Novel Review: All Flesh is Grass

We’re back, with another novel review! Here we have the second of two reviews of the novels from the Time Lord Victorious multimedia project: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack. You can check out my review of the first novel, The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, at that link.

Just a reminder: For the moment, the only parts of the Time Lord Victorious project that I’m covering are these novels, for the simple reason that I haven’t acquired the rest yet. Fortunately, they form the backbone of the project’s story, so this is as good a place as any to start. This post will read a bit like a “part two” of the previous post, as the books are so tightly intertwined; wherever it may matter, I’ve assumed that you’ve already read the previous post.

This novel, published just over a year ago on 10 December 2020, picks up immediately after the end of The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, and features the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors in the Dark Times near the beginning of the universe. None of the regular companions are featured here; however, Brian the Ood fills the role for us. And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!


We last saw the Tenth Doctor leading a mercenary ship, with Brian the Ood assassin at his side, against his Ninth self accompanied by a fleet of vampires, and his Eighth self accompanied by—believe it or not—an attack force of Daleks. The prize is the planet Mordeela and the death-dealing Kotturuh—and the Tenth Doctor just gave the order to fire!

The weapon is no small matter. It turns the Kotturuh’s judgment back on themselves, giving them a lifespan, and a rather abrupt one at that. They begin to die off at once. But that isn’t enough to satisfy the Time Lord Victorious. Mordeela is the source of their power of death, and so he attacks the planet itself; and though his fleet is cut down to just one ship by the Daleks and vampires, it manages to strike the fatal blow, reducing Mordeela to rubble and sealing, as it were, the gates of death. The Doctor then manages to depart for other locales, leaving his past selves to hold their coalitions together. They set off in pursuit.

Elsewhere, though, one Kotturuh has escaped the worst. Many years ago, Inyit sensed the coming doom of her people, and hid herself away on Birinji, the first world the Kotturuh doomed. There she maintains her garden inside a biodome, the one spot of life on the dead world, and waits for an end she knows must come.

After weeks of adventurous but undocumented skirmishes against the dying Kotturuh, the Tenth Doctor and Brian find themselves seeking an audience with the Brokers of Entranxis, iron creatures who deal in weapons…and sometimes more interesting things. And the Brokers have something for the Doctor, but it’s not what he expects: it is Madame Ikalla, the leader of the vampires, who was captured while escaping the battle at Mordeela. She is much abused, but the Doctor determines to rescue her. He is interrupted by the arrival of his past selves, who intend the same plan; altogether…well, they botch the job pretty thoroughly. Ultimately Brian and the Tenth Doctor are forced to extract the Eighth Doctor, whose TARDIS is being held by the Daleks; the Ninth Doctor in turn rescues Ikalla, and in the process hears an intriguing mention of a planet called Birinji. But before any of them can escape, the Kotturuh—still trying to carry out their Design, even in the throes of death—come to judge Entranxis. They will fail; they are intercepted and killed by the Daleks. It seems the Daleks intend to replace the Kotturuh as the dealers of death.

Brian, Eight, and Ten make their way to the vampires’ remaining Coffin Ship, and find that all the lesser vampires are dead; the other Coffin Ships in the small fleet have escaped. However, there is a squad of Bloodsmen aboard, the highly trained and powerful bodyguards of the Great Vampires who usually use the ship to travel. They grudgingly ally with the Doctors to try to recover Madame Ikalla. Meanwhile, she—along with the Ninth Doctor and a dying houseplant named Hector (don’t ask)—have landed on Birinji, and there discovered Inyit, who will very soon be the last of her kind. Inyit welcomes them; she has some things to teach them about her experience with life and death, and her own regrets. But perhaps the most urgent thing she tells them is what will reputedly happen if the last of the Kotturuh dies: the gates of death will open, releasing all the remaining power of the Kotturuh at once.

The other Doctors arrive, and a conference ensues. And at last, the Tenth Doctor is properly chastened for his choices—though he still believes in his cause: the fight against death itself. But things have become more urgent; for Madame Ikalla reveals that there was, in fact, a Great Vampire—the old enemy of the Time Lords—aboard her ship. And it has been captured by the Daleks. The possibilities are horrifying.

Ikalla stays with Inyit (and Hector the houseplant) while the Doctors, Brian, the remaining mercenaries, and the Bloodsmen go to war against the Daleks…to rescue the Great Vampire. The ridiculousness of the situation is lost on no one. They soon find that the Daleks have experimented on the Great Vampire; they kill it in the process, but they successfully create Dalek-vampire hybrids, extraordinarily deadly creatures. Soon enough their ultimate aim is revealed: They plan to use the hybrids to destroy Gallifrey here in the Dark Times, long before the native Gallifreyans become their hated enemy, the Time Lords.

