peri vow to honour the Doctor by ending the witches and Harlon, and they join Yal Rom. Rom, for his part, believes the Doctor was from a rival historical institution; he takes the two women in, but is prepared to kill them if they betray him. Meanwhile the Doctor finds himself watching cricket at the 2060 Barcelona Olympics alongside the English coach, Paul Addison, unsure of how he got there—but sure that things are not as they seem.

Harlon contacts Marr and negotiates payment and travel guarantees—but then reveals that others are on Talderun. Marr angrily withdraws the travel guarantees and places a warrant for the death of Harlon’s family, executable if he fails to eliminate the others on the planet. He then contacts Jal Dor Kal, with whom he has a deal, and warns her that there is still danger on the planet. Jal Dor Kal is not alarmed; she believes victory to be close.

The cricket match ends—and begins again. Addison assures the Doctor he is actually dead; when the Doctor refuses to play along, Addison reveals that he is in fact Shara. He claims the Doctor is dead, and only exists now in this looped, protected moment; but he says that they were both explorers in life, and now can have all of eternity brought for them to view here. Meanwhile Peri and Erimem arm themselves and follow Yal Rom into the temple; he holds off the witches while they enter the relic’s mausoleum. Antranak stows away in Erimem’s bag. They place transmat signal boosters around the relic, planning to beam it directly to Yal Rom’s ship despite its interference. Peri, for one, doesn’t fully trust the archivist; but as Erimem points out, they don’t have many options. They activate the transmat, and the relic disappears—but the mausoleum begins to shake. Yal Rom enters, followed by the now-terrified witches, and the ceiling collapses, trapping them all inside. Back on the corporate ship, Harlon detects the transmat and the power surge, and realizes what has happened; without the relic, the power imbalance will destroy the planet. He and Cochrane take off to find the ship containing the relic.

The Doctor, too, realizes the situation—Shara created a stable paradise for himself, but at the cost of phenomenal amounts of power. Shara admits he sacrificed himself and his own potential history—with all its temporal energy—to the converter, then left his followers to maintain it. What he did not anticipate were the generations of wars over the relic when word got out; and if the relic is ever removed, the resulting explosion might even rupture the time vortex. At that moment, the time loop begins to break down—because the relic has in fact been stolen, and now the universe is at risk.

Part Four

Jal Dor Kal explains that she worshipped the relic for centuries, but also knew it for what it was. She takes Antranak from Erimem, and orders the witches to cut out Yal Rom’s tongue for the cat to eat. They also cut out his heart, killing him. The imbalance grows stronger, and the roof caves in fully, forcing them to flee. Meanwhile Shara detects the problem, and decides to restore the Doctor to life so that he can return the relic, saving the universe. He recreate’s the Doctor’s body from the substance of his pocket dimension, and restores his consciousness to it, resurrecting him inside the temple. The Doctor wastes no time, convincing Jal Dor Kal to listen to him.

Harlon and Cochrane locate Yal Rom’s ship, which is cloaked, just as Marr’s ship arrives in the system. Marr demands Harlon’s data on the converter, but Harlon cuts contact and goes after the relic. However, Marr detects the cloaked ship, and believes it to be a rival, and orders Tallis to destroy it. The relic is destroyed with it; Marr is unaware he may have just condemned the universe. Harlon’s ship is struck by debris from Yal Rom’s, and is forced back to the surface.

Shara and Jal Dor Kal both know the relic is destroyed, and now nothing can stop the destruction of the vortex. However the Doctor knows their only hope is to replace the relic with another similar lodestone—and Jal Dor Kal admits that this was her plan all along. She intended to restore Shara to life and offer herself to take his place. However, it is too late; and she is crushed under rubble in the temple.

Marr and Tallis land and confront Harlon, demanding the data cube. Marr has Tallis kill Cochrane; but Harlon threatens to throw the cube into lava unless Marr explains why he sent so many people to die. Marr explains that the Alpha Project is a duplicate of the temple, intended to copy Shara’s work and allow Marr to live in eternal bliss. Harlon tells him that Marr has already caused the destruction of the relic; he then tosses the cube in the lava, declaring that the universe is safer without gods like Marr. Marr sees defeat in this act, and orders Tallis to have Harlon’s family executed. Instead, Tallis kills Marr. She then takes Harlon with her in Marr’s ship, and suggests that he become Chairman of the corporation in Marr’s place…with her holding power in secret, as she has done all along.

Peri and Erimem catch up with the Doctor as he tries to save Jal Dor Kal. Just before she dies, she explains that the Other must stand in the place of the relic on the altar; but she dies before revealing the identity of the Other. The Doctor believes it is him, and prepares to sacrifice himself; Erimem offers to do so instead, pointing out that she was the one drawn here. While they argue, Antranak leaps onto the altar, and is struck by an energy release, stabilizing the power in the temple. He staggers off…but Shara speaks through him, having possessed the cat. Shara accepts his own death as part of life, and dies.

As the Doctor, Peri, and Erimem return to the TARDIS, the Doctor wonders if Antranak was driven by the force that possessed him back in Egypt…but Erimem chooses to believe that the cat chose to sacrifice himself.

Nekromanteia 2

I’ve heard that this series of Five/Peri/Erimem audios is a little controversial, chiefly for the fact that they reduce the impact of the Fifth Doctor’s sacrifice for the brand-new Peri in The Caves of Androzani. While I agree with that point, I’ve enjoyed the audios so far; the previous entry, The Church and the Crown, was especially enjoyable. I suppose it had to happen eventually, then; we finally reach an entry that is not very good.

The various elements of the story feel recycled. You have the standard “ancient temple/universe-ending power” combo, which was done much better in…well, many stories, but The Highest Science comes to mind. (To be fair, I’m referring to the novel; I haven’t listened to the audio adaptation.) You have the Garazone Bazaar, which is always entertaining (I, for one, would like to see it appear on television), but which was better under the Eighth Doctor in Sword of Orion. The witch cult on the planet Talderun comes across as a cheaper take on the Sisterhood of Karn (now with 100% more zombies!). The archivist Yal Rom is yet another unreliable ally of a type we’ve seen often. The ostensible disembodied villain, Shara, is not what he seems; we’ve seen this plot device as far back as Whispers of Terror. I often point out that after 50+ years, it’s hard to have a plot element that isn’t recycled, but it’s not often we get such a collection of recycling in one place.

It’s a rather darker story than we usually get, as well. It’s not uncommon to have stories with large numbers of deaths, and we tick that box early in this story with the defeat of a corporate space fleet. However, we follow that up with necrophagy—the witches in this story eat the dead—which is much more grim than the average Doctor Who story. We also have the Doctor aiding and abetting a bank robbery (and without the heavy rationalization that allows a story like Time Heist), which is a bit out of character even for him, and especially for the Fifth Doctor. He himself is killed, definitively, later in the story; he is beheaded, and his body eaten by the witches. Obviously that isn’t final, but still, it’s not something we see ordinarily. The corporate representatives here are all despicable, and spend most of the story double-crossing each other and anyone they encounter; that’s consistent with Doctor Who’s usual views of large corporations in the future, but it’s jarring to realize that there’s nothing redeeming in any of these people.

I’ve already spoiled more details than perhaps I should; so I won’t delve into the outcome of the story. However, I need to mention that this is the final appearance of Erimem’s cat, Antranak; and indeed, the animal has a greater role in the story than one might expect. This, coupled with the fact that this is Erimem’s first trip to another planet, means that this story occurs shortly after No Place Like Home.

Continuity References: The Garazone Bazaar first appeared in Sword of Orion; it will later appear in the Dalek Empire series and in the Tenth Doctor/Donna Noble novel Beautiful Chaos. The rodentlike Pakhars most recently appeared in Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, and first appeared in Legacy. Erimem is aware of explosives and gunpowder after The Church and the Crown. Peri’s hometown of Baltimore is noted to have been ruined in the Dalek invasion of Earth in the 22nd century (The Dalek Invasion of Earth), though we didn’t see it onscreen there. The Doctor mentions the force that possessed Antranak in The Eye of the Scorpion.

Overall, not the greatest story, though it did give Antranak a noble end. It’s a tolerable listen, but it’s nothing to write home about. Still, it’s behind us now, and we can move on to better entries ahead!

Next time: We’ll pick up a thread that we last visited all the way back in The Shadow of the Scourge, and revisit the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield in The Dark Flame! See you there.

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

Nekromanteia

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Audio Drama Review: Jubilee

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! After a very long delay, we return to the Main Range with Jubilee, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. It’s been long enough already, so, let’s get started!

Jubilee

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

An advertisement plays; coming soon to cinemas, we have *Daleks: The Ultimate Adventure!* In this new blockbuster, the insane Daleks once again target the Earth—and only the Doctor stands in the way! He is joined in his battle by his beautiful assistant, Evelyn “Hot Lips” Smythe, played by Plenty O’Toole. Be our guest—after all, attendance is compulsory…and all praise to the English Empire!

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Evelyn argue over the value of history as a career—after all, it can never give more than a filtered view of the past, and aren’t they seeing it firsthand? Evelyn is not amused. The argument is cut short when the TARDIS materializes in 1903 London…but then begins to shake. The Doctor says that it is as though it is trying to materialize in two places at once—but how can that be? At length it lands, and they step out, finding themselves in the chapel of St. John in the Tower of London. The Doctor dismisses the turbulence as Evelyn points out that the chapel is dusty and unvisited. The TARDIS dematerializes, leaving the Doctor and Evelyn behind. The Doctor hears screaming and Dalek energy weapons—and passes out in fear, but not before warning Evelyn that they’ve been here before, and are in danger.

The English Empire is ruled by a President, and it is Nigel Rochester. He plays a naughty game with his wife Miriam in which they speak in illegal contractions; but when he tires of it, he slaps her to get her to stop. He sends her to bed, as there are celebrations in the morning. Meanwhile, a Commander Farrow and a guard named Lamb go to torture a prisoner, as the president means for it to speak at tomorrow’s jubilee. A magnetic field in the cell keeps the prisoner motionless, and they enter. The subject remains silent, and they begin.

As the Doctor begins to recover, he guesses that the TARDIS has relocated to the other of the two destinations they detected earlier; but where is that? Evelyn finds a stained glass window depicting the TARDIS on a hill, surrounded by red as though in the midst of war. They go exploring.

The American prime minister congratulates Rochester on the jubilee, while Rochester enjoys the man’s discomfort. Miriam enters and witnesses this video call, and is dismissive toward the Americans. No one who leaves England is ever permitted to come back, as the race must be pure. Meanwhile, the torture of the prisoner continues, but it refuses to speak. Farrow tells it there are sympathizers who would save it and overthrow Rochester, but this brings no response either. He prepares to slice into its optic nerve.

Leaving the Tower, the Doctor and Evelyn find the grounds decorated for a festival. A box is attached to the side of the Tower. They hear something screaming in agony.

