Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

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

Zagreus 1

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

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

Zagreus 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zagreus

Previous

Next

Advertisements

Novel Review: Genocide

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re looking at the fourth entry in the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures series, Paul Leonard’s Genocide. Released in September 1997, this novel features the Eighth Doctor and Samantha “Sam” Jones, and also gives us a glimpse into the later life of former Third Doctor companion, Jo Grant! Let’s get started.

Genocide 1

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

In Africa’s Kilgai Gorge, paleontologists Rowenna Michaels and Julie Sands discover a modern human skull, in a place where none should exist—strata older than modern humanity. UNIT staff, led by one Corporal Jacob Hynes, arrive and cordon off the gorge; after Hynes forcibly evicts Rowenna and Julie, Julie decides to call an old friend for help: Jo Grant Jones, former UNIT member and companion to the mysterious time traveler known as the Doctor. She is cut off and kidnapped, along with Rowenna, by Hynes and a horselike alien. Jo is startled by the message on her answering machine, and calls in favors from former Sergeant John Benton, who very reluctantly gets her into the situation as an observer. Oddly, Benton finds that Hynes’ service record, while up-to-date in the computer, can’t be found in the microfiche backups—technically, he shouldn’t exist in UNIT.

The Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones—no relation—arrive on Earth in 2109; but they discover a world completely changed. London is gone, replaced by a rolling marsh and a lesser, but more elegant, city. They are captured by horselike aliens called Tractites, from the world of Tractis, and the TARDIS is taken in as well. The Doctor deduces that this is, in fact, Earth—but in an alternate timeline, one where humanity never arose, and the Tractites colonized this world many millennia ago, calling it “Paratractis”. Unfortunately, though this world is peaceful and benevolent, it represents a threat to all of spacetime—not to mention the humans who never existed! The Doctor has no choice but to correct history, even though that means Paratractis—and its inhabitants—will never have existed. This quickly becomes a point of internal conflict for Sam, who is torn between saving the Tractites, and saving her own universe.

Upon arrival at Kilgai, Jo is captured by Hynes. He places her in a cave along with Rowenna and Julie. A Tractite named Gavril has infected the paleontologists with a virulent disease, one potent enough to wipe out humanity. However, he and Hynes do not intend to do so in the present; they intend to send their captives back into the past via a “time tree” and wipe out humanity’s immediate forebears instead, thus changing history. Jo frees the others, and they flee, but stumble into the time tree, crashing back two and a half million years in time.

The Doctor and Sam learn of a book of myths, in which a species called “humans” destroyed the Tractite homeworld. It has made the race paranoid, and now they have a “Watcher” in every city, watching for a creature called the Uncreator, who will destroy them again. Unknown to the Doctor and Sam, their host, Kitig, is the Watcher for his city—and he correctly believes the Doctor to be the Uncreator. However, he is loath to kill the Doctor; and when the Doctor manages to get himself and Sam back to the TARDIS to repair the damage, Sam brings Kitig aboard, against the Doctor’s will. As the vortex, and all of history, collapses around them, the TARDIS is left the only safe place—and Kitig knows he will never be able to return home.

The Doctor takes the TARDIS into the remnants of history, landing two and a half million years in the past, near what will be the Kilgai Gorge—adjacent to Jo and her friends, though he doesn’t know it. He exits the TARDIS, ordering Sam and Kitig to stay aboard; separately, they each disobey—Sam to help, Kitig to kill the Doctor. The Doctor locates the time tree, Rowenna, and Julie, but Jo has gone in search of water. He sample’s Julie’s blood so as to start searching for the cure; but Hynes attacks him and steals the sample, then searches for a settlement of the local hominids to infect. The Doctor tries to chase him down, but is attacked by Kitig instead. Kitig is interrupted by the sound of Julie and Rowenna screaming, and he and the Doctor rush to help. They are too late; both women are killed by a pack of wild dogs. Seeing the Doctor’s grief, Kitig revises his opinion of him, and decides he is a good man after all. In the midst of this, Jo returns, and reunites with the Doctor; she is too late to help her friends, but the Doctor sends her to locate Sam, and to stop Hynes. Meanwhile, he takes Kitig back to the TARDIS; there is not one, but two points at which history has diverged, and he must deal with the other one. He goes back in time another million years. There, he discovers a Tractite settlement, composed of soldiers led by Mauvril. Mauvril and his group are from the future, brought back by a time tree, after witnessing the devastation of his world at the hands of the Earth Empire—the humans. This is the origin of the book which the Doctor discovered in Kitig’s city; and it is the origin of the Tractite presence on Earth. Gavril, Hynes’ ally, was one of her soldiers, lost in transit; he apparently has been trying to complete the mission on his own, using Hynes. The Doctor explains to Mauvril that the time tree is organic, drawing power from the universe; therefore it is unable to create a new universe, and the plan will fail, along with all time and space. It is only the Doctor and the TARDIS that are keeping the last of the timeline stable—for now. Mauvril doesn’t accept this; she arrests the Doctor, and drops the TARDIS into a volcano. She also orders the creation of the book, which will put her people on guard in the future. Kitig, she allows to run free, enamored with his innocence. However, he soon finds the remnants of a hominid settlement that was violently destroyed by the Tractites; and he is forced again to face the fact that the Doctor is right. He returns to the Doctor, who is now being starved and imprisoned; but the Doctor gives him a mission. He leaves for the nearby mountain, and begins carving a single message into its rocks, over and over again.

Sam meets Hynes, and is deceived by his claims to work for UNIT. He claims to be here to cure the hominds of a disease, and recruits her help, as the TARDIS translates for her. She befriends a hominid, whom she calls “Axeman”; but when Hynes tries to infect him with the disease, he resists, and Sam injects him instead. Hynes flees as Axeman tries to kill Sam; Jo arrives in the nick of time, and rescues her, but then is forced to tell her that she just infected him with the disease. She has completed Hynes’ sabotage for him. Over several days, they hide in the savannah, until at last Hynes attacks them—but he is killed by Axeman, who then begs for help. Sam herself is infected by now. However, they find hope when they discover Kitig’s million-year-old message, which leads them to the TARDIS—but that hope is dashed when they see that its interior is dead, and it is only a box.

