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: 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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Audio Drama Review: Omega

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

Omega 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omega 2

Nyssa: Is Omega dead?

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

–Arc of Infinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omega 3

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

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

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

Omega

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Audio Drama Review: The Lions of Trafalgar

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to The Lions of Trafalgar, the Fifth Doctor’s entry in the Short Trips, Volume IV collection. Written by Jason Arnopp and read by Peter Davison, this story was published in August 2011, and features the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa. 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.

The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan arrive in London on 23 October 1843; Tegan is amazed at the primitive state of the city, which is both relaxed and busy at the same time. Visiting Trafalgar Square, they discover a number of stone lions, but quickly discover that the lions are only visible to the three of them. The Doctor concludes there is a perception filter in place, but one that can only affect people of this time.

The Doctor climbs the newly-constructed Nelson’s Column to have a look around. At the top, he finds two men, Samuel Morton Peto and Thomas Grissell, who are the contractors responsible for construction of the column. They are famously having tea at the top of the still-statueless column, along with twelve of the stonemasons. The stonemasons are nowhere to be seen, however. The two contractors have been possessed by a predatory race called the Sevakrill, who have used them—to the Doctor’s disgust—to devour the twelve stonemasons. It is a celebratory dinner, to be sure; but it is the Sevakrill who are celebrating their own impending conquest!

The column, they reveal, holds a missile that is scheduled to destroy the Earth, but not until 2017, when it will serve to distract their enemies, a force called the Charnal Horde; and it will entertain the Sevakrill as well. The Doctor speaks to the two men instead of the Sevakrill, and tries to get them to build a mental barrier against the Sevakrill, using Nelson’s honorable example for strength.

Below, the lions begin chasing Nyssa and Tegan at the command of the Sevakrill, in order to disrupt the Doctor’s efforts. Eight people—seven civilians and a policeman—are killed during the chase. The lions are interrupted as the Sevakrill are forced out of their hosts; and the lions return to their plinth. The hosts are left with their freedom and a stomachache; the Doctor declines to tell them that it comes from their unwitting cannibalism.

The Doctor spends the next two weeks working to remove the missile. He is unable to eliminate it completely, but lowers it into a tunnel below, and puts a floor under it (since the missile is aimed down at the Earth instead of up). He also places a signal that will bring him back if it is every activated. As the lions are still in place—but invisible—he sets the perception filters to switch off in a few decades, and arranges to have the lions covered and then unveiled as if they had been newly placed—thus maintaining known history. He also makes a note to skip ahead thirty-five years and see if anyone has tampered with Cleopatra’s Needle.

Short Trips Volume 4 b

The Fifth Doctor’s entries into these early volumes—of which, as a reminder, this is the last—have consistently been some of the most action-packed, but also some of the most ridiculous. This volume, at least, takes a break from the ridiculousness; this is a believable enough adventure as Doctor Who goes. We visit the 23 October 1843 completion of Nelson’s Column, a few weeks before its famous statue is placed; the Doctor is forced to thwart an alien sleeper plot which will eventually—give or take seventeen decades—destroy the Earth. Nyssa and Tegan aren’t much help here, but they do get chased by the titular stone lions, which is really the only reason for the lions to be in the story at all, as historically it would be a few decades before they were built. That sort of splitting of the plot into two parallel tracks is, of course, common in Doctor Who even today, with the Doctor going one way while his companions go a separate-but-related way. Usually the companion’s track is a little more vital to the story, but unfortunately, sometimes—like here—it’s just extraneous.

With all that said, I still enjoyed the story. I do think it would have felt a little more real to someone who is familiar with the area and the history. I know what Nelson’s Column is, and what it memorializes, but I would not have recognized the date of this story (apparently the dinner party atop the column, mentioned with changes here, was a real event). I wouldn’t have known that there were stone lions around the column, or that they were a later addition, and thus an anachronism here. (The wiki claims that this story “is a reference to an old legend that the lions in Trafalgar Square will come to life if Big Ben chimes 13 times”—another reference I wouldn’t have gotten.) Tegan also makes reference to the “Great Stink” of 1858; this one I had to look up. The story does explain a bit, but more in a “hurry and catch up” manner. That’s a risk, I think, in any historical; of course it’s a British series, and deals most of all with British history, while the fanbase is worldwide at this point. Not a complaint, exactly, just noting that some of it may be lost on international fans like me. I do think this is mitigated a bit by the Fifth Doctor; he travels with a group of young people, and it’s almost inevitable that he serves as a teacher to them, and to the audience by default. The balance of “show vs. tell” is maintained, but perhaps with a bit more “tell” than in the case of other Doctors. (I’m a bit biased; I like the Fifth Doctor, and think that the usual issues people raise against his era are overblown. You can feel free to take my opinions with a grain of salt, accordingly.)