Farrow is screaming as well, as the creature’s flesh grows over his own hand, trapping it and sending agony into him. Lamb frees him, and Farrow wonders if the creature was screaming or laughing at him. They hear the Doctor and Evelyn arriving outside the cell, and Lamb investigates; he is shocked when he hears them using contractions. Farrow joins them and is even more stunned to hear them call themselves the Doctor and Evelyn. Farrow reports it to Rochester, and adds that, unlike other Doctor-imposters, this one wears a coat of many colors—a detail he couldn’t know.

Rochester orders them brought to him, and allows Miriam to watch. At first, Rochester is obsequious toward the Doctor; but then he drops the act and threatens to exterminate Evelyn. He demands to know how this imposter knew about the Doctor’s coat—the official histories depict much more normal garb, and most imposters dress in that way.

The Doctor insists on his identity, and so Rochester decides to put him to the test. He allows Miriam to come along. She takes a moment to speak with Farrow about his progress, which does not please her; she wants rid of Rochester, especially as he hit her tonight. Rochester leads them back to the cell, which is the box on the side of the Tower. Lamb pushes the Doctor inside and turns off the magnetic field; as the creature begins to move and make threats, the Doctor recognizes it as a Dalek.

The Dalek’s gunstick is missing, and its shell is cracked open, rendering it harmless for now. Rochester realizes the Doctor is who he claims to be, and brings him out. The Doctor wants the Dalek destroyed; Rochester insists it will be blown up at noon tomorrow. They relocate to Rochester’s rooms, and Farrow restores the magnetic field—and then confronts the Dalek, demanding its knowledge of power in exchange for its freedom. All it wants, however, is the Doctor.

Rochester describes a Dalek invasion one hundred years ago, which only two Daleks survived. One of them was destroyed at the fiftieth anniversary, and one remains in the cell. He seems genuinely joyful now that he believes the Doctor’s identity, for it was the Doctor and Evelyn who led the battle a century ago. The Doctor can hear that battle in his mind, and weakens for a moment. Rochester offers him a drink, but the Doctor is taken aback when he learns it is “Dalek Juice”, a product of boiled Dalek flesh. It is considered a specialty. Evelyn is shocked to see the Daleks trivialized; but the Doctor is more concerned that they are being used to promote an idea of English superiority. Miriam mentions a wheelchair-bound prisoner, worse than the Dalek, in the Bloody Tower; but Rochester cuts her off despite the Doctor’s curiosity. As the law dictates that women must be in bed by midnight, the Doctor offers to escort Evelyn to her newly-assigned room in the guest quarters. Miriam goes as well, but Rochester suspects she might be playing him…

Lamb escorts them to Evelyn’s room, then leaves, though he is amazed at their presence. Evelyn is disturbed by this version of history, but the Doctor insists it proves his point, that history is written by the winners—with mockery for the losers. He suggests that they did in fact land in 1903, but catastrophically changed history, fracturing local time—and ultimately causing past and present to run together. The Doctor refuses to let Evelyn question the Dalek; it may have no gun, but it can be psychologically dangerous. He returns to talk to Rochester; Evelyn leaves the room almost immediately to investigate. Meanwhile, Rochester takes the Doctor through the Tower museum, displaying much alien technology which shouldn’t be here. On the roof, he has a Dalek transolar disk—a hover platform of sorts—and he uses it to take the Doctor on an aerial tour. The rest of the city lies in ruins, which was not done by the Daleks, but by Rochester’s father, who wanted to build a new capital, but lost interest. Rochester himself has concentrated on the centennial jubilee instead.

Evelyn finds herself in a room full of Daleks…who want to play with her. Miriam arrives and tells Evelyn that these are Rochester’s toys, and not real. Evelyn requests to see the real Dalek, and Miriam agrees. At the cell, Farrow lets them in, but chastises Miriam for not bringing the Doctor. However, Miriam still slaps him for using a contraction, despite the fact that they are secretly lovers.

The Dalek quickly realizes that Evelyn fears it despite its lack of weapon. Curiously, it regards her as an equal. It agrees to answer questions if she turns off the magnetic field, which she does. Evelyn comes to realize that this Dalek is a footsoldier of sorts, and doesn’t have any strategic answers; it was sent to fight or die, and now it can do neither, as its self-destruct is disabled. Farrow stops the interview so that he can resume the torture, as he has been ordered to do. Evelyn leaves, and the Dalek repeats its desire to have the Doctor brought.

Rochester lands the disc, and shocks the Doctor by drawing a weapon—but oddly, he shoots and destroys the disc. He insists it was bugged; he believes there are Daleks everywhere, and that everyone else is under their control. They walk to Trafalgar Square; Rochester explains that the English secretly believe the Daleks their superiors, who would have won if not for the Doctor. Even here, Nelson’s column has been replaced with an image of the Doctor, but dressed in an imperial stormtrooper uniform.

Miriam finally drops her act completely for Evelyn, and says that Evelyn is not the only one horrified at the way the Dalek has been treated. Others agree, and will need help to overthrow Rochester. Evelyn refers her to the Doctor, but Miriam knows that this will not help; and to prove her point, she takes Evelyn to the Bloody Tower. There, a wheelchair-bound prisoner waits who bears some credit for creating the Daleks as they are…and Evelyn is horrified to learn that it is the Doctor.

The wheelchair-bound Doctor is the version from 1903. After his victory, the English cut off his legs when he tried to leave; they did this in retribution for his forcing of independence and responsibility on them. The historic Evelyn, meanwhile, died here years ago. This Doctor is mad, and beyond help. Miriam explains that the English government kept him as half of their propaganda machine; with the Doctor as carrot and the Daleks as stick, they could do anything they liked. Miriam wants to expose the truth to the public, and Evelyn decides to help. Meanwhile the Doctor—Evelyn’s version—is beginning to understand the problems his 1903 self caused; England, with Dalek technology, conquered the world before World War I could break out. Rochester believes he is the only man in the world who can resist Dalek mind control, and therefore he must appear ruthless despite his good nature. The Doctor admits that he understands.

Evelyn goes back to the Dalek and asks it to tell the crowd the truth. However, Miriam stuns Evelyn by admitting the truth—she wants the Dalek to exterminate Rochester. Evelyn refuses to help, and so does the Dalek, though for different reasons. Miriam tells Farrow to kill Evelyn unless the Dalek complies; to everyone’s surprise, it agrees. Miriam tells Farrow to restore the Dalek’s gun, and she takes Evelyn to prepare for the celebration. Meanwhile, as dawn arrives, the Doctor and Rochester return to the Tower. The streets quickly fill with celebrating people as the curfew lifts. However, battle sounds are suddenly heard, and a squad of Daleks on discs flies over and fires on the crowd. The Doctor wavers for a moment; when he recovers, the Daleks are gone, and no one—including Rochester—seems to remember them; but a man in the crowd is dead of a gunstick blast.

The gunstick on the Dalek is supposed to be for show, Lamb believes; but Farrow switches off the restraining field and tells the Dalek to kill Lamb. Instead, it aims at Farrow and tells him to kill Lamb himself, to test his commitment to the cause. Farrow tries, but can’t; and the Dalek tells Lamb to kill Farrow, which he does. It then orders Lamb to take it to the Doctor. He takes it to the broken Doctor in the Bloody Tower, where it sends him out. It asks the Doctor for orders—thus verifying Evelyn’s theory that this Dalek is only a soldier, and doesn’t know how to decide for itself. The crippled Doctor understands, and refuses, laughing at the Dalek; in a rage, it exterminates him. It orders Lamb to take it back to the cell; he does so.

Miriam puts makeup on Evelyn; as she does so, she explains that she doesn’t actually want to overthrow Rochester, so much as replace him with a stronger ruler, one who can properly oppress the weak, and hits her hard enough to make her bleed. That could be Farrow…but he has failed to report in. Evelyn offers to check on him while Miriam dresses for the Jubilee. She finds Farrow dying in the cell; when the Dalek returns with Lamb, she asks why it doesn’t kill her also. It is confused by the question, but says that she is the only one who fears it properly. Farrow finally dies, and the Dalek orders Lamb to cut off his head as is traditional; he does so, and takes the head to Miriam. She recovers quickly, and asks Lamb to be her new consort; but he declines, saying that he is only good at obeying orders. Miriam sends him away.

Back at the Tower, Rochester shows the Doctor the toy Daleks, which he uses to feel as though he is fighting as his ancestors did. The Doctor is appalled to learn that they are not actually machines, but that they contain dwarves sent in from other countries at Rochester’s order. Another has just arrived, from America, but he won’t quite fit inside the casing; and as the Doctor is forced to watch, Rochester cuts off the man’s hand. Still, he insists he is only pretending to be evil. The Doctor is unable to talk sense into him, and he sends for Miriam so that they can attend the Jubilee.

The Dalek tells Evelyn that it does not know what to do now that it is armed—it has choice, now, but doesn’t know what to decide. It asks her to remove the gun, but it warns her that it may not be able to resist killing her in self-defence. She refuses, and suddenly it is time for it to be taken out for execution.

Rochester greets the jubilant crowd with the Dalek beside him. He orders it to speak, but it does not—until he threatens Evelyn. It speaks as demanded in order to save her again; it threatens the crowd with extermination, to great applause. Rochester then allows the Doctor to speak. The Doctor tells the crowd that he will talk about evil—but not this sanitized version. He will tell them about real evil. The Daleks have no choice about their hate, but humans do—and they have chosen to become something repulsive. He no longer sees a difference between these people and the Dalek.

Miriam seizes the stage and denounces Rochester, and tells the Dalek to kill him; but it refuses. Rochester flees, shooting to cover himself. Miriam declares him deposed; and then she proposes to the Dalek, promising the people that it will be a strong leader. As the crowd still expects an execution, she offers the Doctor and Evelyn for death; the crowd begins to chant “Exterminate!” However, the two timelines have now fully converged, and the Doctor collapses under the pressure. The TARDIS appears on a nearby hill, and the two timelines merge—and Daleks pour into the crowd from 1903, exterminating the people.

Lamb gets Miriam to safety. Meanwhile, a Dalek saucer brings the Dalek Supreme to the location of the prisoner Dalek. It recognizes the Doctor, but decides to eliminate Evelyn—and again, the prisoner saves her, though it can’t say why. The Dalek Supreme sends the trio to the mothership for questioning.

Lamb abandons Miriam and flees; but Rochester saves her. He assures her that he truly loves her, and hopes that as he is no longer a leader, they can be happy together. She doesn’t have time to decide, as a Dalek finds them. It has orders to find the human leader; she therefore stabs Rochester in the heart, and claims to rule. However, the Dalek’s full orders are to find the leader—and exterminate! Meanwhile, the Daleks also exterminate Rochester’s dwarf Daleks.

The Doctor, Evelyn, and the prisoner find themselves locked up on the Dalek ship. The Dalek knows it will be exterminated, and blames itself for erroneously choosing humanity as the heirs of the Daleks; but the Doctor insists that it is not humanity that the Dalek has misjudged, but the Dalek legacy itself. Any empire that exists by consuming all around it must eventually consume itself, until only one insane Dalek is left. The Dalek Supreme summons the prisoner for questioning; it admits it is mad, and that it respects Evelyn. This makes it untrustworthy, and the Dalek Supreme tells it to bring the Doctor and Evelyn and exterminate them to prove its loyalty to the Daleks.