Mauvril prolongs the Doctor’s life so that she can explain her actions to him, to justify herself. However, he is not as weak as he seems, and he manages to escape and head for the TARDIS. He gives it a telepathic command, which reinvigorates it in Jo’s time. Sam, Jo, and Axeman enter it and start heading for the Doctor’s time and location; in the meantime, they find medications which begin to cure Sam. They arrive in the middle of a confrontation; Mauvril immediately kills Axeman. Sam panics, and in turn shoots an attacking Tractite, against the Doctor’s wishes. She and Jo take shelter behind a laser cannon, while the Doctor tries to persuade Mauvril to leave with him and find a new world.  He has just barely convinced her—when one of her people takes a shot at Jo and Sam. Jo retaliates with the laser cannon, killing all the Tractites and setting their settlement ablaze. The Doctor is appalled at her actions, but it is unclear even to Jo whether she acted out of panic or deliberation.

Kitig still lives, and the Doctor offers to take him to his people, though they aren’t the ones he knows. However, he chooses to stay behind and finish his mission—carving the message as long as he can. The Doctor provides a vaccine for the hominids, and then takes Jo home. He then takes Sam into the future, to the Earth Empire, where he appeals to the Empress for the Tractite homeworld’s independence. He cannot change the devastation, but he can begin to free them for the future. In the far past, Kitig carves the message for Jo and Sam until he is old and dying; then he uses the time tree to travel back to the creation of Earth’s solar system. For one glorious moment, he sees the universe—and then the tree is destroyed, and he with it.

Genocide 2

In Genocide, the Eighth Doctor Adventures take an ambitious turn. Here the Doctor isn’t trying to save just one city, as in Vampire Science, or one planet, as in The Bodysnatchers; here he’s trying to save all of space and time. That’s nothing new for the Doctor, but it is new for this incarnation. (Caveat: I have not delved into the Eighth Doctor comics, and I don’t know what takes place there. It’s possible there are plots as grandiose as this one, and it’s possible they take place between The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science, so I may be wrong in that claim. I only have the novels to go by at this time; but other fans may be able to shed more light on this.) He does it in style, here, though the story is perhaps a bit rushed. (The paperback edition clocks in at 281 pages, roughly equivalent to the preceding volumes, but it felt like a much shorter read, especially when compared to The Bodysnatchers.) This story bounces through multiple time periods and multiple timelines, putting effect before cause and future before past, in a way that only Doctor Who can pull off.

The highlight of the story—and the gimmick, I have to admit—is the presence of Jo Grant. I’m calling her Jo Grant, rather than Jo Jones, in part for familiarity; but moreover, the book refers to her in that way most often. At the time, this was the only available glimpse into Jo’s later life; it finds her with one child, teenage Matthew, and separated from her husband, Cliff Jones. It isn’t stated that she and Cliff are divorced, but it’s heavily implied; the use of Jo’s maiden name instead of her married name, and her insistence on being solely responsible for Matthew, would lead to that conclusion. Much later, the Sarah Jane Adventures episode, The Death of the Doctor, would contradict this novel’s presentation; it portrays Jo as still married to Cliff, with not one but seven children (highly unlikely given the timing of their ages, if this novel is correct). The wiki states that this was a deliberate retcon on the part of Russell T Davies, who didn’t feel that Jo’s fate as portrayed in this novel was right for her. Regardless, she’s still the same Jo, but a bit older and wiser, and certainly more capable than she was in the Third Doctor era; in some ways she is the hero of this story. Her reunion with the Doctor is a little more businesslike and strained than some others we’ve seen (looking at you, School Reunion), but that’s understandable given what is at stake at the time. Near the end of the story, Jo commits an act which the Doctor finds reprehensible, though he handles it better than he often does in such situations; this mirrors his relationship with the Brigadier as seen at the end of Doctor Who and the Silurians. Regardless, it’s good to see her again, however briefly.

Sam’s arc, so far, has been one of internal conflict regarding her relationship to the Doctor. In earlier installments, she’s labored over whether the Doctor trusts her, and whether he thinks of her as a child. She takes it in a new direction here, as she begins to question the Doctor’s judgment. He must choose between saving violent humanity and saving the peaceful Tractites; and Sam must make the same choice. For the Doctor, it is no choice; he knows that it’s all of existence at stake, not just the two races. Sam finds it hard to accept that—or rather, even accepting it, she struggles with the question of which choice is right. She is a parallel to the villain of this story, imposter UNIT corporal Jacob Hynes; Hynes wants to destroy all humanity, even if it means he himself ceases to exist (a paradox which, strangely, is implied but never actually addressed), because he hates humans. Meanwhile Sam is willing, at least briefly, to let humanity be destroyed, not because she hates them, but because she loves (or at least approves of) the Tractites. In the end, of course, she continues on with the Doctor—but her trust in him is shaken.

Being a UNIT story of sorts, this book is full of fanservice and continuity references…alright, admittedly, all the EDAs have been that way so far. John Benton puts in an appearance; his most recent appearance (in order of release) was the fiftieth VNA novel Happy Endings. (As with most things UNIT, his chronology during the 1980s—and by extension, the 1990s—is a bit of a mess, and I was not able to pin down exactly which appearance was his own most recent. It is noted in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Business Unusual that by 1989 he had returned to active duty after a brief stint outside UNIT, but he doesn’t seem to actually appear in that novel.) Cliff Jones figures briefly into this story, mostly in mention only (The Green Death). Jo thinks about several past adventures: Spiridon and the Daleks (Planet of the Daleks), the Autons (Terror of the Autons), Sea Devils (The Sea Devils), Xarax (Dancing the Code), and Axons (The Claws of Axos). Sam mentions the villains of the previous two adventures, the vampires (Vampire Science) and the Zygons (The Bodysnatchers). The Tractite Mauvril mentions “Earth Reptiles”, aka Silurians (Doctor Who and the Silurians, et al.) Brigadier Bambera gets a mention (Battlefield). At the end of the story, the Doctor and Sam visit the Empress of the Earth Empire in an unnamed year in the future (but prior to 2982, as seen in So Vile A Sin); the Empress first appears in Original Sin. During their visit, they see Silurians (again called Earth Reptiles), Draconians (Frontier in Space), Ice Warriors (The Ice Warriors, et al.), and Zygons (Terror of the Zygons, et al.). The TARDIS interior collapses after the death of the Doctor (temporary, of course); this was first seen in 1993’s Blood Heat. The Doctor is still wearing the clothing and shoes from the 1996 TV movie, and mentions Grace Holloway in that context. He is still trying to replace his destroyed copy of the Strand (The Bodysnatchers). He uses jelly babies to administer a vaccine at one point (various Fourth Doctor stories). The Cloister Bell is heard (Logopolis). The Doctor mentions having once bought a pair of wings (Speed of Flight), and mentions Chelonians (The Highest Science). He mentions knowing the Venerable Bede, which was first reported in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (though not seen).