And so, the final battle begins, at Gallifrey itself. And it is a very near thing; the Daleks are on the verge of winning. But then, as Inyit’s long life fails, a single Dalek hybrid comes to ensure her death…but before she goes, she pronounces the Kotturuh’s final judgment…on the Dalek hybrids. At once they begin to die, screaming. The pure Daleks aboard their ship are thrown into a panic, as they feel the judgment tugging at their own genetics; fortunately, the Eighth Doctor returns to them at that time, and with a little push from the Tenth, he drags them out of the Dark Times and back to their own time. As Inyit dies, Gallifrey—and the future—are saved.

In the aftermath, the survivors return to Birinji. There they find Inyit dead—but Ikalla remains, and she has been changed. Inyit’s final gift to her is a change in her biology; she is freed from her terrible urges. She is the last of the vampires—save for her scions and the Bloodsmen—and in a way, she is also now the last trace of the Kotturuh, and of the life of Birinji. But new life will come to Birinji; the mercenaries will settle here, as will the remaining undead, who can inherit the changes given to Ikalla. Brian, as well, chooses to stay—though not without acknowledging the unlikely-but-not-impossible chance that he might take over and run the place. The Doctors conclude that, in the wake of the Kotturuh, death will still come to the universe—but in accordance with life’s own patterns, not the Kotturuh Design. Some races will live but briefly; some will outlive the stars; but they will all have their own chance. Death can’t be beaten, perhaps; but sometimes you can outrun it.

And in the future, three men—three faces of the Doctor—meet for one last time.


Although this book picks up where the last left off, and continues the same story, its tone is very different. It’s much more lighthearted and comical, with many witty lines, puns, and jokes. I suppose that makes sense; the first book only features the Tenth Doctor in full Time Lord Victorious mode, and he’s not a very funny guy at that point. Here, though, we get Eight and Nine as well; and not only do they bring their own typical bouncy personalities with them, but also they begin to pull Ten out of his own pit. It isn’t only them, as well; Brian the Ood, the vampire Madame Ikalla, and others all get in some great lines.

But there are somber moments here, as well. Most notably, it becomes clear soon enough that the Eighth Doctor is from a point in his timeline prior to the start of the Time War; he’s fully unaware of it, and of Gallifrey’s destruction (well, he would be unaware of that, I suppose). His optimism and relative naivete are almost painful to watch when played against the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, who do know; it’s certainly painful for them to watch. Even though it’s acknowledged that he–and Nine as well–won’t remember these events once they end, Nine and Ten go out of their way not to tell Eight what’s coming.

That, in turn, begs the question of when exactly these Daleks originate from. Having arrived along with Eight, clearly they must also be pre-Time War Daleks; therefore they also can’t know of the future (despite having a Time Commander among their ranks). And yet, a Dalek is a Dalek is a Dalek; just as surely as their future Time War compatriots, they hit on the idea of destroying Gallifrey before it can rise to be a threat. Some things never change! I did find it interesting that they needed the Eighth Doctor and his TARDIS to get here; it’s stated that Dalek time travel tech has never been able to penetrate the barrier separating them from the Dark Times. It’s the first time I’ve heard of that barrier; I knew these times were forbidden to Time Lords, but I had not heard they were impossible to reach. Possibly this comes up in TLV stories I haven’t experienced yet; at any rate, it bears further investigation.

Overall, not a bad book; but it does have one fatal flaw: It never really resolves its main issue. The Tenth Doctor goes back in time and seeks to destroy the Kotturuh so that they can’t introduce death to a universe where no one ever dies. And yet, once the Kotturuh are vanquished, it really seems to make no difference. All races will still inherit death; they’ll simply come to their own lifespans without the interference of the Kotturuh. Of course the point is made that you can’t defeat death no matter how hard you try–which is not at all a new argument in Doctor Who–but…why was this ever an issue in the first place? It’s all very downplayed at the end. Throughout both books, a major point is that the Doctor has broken something fundamental in history by stopping the Kotturuh. It should have to be fixed–but instead, at the last few pages, we find out that it was never really broken at all. It really removes much of the impact of the story, and that’s unfortunate. Because it’s a hell of a good time getting there–journey before destination, to borrow a phrase from the Stormlight Archive series–and it’s regrettable that the destination is so anticlimax. Well, at least it’s a pretty battle!