Continuity References: Nelson’s Column has been visited previously, as early as The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Perception filters, which here conceal the lions, were first mentioned in Torchwood (Everything Changes) before making their way to the main series (Human Nature episode version, et al.). The Doctor claims—typically, if you ask me—to be a friend of Nelson (World Games). Tegan tries to dissuade the Doctor from climbing the column, noting that climbing ended badly for him last time—a reference to his regeneration after falling from the Pharos Project telescope (Logopolis). As well, given that the Doctor is only accompanied by Tegan and Nyssa, this story must occur between Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead.

Overall: Pretty quick for an action story, but decent enough. If anything, it was over too quickly, but it was fun while it lasted. I understand that later short trips are perhaps double the length of these anthology stories; I think that’s a more workable length for an action story like this. Still, not bad.

Next time: We join the Sixth Doctor and Peri in To Cut a Blade of Grass! 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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Audio Drama Review: Creatures of Beauty

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with the forty-fourth entry, Creatures of Beauty. This story features the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, and was written and directed by Nicholas Briggs. The story is groundbreaking among the audio dramas for its non-linear presentation (which makes it difficult for me to write a plot summary for the blog version of this post, but so it goes). The story was published in May 2003. Let’s get started!

Creatures of Beauty 1

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

Part One:

An explosion splits the sky, and a voice whispers: “Beautiful”. Elsewhere, a woman discusses with the Doctor her search for a cure to a disease, which took her to a space station for zero-gravity experiments and contact with a race called the Koteem. Elsewhere yet, Nyssa struggles with another woman over a knife. Later, she is with the Doctor on a long journey, and debates working with someone named Quain…which may or may not be the right choice. Either way, they need to reach the TARDIS and leave this world.

Brodlik, a psychiatric interrogator for the security forces of the planet Veln, meets with his superior, Gilbrook, regarding his recent interrogation of Nyssa. Allegedly the interrogation is about an incursion by the Koteem, but Brodlik disagrees. Nevertheless, they agree that Nyssa is beautiful, even with bruises from her arrest. On the tape of the interview, Nyssa and Brodlik discuss her arrest, and statements she made at the time, which Brodlik considers bizarre—notably, that she is not of this world. She admits to having a concussion, and asks after the Doctor. Watching the interview, Gilbrook is unhappy that Brodlik didn’t get a description of the Doctor so he could be arrested. They return to the interview, which picks up with Nyssa’s medical reports. The reports confirm that she is indeed not from the planet Veln; this convinces Brodlick that she is a Koteem, and complicit in what the invaders have done. He forces her to look at him; his face is warped and scarred. Only the rich and powerful can afford surgery to restore their features to the way they looked before the Koteem came and poisoned the atmosphere with dyestrial toxins—Brodlik insists that as Nyssa was arrested on the manor of Lady Forleon, she should know this. Nyssa understands the effects, but isn’t sure the toxins are a result of the invasion. Brodlik mentions that security has dealt with numerous Koteem agents; Nyssa is appalled. She demands to know if her blood samples were compared to Koteem samples as they were to Veln. Here, the tape reveals that Brodlik—quite rattled by Nyssa’s testimony—left three hours early and went home. Gilbrook informs him of the trouble he’s in, and demands to know what happened after that.

At home, Brodlik remembers, he was confronted by two men wearing pollution masks. Inside his apartment, they reveal that they are not mutated like Brodlik, who is a third-generation Veln after the pollution. He assumes they are Koteem agents; one of them protests, and is revealed to be the Doctor. He is angry about Nyssa’s beating, but defers to his partner, Quain, who puts pressure on Brodlik. Quain threatens Brodlik’s family with the same kind of violence the security forces use. Brodlik tells Gilbrook none of this, however, and only admits to thinking about Nyssa’s words. However, Gilbrook has video indicating that Brodlik returned to the medical department that night to compare Nyssa’s blood to Koteem samples. The two are vastly different. Gilbrook assumes this means she is just a different type of Koteem, and mentions that Brodlik never brought it up as he should have done. Gilbrook has Brodlik play the next day’s tape, but it cuts off at once. The fault is timely, as this was the point at which the intruders entered the medical building. Brodlik says they had legitimate documents to take possession of the prisoner, and so he released Nyssa to them. However, Gilbrook just asks him what really happened.