Overall: I did enjoy this book, but I admit that it reminds of some other universe-at-stake stories. The Sirens of Timecomes to mind, though this is not a multi-Doctor story (multi-companion, maybe?). I’d probably enjoy it more if saving the spacetime continuum/vortex/all of reality, wasn’t such a trope already for the Doctor. I think I enjoy his small-scale stories more. Still, this is definitely a good entry, probably even a little better than The Bodysnatchers (but still not aspiring to Vampire Science!). Sam’s arc seems to get a little more grim—or at least potentially so—with every entry, and I grow more and more curious to see what will happen with her. I do enjoy all the continuity references, but it’s starting to become gratuitous; one could drown in this much fanservice. Still, if you’re working your way through the series, don’t skip this one.

Next time: Sam gets her first encounter with the Doctor’s most famous foe, in War of the Daleks! See you there.

The Eighth Doctor Adventures are out of print; however they may be purchased at various used-book sellers.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: The Bodysnatchers

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! I recently commented that, twice in a row, I’ve allowed months to elapse between entries in this series, and twice overlooked one book while trying to review the next. In the interest of not letting that happen again, here is the next entry, a day after the last! (Frankly, I think I owe it to everyone at this point, after making those mistakes not once, but twice.) Today we’re looking at the third entry in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel line, August 1997’s The Bodysnatchers, by Mark Morris. In this volume, we’ll revisit an old enemy: The Zygons. Let’s get started!

The Bodysnatchers 1

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

In 1894 London, a factory is owned by Nathaniel Seers. Once jovial and kind, he has recently become bitter and angry, toward his wife and daughter as well as his employees. A worker, Tom Donahue, recently discharged and destitute after an industrial accident, tries to meet with Seers after hours to beg for his job back. He finds his former employer cutting up human bodies—and Seers’ eyes are glowing orange. He flees into the night. Meanwhile the Doctor and Sam come to London in search of a replacement copy of a valuable edition of the Strand magazine. Donahue runs into them, then flees again in terror; and though they try to catch him, all they can do is watch as he is devoured by a dinosaur-like creature in the Thames. They try to report it to the police, but with little success; and so the Doctor instead recruits his old friend, professor George Litefoot, to help. (Henry Gordon Jago, Litefoot’s sometime partner, is away at the time, and does not appear here.) Meanwhile, Seers is employing two criminals, Jack Howe and Albert Rudge, to rob graves and bring him bodies each night. Howe intends to track Seers and blackmail him, though Rudge disagrees. As well, Seers’ daughter Emmeline intends to confront him about his change of heart.

Litefoot, with the Doctor and Sam in tow, is called to do a postmortem on the remains of Tom Donahue, which were fished out of the river. They find that half his body has been bitten away. The Doctor goes to visit Seers, Donahue’s former employee, but is roughly rebuffed; after some persuasion, he is allowed to examine the factory cellar, but finds nothing as yet. On his way out, he encounters Emmeline, who is here to confront her father. She, too, is rebuffed; the Doctor tells her where to find him should anything come up. Seers sends his men to investigate the Doctor. That night, the Doctor, Litefoot, and Sam break into the factory. In the cellar, they discover an organic lock on a hidden door; before they can check it out, they are attacked by a large reptilian beast. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to stun it, and the  trio escape. At home, Emmeline finds her mother dead at the hands of her father, who has glowing orange eyes and venomous stings in his palms. She flees the house. She arrives at Litefoot’s home in a terror-stricken daze. When the Doctor wants to return to the factory, she insists on accompanying them. They find the cellar empty, and deactivate the lock with the Doctor’s screwdriver. The door opens onto a rather organic passage composed of living tissue. They follow it into a large—but disturbingly organic—spaceship. When they see the inhabitants, the Doctor identifies them as shapeshifting Zygons. The large beasts—of which there are many—are Skarasen, and they are feeding on human remains. The Zygons, it seems, are invading, planning to remake the Earth in the image of their lost homeworld, Zygor. Their ship, underwater in the Thames, was damaged in space nearby, and cannot leave—even if they wanted to leave.

Emmeline reveals herself as a Zygon duplicate and captures the group; it seems that “Seers” captured the real Emmeline at the house. The trio are placed in body-print cells and duplicated; however, the Doctor resists the process and damages the living machinery. However, the Warlord Balaak—who is the real entity behind Seers—reveals that they were able to glean the existence of the TARDIS from his mind. He hands the Doctor over to the scientist Tuval, who wears Sam’s form now, and sends them to bring the TARDIS to him, planning to use it in his conquest. He warns the Doctor that any treachery will result in a detectable fluctuation in Tuval’s synchronization signal, and the Doctor’s friends will be killed. En route, the Doctor tries to enlist Tuval, and offers to take the Zygons to an uninhabited but accommodating world; she is sympathetic, but declines to disobey her warlord, and assures the Doctor that Balaak will never deviate from his plan, even with the TARDIS in his possession. Inside the TARDIS, he traps Tuval in a temporal loop, ensuring her sync signal will not be disrupted; then he returns to help  the others.

Meanwhile, Howe and Rudge deliver more bodies. This time, Balaak—who is occupied—sends the Zygon in Litefoot’s form to meet them. They then follow him back to the factory and confront him. He drops his disguise and kills Rudge, but Howe stabs him to death before fleeing. With the duplicate dead, Litefoot is freed from the body-print cell, and escapes the ship via the Thames, though he nearly drowns. A constable finds him and takes him to a hospital to recover. Howe flees to a pub and tells his story, and a mob joins him to burn down the factory. This causes Balaak to decide to move the ship to a new location in the river. Unknown to them, the Doctor is swimming to the ship when it moves, and he is nearly crushed; but he gets inside successfully. He finds the Skarasen holding area, where their lactic fluid is extracted and processed for Zygon consumption. He injects an anesthetic into the lactic fluid vats. He then rescues Sam and returns to the TARDIS, where he releases Tuval and explains. He plans to jump ahead a few hours to when the Zygons are all unconscious, and then slave their ship to the TARDIS and transport them to an uninhabited world. Tuval agrees—but when they arrive on the ship, he discovers that his plan has backfired, and the anesthetic is fatal to the Zygons. Only Balaak remains alive, and even he is slowly dying. Balaak stings the Doctor, and then activates the ship’s self-destruct before telepathically sending the Skarasen out to kill as many humans as they can. With Tuval, he steals the TARDIS; however the Doctor has set contingency plans: the TARDIS will only go to its previous spot on the riverbank. When they emerge from the TARDIS, they happen to encounter Litefoot, who has left the hospital in search of the Doctor; and he shoots and kills Balaak. Tuval, however, refuses to attack, and is spared.