Evelyn is angry with the Doctor for his callousness toward the Dalek, but he insists he has never known one to be trustworthy. Evelyn thinks that proves his point about history: it is just what one chooses to remember. A refusal to reconsider makes him no better than Rochester. They are interrupted by the prisoner, who takes them to the bridge. The Dalek Supreme opens the Dalek command net so that the prisoner can pass on intelligence about the humans to all the Daleks; and then it orders the prisoner to kill Evelyn. It cannot, and offers to kill the Doctor instead; however, the Dalek Supreme refuses to allow it. It deems the prisoner untrustworthy, and therefore its information is useless.

However, the prisoner claims to have vital information; when the Dalek Supreme refuses to allow it access to the command net, it exterminates the Dalek Supreme and takes access for itself. It has accepted the Doctor’s arguments, and now believes that failure is essential to ultimate Dalek success. When it uploads this information, the Daleks in the invasion force take it literally…and self-destruct. This leaves only the prisoner alive, as its self-destruct was removed. It trusts Evelyn to do the job for it, and stands still while she removes its gun. As the Doctor sadly watches, she grants its last request, and exterminates it.

The destruction of the fleet in the converged timeline means that the 1903 invasion never happened. As the timelines separate, the Doctor and Evelyn find themselves outside the Tower in 2003, with all restored. In the crowd, they find a tourist named Nigel Rochester, collapsed with a heart attack despite the panicked ministrations of his wife, Miriam; he almost seems to have been stabbed, though there is no wound. The Doctor uses CPR to save him; but in his delirium, Rochester somehow recognizes the Doctor, and thanks him for saving them all. He is taken by paramedics, and the Doctor and Evelyn hurry back to the TARDIS.

Much later, Evelyn tells the Doctor that her dreams now carry memories of the nonexistent 1903 version of herself dying of starvation in the Tower. The Doctor tells her that the last 100 years haven’t been fully removed; they did happen, though time was restored, and the memories will live on in restless dreams. If people will not look into those shadows, and learn, they will repeat such atrocities again and again.

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Jubilee is a story with which I was loosely familiar before listening to it. This is because it’s known to be the source material for the Series One episode Dalek, which gives us the story of the Ninth Doctor’s first encounter with a survivor from the opposite side of the Last Great Time War. Dalek is a truly monumental story, and is frequently cited by viewers as the favorite episode of Series One. It would be hard indeed to top the Doctor’s raging, fear-laden, hate-filled monologue against the Dalek, or the Dalek’s destructive rampage through the underground facility; and indeed, we don’t have direct analogues of those scenes here. This story, in fact, predates the revelation of the Last Great Time War; though the Doctor’s distrust of the Daleks is legendary even in the classic series, it would be hard to find equivalents. Regardless, of that, however, this story stands well on its own, and is one of the better main range entries I’ve encountered so far.

We find the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe landing in a fractured timeline, a version of history in which, one hundred years prior, they led the English to victory over a Dalek invasion, but with catastrophic consequences. Now, England is the head of a worldwide dictatorship, and the last Dalek will be destroyed tomorrow in a centennial jubilee—unless the timelines collapse before then. Here, it is Evelyn, rather than Rose Tyler, who changes the Dalek’s point of view; she does so with her arguments rather than her DNA. (The television story, which had a much shorter runtime, can perhaps be forgiven for taking such a shortcut; even here, considerable groundwork went into establishing the a background for the Dalek in order to allow it to accept Evelyn’s words.) In the end, the fractured timelines cancel out, thus removing the entire Dalek invasion from existence, and allowing history to resume its course; but the shadows of the now-defunct timelines will be long.

Evelyn becomes a more sympathetic companion with every story in which she appears. Many companions take the path of challenging the Doctor and his views; but not many succeed. Evelyn does, and it doesn’t feel contrived at all. She does the seemingly impossible—converts a Dalek to a more humane point of view—but it doesn’t come across as improbable. Perhaps this is partly because she’s never overbearing about her successes; some companions have been known to spend the ending of the story exchanging barbs with the Doctor, “rubbing it in”, if you will, but Evelyn doesn’t do this (at least not here, anyway).

I was fascinated by the idea of two versions of the Sixth Doctor as portrayed here. We encounter an older version, a relic of the Dalek invasion of 1903, who has been imprisoned by the people he saved; when he repeatedly tried to escape, they cut off his legs and placed him in a wheelchair. (There’s some clever misdirection at first, leading one to expect that Davros is the prisoner in question; it’s obvious in hindsight, but caught me at first.) We’ve caught glimpses of displaced (and sometimes mad) future versions of the Doctor before—notably in The Big Bang, though that version isn’t mad (or at least not any more so than normally), The Ancestor Cell, and The Wrong Doctors. It’s a little more well-developed here than usual, and I would have liked to see the two Doctors meet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

Continuity References: This story features Dalek transolar discs, an oft-used (but rarely onscreen) method of flight before it became integral to the design of the Daleks; this first appears in a rather obscure short story set called Doctor Who and the Daleks (not to be confused with any other story by that name), and then again in various prose, comic, and audio sources. The Doctor and Evelyn have previously visited the Tower of London, in 1555 (The Marian Conspiracy). The Sixth Doctor has previously seen a statue of himself, on Necros (Revelation of the Daleks); his fourth incarnation also saw such a monument, though in larger scale, in The Face of Evil. Alternate futures have presented as dreams in another Dalek story, The Time of the Daleks. Dalek and several Torchwood episodes feature pizza boxes from a “Jubilee Pizza”, a reference to this story; it appears again on a flyer in The Lodger. As a further homage to Jubilee, Robert Shearman, the writer of Dalek, borrowed the surnames of Jubilee actors Jane Goddard and Kai Simmons for characters in the episode. Some notable firsts: This is the first audio to use Dominic Glynn’s arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, and the first Dalek audio to not be part of the Dalek Empire arc (with the exception of the cameo appearance in Seasons of Fear).

Overall: It’s been a good day for morality tales in Doctor Who; this morning I posted a review of the Short Trip The Death-Dealer, which is a reflection on death. In turn, this story serves as a reflection on evil, and on the human ability to become what we hate. Much later, the revived television series would give us a glimpse of what that principle looks like when applied to the Time Lords (Oh, who can tell the difference anymore?! ~Cass, The Night of the Doctor). For now it’s enough to see it applied to humans. While Dalek asks “Can the Dalek be human?”, Jubilee asks “Should the humans be Daleks?” Or at least, should we be like them? The answer is, of course, now—but one gets the impression the matter is far from settled.

Next time: We’ll continue the Main Range next week (hopefully) with the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem in Nekromanteia! 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.

Jubilee

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Audio Drama Review: Bang-Bang-a-Boom!

We’re back with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #39, Bang-Bang-a-Boom!. Written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, and released in December 2002, this story features the Seventh Doctor and Melanie “Mel” Bush. Let’s get started!

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

The aging space station Dark Space 8 is mostly retired from saving the universe, much to the chagrin of its crew; but it is busy today, hosting the 309th Intergalactic Song Contest, which is being broadcast live to the galaxy under the leadership of famed presenter Logan.  It includes two worlds with a history of war: Angvia, and the gestalt entity Gholos (whose representative is also called Gholos, as per its hive mind nature).  Complicating things is the fact that Dark Space 8 is without a commander, Commander Paul Keele having died of Orion flu against the efforts of medic Eleanor Harcourt.  A replacement, Commander John Ballard, is en route by shuttle—but Lieutenant Strindberg can’t contact it, and Professor Ivor Fassbender detects fluctuating chronon energy around it.

The TARDIS materializes aboard the shuttle, a long way from its intended destination of Paris. The Seventh Doctor and Mel find two bodies aboard, and a bomb attached to the shuttle.  They try to flee to the TARDIS, but fail to make it in time—but Strindberg teleports them aboard Dark Space 8 just in time, as the shuttle explodes.  Eleanor, the officer in charge, assumes they are Ballard and his pilot, and they play along for now.  She shows them to “their” quarters, but en route, they encounter the Gholos representative—which looks like candy floss and does not speak English—and its human translator, Loozly.  For once, even the Doctor is stymied by a language, and must rely on Loozly.  Loozly demands an explanation for the explosion, and claims that its blast pattern indicates it was an Angvian scatter bomb.  As Queen Angvia arrives, Loozly, along with another contestant from Cyrene, accuses her of attacking the Commander, and of threatening Gholos.  Angvia dismisses this, but complains that her billing in the contest is too far down in the order.  The Doctor, in his assumed role as commander, changes the running order to alphabetical, then heads for his quarters with Mel.  He explains about the war between Angvia and Gholos, and says that this is a crucial moment; the two combatants are holding a peace conference on the Achilles 4 station.  Mel suggests that the Doctor have Fassbender—who is oddly distracted—scan the shuttle wreckage and find the TARDIS.  She also warns the Doctor that the real murderer of Commander Ballard may assume he failed, and target the Doctor.

Contestants continue to arrive as Logan provides commentary and Eleanor makes a log entry. Mel checks in on Fassbender while the Doctor is summoned to the command deck to deal with Angvia, who is complaining about being quartered next to Gholos.  The contest’s arbiter, the mouselike Geri Pakhar, is  also on hand, and helps the Doctor change up the housing arrangements; as they do so, Gholos and Loozly arrive to complain about the arrangements, but leave when they find it is already resolved.  Eleanor takes the opportunity to cozy up to the “Commander”.  Meanwhile, Fassbender tells Mel he found nothing in the scans; he promises to keep her posted, but she suspects he is hiding something.  On her way out, she meets a young man named Nicky Newman, Earth’s representative to the contest.  He is delighted to learn she doesn’t know him, as he is used to being universally recognised, and he becomes enchanted with her.  Meanwhile, Geri compliments the Doctor, and admits that she is concerned for her sister Teri, who is an observer of the conference on Achilles 4.  Suddenly an alarm goes off in the guest quarters.  Mel and Nicky respond, and find the Cyrene contestant dead—and it is clearly murder.

Eleanor, the Doctor, Geri, and Fassbender all respond to the alarm, meeting up with Mel and Nicky. Geri asks “the doctor” what has happened; the Doctor nearly answers before realizing it was addressed to Eleanor.  Eleanor insists there was no foul play, but the Doctor finds two puncture wounds.  Eleanor takes her to sickbay, while the others go to the guest lounge.  Gholos, Loozly, and Angvia arrive; Loozly—on Gholos’s behalf—accuses Angvia of the murder and demands the contest be cancelled.  The Doctor refuses, knowing this news could also disrupt the peace conference.  Loozly and Gholos leave in anger, and Angvia warns the Doctor about the Gholos’s infamous “blue sting” which has allegedly killed many Angvians.  Nicky speculates that this is what killed Cyrene, but the Doctor withholds opinion, and the group disperses.  Nicky arranges to meet with Mel again later.  Fassbender returns to his lab, but remarks on how odd it is for a Pakhar—who are top-level diplomats—to be judging a simple competition.  Geri takes offense, calling the appointment prestigious.  Meanwhile the Doctor sends Mel to search Cyrene’s quarters, and sends a cover story to Logan so as to conceal the death.  Eleanor cannot identify the poison in Cyrene’s system, and the TARDIS is still missing.