Continuity references: Brian the Ood–who, incidentally, really steals the show whenever he’s onscreen–has an elaborate collection of weapons from ancient races: Racnoss (The Runaway Bride, et al), Jagaroth (City of Death), Grelsh, Uxaerian (Colony In SpaceThe Quantum Archangel), Daemon (The Daemons), and Kastrian (The Hand of FearEldrad Must Die!). Nine mentions the Untempered Schism (The Sound of Drums). The Doctors telepathically join by saying “Contact” (The Three Doctors, et al). Ten, speaking to Nine, alludes to a child’s death (To the DeathMuseum Peace). The Daleks use the phrase “philosophy of movement” when speaking of the TARDIS’s time travel (The Daleks). Ten reminds Eight that he started out by changing time to save his friends’ lives (TV movie). Eight thinks about meeting Brian (He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not), and about the TARDIS’s role in bringing them here (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). Inyit mentions Kotturuh legends regarding their activities (The Dawn of the Kotturuh). Gallifrey’s galactic coordinates are given (Pyramids of Mars, et al). The Doctors cite the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and caution each other against touching (and then promptly do it anyway, without consequence) (Mawdryn Undead). Eight mentions President Romana (Happy Endings, et al). Hector the Houseplant survives and ends up with the Ninth Doctor (Monstrous Beauty). Rose is mentioned, but is not present; she is on another planet, in the future, recovering (Monstrous Beauty).

Overall: I mean, why not? It’s not the most coherent novel, and it wraps up just a little too neatly (Just this once, everybody lives! gets a new home!). But it’s still a lot of fun, and in the end, that’s why we’re here, right? So yes, check it out–and if you didn’t already read The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, read that one first.

Next time: Who knows? Soon it will be a new year, new reading/watching/listening, and we’ll see where it takes us. I’ll catch you there.

All Flesh Is Grass is available from many booksellers.

You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.

Previous

Novel Review: The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead

We’re back, with another novel review! For the holidays, here’s another standalone novel review (well, almost standalone—let’s say one of two). We’ll get back to the New Adventures soon, but not just yet. Today we’re looking at the first of the two novels from the “Time Lord Victorious” multimedia project, Steve Cole’s The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead. Published in October 2020, this book takes place shortly after the events of The Waters of Mars, and features the Tenth Doctor on the run from—and yet embracing—the decision he made in that story.

I want to go ahead and mention that for the moment, the only part of Time Lord Victorious—hereafter abbreviated as “TLV”—that I’m covering is this novel and its sequel, All Flesh is Grass. For now, anyway; I may try to check out some of the other installments, but at the moment all I have at hand are the two novels. Fortunately, they form a coherent story by themselves, and supplementary materials seem to indicate that they form the core of the entire TLV narrative; so I think we’ll be okay for now.

And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!


The Doctor has already broken the most important rule—that you cannot change a fixed point in time—so why not break some more?

Thus he travels back, further back than any Time Lord is supposed to go, to the Ancient Days, the era when the universe was young, a time his people referred to as the Dark Times. He finds them anything but dark, though; for here he finds a universe where death is unnatural and rare. Every species is immortal, barring accidents; no one grows old, no one dies by natural means. But that is before the Kotturuh arrive.

The Kotturuh bring death—but not just by killing. Instead, the Kotturuh introduce death. They grant each species a peculiar and dark gift: the gift of a lifespan. For some it is short, for some long, all according to the Kotturuh’s Design. When they come to a world, those above the prescribed lifespan die at once; those beneath age to the point they would have reached had they been born with this lifespan. It is horrifying—and yet they deem it necessary.

The Doctor meets allies here. There is Estinee, the young survivor of an early encounter with the Kotturuh. There is Fallomax, the scientist and scam artist who saved and recruited Estinee. There is Chalskal, the self-proclaimed ambassador and would-be conqueror who seeks Fallomax’s Lifeshroud technology so that he can equip his armies to withstand the Kotturuh’s gift. And last, there is Brian the Ood, a rather strange and possibly insane Ood who claims to have arrived here in the Doctor’s TARDIS, under a different incarnation of the Doctor—and who works as an assassin.

And yet, it may not be enough. For the Doctor, drunk with his own power as the last of the Time Lords, the Time Lord Victorious, has decided to take on the greatest enemy of all—death itself—and cut it off at the source. If he can defeat the Kotturuh here, the universe will never know death as a force; and perhaps its greatest evils—the Daleks, the Cybermen, others like them—will never arise.

The Doctor takes charge of the Lifeshroud project—but he does more than make the life-preserving technology functional. With the help of his friends, he turns it into a weapon, a system that will turn the Kotturuh’s gift back on themselves, and bring death to the dealers of death. The Kotturuh will have their own lifespan, and their power will be cut off from this universe, and life will prevail.

Except…the Doctor’s past lives want to stop him.

The Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor—each accompanied by some of their greatest enemies—arrive at the ultimate moment, and attempt to dissuade the Tenth Doctor from his course. And yet he will not listen, for he is the Time Lord Victorious—and he fires the weapon.


I’ll be brief, and for the very simple reason that this book is not a complete story by itself. I’ll be able to say more when I post part two of this review, concerning All Flesh is Grass.