The Doctor slowly recovers, as Balaak was too weak for a fatal sting. He denies Sam’s request to go back in time and change his actions, as he cannot do that. Instead, they release all the other prisoners—including Emmeline and her real father—and talk them through the transition, then recruit them to help get the ship as close to shore as possible before it dies catastrophically. Most of the captives survive the escape, as do the Doctor and Sam; however, the ship explodes in the river. Still, though, the Skarasen are loose, and wreaking havoc in the city. The Doctor takes Sam, Emmeline, and Seers to the TARDIS, where they meet Tuval and Litefoot. He and Tuval develop a method to summon the Skarasen back to the TARDIS in peace; and he modifies the ship’s shell to admit them in through the door. Litefoot returns home; and the Doctor and Sam then transport Tuval and the Skarasen to an unoccupied planet as planned, where Tuval—as Zygons can breed asexually—can start a new colony.

Later that night, Litefoot is at home, when the Doctor returns. The Doctor is older now, and alone; for him, as he explains, it has been a long time since their last meeting, and he hints that Sam may have come to a bad end. He thanks Litefoot for his help, and assures him that Tuval’s colony is several generations along now, and safe.

The Bodysnatchers 2

I admit, going into this novel, that it’s going to fare poorly when compared to Vampire Science. I knew when I started reading it that it had big shoes to fill. I’ll be direct: it doesn’t succeed in that regard; however, it’s still a good book on its own. With regard to the character development of the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones, it picks up right where Vampire Science left off; the Doctor is still his romantic, audacious, self-sacrificing self, and Sam is still wrestling with her take on the Doctor’s approval of her. She’s gaining experience quickly, but she’s still a teenager, and still very much in need of approval. In the last book, it was a question of the Doctor trusting her with danger; here, it’s a question of the Doctor trusting her with horror. Sam finds it very hard to accept that the Doctor isn’t just coddling her; but in fact he isn’t. Rather, his universe is one that is sometimes filled with horrors that even an adult wouldn’t handle well. To illustrate that point, we have Professor George Litefoot (of Jago and Litefoot fame), who despite being a pathologist and an acquaintance of the Doctor, is quite overwhelmed by the things he sees here. (He acquits himself well in the end, as does Sam, but it’s touch-and-go for awhile.)

Litefoot’s presence here is welcome, but a bit odd. The story is stated to take place in 1894, five years after the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (I tried to verify this, but was unable to track down a date for that story, short of watching it again, so we’ll assume it’s correct). Henry Gordon Jago is oddly not present at all, having gone to Brighton to recuperate from an illness; he does of course get a mention or two. I say Litefoot’s presence is odd, not because he doesn’t fit here, but because Morris was very careful about how he handled the character—first, separating him from Jago, and second, pointedly NOT revealing the Doctor’s true nature. The Eighth Doctor passes himself off as a colleague of the Fourth, rather than revealing that they are the same man; and given that he doesn’t hide any other oddities from Litefoot, that seems a bit strange. I would argue that he was carefully preserving the character for future use, except that I haven’t seen any indication that there were future plans for Jago or Litefoot. (It would be twelve years before Big Finish incorporated the characters, in The Mahogany Murderers and then, later, in their own series.) It’s worth noting that, to this day, this is the only time Litefoot appears without Jago; and with the death of his actor, Trevor Baxter, it’s unlikely we’ll see any more such appearances.

The Zygons put in an appearance here. I’ve had some difficulty confirming, but I suspect this is their first prose appearance (outside of comics and Target novelizations). There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here; their appearance is consistent with both earlier and later appearances. It is mentioned that orange Zygons are all warriors, having been modified and made sterile; fertile Zygons are smaller, paler, and less devoted to violence. I haven’t seen this statement contradicted anywhere, but it doesn’t seem to have been maintained in later appearances, either. The description given of their technology—notably their body-print cells, which keep their template victims alive—is consistent with descriptions given in The Zygon Who Fell to Earth, and in their NuWho appearances. The Zygon duplicating Sam, Tuval, manages to keep her form after Sam is released from her cell; this would have been an error at the time, but is consistent with what we see with the two Osgoods in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, much later.

Continuity References: The Doctor’s screwdriver is destroyed by the Zygons; his comments at the time reference the previous destruction by the Terileptils (The Visitation). There are frequent references to the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. In the previous book, Sam’s room in the TARDIS was noted to have belonged to a previous teenage companion; here it is confirmed that it was Nyssa’s room. Skarasens and the Zygons were first seen in Terror of the Zygons; their enemies the Xaranti will first appear a few years later in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Deep Blue (which I may not reach anytime soon). The Doctor mentions and uses the TARDIS’s HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System), which he has modified (The Krotons, et al.) The Doctor mentions, but does not reveal, Jack the Ripper’s identity (The Pit), which will feature into the Seventh Doctor novel Matrix (future publication, but earlier in the Doctor’s timeline). He mentions Leela and her children and husband to Litefoot (Lungbarrow). He mentions Grace Holloway (TV movie). He reuses the Venusian lullaby from The Curse of Peladon to calm some horses. He mentions meeting his fourth incarnation (The Eight Doctors). In the story’s coda, which is later in the Doctor’s timeline (but only hours after this book’s events), he implies that Sam has not fared well; it’s been suggested that this is during an upcoming period when the Doctor loses her temporarily, in conjunction with the novels between Longest Day and Seeing I. The Doctor’s choice of breakfast with Litefoot is a nod to The Two Doctors. He has Delphonian coins with him, a nod to Spearhead from Space. The TARDIS’s “state of grace” circuitry is mentioned again (The Hand of FearArc of Infinity); it seems to be a bit more complex than those episodes stated, disallowing any hostile action, rather than just weapon discharges. The ability to alter the size of the TARDIS doors and/or shell appears again in the fan work The Eight Minute War, from the Seasons of War anthology (and is presumably how the Third Doctor got the console out prior to The Ambassadors of Death). Sam mentions being bitten by a vampire (Vampire Science). Tegan is mentioned at one point. The Doctor hums a Draconian lament (Frontier in Space–the Draconians, not the lament). The Doctor’s chair once belonged to a usurper to the title of Earth Empress (So Vile a Sin). He quotes himself from City of Death and Pyramids of Mars (the famous “I walk in eternity” speech).