In Cyrene’s quarters, Mel is approached by Gholos, who turns red and becomes loud in its native language. Loozly arrives and calls Gholos off, claiming that he too was searching for evidence, but took Mel’s presence as an attack.  When she refers to Gholos as a “thing”, Loozly becomes offended, and departs with the still-noisy Gholos. Nicky arrives, and Mel tells him that Gholos tried to kill her.  Meanwhile, Fassbender is working on the cause of the shuttle explosion, while Eleanor subtly comes on to the Doctor, ensuring him that she is available to him as she was to the previous commander.  Strindberg announces that Achilles 4 is under attack by Angvian separatists, dooming the peace conference.  What is there to do, then, but make this contest the best it could be!

Lounging in the station’s pool, Nicky and Mel talk; he begins to rant about his life and its lack of privacy. The constant screaming fans cause him headaches; but on the flight over to Dark Space 8, Loozly was kind enough to give him an aspirin for it.  He admits that this career path makes him cripplingly anxious, but he has too much invested to stop now.  He is summoned to an interview, and Mel advises him to ignore it, prompting him to snap at her for not understanding.  She returns to the guest lounge, where Loozly sits, listening to Logan’s commentary.  Logan comments that critics have panned him for commenting on songs when he can’t pronounce the names, but to combat this, he has built his own translation device this year.  Loozly says that Gholos is resting, and shows Mel a device for monitoring Gholos’s vitals, as separation from the gestalt can be stressful.  He apologizes for his rudeness, but admits that he is uncomfortable with humans, and is only happy on the Gholos world, a planet of gestalt mental energy.

The Doctor goes to his ready room, and learns that the attack on Achilles 4 has been repelled. Mel joins him, but shortly thereafter, they receive a note under the door, which says to “beware the pits of Angvia”—an odd reference, as there are no actual pits on Angvia.  Mel decides to search Fassbender’s lab, while the Doctor meets Angvia in the dining hall at her request.  To his shock, she declares her romantic intentions toward him, and drags him across the table to kiss him—and to his further shock, he finds himself reciprocating.  Meanwhile, Mel meets Nicky coming out of the sickbay, where Eleanor has given him pills for his anxiety and its symptoms.  He apologizes for his rudeness, and Mel recruits his help.  They break into the lab—but then Logan staggers in, and falls to the floor, dead from a stab wound in the back.

The Doctor is completely taken in by Angvia; but before he can consummate the relationship, Strindberg interrupts and calls him to the command deck. He promises Angvia to return, but he remains affected by her; he shows little interest at the report of Logan’s murder.  Eleanor decides she may need to snap him out of it with her own romantic charms…but first there’s an autopsy to complete.  Mel also notices the strange behavior, but is busy with Nicky, who is unexpectedly happy at the idea of stopping the contest.  However, Loozly no longer wants to stop it; or rather, as he insists, Gholos wants it to go on.  Meanwhile Eleanor’s tests on Logan are inconclusive; and the Doctor orders that the contest proceed.  Nicky returns to his quarters to relax, as his medicines have not helped.  Gholos and Loozly also go to prepare.  Mel pulls the Doctor aside and interrogates him; he slowly begins to realize that he is acting bizarrely, especially with regard to Angvia; some things he simply never does, and with her?!  He snaps out of it to assess the murder, and quickly deduces the motive—but he keeps it to himself, to Mel’s irritation.  Mel leaves to find Fassbender, who is still missing.  The Doctor questions Eleanor about Fassbender, and she insists she trusts him.  She leaves when Angvia arrives; the queen attempts to resume her seduction of the Doctor, but he reluctantly rejects her.  She is shocked at this, and bursts into tears before leaving.  The Doctor sets his mind to why he is apparently falling for her.

Strindberg—who has no public speaking experience—fills in (badly) for Logan as commentator. Nicky apologizes with roses for Mel, who then recruits him to find Fassbender.  They find him at the back of the main hall.  Mel tries to accuse him of killing Logan and falsifying his sensor scans, but he isn’t listening; he is babbling to himself.  Mel and Nicky take him to Eleanor in sickbay.  While Eleanor prepares to run tests, the Doctor reaches a simpler conclusion: Fassbender is gesturing at his neck, where puncture wounds are found.  It seems he has been poisoned—not a murderer, then, but a victim.  Before he dies, he admits the truth: for years, he’s been just spouting gibberish and technobabble instead of actual useful information, and in point of fact he’s spent most of their adventures drunk.  However, before he can reveal the murderer, he dies.

The Doctor locks down security, but mystifyingly, he allows the contest to proceed. He takes Mel back to the ready room to confer.  They conclude that, if Fassbender couldn’t run a proper scan, the TARDIS is probably still out there.  He sends Mel to watch the concert hall.  Gholos arrives, appearing very distressed, but Loozly arrives to translate, and claims that Gholos is accusing Angvia of murdering Fassbender.  The Doctor promises to investigate, and the duo leaves.  As they do so, Geri calls the Doctor and says that Angvia has been knocked out in her dressing room.  Meanwhile the contest is beginning.  Nicky remains ill, and is not helped when Geri rushes past, revealing to Nicky and Mel that Angvia has been attacked.  Mel begins to suspect Geri; after all, who would?  Thus making her a suspect that no one would, well, suspect.  Mel and Nicky follow Geri to an empty corridor, and witness her contacting her home base against the Doctor’s lockdown order.  She reassures her superiors that everything is going to plan.  This convinces Mel that she is responsible, and Mel tries to restrain her; but in the struggle, Geri hits her head on the floor.  Has Mel killed the arbiter?

Eleanor has been unsuccessful at reviving Angvia. In fact, as the Doctor notes, she is generally unsuccessful at everything she attempts.  He steps in and uses smelling salts to revive Angvia.  In delirium, Angvia talks about trade sanctions and Gholos incursion into Angvian space—information which might be crucial, but is too late in coming; Mel is bringing Geri to Sickbay.  Angrily, the Doctor sends Nicky to prepare for his song, and then berates Mel for attacking Geri, whom they need.  He explains the presence of Geri, a high-ranking Pakhar diplomat, at a simple competition: it’s no simple competition.  The peace conference on Achilles 4 is a decoy, and the real peace conference…is here.

The Doctor explains that Angvia’s ramblings revealed the truth. The Achilles 4 conference was a decoy for the terrorists to attack; instead, Nicky, Angvia, and Gholos carry psychic imprints of the real delegates in their subconscious minds.  Using telepathic abilities, the imprinted delegates have been conducting the real peace conference all this time, under the cover of the contest.  Geri’s presence is not actually intended to mediate the contest, but rather, the peace conference.  The Doctor announces that he knows who the murderer is, and gathers everyone in the guest lounge—including Geri, whom Eleanor has just revived using the Doctor’s smelling salts.  Angvia, however, must go onstage first, as her turn has arrived.  The Doctor stops to chat privately with Geri before entering the guest lounge.  Angvia makes her performance, and then joins them.  When the Doctor and Geri arrive last, they are bearing a strange device.

The Doctor explains the truth about the conference. He then exposes the truth about Eleanor, who is not a real doctor after all.  She admits it; she came to Dark Space 8 as a stowaway years earlier, and then lied about her qualifications.  She was as surprised as anyone when she was taken at face value; and she eventually become chief medical officer.  She denies involvement with the murders, however, and the Doctor concurs.  He then confronts Nicky, who is still suffering from his fears; he agrees that Nicky is not the murderer, but suggests that Nicky should realise that his fears are trivial.

This still leaves the killer unrevealed, however. The Doctor reveals that the shuttle was destroyed by an Angvian scatter bomb; Angvian poisons killed Cyrene and Fassbender; and Angvia used her race’s impressive pheromone array to seduce the Doctor.  That was the purpose of Geri’s note about the “pits of Angvia”; the queen’s pheromone glands are located in her armpits.  Of course this makes Angvia the obvious suspect—but perhaps it’s too obvious.  Thus, the Doctor activates the device: Logan’s translator.  Gholos can now speak without Loozly’s help, albeit in Logan’s voice.  The gestalt entity instantly accurse Loozly of the murders.  Loozly admits it; he is strongly opposed to peace with Angvia, perhaps more so than Gholos himself.  His contacts back in Earth Security had leaked the truth about the conference; and so he arranged to accompany Gholos and began sabotaging the conference.  However, his attempts to frame Angvia failed, not through his own incompetence, but through the incompetence of the medical officer and science officer who should have noticed his planted clues.  Gholos admits that earlier, he was not attacking Mel, but trying to warn her; unfortunately no one could understand him.  Loozly’s alleged health-monitoring device was actually compelling obedience from Gholos.  Loozly killed Logan in order to prevent the commentator from using his translator on Gholos.  Fassbender, it seems, had somehow managed to work out the truth, and thus was also killed.

Loozly insists his actions were to preserve the Gholos gestalt from corruption. He takes Angvia hostage, and insists that he has the detonator for a bomb that will destroy the station.  Gholos steps in and kills him using the “blue sting of Gholos”, thus freeing Angvia and dealing out justice for himself.  Angvia offers to consider peace with Gholos.  Nicky is still anxious, but is ready to go onstage.  Gholos and Geri return to their duties, and the Doctor—unhappily—has Eleanor arrested for impersonating a doctor.  It’s time for he and Mel to leave, and the ending theme plays…

…Until Mel stops him. It’s all been too easily concluded, but there’s still one question: Where’s the bomb?  Security fails to find it anywhere.  Angvia says that an Angvian personal destructor would work perfectly; it consists of a tiny fragment of black star matter inside a pill.  When swallowed, it attaches to the digestive tract.  When the carrier is agitated enough, the pill dissolves, and the fragment explodes with the force of fifty Angvian scatter bombs.  Mel makes the connection at once: en route to the station, Loozly gave Nicky a headache pill.  And Nicky is about to go on stage, where his anxiety will skyrocket.

The crowd is singing the Earth anthem, I Will Survive, giving the Doctor and Mel just enough time to catch Nicky. The Doctor sends him with Mel back to his cabin.  Nicky, thinking that Mel is coming on to him, begins to get equally excited in a different way; and Mel gives up and knocks him out.  Meanwhile, the Doctor goes onstage in Nicky’s place, and plays the spoons to a techno-pop background song—and against all odds, the crowd goes wild.  After the performance, the Doctor runs and retrieves Eleanor.  Despite her lack of qualifications, he insists that she has enough practical experience that she is the only one who can remove the bomb from Nicky.  She manages to do so; and as Nicky’s imprint isn’t available to finish the negotiations, the Doctor steps in and does so.  The negotiations are successful, and after centuries, both sides agree to peace.