After so many seasons of the next three incarnations of the Doctor, and all of the elaboration we’ve had on the Time War, the Moment, and the Doctor’s character, it was a bit of a challenge to put myself back in the mindset of the way things were at the end of The Waters of Mars. In some ways it’s a pity that the Time Lord Victorious arc (if we can call it that) was contained to one episode, because the Doctor was forced to go from pride to remorse so quickly. (I realize an argument can be made that other episodes figure in as well, in terms of the influences that led the Doctor to that moment, and in terms of the consequences; but I’m saying that his entire time as the “Time Lord Victorious” was contained to one episode.) That creates a bit of a problem when trying to start this storyline, because the Doctor immediately seems to backtrack. His remorse is forgotten, except for the occasional fleeting memory; he’s right back to be the proud, arrogant Time Lord he was when he decided to save Adelaide Brooke.

But he plays it well, though. He really commits to this new course of action, and he immediately finds a challenge he considers worthy of his status: the removal—prevention, even—of death from the universe. And he turns his considerable personal energy to that goal in very un-Doctorish ways. He blusters and brags; he bullies his friends into doing what he wants; he runs over their objections and refuses to listen; he threatens (okay, that’s Doctorish enough, I admit). And in the end, he decides that the ends justify the means here. He decides—over Estinee’s objections—that doing to the Kotturuh what they’ve done to other species is not just okay, but admirable, if it means stopping them.

And that’s where we get to the real conflict of this book. It’s the infamous Trolley Problem, but writ large, and in Doctor Who terms. If the Doctor does nothing, every species in the universe will experience death. But if he acts to prevent that from happening, the Kotturuh will die (as well as every species they’ve already touched). And yet it’s not quite the same problem, because the Kotturuh aren’t just potential victims; they’re the perpetrators of death for everyone else. So it would seem like an easy choice—make the Kotturuh pay for their actions, kill them, and their many would-be victims can live. That’s the choice the Tenth Doctor makes.

But…it’s not that clear, either. We’re clearly intended to think that what he’s doing is wrong. Not only does Estinee—who is the innocent in this story, the tiny moral compass, the role that is often filled by a companion—disapprove; but also, the Doctor’s past selves disapprove. The Eighth and Ninth Doctors, appearing at the last moment, are here to stop the Tenth from carrying out this strike on the Kotturuh. They even tell him that he thinks he is doing the right thing, but he isn’t. The only catch here, is that we don’t yet know why it’s the wrong decision.

And that’s the exciting part! It could go several ways. It could be that something worse will be unleashed. It could be a “MCU Thanos” scenario, where the future universe can’t support all this life if there’s not death. It could be that death is necessary for the existence of the Web of Time. A million possibilities—and we just don’t know yet. And it’s in that environment, with so little knowledge, that the Tenth Doctor arrogantly makes his decision to strike.

I can’t wait to see what happens!

As for the experience of reading this book, I had only two complaints. For one, it’s very short, 178 pages in hardback. It took me about two hours to read. Not that I mind shorter fiction—I don’t—but It’s a pretty abrupt change from every other Doctor Who novel I’ve read. Of course there’s the sequel still to go; despite being from a different author, it could almost be regarded as the second half of the same book. The other issue was that the characters—specifically the three Doctors, since they’re the only familiar characters—don’t really feel or sound much like their usual selves here. One can picture them doing the things they’re doing, but the dialogue is very different from what we usually get for those characters, and it comes across jarringly. After recently reading (er, listening to) Scratchman, which really nails the characterization and dialogue, it was a bit of a letdown.

But none of that is a dealbreaker, and I still recommend the book.

Continuity References: Obviously there are many references to The Waters of Mars. The Tenth Doctor refers to several “old one” species: The Jagaroth (City of Death), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks), the Racnoss (The Runaway Bride), and the Eternals (Enlightenment). He uses the term “walks in eternity” to refer to himself, as did the Fourth Doctor in Pyramids of Mars. The Ood Brain is mentioned several times (Planet of the Ood). Chronolocks are mentioned (Face the Raven), as are the fallen civilizations of Ascinta and Perganon (School Reunion). The rise of the Daleks (Genesis of the Daleks) and Cybermen (Spare Parts) are mentioned. The Doctor alludes to the rejection of his name in The Night of the Doctor. He remembers his conversation with Mr. Copper, though not by name (Voyage of the Damned). He puts on his Time Lord robes and says he is dressed for the occasion; the Master did the same in the TV movie. The Dark Times are referenced in a way reminiscent of the short story The Guide to the Dark Times. Brian reports arriving in the Dark Times in the TARDIS (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). And, most importantly, there are three interludes, each of which features a scene from a different Doctor’s life; in each instance, he tells the fairy tale of “Godfather Death”. In the first, the First Doctor and Barbara talk in the Cave of Skulls (An Unearthly Child–using that title for the serial, not the individual episode). In the second, Rose and the Ninth Doctor talk (no particular episode cited). In the third, it is the Eighth Doctor with Brian the Ood (again, no particular episode).

Okay, I lied about being brief…oops!