Overall: These books are proving to be continuity-heavy, which is to be expected given that they were the face of Doctor Who at the time. With the exception of The Eight Doctors, they seem to be well-written, and they’re all enjoyable (yes, even The Eight Doctors, I grudgingly admit). This one, while not as good as Vampire Science, is a quicker read—I finished it in two (non-consecutive) days. If you’re a Zygon fan, you’ll greatly enjoy it, and you’ll see the seeds of later Zygon stories in which the Doctor really wants to help them rather than fight them. They’re one of Doctor Who’s more sympathetic enemy races, once you get past the whole conquest-and-death thing; orphaned, marooned, and homeless, and dependent on monsters for their survival, they’re really pitiable, I think. I’m glad they got a redemption in NuWho; I don’t know if that would have happened without this book to lay some groundwork. Definitely check it out, if you haven’t.

Next time: We have a fairly short entry, clocking in at just over one hundred pages (at least in the probably-bootleg ebook I’m reading): Genocide, by Paul Leonard! As short as it is, I hope to post about it by the end of this week; this range needs some serious catching up. We’ll see you there!

The Eighth Doctor Adventures are out of print; however they may be purchased at various used-book sellers.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Vampire Science

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! As most of my reviewing efforts have been going toward the audio dramas, I’ve been a bit neglectful toward the novels. While I can’t promise that I’ll be much improved in that regard, I do want to revisit the novel ranges as often as possible; and to that end, today we’re continuing the Eighth Doctor Adventuresnovel line with the second entry, July 1997’s Vampire Science! Written by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, this novel features the Eight Doctor and Samantha “Sam” Jones, and picks up some time after the previous entry, The Eight Doctors. (Sam is seen early on thinking about the time she’s spent with the Doctor, indicating they have had some offscreen adventures.)

Full disclosure: I read this novel some months ago, and honestly, I thought I posted a review for it. I had since finished the next entry, The Bodysnatchers, and was getting ready to post about it, when I discovered I hadn’t posted about Vampire Science. This seems to be a trend for me, as I did the same thing with The Eight Doctors, apparently. I promise to do better on this—and with any luck, I’ll get a review for The Bodysnatchers posted this week as well. In the meantime, with Vampire Science having been a few months back, this review may seem a little mechanical; I’m pulling some of the things I’ll reference from the wiki and from other sites rather than from memory, as it’s a little fuzzy for me by now. With that said, let’s get started!

Vampire Science 1

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

In 1976 San Francisco, med student Carolyn McConnell meets the Doctor and Sam Jones…in the middle of a vampire attack. The vampire, Eva, is killed in the struggle, via a stake to the heart. The Doctor leaves Carolyn a Time Lord hypercube to contact him if she encounters any more vampires. Twenty-one years later, in 1997, Carolyn—now a cancer researcher, and in a relationship with theatre lighting designer James Court—specializes in vampires as a hobby. She takes an interest in a series of murders that seem vampiric, which culminated with the death of a senator outside a Goth bar called The Other Place. Her extensive research puts her in contact with UNIT General Kramer, who takes her on temporarily as an unofficial advisor. Meanwhile James—not taking it seriously—offers to speak with the owner of The Other Place, after which he disappears. Carolyn activates the cube to summon the Doctor. He arrives with Sam in tow—for them it has only been a short time—and meets with Carolyn and Kramer to make plans. Sam, meanwhile, begins researching deaths by blood loss in the area, and meets an inner-city doctor named David Shackle. He tells her that over two hundred homeless people have died in that manner in the last six months, but no one else has noticed. He joins the Doctor, Sam, Kramer, and Carolyn on their trip to The Other Place. While the Doctor futilely tries to question the owner, David does some interviewing of his own, and is mugged; meanwhile Sam is attacked by a vampire on the dancefloor, and is bitten. She ends up in the hospital, where Kramer advises her to leave the Doctor while she still can. This makes her doubt the Doctor’s motives in exposing her to danger.

David talks with his friend Joanna Harris, who—unknown to him—is a vampire herself, and in fact is the leader of the local coven. Her answers leave him despairing that life has no meaning. Meanwhile the Doctor and Carolyn return to the club, where they meet a young and angry vampire named Slake; the Doctor tells Slake that he is a Time Lord, and he demands to see their leader. Slake arranges a meeting with Harris at the vacant Orpheum Theatre, where the vampires live. Kramer puts UNIT troops on standby around the theatre. Harris releases James as an act of good faith. The Doctor, as a Time Lord, is supposed to wipe out all vampires, but he instead seeks a peaceful resolution, and offers to help Harris create an artificial food source to substitute for blood. This fits with Harris’s own research lines, but she is unwilling to trust a Time Lord; therefore they engage in a bloodfasting ritual, which creates a psychic link between them, and also ensures that they each experience the other’s injuries or death. This enrages Kramer, but the Doctor explains that it is necessary, as the Time Lords—if they become aware of the vampires—will likely wipe out the city to exterminate them. Meanwhile, James leaves, unable to handle this new reality; this leaves Carolyn feeling betrayed, and she decides to take the Doctor up on his long-ago offer to travel with him. She uses the TARDIS’s lab to study the vampires’ blood and isolate the factor in it that makes them vampires; she also seeks the aforementioned artificial food source. Harris reveals her true nature to David, and offers to make him a vampire and recruit him to her cause. He goes to the Doctor for advice, but his depression is unrelieved. The Doctor orders Harris not to turn him, but he remains suicidal.

Slake is enraged by Harris’s efforts to end their hunting, believing this goes against their destiny as vampires. He leads the other young vampires to The Other Place to kill all the clubgoers, in an attempt to provoke a war with Harris and wrest control from her. Hearing of this, Harris and the Doctor hurry to the club with undercover UNIT agents, who evacuate the club while the Doctor confronts Slake. In the face of Harris and other elder vampires, Slake flees, though he plans to ambush Harris at her lab. There he finds David, and turns him into a vampire. From David he learns that the Doctor and Harris are now bloodfasted, and he decides that he only needs to kill one of them, as the other will also die. He sets his young vampires to destroying the other elder vampires, so as to leave Harris and the Doctor vulnerable. Meanwhile, Sam doesn’t understand why the Doctor is protecting the vampires; she thinks Harris has deceived him. She trails Harris to a warehouse with a second lab, and there she learns that Harris is keeping childlike, underdeveloped humans in cages. Harris attacks her. At the same time, the Doctor has found James in an eighth-story hotel room, and tries to convince him to return to Carolyn; when he senses Harris’s actions through the bloodfasting, he threatens to leap out the window if she doesn’t stop. Harris puts Sam in a cage instead; and to punish the Doctor, she goes out to kill a homeless man and consume his blood, just so the Doctor will experience it through the bond. This doesn’t dissuade the Doctor; and when Sam hears that he would do anything to save her, her faith in him is restored. Harris reveals that the humans are lab-grown clones, here to serve as an alternate food source, but the Doctor thinks this isn’t good enough, and insists on finding another solution.