Brodlik recalls joining Nyssa in the interrogation room, and uses a device given to him by the Doctor and Quain to jam the surveillance system. He is going to release her, but is unhappy that she will get away with her crimes; despite her protestations of innocence, he has met her associates, and doesn’t believe her. He demands to know why she came back to murder and mutilate a Veln? In a flashback, Nyssa’s struggle for the knife is heard again, and the whispered word: “Beautiful…”

Part Two:

At Lady Forleon’s manor, the Doctor has just left Nyssa, when he hears screams from her direction. He turns back, but is held up by two armed men, Seedleson and Murone. They take him to the house, as the screams end and sirens are heard. The two men also send a patrol back for the Doctor’s “landing pod”, the TARDIS. Meanwhile Lady Forleon is getting a rather confused report about the screams and the arrest. Quain arrives and reports the arrival of a “replacement”, but the man—the Doctor—seems confused. Forleon meets with the Doctor, and finds he is confused; he considers himself a prisoner here, and claims to know the screaming girl—which he could not, if he is newly arrived. He admits to being here about the dyestrial pollution—a statement she expected—but his odd story makes her believe he has a concussion or brain damage from his landing.

The Doctor goes with Forleon and Quain to view the rather odd “landing pod”, the TARDIS. He tries to get back to the topic of Nyssa, and Forleon realizes he wasn’t talking about the local girl, Veline, but the other girl in the report, the arrested party. Murone shows a surveillance photo of Nyssa being arrested for Veline’s murder; the Doctor is shocked to see that she does have blood on her hands. He demands to know what is going on. Forleon realizes he really doesn’t know, which makes him a risk, and she has Murone cover him with his weapon.

Flash-forward: Nyssa is now free, thanks to Quain, but the Doctor doubts the man’s motives. They have now been traveling for four days, into a snowy wilderness reminiscent of Alaska. Quain assures the Doctor he is working for the sake of all Veln, even if they don’t realize it. They arrive at a hill which is actually a hologram, made with Koteem technology. Inside, they find a Koteem ship. They are subjected to a bioscan in preparation for an interrogation by a Koteem. Because the TARDIS is here somewhere, they submit to the interview. The Koteem doesn’t give its name, as it shouldn’t be here, and it wants to know if they plan to inform the Galactic Sector Council. The Doctor does not; he barely understands what is happening here. The Koteem doubts the Doctor’s words, and asks the Doctor’s personal opinion of events here. The Doctor thinks the Koteem is suffering the effect of the pollution just like the Veln, implying their fates are tied together. The Koteem admits that his people used the dyestrial as an energy source, not realizing the risks until it was too late. The Council allowed them to dispose of the wastes in an uninhabited region, but the disposal company cut corners and dumped it near Veln. Four generations back, an accident dumped a deadly amount of pollution into the Veln atmosphere, condemning the planet to  death within eight generations. This Koteem and his friends want to change that.

Meanwhile Gilbrook has obtained a warrant for Lady Forleon’s estate, and is taking pleasure in destroying the beautiful surroundings. Jealousy is at the root of his attitude; he lives in ugliness thanks to the Koteem, and resents the rich who manage to avoid that fate. He believes he can prove she has been harboring Koteem agents; and once he has her in custody, her beauty won’t last long. His forces do not find the agents they seek, but they find a sealed basement room. Against Forleon’s protests, they break in, and find Koteem equipment. Forleon insists that, while the Veln are ugly, it’s because they are dying—and she is trying to fix it. They trigger a recording in the basement of the operation conducted on the unfortunate Veline, in which Forleon tries to soothe her—but Veline begins to scream as the surgery begins.

Part Three:

The surgery goes wrong, and Veline breaks free, screaming in pain. She flees the basement with a scalpel in hand. Forleon has Seedleson and Murone attempt to restrain her without harm. Quain worries about what may happen if she escapes the grounds; the last patient died in the lab. As luck would have it, at that time, the sensors have detected something strange: the arrival of the TARDIS. Meanwhile a passerby has called security, and they are on their way. This will give Gilbrook the excuse he needs to investigate the estate.

Veline escapes the gate guards. While pursuing her, Seedleson and Murone find the Doctor, and assume he is a Koteem. Murone, who only works here for the pay, suggests shooting him in revenge for the Koteem’s actions, but Seedleson, who believes in Forleon’s work, is disgusted. He leaves to take the Doctor into custody. Meanwhile, Nyssa finds Veline, who has begun to feel something alien inside her head. She begins to hack at herself with the scalpel as if trying to cut something out; Nyssa tries to stop her as sirens approach. She is arrested for Veline’s murder, but holds to the story that she was trying to save the girl. The oddity of the story gets her handed over to Brodlik, bringing us full circle to Brodlik’s interrogation of Nyssa. In the meantime, Gilbrook prepares for his raid on the Forleon manor.