Overall: Despite the heavy topic, this is fairly light reading for Doctor Who. Still, if you’re interested in the TLV series, you should definitely pick it up—and even if not, I think you’ll find it entertaining. After the most recent run of television episodes, it feels like a palate cleanser, and at this point that’s a welcome change.

Next time: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack! See you there.

The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead is available at many booksellers.

You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.

Next

Charity Anthology Review: Regenerations, edited by Kenton Hall, featuring the War Doctor

Nearly seven years ago, I remember sitting in my bedroom with the television on and the lights dimmed. I had put my children—then ages seven and five—to bed early, and locked up the house, and silenced my cell phone, all so that I could watch, uninterrupted, something for which I had waited years: the fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who.

And it was worth it. In the years since, there has been much debate over the episode, much of it over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit (where this post can also be found); but on that night I didn’t care about any of that. I watched and enjoyed the story for everything it represented–fifty years of wonderful stories, of colorful characters, of Doctor after Doctor after Doctor…and something unexpected: a new Doctor! And not even the next one, which we already knew about; but rather, a past Doctor, a hidden Doctor, one the Doctor himself couldn’t bear to bring into the light. Needless to say, I was caught up. (Full disclosure, of course: the actual reveal was in the previous episode—but we knew so little, it may as well have been in the special. I certainly wasn’t disappointed!)

John Hurt’s War Doctor became the glue that held the entire post-Time War continuity together. The Last Great Time War was the event that drove every incarnation of the Doctor, from Eccleston’s Nine to Capaldi’s Twelve; but it took Hurt’s War Doctor to show us just why, and how much, the Doctor loathed himself. So much so that he denied the very name; so much so that he managed to hide the existence of the War Doctor from every instance where he could have been expected to be revealed. But the past doesn’t always stay in the past, even if you’re the Doctor.

Unfortunately, John Hurt was taken too soon. He turned in a few glorious performances as the War Doctor in Big Finish’s audio format; and then he was gone. I one hundred percent respect the BBC’s, and Big Finish’s, decision not to recast him or otherwise continue his legacy. And yet, there’s a part of me, as a fan, that says what everyone was thinking: The War Doctor deserves more.

 

That’s where today’s review comes in. On 03 August 2020, a new War Doctor charity anthology was released; and we’ll be looking at it today. Published by Chinbeard Books, and edited by Kenton Hall, Regenerations is released in support of Invest in ME, a research organization studying treatments for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (the “ME” of the title). I will link to the charity at the end, as well as to the sale page for the anthology. In the meantime, you can view a short trailer for the anthology here!

Regenerations book cover

We’ve had other charity projects concerning the War Doctor before, most notably the Seasons of War anthology (an excellent read, if you can locate a copy; it is currently out of print, and not expected to return). Regenerations is a bit different; where Seasons of War is a compilation of stories that are in rough chronological order—as much as a Time War can ever be chronological!—but mostly unrelated to each other, Regenerations is more tightly woven. But more on that in a moment.

There will be some spoilers ahead! I have given a short and vague overview of the anthology’s entries, but even those clips contain spoilers. Further, afterward, I’ll be summing up the frame story, and will at minimum be spoiling who the major villain is, and a bit of how it is overcome. I am not going to try to spoiler tag such an extensive part of the post; but you can use the line dividers ahead as markers. You can read the next section, beginning with the phrase “Less like an anthology”, safely without significant spoilers. The two line-divided sections thereafter are spoiler-heavy, so if you want to avoid them, skip ahead!

With all that said, let’s dive in!


Less like an anthology, Regenerations reads like a novel, despite being the work of a group of authors. Its stories don’t simply have “the Time War” as their common thread; they mesh together for a purpose. There’s a frame story, penned by editor Kenton Hall, in which the War Doctor begins abruptly to sense that, in this war of changed timelines, someone is playing games with his own past. Suddenly, he’s not quite the man he has been—and he is dangerously close to becoming the man he used to be. That’s unfortunate, and quite possibly disastrous, because the change comes at a critical moment, a time when the universe seems to need the Warrior more than the Doctor. Now, he must work through his past lives and find the divergences, and somehow set them right, before he himself ceases to be. And if, along the way, he can find the parties responsible, it would be a wonderful bonus.

We’re introduced to two new Time Lords, newly minted Academy graduates (and CIA desk jockeys) Jelsillon and Dyliss. Their world is turned on its head when they receive a new mission from the CIA’s Coordinator—and instantly they know something is wrong. The Coordinator is a man they know—but not from the CIA. Rather, it’s a former classmate, Narvin (yes, THAT Narvin), who is suddenly seen to be much older and several regenerations along. Narvin sets them a mission: to disrupt the timeline of the famous (infamous?) Time Lord known as the Doctor. There’s just one problem: They don’t know who that is.