One of the elder vampires, while dying, contacts Harris and warns her that Slake’s allies are killing them off. Harris has no choice but to fight back, and the Doctor joins her. Carolyn provides a weapon: a mixture of silver nitrate and taxol, which her research indicates will kill the vampires. As Sam and Harris mix the solution, the Doctor takes Carolyn and Kramer back to Carolyn’s home to plan. There they are attacked by the young vampires, and flee to James’s hotel room. They decide to set a trap at the now-vacant theatre; once there, they find that Slake has vampirized some squirrels as a trap of his own, and they must fight the creatures off. In the process, James saves Carolyn’s life. Meanwhile Slake’s group attacks the lab where Sam and Harris are working. Sam, who says she has never had to fight for her beliefs before, chooses to defend Harris, as Harris’s death would also kill the Doctor. She fights and kills the same vampire that previously bit her, using the silver solution as a weapon. However, she is captured by Slake, who tells the Doctor he has her as a hostage. They agree to meet at the Orpheum Theatre.

It is James’s lighting skills that set the trap here. With UNIT’s help, he sets up a lighting system which will imitate sunlight inside the theatre. It is not enough to kill the vampires, but it is enough to stall them. The Doctor gives himself up to the vampires, who feed on him—but they begin to die. The Doctor appears also to be dying, and asks Harris to turn him; but she realizes as she drinks his blood that he had drunk a vial of the vampire repellant, which is what killed the others. The traces left in his blood are enough to kill her as well; but the Doctor administers CPR and revives her. She learns that the repellant has destroyed the vampire factor in her blood, but the bloodfasting saved her life, rendering her human—and mortal.

Kramer offers Harris a consultant post with UNIT, as her biology skills and thousand years of life experience would be very useful. Carolyn abandons her plan to join the Doctor, and returns to James to renew their relationship. The Doctor and Sam depart in the TARDIS; but, unknown to anyone, David did not join the attack, and survived, alone in the theatre, pondering his future.

Vampire Science 2

At last, some real action! While The Eight Doctors was by no means boring, it was also the equivalent of a “clip show” television episode, with the Doctor revisiting events of his past lives to restore his memory. Here, we get the first real action that is solely the province of the Eight Doctor (post-regeneration, of course). With Sam Jones in tow, the Doctor confronts a vampire coven in San Francisco. We see some early indication of the Eight Doctor’s tendency to throw himself into every situation even at great risk to himself; all Doctors do this, but it’s almost pathological with Eight, risking his own being in various ways. Here, we get to see him forge a psychic (and more!) link with a thousand-year-old vampire; and we get to see him allow several vampires to feed on him. That’s personal and intimate in a way that his other incarnations probably wouldn’t condone; for the Eight Doctor, it’s just Tuesday.

A common theme for Sam in these early stories—and possibly throughout her run, though it’s too early to say—is her internal conflict over the Doctor’s faith in her. We see this in regard to his willingness and/or unwillingness to put her in danger; and we’ll see it again in The Bodysnatchers, the next entry in the series. I’ve said before that I find Sam to be very similar to Lucie Miller, who will come later in both the Doctor’s timeline and in publication history; as a result, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Sam is just a high school student. She’s very young, and her struggles are very much a magnification of the confidence issues that most teenagers experience. In that sense, she’s very well written. Her issues aren’t resolve here, but she does temporarily get her faith in the Doctor restored. It’s worth pointing out that this is not her first outing with the Doctor; they’ve been traveling for at least a short while, with offscreen adventures. The Doctor isn’t fresh out of the gate anymore, either; Sam mentions at one point that he dropped her off at a Greenpeace rally for the day, and forgot about her for three years of his own timeline. (While not all has been confirmed, it’s been suggested that several of his adventures, including The Dying Days and his Radio Times comic adventures, occurred during that three-year period. For Sam, of course, it was only the afternoon.)

I have a love-hate relationship with supernatural stories in Doctor Who. Ordinarily I don’t think they work well, with the Doctor’s universe being highly slanted toward the scientific. I try to overlook it with most (but not all!) vampire stories, because A) they usually try hard to maintain a scientific footing, and B) they’re just so damned good! Mostly anyway; I’m looking at you, Vampires of Venice. This story would fit right in with the likes of Project: Twilight, had that story been written early enough. Despite having a fairly large cast of important characters, they’re all well-developed, all the way down to the elderly vampires who only appear for the sake of dying. It’s easy to pity the vampires here for the hell in which they live; and it’s easy to fear for the lives of the human characters, who always feel one step away from disaster. That level of tension often gets lost in the shuffle, and it’s good to see it executed so well here.

On the downside: This story feels very much like “TV Movie 2.0”. We return to the same San Francisco setting, just two years earlier; and Carolyn McConnell is very much a copy of Grace Holloway, from the personality and on-again-off-again live-in relationship, to the highly successful medical career. That’s not coincidental; the role was written with Grace in mind, but rights could not be sorted out in time (and in fact, the wiki states that “the first chapter of an early draft with Grace was published in the charity anthology Perfect Timing). Apparently, once again, there’s only room for one doctor in the TARDIS, as she eventually declines the Doctor’s offer to travel and chooses to stay behind. Meanwhile, inner-city doctor David Shackle stands in for Chang Lee; while he’s not a street kid like Chang, he has the same inner-city background and the same perspective on life and crime, with a side order of crippling depression. He, too, ends up allying with the enemies, but survives at the end, although perhaps not as hopefully as Chang. I’d love to see his character appear again, and certainly his survival was left as a thread to be pulled in later stories, but it appears that he never does.

As good as the story is, I found it difficult to get through it. That’s mostly due to my circumstances outside of the book; lately I’ve been finding it hard to complete any books at all. Still, the book itself is a dense read; it moves quickly, but there’s simply a lot happening here, with a lot of events to cover. It was a bit of a slog especially near the end, where I felt it should have been moving much faster than it did. Don’t let that discourage you, though; it’s a good read, and if you want to understand the character of Sam and her relationship with the Doctor, it’s required reading.