Prior to the raid, the Doctor is still being held by Murone and questioned by Forleon. She believes him to be either crazy or an impostor, but either way, he is a threat. However, she performs a bioscan, which reveals he is neither Veln nor Koteem. When the Doctor hears the name “Koteem”, he is disturbed to remember them as an extinct species, which is not yet true. However, they are arthropods, so why would Forleon and Quain think he is one? Forleon explains that Veline killed herself, but that Gilbrook will not see it that way—and will use this opportunity to first put a beauty like Nyssa on trial. Since the Doctor seems to be truly unaware of events here, she withholds judgment for now.

Later, Quain reflects on what he has done in taking the Doctor and Nyssa—along with more travel pods—to the Koteem. While the Doctor thinks it is still uncomfortably like an invasion of Veln, he admits that neither race has any options. Still, the Koteem let them go, much to Nyssa’s surprise; and the Doctor is more than willing to bow out of this complex situation. He reflects that although Nyssa’s arrest may have led to the Forleon raid, but even without it, Veline’s death would have led to complications. Despite all their involvement, the Doctor feels they were simply caught up in events, rather than influencing them.

He is wrong, however. Gilbrook, as it turns out, was unable to get his warrant based on Nyssa’s arrest and escape, at which time he interrogated—and threatened—Brodlik to get what he needed. And so, as the Doctor and Nyssa depart, they don’t realize the full impact of their presence.

Part Four:

Many years earlier: The Veln system has been visited by a Koteem waste ship, which is here illegally. It is running silent to avoid detection; and when an alarm indicates that its toxin containment field has a leak, the captain opts to shut the field off instead of fixing it. Meanwhile the Doctor and Nyssa have just finished some repairs to the TARDIS, and are passing near the Veln system. It is a culturally significant time in the Veln’s history, and incursion has been declared illegal by the Galactic Sector Council; nevertheless, the Doctor chooses to materialize for a moment to test some repaired systems. A slip in systems puts the TARDIS into Veln orbit briefly, where the ship detects dyestrial toxins. The pollution interferes with the power relays, preventing dematerialization, and the TARDIS lurches as though it hit something. It leaps forward a century and rematerializes on the planet’s surface for self-repairs.

The concentration of toxins has decreased, and short exposure is harmless, so the Doctor goes to look around. He leaves Nyssa by the TARDIS while he goes to the nearby manor house to warn them of the toxins. Nyssa stays, but then hears Veline screaming, and goes to help, leading to her arrest. Gilbrook considers the murder to be a direct case, but wants to use it to obtain access to the Forleon estate; he ignores his medical staff’s report that the killer was apparently trying to dig something out of the victim. During this time, the Doctor is captured and questioned by Forleon and Quain; Forleon contacts the Koteem at the ship and informs him of the Doctor’s presence. The Koteem wants to question him in person, and asks Quain to rescue Nyssa as well. The Doctor is obligated to help.

In the meantime, the Doctor deduces that the Koteem are giving the Veln something…but what? Forleon doesn’t like his attitude, and tells him that outside the estate, the planet is nearly dead, as its people soon will be. The pollution has led to mutations in the Veln, the destruction of the food supply, and resulting social upheaval. Forleon uses her fortune to try to find a cure. It did not go well at first, until her desire to experiment in zero-gravity led her to purchase a space station; once there, the Koteem contacted her privately and offered their DNA for use in her work.

It’s not quite that simple, however. The genetic essence is that of a complete Koteem in each case, and the only way to use it is to transplant it into a Veln. Once placed, the essence heals the Veln of mutation; but little remains of the donor Koteem. The Koteem are willingly giving their lives to make amends and save the Koteem; but the bitter and vengeful Veln are not willing to accept any restitution, and their paranoia has caused the Council to outlaw contact with them. Hence, the Koteem’s efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, are illegal. The Doctor is unhappy with the plan, but can formulate no real objections; and so, with his promise not to talk, the Koteem lets him go, along with Nyssa.

In the end, Gilbrook destroys the manor, but Quain and Forleon escape to new premises to continue the work. The Koteem base is moved as well, leaving Gilbrook back at the beginning. He is undaunted, and swears to continue the fight; he remembers that his great-grandfather was an eyewitness to the explosion of the waste ship over Veln, leaving a story that has been passed down. Against all odds, the light through the clouds of falling toxins was almost beautiful.