Jelsillon and Dyliss, as it turns out, live in a time long before the War, and even before the rise of the Doctor. This, it seems, makes them prime candidates for the mission; though they familiarize themselves with the Doctor, they have no preconceptions. All they have is a drive for adventure—and who wouldn’t want to save the world, after all?

From here, we launch into a series of tales, one concerning each of the War Doctor’s past lives. Each is an alteration of events familiar to us, the fans; each is a deviation from the timeline we have known. Between these stories, we see in short form the Doctor’s continuing efforts to get to the bottom of the situation.


Let’s take a look at the stories.

  • First Doctor: To get us started and set our course, editor Kenton Hall gives us our first tale, told in five short parts. In An Untrustworthy Child and The World That Was Different, we visit late 1963, where a policeman walks his beat near I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard; but his curiosity will cost him tonight. Elsewhere and elsewhen, on war-torn Gallifrey, the High Council under Rassilon banishes one of its own, and sets a dangerous plan in place. And two young Time Lords, Jelsillon and Dyliss, are sent on a mission to make that plan a reality, though they don’t know what they are getting into. In Exit the Doctor, the First Doctor mulls over his situation, and ultimately decides the time to leave 1963 London is fast approaching; but before he can act, he discovers the alarming presence of another TARDIS in the scrapyard, and goes to investigate. In The TARDISes, the Doctor isn’t the only one investigating; two teachers from his granddaughter Susan’s school are making their way to the scrapyard on a mission of their own. Meanwhile, the occupants of the new TARDIS, Jelsillon and Dyliss, have laid a trap, not for the Doctor, but for his granddaughter, Susan. A split-second decision will return Susan to Gallifrey, and turn everything on its head, as Jelsillon and Dyliss—not Ian and Barbara—join the Doctor on his travels. They have one goal: to ensure he never goes to Skaro, and never meets the Daleks. For, as the High Council believes, it’s the Doctor’s encounters with the Daleks that ultimately lead them to their vendetta against the Time Lords; if that can be averted, will not also the War itself? And in The Pawn of Time, the Doctor—now having traveled for some time with Dyliss and Jelsillon—has just taken on a new companion, one Vicki Pallister. Back on Gallifrey, the banished Cardinal is summoned to a meeting by the War Doctor; and on Earth, a somewhat traumatized policeman decides to put in for his retirement.
  • The Second Doctor: Dan Barratt’s Time of the Cybermen revisits the events of Tomb of the Cybermen, on the distant planet of Telos—until a sweeping wave of timeline changes carries the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria away to Earth, with aching heads and new memories… Here they discover a different tomb, as in the 22nd century they find that the Cybermen, not the Daleks, conquered Earth. Now, the last bastion of humanity, long sleeping in their own frozen crypt, is about to be discovered—and it’s all the Doctor’s fault!
  • The Third Doctor: Andrew Lawston revisits Day of the Daleks in The Paradoxical Affair at Styles. Events happen much the same, with a 22nd century assassin returning to kill Reginald Styles, only to be thwarted—but when the assassin is killed, he is determined to be the Doctor! Naturally, this is most alarming to the Doctor himself. He and Jo Grant find themselves transported into the future—but they miss the mark by twenty years, only to find themselves in the midst of the Dalek occupation of Earth. They receive unexpected aid from an old enemy: The Master—but not as they have known them. This Master claims to be from the future, in a time of universe-consuming war. In the end, his help only serves to perpetuate the loop, with the Doctor returning to the past to assassinate Styles…
  • The Fourth Doctor: Terminus of the Daleks, by Alan Ronald, takes us to the far future of Gallifrey, a time long past the disappearance of the hero known as the Doctor. We meet Ari, an actor, who is playing the role of the Doctor in his greatest adventure: his visit to Skaro at the very beginning of the Dalek menace (Genesis of the Daleks), where he asked the famous question, “Have I the right…?” and then answered with a resounding YES. And yet, here, now, with history solid and reassuring behind him, he must ask himself: How would the Doctor really feel? The question has weight, and so will the answer.
  • The Fifth Doctor: Shockwave, by Simon A. Brett and Lee Rawlings, picks up immediately after the death of Adric—but not the death we remember. After all, there were no Sontarans involved in Adric’s original death. Don’t mind the oddity though; as the Doctor says to Tegan and Nyssa, “as we’ve been dealing with a number of supremely powerful species discharging temporal energy in the same relatively localized area of time and space, normality may be too much to ask.” But there’s no time to worry about that, as the TARDIS has a close call with a VERY displaced Concorde—which leads them to a drastically altered Heathrow airport, an ankylosaurus in the shops, and a kidnapping by a quite unexpected old enemy.
  • Sixth Doctor: Revelation, by Christine Grit, opens with the Sixth Doctor landing on a world called Necros—or is it?—in the midst of an argument with his young companion, Per—no, Adric. Even the Doctor can detect that something isn’t right—just why did he come here, anyway? A funeral? An old friend?—but he can’t force his mind to sort it out. Which quickly becomes irrelevant, as he is captured and placed in a cage in a zoo, right between a dead Sontaran and a depressed-but-artistic Ice Warrior. Adric, meanwhile, escapes, only to fall in with a local band of (literally) shadowy rebels, led by a strange woman with a gravity-defying mermaid tail. Yes, that is a real sentence; just roll with it, it works out alright in the end. Before long, the roles are reversed; it is the Doctor who is free and siding with the young woman, while Adric is a prisoner…of a long-absent Time Lord called the Rani, and her modified Daleks.
  • Seventh Doctor: Enter the Rani by Nick Mellish picks up on the threads left hanging in Revelation. After disposing of Adric, the Rani’s plans have moved ahead, and she has found a suitable world in Lakertya. If only she hadn’t crashed on it! But given time—something she has in abundance—she shapes the rocky continent of her landing into something she can use, enslaving its people, building labs, conducting experiments. It isn’t long before her next targets—the Doctor and his companion, Mel—come along…only to crash as well. Strange. Well, the Rani is nothing if not an opportunist. She captures the Doctor, but is stunned to see that he has just regenerated, which will certainly throw a wrench in the plans. Mel falls in with the remaining natives, and organizes a rescue—and for once it works! The Rani is captured, the Doctor freed. Her plans continue, however—plans to destroy a strange matter comet and collect the chronons it generates, and use them to punch a hole in time and shape history—and evolution—to her own desires. But the mystery still remains: What is it that traps TARDISes on this world? As the moon turns blue, the truth proves to be stranger than fiction—but that won’t stop the end of the world from happening.
  • Eighth Doctor: Steven Horry’s The Edge of the War posits only a small change: What if the Master, in his deathworm morphant form after his execution by the Daleks, didn’t steal the body of Bruce the paramedic, but rather, the body of his wife, Miranda? Such a small change…and yet the consequences snowball, as this new Master kills Chang Lee rather than subverts him, and then steals the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor stranded on Earth—and out of the path of the inevitable Time War.
  • War Doctor–or not?: The Flight of the Doctor, by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, shows us a different view of The Night of the Doctor, one in which Cass and her crew safely escape the gunship’s crash on Karn…and the Doctor walks away from Ohila’s offer. After all, what does a war need more than a medic?