Continuity: While it isn’t as egregious as in The Eight Doctors, there’s still a lot of continuity here. The Doctor references his past as President of Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin, et al.). UNIT appears, though in its American branch; it local leader, Brigadier-General Adrienne Kramer, claims to have met the Seventh Doctor in an off-screen adventure in Washington, D.C. (Technically not off-screen, I should explain; it originates with a fan film called Time Rift, in which Jonathan Blum appeared as the Seventh Doctor.) The Doctor still carries Jelly Babies. While bloodfasted to the Doctor, the vampire leader catches glimpses of his memories of Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Androzani (The Caves of Androzani), and Yemaya (SleepyWalking to Babylon). The TARDIS’s resident fledershrews (bats), Jasper and Stewart, are glimpsed (Doctor Who TV movie). The Great Vampires (State of DecayThe Pit, et al.) get a mention, of course. Carolyn’s hypercube is of the same type as the one seen in The War Games, and later in The Doctor’s Wife. The Eighth Doctor works with UNIT in The Dying Days, which also takes place in 1997 (and apparently, in the three-year gap I mentioned earlier); however, that novel features the UK branch, which is why Kramer has not yet met the Eighth Doctor. The Doctor describes himself with titles taken from Remembrance of the Daleks and Love and War. There’s a mention of his family, when a birthday card addressed to “Grandfather” is seen (An Unearthly Child, et al.; the card was previously seen in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible). Kramer mentions the Doctor’s occasional use of the phrase “Sleep is for tortoises” (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, et al.). The Doctor mentions a pharmacist on Lacaille 8760 (The Room with No Doors). A model train set in the TARDIS reappears the next year in a print Short Trips anthology, in a story titled Model Train Set, also by Jonathan Blum (I usually avoid references to future media, but this one is pretty obscure, and I may never get to that story). The Doctor refers to the planet Atraxi 3; it’s up for debate whether this is the origin of the Atraxi race seen in The Eleventh Hour. As well, it’s worth mentioning that this book is absolutely loaded with real-life pop culture references from the late 1990s, including nearly every other piece of vampire-related media on the market at that time.

Okay, maybe it IS as egregious as The Eight Doctors.

Overall: Finally, a proper beginning to the series! I understand fully the reasons behind The Eight Doctors; as the novel line was going to carry the torch of published Doctor Who, it needed to firmly root itself into the series continuity. I said in my review of that novel that it was fun read despite its problems; and for that, as well as the continuity bridge, I am grateful. Still, this is where things really get going, and what a ride it is. Bear with it if it seems hard to get through; you’ll appreciate it when it’s over, and it will set you up well for the books that lie ahead. (They do get quicker, I assure you.) Longtime fans can skip The Eight Doctors entirely if they like, and begin here; you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Next time, and hopefully very soon: The Bodysnatchers! Unfortunately not connected to the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers film, but hey, we can’t have it all. See you there!

The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print, but may be purchased from various used booksellers.

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Quantum Heresy

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re concluding our examination of the early Short Trips anthologies with the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume IV collection: Quantum Heresy! Written by Avril Naude, and read by India Fisher, this story features the Eighth Doctor traveling companionless. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 4 a

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

A woman with an…oddly loose grasp of time…works in an archive on Earth. All seems well at first; but then she realizes that she is living the same moments over and over again. Later, the strange man called the Doctor will tell her that she is time-sensitive, or else she would never have noticed.

While checking data in the archive, the woman sees the Doctor appear out of apparently nowhere. He seems familiar, and introduces himself as “the Doctor”; then says an odd thing: “Oh, but you won’t have met me yet.” The woman feels increasingly panicked, but she swears she knows him, somehow. He escorts her deeper into the archive, and shows her an old man, shuffling forward, muttering something. Strangely, the Doctor calls the man “it”. The Doctor refuses to let her speak or approach, despite the overwhelming urge to hear what the man says.

Again she is working in the archive, alone in the quiet and dust. She thinks she has always been here. The man called the Doctor approaches, and she remembers him; but when he is gone, she forgets. Perhaps this happens over and over; she doesn’t know. It happens again, and she thinks that she stays because it is her duty. She hears the old man shuffling closer and muttering. She wants to know what he says; but she is afraid. She sees the old man searching for something—and then the Doctor appears, but she does not recognize him this time. He warns her back, and the old man shuffles away. He tells her that time is repeating itself, and even he is caught in it. He says he keeps arriving in this time loop at different points, until he gets it right—and then he vanishes.

The woman works in the archive, checking data, in the dust and the quiet. She thinks of the Doctor as she eats her lunch, and he appears, looking tired and worn. He asks for something to eat, and she offers him her lunch. He laments that he can’t seem to break the time loop—and then he realizes she remembered him this time. She says that he told her it was vital that she remember.  He doesn’t seem to know that, but is cheered by the news. Still, she thinks she has forgotten something. He asks if she remembers the old man—and the loop resets.

She works again. She knows now that the loop exists, and the Doctor is real—but not here. Her time sense awakens, and she realizes the days are not identical. She thinks of the old man, and the Doctor’s warning to avoid him. But would hearing him help or hurt? She is not even sure who she is.

She is no longer checking data storage, and the archive sits in its dust. Is any of this real? The old man passes by, and seems worse than before. Her compulsion to hear him is much stronger. The Doctor appears and breaks the spell again. She wonders not who she is, but what.

Another loop. She longs to be free, and is angry over it. It feels as though time has stopped. She calls out for the Doctor, and she hears his voice, now dry and cracked. He tells her it’s time—he has worked it out, and she has remembered. The time loop is an experiment. The old man is no man at all; he’s a creature from another dimension, trying to push through. And the woman…she WAS the experiment. She was created from raw matter, but has become a living person. The old man wanted to control her so as to manipulate the Doctor’s reality. But she resisted—and the experiment failed. She sees the old man, and he looks like a hole in reality. It burns and dies in front of them. The Doctor says that had she approached it, it would have granted the creature control—and she would have died.

The archive is not real, and it begins to crumble around her. She tries to hold on—but the Doctor assures her she is part of real reality now, and she can break free. So, she does.

Now, she has her own life, and freedom—and things can change and be different. She knows what the Doctor meant when he said she would understand in time—she would understand when she began to live in real time. More, she understands the Doctor—and just how much the universe owes him.

Short Trips Volume 4 b

It has always seemed to me that the Eighth Doctor era—having lacked a television series to set its tone—has become the dumping ground for the most weird and bizarre and—to borrow the Tenth Doctor’s term—timey-wimey stories in the DW canon. One need only to look at Zagreus (which I haven’t covered yet, but have heard enough about) to know that that is the case. His stories push the limits of time travel and dimensions and universes and his own lifespan and nearly any other fantastic aspect of the series.