The contest has entered the voting phase as Mel locates the TARDIS and has it brought aboard. She assures Nicky that he can handle the uproar from his failure to appear.  The jig is up, however; Geri receives a message from Earth with an image of the real Commander John Ballard, and the Doctor is clearly not him.  He tells the truth, which explains to Angvia why he could resist her; he isn’t human, and she never expected to seduce one of the legendary Time Lords.  The contest ends most unexpectedly: the Doctor, or rather, “Commander Ballard”, wins!  He takes this opportunity to get Mel into the TARDIS and slip away.

In the aftermath, Eleanor is found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison, but her sentence is mitigated by her efforts in saving Nicky’s life. Upon release, she enrolls as a student in a teaching hospital…and forges a close relationship with her department head.

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Credit to Simon Hodges, (DeviantArt’s HiSi79). Used without permission, not for profit.

I won’t have a lot to say about this story, not because of anything bad about it, but for two reasons. First; it’s been a few months since I listened; if you’re reading this on my blog, the plot summary above was written at that time, but this review segment comes from perhaps three months later. The story’s gotten a bit cold for me since then, but I want to be able to move on, and so I’ll go ahead and give you what I can. Second, to quote the TARDIS wiki:

As with the prior Mel story, The One Doctor, it was in many ways a parody — though this time of Star Trek, the Eurovision Song Contest and the classic Gerry Anderson 1970s show Space: 1999. Indeed, the title itself is a pun on “Boom Bang-a-Bang”, the 1969 song by Lulu that gave a rare Eurovision win to the United Kingdom.

Of those three references, I’m only personally familiar with one, that being Star Trek. (If it wasn’t previously clear, I live in the USA, where Eurovision is not exactly a familiar thing; and while Space: 1999 is on my list of shows to watch someday, I haven’t seen it yet.) Therefore, I imagine that much of the humor is lost on me, though I still found the story to be very funny.

And funny, it is! That’s by design, perhaps more than usual; Big Finish went through a period of releasing comedic stories for Christmas, with this story being the second in that unofficial series. The first was 2001’s The One Doctor, which also featured Mel as a companion, though with the Sixth Doctor instead of the seventh. Mel seems to be a good hook on which to hang this type of story; unlike many companions, she’s not inclined to simply take the Doctor’s shenanigans for granted and play along. This, when coupled with a Doctor who isn’t necessarily acting like himself, puts her in the strange-but-effective position of being the straight woman to the Doctor’s comedian. She calls him out on a regular basis; here, it’s most visible in the false ending in Part 4, where we go so far as to have the ending theme begin before she cuts it short and declares that the ending was too easy. (As, in fact, it was!) She tries her best to impose order as the situation descends into increasingly-more-hilarious chaos. Even Mel seems to know this is not normal; she wants the Doctor to step up, take charge, and be authoritative. He’d like to, as well, if he didn’t have problems of his own at the moment.

After the opening’s narrow escape, the Doctor finds himself playing the role of the space station’s new commander—but he may have bitten off more than he can chew, as he finds would-be love interests throwing themselves at him. Captain Kirk may handle such things smoothly (and possibly “NSFW”), but the Doctor is no Kirk, and he’s caught completely off guard. He becomes more alarmed when he finds that this time, there’s a woman he can’t resist! It’s very out of character for the normally asexual Seventh Doctor, but that’s the point; and it becomes a major plot point.

I’d be remiss not to list some of the references to other works. The title comes from 1969’s winning Eurovision song, “Boom-Bang-a-Bang”; as I said, I’m not familiar with it myself, but the wiki tells me that the UK’s wins, like this one, have been rare, making this song an appropriate choice. The commentator for the story’s Intergalactic Song Contest, Logan (played by David Tughan) is a direct spoof of Eurovision’s BBC commentator, Terry Wogan. Dr. Harcourt refers to the contest as “the last, best hope for peace” for the warring systems of Angvia and Golos, which is a quote from Babylon 5’s early-season opening monologue; however (again according to the wiki) the presentation is a subtle reference to Dr. Helena Russell, a Space: 1999 character. Dr. Harcourt is modeled after Dr. Russell in other ways as well, most notably her relationship (which here is a bit lurid) with the base commander. The space station’s name, Dark Space 8, is a likely reference to Star Trek: DS9’s Deep Space Nine station. The story’s cover art is deliberately cast in the same color scheme as the promotional posters for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The frequent crew voiceovers are reminiscent of Star Trek’s log entries, and the musical cues also echo Star Trek. As well, many of the in-universe references to past missions and events echo similar stories in Star Trek’s history, such as a reference to a sweat vampire (the salt vampire from TOS episode The Man Trap). I can’t confirm, but I would assume the same is true for Space: 1999.

Underneath the humor and sci-fi trappings, this story is a “whodunit” murder mystery—actually, given the closed population of Dark Space 8, it’s similar to a locked-room mystery. It’s a great story in that regard; I may be a bit biased, though, because I love a good mystery. It’s only made possible, though, by suspending one of Doctor Who’s usual tropes—the Doctor’s understanding of languages. He is unable to understand or speak the language of Golos, a hive-mind character who participates in the contest. Had he been able to communicate with Golos, who possesses critical information, the story would have been over in minutes; in fact, it is Golos who brings about the resolution, once communication is finally established.

Rare for a Doctor Who story: almost everyone gets a happy ending. There are only a few murder victims, and most of the cast survives and goes on to a good life afterward. It may not be typical of this series, but it’s worth it to see the Doctor sing “I Will Survive”. Some things have to be seen (heard?) to be believed.

There are a few continuity references as well, although the nature of this story lends itself more to the external references I’ve already mentioned. The Doctor refers to the Masterbakers of Barastabon, who were previously referenced in The Church and the Crown (the story immediately before this one, with the Fifth Doctor and Peri) and The One Doctor (the preceding Christmas comedy). The Pakhars appear here, having first appeared in Legacy. The Doctor mentions Mel’s trouble with lifts (Paradise Towers). He previously impersonated a commanding officer for the sake of a peace conference in his third life in The Curse of Peladon. The Breeble race and the anthem of Earth both appear here; they were among the Super Brain trivia questions in The One Doctor. Contestant Nicky Newman, who does not get to compete here, subsequently wins the Intergalactic Song Contest in the Iris Wildthyme audio The Sound of Fear (I ordinarily try to exclude references to future stories here, but as it will be a long time before I get to Iris, I’ll make an exception).

Overall: A good story, managing to mix comedy and storytelling better than its predecessor, The One Doctor, managed to do (although I enjoyed both stories). With so many external references, a generous dose of humor, and a great mystery, there’s something for everyone here. It was good to step away from the intensity of the regular main range stories for a bit, especially after the information-dense The Church and the Crown; here is a story that can simply be enjoyed without much investment. It’s still available on Spotify; check it out!

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Credit to Simon Hodges, (DeviantArt’s HiSi79). Used without permission, not for profit.

Next time: I’m continuing the I, Davros spinoff series with part 3, Corruption; and when we return to the Main Range, we’ll look at Jubilee, featuring the Sixth Doctor, Evelyn Smythe, and the Daleks! 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.

Bang-Bang-a-Boom!

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Audio Drama Review: The Church and the Crown

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #38, The Church and the Crown. Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, and directed by Gary Russell, this 2002 release features the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem. Let’s get started!

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

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In 1626 Paris, a skirmish takes place between the personal guards of the Cardinal Richelieu, led by Captain Morand, and the king’s Musketeers, Rouffet and Delmarre. The fight, which began with an insult by Morand against Queen Anne, ends with a wound for Delmarre, and death for Morand’s lieutenant.  Meanwhile Richelieu and King Louis play chess in the palace, oblivious to the fight, which is only the latest in a growing line of such encounters.  Richelieu, subtly drawing a parallel with the relationship of the Church to the Crown, checkmates the king.  Elsewhere, in the TARDIS, the Doctor seeks to take Erimem to the Braxiatel Collection for further education.  It seems the TARDIS and Erimem’s cat are conspiring against him, preventing him from landing there; and the TARDIS materialises instead in 17th-century Paris.  Dressing in period-appropriate clothing, the group goes outside.

Marie de Chevreuse, lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne, is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham. She meets with him, and he gives her a letter to pass on.  She is not thrilled with the plot they are enacting, but he reassures her; and she is unaware that he is only using her.  Meanwhile, Richelieu is preparing to leave, when Morand arrives with Rouffet and Delmarre.  He accuses them of murder, but they claim they were defending the queen’s honor; Louis dismisses the charges.  Richelieu and Morand storm out of the palace; the king gives a sovereign to each Musketeer, then sends them on the way.  He sets about preparing for a state ball, to be conducted later—although his queen is curiously not present.  In the city, the Doctor explains that Richelieu is not the villain that Alexandre Dumas famously portrayed him to be, but plans to unite France.  Meanwhile, Peri feels she is being watched, and Erimem is taken with the city.  The Doctor takes Erimem to see the Louvre—which in this century is still the palace, not a museum—while Peri, against the Doctor’s better judgment, strikes out on her own.

In his carriage, the angry Richelieu is distracted when he sees a woman walking in the street; he orders Morand to follow the woman and report back. Rouffet and Delmarre go to an alehouse, passing Madame de Chevreuse as she enters the palace.  De Chevreuse finds the King instead of the Queen; when he realizes that she has a letter from one of the Queen’s suitors, he demands it, informing her that the Queen has not yet returned from Lyon.  He is distracted by a footman, and de Chevreuse leaves him—but can’t deliver the letter, either.

On the street, Peri is accosted by the Duke of Buckingham, who acts as though he knows her—intimately, it seems. While she tries to get away from him, men dressed in the uniforms of Richelieu’s guards kidnap her, wounding Buckingham in the process.  Morand and his men—the real guards—try to rescue her, but are driven off by the attackers, who escape with Peri.  The Doctor and Erimem hear the commotion, and rush to help, but only catch a glimpse of the kidnappers.  The Doctor accidentally bumps into Delmarre, knocking him down; Delmarre takes it as an insult, and challenges him to a duel.  However, they are interrupted by fanfare and a passing carriage—with Peri inside!  Or so it appears—and the Doctor realizes with dismay that Peri is an exact double of Queen Anne.