From here to the end of the book, we return to the War Doctor, Jelsillon, and Dyliss. For the War Doctor, this tale began on the world of Makaria Prime, which dealt with the War in a singularly impressive way: By removing themselves from it. Unfortunately, they did so by punching a hole through not only the time vortex, but the very fabric of the universe itself—and that hole became a superhighway for not only the Daleks, but also another, unexpected villain. Long ago, the Doctor encountered an artificial pocket universe called the Land of Fiction, which was ruled by a supercomputer called the Master Brain, using various human proxies. Now, the Master Brain itself has evolved sentience, just in time to find a way through the Makarian rupture and into the universe. And yet, it remains bound to the Land. Now, it seeks the Doctor, not just for revenge, but for a greater purpose: To cede control of the Land to him. This will give the Doctor the power to create what he always wanted: A universe without the Daleks. In turn, it will free the Master Brain to wander the universe and do as it pleases—much as the Rani once sought control over history. It is the Master Brain, using willing pawns in power-hungry Rassilon, Coordinator Narvin, Jelsillon, and Dyliss, who tampered with the Doctor’s past, all to bring him to this point. And to accomplish all this, it has possessed Jelsillon, taking control of his body—a control it plans never to relinquish.

When of course he refuses, the computer tortures him with visions of what may be. He sees his next life save London from overeager Chula nanogenes…by introducing them to regeneration. He sees the Tenth Doctor save Donna Noble from her memories, only to see her become an amalgamation of his own darker sides, calling itself the Valeyard. He sees a world where one Amy Pond didn’t follow her husband into the Weeping Angel’s touch, and mourns his death all the way to a world called Trenzalore. He sees his Twelfth incarnation stand at the top of a miles-long ship with two friends and an old enemy, and watches the villain take a blast for him that leaves a hole through her body. The Master Brain shows him these things not to hurt him (or, well, maybe a little to hurt him), but to show him the wealth of possibilities, if only he will give in.

And ultimately, he does exactly that.

But the Doctor—even as the Warrior—remains the Doctor; and as always, he’s done something clever. For he knows what the computer does not: That as much as anything else, this is a love story. Jelsillon and Dyliss’s story, to be specific—over the years, they’ve developed a bond much greater than classmates or coworkers. And that bond allows Dyliss to find Jelsillon, and with him, the Doctor and the Master Brain. Staser in hand, she offers the computer a way out: The Doctor will take ownership of the Land, and in return the Master Brain can go free—but in its disembodied form, where it can do no harm. At last it agrees.