This story, while hardly the most large-scale or dramatic, fits right in. It concerns a time loop—standard fare by itself—that is more than it seems, and gradually reveals an otherworldly creature (villain? By default, I suppose, but we don’t get very far into that aspect) trying to break into reality, as well as an artificial lifeform that becomes real. Pinocchio ain’t got nothin’ on this story, friends. Being a story of a time loop—but with the Doctor dropping in at non-sequential points—the story is told in non-linear fashion. Sometimes, as with Creatures of Beauty (which I recently covered), that can become a problem, as the story gives itself away too early. Here, I think it’s saved by the fact that it’s essentially a bottle episode; there are very few characters, in a very contained environment, and we’re only seeing the story from one character’s perspective, which is subject to the rules of the time loop. Thus, we don’t get the ending spoiled before we get there, despite the non-linear structure. That’s a rare combination of factors indeed, but it works here.

The Eighth Doctor is traveling alone, but that does little to establish when in his timeline the story takes place. If we got a good description of his hair or clothes, it might narrow it down; but the point-of-view character has other, more pressing concerns, and doesn’t oblige us. As is typical in these anthologies, there are no continuity references (we don’t even see a sonic screwdriver!), and that further obscures any attempt to place the story. Being a bottle episode, that’s just as well, I suppose; it doesn’t NEED to have any bearing on any other stories. As with past Eighth Doctor short trips, India Fisher (of Charley Pollard fame) does the reading; she’s passable and formal, but she doesn’t really attempt to capture the Doctor’s voice or mannerisms. I think that’s acceptable in audiobook format; it’s nice when we can get the different voices, but it’s not necessary.

Overall: A nice story, self-contained in more than one sense, and a decent wrap-up to both the fourth volume and the anthologies as a group. I haven’t always been optimistic about the Eighth Doctor’s short trips thus far, but this one is decent. It’s also short; I didn’t do the math, but I suspect it’s the shortest installment in this anthology. If you’ve made it this far, give this one a listen as well.

And that’s that! When we return, we’ll begin listening to the individual Short Trips, which tend to be longer and more involved—someone recently compared them to the Companion Chronicles, but in short form, and I think that’s an apt comparison. I should note that there’s a significant gap in release dates between Volume IV, published in 2011, and the first single release, published in January 2015. We’ll begin with the First Doctor in Dale Smith’s Flywheel Revolution! 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.

Short Trips, Volume IV

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Orbis

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

Orbis 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orbis 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orbis

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: All the Fun of the Fair

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re examining the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, All the Fun of the Fair. Written by Bev Conway, this story features the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller, and is read (oddly enough) by India Fisher. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 3 a

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

A carnival barker calls fairgoers into a futuristic ride: a strange box marked “Police Public Call Box”. Pay your coins, step inside—and arrive in the future!

The barker, one Mister John Smith, doesn’t mind the wheezing, groaning sound of the box—it attracts more customers. There was a bad moment when a real police constable, one Herbert Arthur Jones, came by yesterday; but John Smith handled things by offering a trip to the future to the constable. The constable steps inside…and that was the last of him. Just as well; the fair is winding down, and John Smith is mulling over how he’ll get the box moved. But no matter; he has plenty of money for that. If only he knew where the customers actually went…

Next morning, Smith is thinking over ways to make more money on the box; but his mind drifts over to why he claimed it goes to the future in the first place. It was that strange couple who first mentioned it—the young lady, and the odd man she called “the Doctor”. Perhaps he was a doctor, too, though it seemed unlikely. At any rate, that doctor fellow disappeared into the box and didn’t come out; the girl was outside yelling at him about not getting the controls right.

Smith is broken out of his reverie by a young gentleman who calls him by name. Smith offers the boy a ride in the “magic box”, but the boy declines. He calls himself Detective Miller, and tells Smith that he is following up on the testimony of Constable Jones, regarding a number of missing persons. He cites testimony from several of the neighboring shopkeepers; Smith concludes that this is a dangerous situation indeed, and redoubles his attempts to get Miller into the box. Miller agrees to open the door of the box; but as soon as he does so, he slaps a handcuff on Smith, and tells him that they will investigate the box together. Miller then calls for someone named Lucie—the girl who had been with the Doctor! She insists on going in as well, calling the box the TARDIS.

Inside, they close the door, and the wheezing sound is heard; and when Lucie opens the door, they are in the future. All of Smith’s victims are gathered outside, along with the Doctor; and none of them are happy to see Smith. They berate him, until the Doctor intervenes.

Detective Freddie Miller, Lucie reveals, is one of her own distant ancestors, recruited by her to help. He helps them get the missing persons back into the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Smith that Detective Miller will be taking charge of Smith to prevent any further troubles, and then takes them all back to the fair. It seems everyone gets to go home…except the Doctor and Lucie.

Later, Smith reflects that this was the beginning of a friendship between himself and Miller, with Smith eventually becoming godfather to Miller’s child.

Short Trips Volume 3 b

I have yet to find an Eighth Doctor/Lucie Miller story that I dislike; but I have to admit that this one is an oddity. First, there’s the narration. India Fisher does a great job narrating, as usual; but this story features Lucie Miller, not Charley Pollard, and it’s very odd to hear Charley’s customary actress dictating Lucie’s lines. I realize that Sheridan Smith, who customarily plays Lucie, may not have been available for this recording; but it seems it would have been a simple matter to alter the story to feature Charley rather than Lucie. The only change of any substance would have been the reference to supporting character Detective Miller as an ancestor of Lucie, and that change would only involve a single line.

Secondly, and more conspicuous to me, is that this story feels very incomplete. One gets the impression that this is a fragment of a much longer story—the resolution, perhaps, but still only a fragment. The story centers around a carnival barker who has somehow acquired the TARDIS and is using it in his show—but how did he acquire it? How did he manage to separate the Doctor from it? What’s wrong with the TARDIS, that it sends people to the future and locks them out—and how does it do that without ever leaving its spot at the carnival? There’s so much that could be told here, and even begs to be told, but isn’t.

It’s not a terrible story, and it’s performed and executed as well as possible under the circumstances; it simply feels incomplete. It’s also the shortest entry in this collection, at about twelve and a half minutes. We do get a single continuity reference here; Lucie mentions Gallifrey in passing, leading the barker, Smith, to speculate that Gallifrey is in Ireland (a gag that appears numerous times; the TARDIS wiki cites at least four occurrences, as far back as The Hand of Fear).

Next time: Back to the beginning! Sort of, anyway. We’ll wrap up Short Trips, Volume 3 with the First Doctor’s scattered contribution, Seven to One. 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.

Short Trips, Volume 3

Previous

Next