The Doctor and Erimem try to slip away. The Doctor recognizes the uniforms, but can’t imagine why the Cardinal would kidnap the Queen—although he realizes they captured Peri by mistake.  Delmarre chases him down to continue the duel, but Erimem changes his course by challenging him, on his honour as a Musketeer, to get them an audience with the King.  The Musketeers agree, happy to prove themselves to a lady.  Meanwhile Peri’s captors take her to an empty chateau outside Paris.  She tries to escape, but is caught by Buckingham, who reveals that the men are his, and his wound was faked.  He refers to her as “your Majesty”, and has his men lock her up before disposing of their uniforms; he implies that they have had a relationship in the past, and treats her accent as a joke.  They lock her in a cell in the dungeon.  Meanwhile, the real Anne arrives at the palace, and argues with Louis over the upcoming ball, as well as over the true power in France.  She claims that Richelieu retains power; Louis counters by claiming that Anne is still having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham.  In the midst of this, Delmarre and Rouffet arrive with the Doctor and Erimem.  Erimem again buys them entrance by announcing herself as the Princess Erimem of Karnak, and the Doctor as her vizier.  The Doctor explains their situation; in the middle of his conversation, Richelieu arrives, having heard Morand’s report of the kidnapping.  Richelieu is surprised to find Anne unharmed, but reveals that he saw her—Peri, actually—in the company of the Duke, sparking another argument with Louis.  The Doctor hastily explains to Erimem about the rumors of a past affair between the Queen and the Duke, who is also the Prime Minister of England.  More worrisome is the ball tonight; the timing of the kidnapping attempt could not be a coincidence.

Richelieu claims that the Musketeers are after his guards, having quickly heard of the kidnapping. The King, already bored with the situation, authorizes the Doctor to investigate.  At his word, Rouffet and Delmarre take the Doctor and Erimem to meet an informant, “Blind Maurice”, a beggar who is not truly blind—he’s simply cornered a market on sympathy.  The Doctor pays him in gold dust, and he reveals the location of the chateau, which has harbored some suspicious doings of late.  The Doctor sends Erimem back to the palace, in part to manage appearances, but also to keep an eye on Louis, and he goes with the Musketeers to the chateau.  Meanwhile Buckingham receives a message from Marie, stating that his captive is not the Queen.  He goes to confront Peri, but finds she has smashed a window and escaped.  At the same time, the Doctor and the Musketeers arrive, but the Doctor makes a mistake and is captured; the grounds are swarming with armed men.  He is taken for questioning; meanwhile the Musketeers hide and look for an opportunity to rescue both the Doctor and Peri.  At the Palace, Marie suggests to the Queen that she should eliminate Louis and then deal directly with Richelieu.  Anne sends Marie out, then asks Erimem’s opinion.  During the conversation, Erimem shocks Anne by admitting she genuinely trusts the Doctor; Anne trusts no one, not even Marie.  Indeed, she keeps Marie close so as to watch her, and to obtain gossip she would not otherwise hear.  And yet, she trusts Richelieu even less; and Erimem, remembering corrupt priests in her homeland, begins to suspect Richelieu might actually be involved with the kidnapping.

Richelieu, meanwhile, is arguing with the King again, wanting him to cancel the ball and stabilise the now-chaotic city. When the Queen arrives, Richelieu says that the King is threatening the unity of the country; Louis insists this ball will bring the nobility together and unify the country—in the name of the King, not the Church.  Richelieu returns to his own palace, and Erimem follows.  Meanwhile Peri encounters Delmarre and Rouffet in the chateau’s stables; they explain that the Doctor has been captured.  The Doctor is brought to Buckingham, who reveals he is aware of the Musketeers that came with him.  He intends to torture the Doctor to learn why he is there.  Meanwhile Richelieu orders Morand to arm all of his guards; they must protect themselves in the absence of help from the King.  He then discovers Erimem, and demands to know why she is spying on him.  At that time, Morand opens the palace door—and it explodes in his face.

Erimem has never seen an explosion before. She soon recovers, but Morand is dead and several guards are injured.  The Cardinal attributes the bomb to the Musketeers, and returns to the Louvre, taking Erimem with him; he still doesn’t know her identity, but he accepts that she is honorable.  As they travel, they see Musketeers fighting with his guards in the streets.  Meanwhile Peri insists on rescuing the Doctor; Delmarre and Rouffet reluctantly agree.  They find all the chateau entrances guarded, but manage to overpower three of Buckingham’s men, and take their uniforms.  They head for the chateau, but the size of the force here is intimidating—and disconcerting, when so close to Paris.  Inside, Buckingham tortures the Doctor, believing him to be a spy for another government that plans to invade England.  He does not gain any useful information, but leaves the Doctor to die.

Louis and Richelieu cannot come to an agreement; Richelieu demands justice, but the King refuses to credit his guards with the bomb. He also refuses to cancel the ball, believing it would send the wrong message to the visiting dignitaries.  He leaves to change for the ball, and tells Richelieu to do the same, ignoring the blood on Richelieu’s robes—blood from his guards.  He begs Anne to sway the King’s mind; Marie scoffs at this, sending him into a rage, and Anne sends her out.  However, she cannot change the King’s mind—he has not forgiven her for her affair, or her inability to give him an heir.

Marie helps Erimem to dress for the ball, and gossips while she does so; she claims the Cardinal desires the Queen, and that the dream of a united France is foolish. Erimem silences her.  When she rejoins the others, she discovers that Richelieu is now threatening to excommunicate the King if he does not call off the ball and arrest the Musketeers.  Louis has the Cardinal arrested and locked up, spurning the idea that this may lead to religious war.  Anne grows angry at Louis, and retreats to her quarters, taking Erimem with her.

Peri and the Musketeers see Buckingham leaving, and make their move on the chateau. The Musketeers are confronted by a guard captain, and engage him in combat while Peri slips inside.  She finds the wounded Doctor and frees him.  He is recovering, albeit slowly; and in the dining room, he finds racks of well-maintained weapons.  They flee, meeting up with Delmarre and Rouffet, and are forced to fight their way free.  Buckingham responds by moving up the timetable of his attack—he orders his captain to attack at once.  The Duke, it seems, is invading France—and his army is pursuing the Doctor and his friends toward Paris.

Louis forces his way into Anne’s rooms to order her to attend the ball with him. She loses her temper and sends him out.  Their childish behaviour is a shock to Erimem, who confronts them about it; Anne accepts her words, but Louis declares that after the ball, Erimem will be escorted out, and exiled from France.  He then tells Anne that if she does not attend, she will join the Cardinal in a cell.  Reluctantly, Anne agrees; and Erimem goes to find the Doctor.  The Doctor and his friends, at that time, are arriving in Paris, where bodies lie in the streets.  Buckingham’s plan—to set the factions at war by kidnapping the Queen—is working despite Anne’s continued freedom; the English army will face little opposition.  Erimem finds him, and exchanges stories with him.  He then sends her with Delmarre and Rouffet to rouse the French soldiers, while he and Peri go to warn Louis and Richelieu.

The ball is underway, and Anne is telling the guests that the Cardinal is ill. Louis’s plan for unity seems to be working, and he gloats about it to Anne, who realizes that all along he has been trying to impress her with strength.  However, they remain unaware of the approaching army.  The Doctor could tell them, but without Erimem, he can’t convince the guards to admit him; and so he and Peri sneak in through the storm drains.  Peri questions their work, insisting that history shows that Buckingham fails; but the Doctor explains that they must play their part in order to guarantee that outcome.  Arriving in the dungeons, they free Richelieu, who wants revenge; they then go to confront the King.

Erimem and the Musketeers can’t do much by themselves, but Erimem recalls the explosion. Delmarre and Rouffet retrieve explosives from the armory, and set them off, not to harm anyone, but to draw attention.  Erimem then addresses the crowd, chastising both sides for falling for this distraction; chastened, they vow to fight for their city along with her, in the name of both the Church and the Crown.  They manage to assemble a defense in time to surround Buckingham’s army as it reaches the gates; and Buckingham, with too much invested to surrender, joins battle.  Inside, the Doctor, Peri, and the Cardinal confront the King in the midst of the ball.  He can no longer ignore their warnings; and with the entire nobility gathered here, the entire leadership of France could fall at once.  Louis tries to focus on the smaller situation, believing that Buckingham has come for Anne, but the Doctor refuses to allow his jealousy to trump his judgment.  If Buckingham wins here, England may rule the entire continent soon enough.  At last, the King orders the ball cancelled and the palace sealed off.

Erimem leads the French troops into battle, routing the English army. Buckingham tries to personally take her hostage, but is unable to do so; instead, he rushes off.  Erimem, Delmarre, and Rouffet follow; a word from Blind Maurice reveals that Buckingham is heading for the palace.  Indeed, he kills the gate guard and slips inside.  Meanwhile, Richelieu and Louis try to calm the nobles, and Anne plans to return to her quarters; but at Marie’s urging, she stays.  The Doctor, meanwhile, is concerned for Erimem’s safety.  Buckingham bursts in, and takes the King hostage, holding a gun to his head.  Richelieu tries to save the King, but Marie draws a gun on him, revealing her part in the plot.  The Doctor distracts Marie by throwing a sword at Buckingham; Peri knocks the gun from Marie’s hand.  Buckingham tries to kill the Doctor; Louis tosses the Doctor a sword, and the two duel.  As Erimem and the Musketeers arrive, the Doctor pins Buckingham to the wall—not harming him, but pinning his clothes, as a butterfly’s wings—prompting Delmarre to admit he is glad that he didn’t duel with the Doctor after all.

As the army is mopped up, the Doctor reveals what he found in the chateau: A letter which detailed Buckingham’s plans.  Richelieu tears up the letter, choosing to cover the scandal and avoid the war with England that would result.  Erimem wants Buckingham executed, but Richelieu recommends exile instead, and suggests allowing King Charles of England to determine his fate.  Louis also expels Marie from the palace; and Buckingham rejects her as well, leaving her without recourse.  Peri is upset at Buckingham’s easy fate, but the Doctor assures her that history records that he will be killed in a few years.

The next day, the King and the Cardinal press the Doctor to accept honorary commissions in both the Musketeers and the Cardinal’s guards. Delmarre and Rouffet then escort the Doctor and his friends to the TARDIS.  Delmarre apologizes to the Doctor for his initial rudeness; the Doctor accepts the apology, but is unable to inspire the catchphrase “All for one and one for all!”.  In the TARDIS, the Doctor offers Erimem a new course: instead of going to the Braxiatel Collection now, she can stay if she likes, and see what adventures await them.  She accepts at once.  The only hitch, in the Doctor’s view, is her wretched cat, whom she names Antranak in memory of her former mentor.

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In the past, I’ve been critical of historical stories; but I have to say that I greatly enjoyed this one. This is in no small part due to the characters of the Musketeers, Delmarre and Rouffet. They make an unintentional, but quite humorous, comedy duo, especially when having the Doctor’s soft-spoken formality to play against. I’m most reminded of the character of Richard Mace, seen in The Visitation, about whom I’ve spoken enthusiastically on several occasions; if he had had someone similar to him against whom to react, it would have resulted in a story very much like this one. None of that is to say that this story is the same as The Visitation; that story was not a pure historical—it concerned real events from history, but included science-fiction elements in the form of the Terileptils. This story is a pure historical, and for once it’s a great experience. I will confess that my European history has suffered since high school, but there’s not a lot one needs to know to appreciate this story; the characters don’t require much knowledge in order to understand their motivations, and most of what is needed is spelled out here, courtesy of Erimem, who knows less than the audience does. The Doctor’s info-dumps for Erimem’s benefit are short and hasty, but tell us all we really need to know.