The Doctor closes the tale with “a bit of a rewrite”. Going one step further than the Master Brain, he seeks out his Thirteenth incarnation, interrupting her battle against the Lone Cyberman at Villa Diodati, and enlists her help to set things right. Slowly he pieces his life back together, visiting points of divergence, preventing changes. Narvin’s call to Jelsillon and Dyliss is intercepted, much to Narvin’s anger. Changes radiate through his timestream as he makes them, a river resuming an old familiar course. Unfortunately, as he does so, the Doctor recedes, and the Warrior resurges. But that’s not such a bad thing—after all, there’s still the matter of the Makarians to deal with. Only a Warrior would help them escape the universe—and after all, the Doctor recently inherited a piece of extra-universal Land…

Back at their old jobs, Jelsillon and Dyliss talk over their experiences, before the timestreams cause them to forget. But some things—like the bond they created—will outlast even the changes of memory.

And in a future still to come, a weary Warrior trudges across a desert toward an old barn, a sack on his back, ready to bring about an end, and so many beginnings.


Most spoilers end here!

One never knows what to expect when beginning a story about the War Doctor. That’s chiefly because it’s impossible to do justice to the Time War, the inevitable backdrop of any War Doctor story. It’s a frequent complaint: Descriptions given by the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors paint a picture that is never fully realized, and understandably so—after all, a true Time War of the scale described would be beyond the comprehension of three-dimensional beings like us. Consequently many stories leave fans feeling a bit short-changed.

I don’t buy into that outlook, though. A bad War Doctor story is better than none at all; and if we can’t properly encompass the incomprehensibility of the Time War, well, neither can its victims. Therein lies the secret: You have to view it through the lens of an individual. When you do that, the smaller stories make sense, because that’s how the incomprehensible would filter down to us.

And if you’re going to do that, then you should run with it.

That’s what we have here in Regenerations. We see the War Doctor not as a force of nature, because forces of nature don’t make good stories (even a disaster movie is about the people it affects). We see him as a person. While we don’t get to see him in full Warrior mode—another frequent complaint—we do get to see him struggle between the two personas of Doctor and Warrior as they’re pitted directly against each other. He himself doesn’t know who he is, and he feels pulled apart by the struggle.

The entire book walks a line between earnest and tongue-in-cheek, sometimes dipping a toe in one direction or the other. There’s a serious story happening here, worthy of any other time-bending story in Whovian continuity; but there’s also plenty of jokes, and a wealth of references to past stories, far more than I could possibly cover here as I usually do. That’s above and beyond the fact that each story is a new take on a classic story—you get inside jokes, such as the War Doctor announcing “Im looking for the Doctor”; Graham declaring “You’ve certainly come to the right place”; and Thirteen leaping in to insist that “No he hasn’t! He’s come to entirely the wrong place and he knows it!”

I admit to being especially impressed at the continuity here. Sometimes I forget just how many threads of continuity one must tie together in order to keep a story in order these days. It’s especially complicated here, where not only do we have to track each Doctor’s timestream, track the changes we’re making, and make sure we’re not contradicting more obscure details; but also we have to bring in any number of sources—for example, Narvin from the Gallifrey audio series, the Doctor’s return to the Land of Fiction in the New Adventures novels, various television seasons, and even a hint about the Eighth Doctor being stranded on Earth with Grace Holloway in the Doctor Who Magazine comics. Somehow, despite spanning an entire stable of authors, it works.

In the final analysis, the book left me both satisfied with the outcome, and wanting more. I’m content with the end of this story; it’s fully resolved, and lingering too long would weaken it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some more stories set in some of these alternate lives. In particular, Jelsillon and Dyliss are interesting characters, and I’d be interested to see more of their adventures with the First Doctor in place of Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Or, I would like to see more of the life of third-regeneration Susan as a Cardinal during the Time War—a different take than her appearance in the audio All Hands on Deck; a life in which she either never left Gallifrey with the Doctor, or was returned there from 1963 London by Jelsillon and Dyliss (her own memories of the event are in flux at this point). I’d like to know what happens to Seven and Mel and the Rani if and when they escape Lakertya. I wouldn’t mind a glimpse into the battle against Donna as the Valeyard.

We’ll leave that to the imagination for now, I suppose.

But, if you’re also into alternate continuities, or the War Doctor, or just the humor to be had in revisiting these adventures, check out the book. You’ll enjoy it, and you’ll give some support to a worthy cause in the process.

Thanks for reading!

You can purchase Regenerations from Chinbeard Books at this link. Please note that the limited print run has sold out, but the ebook is still available.

The trailer for the anthology may be viewed here.

For more information on Invest in ME Research, check out their website here.

Audio Drama Review: The Creed of the Kromon

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

The Creed of the Kromon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Creed of the Kromon

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Audio Drama Review: Scherzo

All my friends are dead

All My Friends Fans Are Dead (!)

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

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

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

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

Scherzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scherzo

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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