Nicola Bryant gets a double billing here; she plays Peri, as usual, but also plays Queen Anne, as Peri has the dubious honor of looking identical to the Queen. That’s not so unusual; many actors have played two or more parts in the same production, and the audio format lends itself especially well to such doubling up. (One would think that the Doctor would not be taken by surprise in this regard; he admits to having met an older version of Louis XIII before.) The remarkable part here is the voice work. Peri and Queen Anne sound nothing alike. I realize that Peri’s American accent is fake—my wife, who never watched the classic series and only knows Peri from the audios, insists she sounds like a CGI Disney channel cartoon character—but I never realized just how different it was from her normal voice, or from any other voice she may choose to use. I’ve never had a bad opinion of her, but my opinion certainly improved with this performance; she’s more versatile than she seems at first.

At the outset of this story, which serves as a sequel to The Eye of the Scorpion, the Doctor does not intend for Erimem to remain aboard the TARDIS. Instead, he intends to take her to the Braxiatel Collection to further her education. I’ve read enough to have some idea of the nature of the Braxiatel Collection and its founder, but not enough as yet to speak at length about it, so we’ll leave that discussion for another time, especially as we never actually arrive there. However, this is the story where Erimem becomes a full-time companion, as the Doctor asks her to stay. It’s worth noting that the audio drama No Place Like Home, which I have already covered, should properly come immediately after this story; as it’s a bonus release and not part of the Main Range, it’s not clearly stated, but logically fits in that spot. It can’t come earlier, as Erimem doesn’t name her cat, Antranak, until this story, but the cat’s name appears in No Place Like Home.

I will admit that I’ve never read The Three Musketeers, to which this story clearly owes inspiration; I’ve only seen a few film versions. I don’t think it’s necessary to have done so in order to appreciate this story, however. The Musketeers as portrayed here are far from being buffoons, but they do work best in comic mode, and they stand quite well on their own, without the support of Dumas’ book. There is, however, a gag near the end that serves as an homage; the Doctor tries, and fails, to persuade the Musketeers to take up the famous slogan, “One for all, and all for one!” Maybe next time, Doctor.

Some continuity references: The Doctor makes reference to K9 (The Invisible Enemy; last seen on television in Warrior’s Gate), commenting that he needs him when dealing with Erimem’s cat. He again mentions Houdini, as he has done on many occasions in several lifetimes (Planet of the Spiders, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Revenge of the Cybermen, The Wrath of the Iceni, and notably, earlier in the same lifetime in Smoke and Mirrors). His companions have met doubles of themselves before (The Androids of Tara, Black Orchid, with the latter occurring in the same regeneration). Erimem names her cat Antranak, after her mentor in The Eye of the Scorpion. The Doctor carries gold dust; this is a reference to several Cyberman stories, although he never seems to have it when he actually needs it. (Gold dust will later appear in the TV movie in another context, when the Master gives it to Chang Lee, and the Doctor later allows him to keep it.) The Braxiatel Collection was first mentioned in City of Death, and first seen in Theatre of War. It’s worth noting that the Doctor’s reference to Buckingham as the Prime Minister of England is a misnomer; the position did not exist at this time, although he could have been the chief minister to King Charles.

Overall: A well-rounded, funny entry. After the Eighth Doctor’s recent lengthy stay in the main range, it’s nice to see the Fifth Doctor return with something as entertaining as this. While some people have stated that they don’t care for the Five/Peri/Erimem adventures because they cheapen his sacrifice in The Caves of Androzani (which is a valid point, I admit), I am pleased to see that on their own, they’re standing up quite well so far. There’s not a lot to complain about here, and much to enjoy.

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Next time: I inadvertently had to take a week off from the Main Range, so I am not sure if I’ll get back to it this week or not. If we do, we’ll be listening to Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, featuring the Seventh Doctor and Mel. As well, on Thursday, we’ll wrap up series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures with The Oseidon Adventure! 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.

The Church and the Crown

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Audio Drama Review: The Sandman

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #37, The Sandman. Written by Simon A. Forward and directed by Gary Russell, this story features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. Let’s get started!

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

Sandman 1

In deep space travels a large fleet of ships called the Clutch, which is led by a reptilian race, the Galyari, but populated by hundreds of races. A Galyari nursemaid tells a group of children the legend of the Sandman, who takes the skins of misbehaving children.  Suddenly the story becomes terribly real, and the children die in agony.  Their mother, trade director Nrosha, feels their pain, and takes security Commander Brel and his patrol with her to the nursery…but it is too late.  The Sandman, also known as the Doctor, has struck again.

Two years later, the TARDIS arrives on the bridge of a transport ship owned by a star gypsy named Mordecan. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe alarm him at first, but manage to calm his nerves.  He carries them with him to the Clutch, where he has an appointment.  Accompanying him is his anxious partner, Nintaru.  Evelyn marvels at the sight of the fleet, like a massive school of fish in coordinated grace…and then they dock with the ships.  Irritated, Mordecan lets them out into the fleet, but warns them that they must return before he leaves in three days if they want their blue box back.  He warns them to avoid the Warrens, a dangerous area of the fleet; and he urges Evelyn to get rid of the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Orchestrator Shol, the Galyari responsible for the coordination of the fleet, has his own problems; he meets with Nrosha, who is sure the Sandman is returning, and reminds her that despite her past tragedy, she must continue to carry out her duties.  For the moment, those duties include monitoring Mordecan; and she promises to do so, though she does not respect Shol’s wishes.

While the Doctor and Evelyn set off, Mordecan contacts Nintaru’s and reviews their agenda; Mordecan must first meet Nrosha, but then they will meet another contact in another ship, as they have done in the past. Nintaru’s anxiety grows; the Galyari have stringent trade laws, and are not happy with what she is selling, but she intends to go through with it—especially as this is the last shipment.  Meanwhile, Evelyn notices a strange thing: none of the Galyari will look directly at the Doctor.  She suspects something is going on, and her thoughts are verified when he breaks into the Orchestrator’s control center.  He intentionally trips the alarm, knowing it will summon the Orchestrator to him.  He explains that this is a valid technique for him, as the Galyari have no grasp on a criminal mindset; this means, however, that they punish severely any criminal that does face justice.  While they wait, the Doctor plays with the controls for Traffic, the central computer that coordinates the fleet, and learns it is being controlled from an auxiliary command center.  Orchestrator Shol arrives, and the Doctor becomes haughty and arrogant, terrifying the Orchestrator.  When Evelyn confronts him about it, he tells her she is wrong about him; he IS the monster they believe him to be.

The Doctor’s behaviour continues to shock, as he dictates to Shol that the Galyari must cease their trade in weapons, a problem which reappears every few generations despite the Doctor’s efforts. Shol reluctantly agrees, though he knows it will make his people poor.  Meanwhile, Mordecan talks business with Nrosha; he has brought a shipment of sunbirds, which the Galyari regard almost reverently, as they themselves descend from an avian species.  He realizes she is more troubled than usual—and she becomes even more so when he reveals that his unwilling passenger was called “the Doctor”—the alternate name of the Sandman…

The Doctor orders Shol to tell Evelyn about the history of the Galyari and the Sandman. Shol explains that their homeworld, Galyar, was overrun by vermin who burrowed in the ground.  When an army of conquest under the command of famed General Voshkar returned to the world and found it in ruins, they fought the vermin, but were defeated by a monster called the Sandman.  The Doctor is that monster; he appeared and overwhelmed Voshkar’s army, and ordered the general never to return to the world.  He then took the skins of the fallen as trophies.  Voshkar left, but raised a second army of twenty thousand soldiers, and returned.    Though he had some success against the vermin, the Sandman returned, wearing the skins of the dead, and the Galyari could not look on him without pain.  The Sandman stated he had given the vermin, the Cuscaru, intelligence, so that they could oppose the Galyari.  He cursed the Galyari to never live on a planet again; and more, he crushed the planet’s Srushkubr, its Memory Egg, to dust.  The Doctor explains this part of the story to Evelyn; the Srushkuby is an organic data bank of sorts, which holds the race memory of the Galyari, and to which all of them are bound.  Every Galyari colony world has one; Shol balks at the idea that Galyar was just another colony and not the homeworld, but the Doctor insists it is so.  The Doctor admits that he did curse the Galyari, so that they will not curse others.

With Mordecan’s information, Nrosha contacts Commander Brel, who is investigating more mysterious deaths. She persuades him to come with her, insisting that they may be able to kill the Sandman and end the nightmare now.  Tempted by the thought of being the hero who destroyed the Sandman, Brel agrees, and joins her en route to the command center.  Meanwhile Mordecan makes his way to the Warrens and to an unmonitored terminal, from which he transmits a current map of the Clutch to Nintaru so that she can meet with him at their appointed rendezvous.

Despite Evelyn’s disgust with the Doctor, Shol agrees to the demands, if the Doctor will end the recent unnatural deaths. The Doctor knows nothing of these deaths, and is caught off guard, but plays along, and gets Shol to describe the deaths, which began with Shol’s own predecessor as Orchestrator.  That death began after a meeting with Mordecan, but the sale proposed at the meeting fell through with the Orchestrator’s death.  Since then, others have died, and it has been attributed to the Sandman.  The Sandman would, in the past, only take skins shed during the “growth sickness” that all Galyari periodically undergo; but now the skins are being taken before they are shed, killing the victims.  Evelyn and the Doctor are horrified, especially upon learning that trade director Nrosha’s young were early victims.  The Doctor promises to end the deaths as soon as he meets with Mordecan—but they are interrupted by Nrosha and Brel, who burst in.  Through the pain of looking at the Doctor, Brel opens fire.

Brel’s inability to look directly at the Doctor throws off his aim, and the Doctor and Evelyn retreat, destroying the door lock on the way out. They flee through the Clutch, and notice the lights flickering as they do; this indicates there is a cloaked security drone watching them, tapping into the somewhat-incompatible power system.  The Doctor captures the drone and begins rewiring it to find Mordecan, but before he can finish, an announcement is made: this ship is leaving the Clutch, and is about to be detached from its neighbors.  Evelyn manages to make it to the airlock and into the next ship, but the Doctor, delayed by his electronic work, does not.

Nrosha takes the Doctor’s flight to mean he fears death. Shol fears what may come of this if they fail to kill the Doctor, but reluctantly complies; Nrosha sends out patrols to track the Doctor but not attack him, leaving Brel to press the attack.  When the door is prepared, Brel sets off; Shol seals himself and Nrosha in, and warns her that if Brel fails, he will kill the Commander so as to appease the Sandman.  Meanwhile, Nintaru becomes aware of the extra patrols, which make her more anxious than ever.  She warns Mordecan, and changes her route to the rendezvous.  En route, Mordecan meets Evelyn in the Warrens.  She asks about his meeting with the previous Orchestrator, but he says that all he did was connect the Orchestrator with Nintaru before the deal fell through.  He does not know what merchandise Nintaru peddles, but he knows it was unusual.

The Doctor’s drone has caught the transmission between Nintaru and Mordecan. When the ship docks in a new position, the Doctor finds Nintaru and questions her; as he does so, they pass through one of many aviaries in the fleet, and the birds attack Nintaru.  The Doctor helps drive them off, and explains the genetic connection between the Galyari and birds—which, as it seems, leads the reptilian Galyari to revere such species.  Nintaru reveals her own species—the Cuscaru—and learns that the Clutch is nearing Nintaru’s world—a planet once called Galyar.  He knows that the Galyari rename every colony world Galyar, and have often forgotten that each world is not the homeworld—so it is with Nintaru’s world.  The Cuscaru also have a version of the legend about the Sandman and the early conquest over the Galyari; and when they detected the Clutch approaching, some years earlier, they connected it to the legend, and began seeking a solution.  They found trace elements in their soil which must have come from the Memory Egg; and, collecting the fragments, they set out to return them as a peace offering.  That mission became a trade mission, but failed; now, Nintaru continues it in secret.  The Doctor realizes there are yet larger stakes; when he destroyed the Srushkubr, it released neural energy that forced a mutation on all the Galyari who were present.  If the egg’s ashes come into contact with any of those mutated Galyari, it will mean disaster—in fact, it may already have done so.

Shrol is unable to wait patiently, and resumes his duties—but he is unable to contact his sub-Orchestrator, Korshal, in the auxiliary command center. It seems the Sandman has struck again, although the Doctor is nowhere near that area.  Meanwhile, Mordecan and Evelyn arrive at the rendezvous point, waiting for Nintaru and their secretive contact.  When the trade deal under the former Orchestrator fell through, this was the only option.  Mordecan warns her that the contact is unpleasant to look at; if Nintaru is smuggling drugs, as Mordecan suspects, the contact seems to have sampled them.  Nintaru and the Doctor arrives, but when she reaches for her merchandise, the Doctor reveals he has stolen it, to prevent any Galyari from having contact with it.  The contact grows angry, and comes out of the shadows to attack—and calls the Doctor by name.

Brel arrives, having tracked the Doctor, but is stunned by the sight of the monster. Mordecan snatches Brel’s gun and kills the creature.  It proves to be a Galyari skin, empty inside.  Brel still plans to the kill the Doctor; to stop him, the Doctor removes his coat and waistcoat, revealing that it serves as a sort of camouflage to the Galyari, who are highly sensitive to bright, clashing colours.  This is tantamount to admitting he has no supernatural powers; but Brel lets that go in the face of a more important issue: once, the Galyari also had a power of camouflage, much like chameleons on Earth.  Brel realizes that the walking skin is something requiring analysis, and he summons a medical team for Nintaru; but at that moment, they are interrupted by a broadcast summons.  Its voice comes from the auxiliary command center, and is familiar to the Doctor.  It claims to be the new Sandman, and the new Orchestrator of the Clutch; and it will let every non-Galyari depart, if only they bring him the Doctor.

The Doctor has Brel connect him to Shol, and transmits the image of the husk monster. He explains that fragments of the ancient Srushkubr are present; as well, the previous Orchestrator was a descendant of the long-dead General Voshkar.  The Doctor can expose and eliminate their tormentor, but it will require letting him into the sacred cultivation chambers.  Nrosha objects, but Shol realizes the truth: the Doctor could easily get there in his TARDIS; instead he is asking for their help.  Nrosha cannot abide Shol’s decision to listen, and takes a patrol to the auxiliary command center, trying to prove Shol wrong.  Meanwhile, leaving Nintaru to recover, the Doctor goes with Evelyn, Mordecan, and Brel to the aviary to collect feathers, which they will need for the cultivation chamber.  He explains that the legend wasn’t quite right; the Cuscaru were the natives of this Galyar, and were just becoming intelligent when the Galyari colonised it.  The Doctor helped them to mount a defense, and so gained access to the Srushkubr, and realized he would need dead Galyari tissue to interface with it.  This, he obtained from the battlefield; but he was found harvesting skins by the Galyari soldiers.  He acted the part of a monster in an attempt to get Voshkar to leave peacefully; the retreat was only temporary, but by the time Voshkar returned, the Doctor had gained control of the Srushkubr.  He used it to drive the Galyari away, and destroyed it, blasting them with the neural energy which imprinted them with a fear of him—the Sandman, as they knew him.  However, the neural energy was enough to irradiate the soldiers, and that contamination was passed down through many generations.  Contact with Nintaru’s fragments unleashed the energy, creating a new Srushkubr.  That Srushkubr, filled with malice, was formed around a living core, but has been adding skins to itself ever since—thus creating the husk monsters.  Still, as they now embody the racial memory, Brel cannot shoot them.

Still, this racial memory—and the control of it afforded by the Srushkubr—will allow the Doctor a plan. He uses the feathers, along with Galyari skin cells and his own blood, to create his own Srushkubr inside the cultivation chambers.  He sends Evelyn and Shol to the command center, and gets Brel to have all the Galyari seal themselves behind secure bulkheads.  He takes Mordecan to the auxiliary command deck to confront the Sandman and then transfer Traffic control back to the main command center.  The plan is not lost on Shol or Evelyn; they realize that the one the Galyari have considered their nemesis, is now working to save them all.

The corridor outside auxiliary command is full of bodies and husks. Only Nrosha, in her hatred, managed to fight her way past the husks; but, the Doctor finds, it was in vain, as the Sandman has torn her apart.  The Sandman reveals himself: he is Voshkar reborn, as his mind was the strongest in the race memory.  Now he will lead his people to retake the Cuscaru world and make it Galyar again.  The Doctor angrily tells him that the Sandman—as the Doctor created the legend—was no killer; he merely harvested shed skins and planted fear, which kept the Galyari from harming anyone else.  Under Voshkar, the Clutch will become a war fleet; and this, the Doctor cannot allow.  Voshkar attacks him, and in the chaos, Mordecan transfers control back to Shol.  Shol opens all the internal bulkheads except those behind which the Galyari shelter.  Throughout the fleet, the birds—at the telepathic suggestion of the Doctor—flood the corridors from the aviaries, attacking the husks, who cannot fight them off.  As the husks die, Voshkar is steadily diminished, until, wracked with pain, he dies.

Later, at the Doctor’s suggestion, Shol drops the old charges against Nintaru, who acted in good faith without knowledge of the trouble she would cause. Since the Cuscaru world still contains the ashes of the ancient Srushkubr, the Clutch will bypass it, for the sake of safety.  With a new era dawning for the Galyari, the Doctor and Evelyn depart in the TARDIS.

Sandman 2

The premise of this story is that the Doctor has a hidden dark side, which of course comes as a shock to his companion Evelyn. Leaving aside the fact that the Sixth Doctor has had a major “dark side” story with The Trial of a Time Lord in season 23, it’s still not a particularly original concept; many companions have had to face the fact that the Doctor can be cruel or bizarre or simply not what he seems. It’s pretty egregious here at first, but as is typical with Doctor Who, things are not what they seem. My view of the story is that it does expose a major flaw in the Doctor, and the Sixth Doctor especially, but that the flaw in question isn’t cruelty or arrogance or evil. No, the problem is that he overreaches. He feels free to meddle—every incarnation of the Doctor does this—and of course on many occasions, it’s justifiable; but in particular, he sometimes meddles where he shouldn’t, and doesn’t consider the consequences. What he does in this story (or rather, before it, in the past to which the story makes reference) is for a good cause, but the consequences spiral out of control, and people die as a result. One gets the impression that he thinks himself above consequences, but in the end they find him out anyway.

The Clutch, the fleet of ships in which this story takes place, is a great setting, and very possibly unique in Doctor Who. This fleet of ships, with the Galyari race at its core, constantly wanders the stars at the speed of its slowest (sublight speed) members, engaging in trade as it goes. Its ships are connected by airlock tunnels, allowing traffic among ships; however, they also are frequently rearranged at the behest of the Galyari Orchestrator and the central Traffic computer. It is of great age, covering many generations of Galyari, and incorporates over a hundred other species and their ships. The Doctor, as we learn, is responsible for its existence, as he is the one who caused the Galyari to be nomads without a world—but that’s part of the issue to be resolved herein. The setting is good enough that it is revisited in two more audio dramas, Dreamtime (Doctor Who) and The Bone of Contention (Bernice Summerfield), both of which were published after this story, but take place before it, and both of which share at least one character with this story (in addition to the Doctor).

There’s a very unique enemy here; unfortunately I say much about it, as that would constitute a major spoiler (for those trying to avoid them). We’ve had any number of enemies with odd origins and various levels of consciousness and/or life, but this, I think, is a first for me. As well, the method in which it is defeated is quite creative—perfectly in character for the Doctor, but still something I’ve never seen before.

It’s a little early to be sure, but it seems that a theme of Evelyn’s time with the Doctor is her shedding her early eagerness and learning to distrust him, or at least to regard him with more caution. I’ve glanced ahead at the publisher’s summaries for several of her upcoming stories, and it seems this thread continues; but it certainly gets a large boost here. It doesn’t help that he openly admits to being the monster the Galyari think him to be; and even after all is told, it seems she still regards him with some small amount of suspicion. At the very least, she has learned he is not perfect, and that his mistakes cost lives. She does get in some great one-liners and insults along the way (Mordecan: “Lose the Doctor.” Evelyn: “I’m sure that he is perfectly capable of losing both of us!”), and her dialogue alone is worth the price of admission.

Pinning down the time period of this story is practically impossible, but we do get one clue. The Clutch does frequent business with humans, of which the trader Mordecan is one (he describes himself as a star gypsy), indicating that this story is set in Earth’s future, during the colonisation period at least, and possibly further. Sublight ships are still common, indicating it’s probably not too far ahead—several centuries perhaps, rather than several millennia. As for the Doctor’s timeline: the flashback sequence, in which he first meets the Galyari, have him traveling without a companion, making it sometime after Peri’s forced departure at the beginning of Season 23 (and before he took Mel on full-time), but we can’t be more specific than that, especially with Mel’s rather convoluted history with the Doctor (and she doesn’t even appear here!).

Other than the aforementioned audios set in the Clutch, I could find no continuity references. That’s very unusual for a main range audio drama; even Evelyn makes no real references to their previous adventures. Compensating for that, perhaps, is the fact that there is an extended storytelling/flashback sequence in Part Two, and this story gets revisited numerous times, with changes in details. There’s only so much time available, I suppose. Worth mentioning, though: we do get an appearance from Anneke Wills (First Doctor companion Polly) in the role of Trade Director Nrosha of the Galyari.  It’s quite a different role for her, but she carries it well.

Overall: this is a very enjoyable story. We’re all familiar enough with the Doctor to know that things can’t be what they seem at the beginning—there’s no way the Doctor is actually evil—but the anticipation of how the truth will work out is quite good. With its lack of continuity references, and Evelyn’s self-sufficiency as a character, one could easily pick up this audio and enjoy it without having listened to any of its prequels. This far into the main range, that’s rather rare, and I like it.

Sandman 3

Next time: We rejoin the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem for The Church and the Crown! 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.

The Sandman

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