One piece of the puzzle remains. As the waste ship runs silently through the system, all is well—until an unexpected object, blue and rectangular, materialises before them. It emits a warp distortion field, forcing them to evade collision. They succeed, as the object dematerializes—but in their hold, toxin containers have been smashed open, where the captain has already ordered the containment fields shut down. The ship explodes, pouring the dyestrial toxins into the atmosphere, dooming the planet. The Doctor and Nyssa will never know the true impact of their brief visit.

Creatures of Beauty 2

What a melancholy story! Although, to be fair, the melancholy tone isn’t obvious at first, largely due to the nonlinear structure. That structure is a double-edged sword here; it’s certainly different from the average story (Big Finish was on a brief experimental kick—see our last entry, regarding the first musical story, Doctor Who and the Pirates). However, there’s reason that non-linear stories are both rare and hard to pull off; they have a tendency to reveal the punchline early, turning the rest of the story into filler. That happens a bit here, though I don’t think it’s particularly gratuitous. More on that topic in a bit.

I call this story melancholy because there’s no happy ending, and indeed little chance at one. Due to an accident and a resulting ecological disaster, the locals—the Veln, on the planet of the same name—have suffered severe mutations, and will die off within a few generations. There is a cure, but it comes at a high price, not for the Veln, but for the race that caused the disaster in the first place. It’s a case of “no good choices”.

More than that, the story represents a rare case of the Doctor’s failure. He is unable to fix the situation, or even to affect it in any positive way. There’s more to it than that—there’s a reason I said “any positive way”—but for the sake of spoilers, I won’t elaborate. Suffice it to say that he ends the story unaware of the magnitude of his failure.

With the exception of one final twist, the bulk of the story has been revealed by the end of part three; most of part four is just filling in details, as I previously mentioned. I do applaud Briggs for managing to string out the discoveries as long as he did, however; it’s not easy to keep details secret when the ending is already known. I will say that the aforementioned final twist was fairly predictable; I had identified it well before I got there. I felt comfortable enough in my understanding of the story to begin working on this review while I was still listening to Part Four, and a look at the Doctor Who Reference Guide’s plot listing for this story bears out that opinion. None of that is to say, however, that it’s a bad story; both story and presentation are interesting, and I enjoyed this story much more than the previous entry.

I’m aware that the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa stories are usually not considered to be among the best, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed them so far. They tend to be quieter, smaller-scale stories; but both actors are usually on point, and these stories allow us to see nuances of the characters that we usually don’t get. Here, for example, the Veln serve as stand-ins for humans, and we get a deeper look at just how alien the Doctor and Nyssa really are—something that is often buried when dealing with these two characters.

Continuity References: Only a few this time. Nyssa mentions having visited Alaska (The Land of the Dead). She mentions the TARDIS’s helmic regulator, first noted in The Ark In Space). The Doctor mentions villains with “Satanic beards” or “black ears”; the “Satanic beards” remark most likely refers to the Master in his early appearances, and the “black ears” may refer to the Cybermen, in which case some notable figures had black handles on their heads. (Credit to the Doctor Who Discontinuity Guide website for the notation about the Cybermen—I heard the line in the story, but would not have made that connection.)

Overall: A good story, perhaps not one of the best, but decent. After Doctor Who and the Pirates, this story seemed to flow very quickly. I’m glad this nonlinear format doesn’t become a staple of the series, but it’s a fun experiment.

Next time: We’ll get a rare (but not too rare) multi-Doctor story, when we join the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the next entry in the Forge story arc: Project: Lazarus! 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.

Creatures of Beauty

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Audio Drama Review: Seven to One

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re concluding our journey through 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, back at the beginning: We’re listening to the First Doctor’s contribution, Seven to One. I say it’s the First Doctor’s story, but truthfully it features the first seven Doctors; this story, uniquely, is spread out in eight parts across the entire collection, between the other stories. It’s a different experience, and I’m looking forward to it. The story was written by Simon Paul Miller, and read by Nicholas Briggs and William Russell. Let’s get started!

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

Part One:

The Seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves walking across a grey landscape under a grey sky—in fact, the realm is called Grey Space. The Doctor explains it was created by two entities, bound together, as a compromise between their desires for individual spaces, black and white. This place is their only achievement; they must work together, but never agree.

They see an RWR-Mark II android ahead, holding an energy rifle and guarding a grey door with a combination lock. It announces that the Doctor has seven chances to solve its test of intelligence—and if he fails, he will be removed from all space and time. If he succeeds, he will be freed to keep traveling. No further instructions are given. The Doctor knows the entities—which are speaking through the android—love games; on his previous visit here, he was able to use a Monopoly set to distract them while he slipped away in the TARDIS. They are not unaware; they brought him here this time without the TARDIS. But why is Ace here? At any rate, she suggests getting pass the door. The Doctor orders the android to shut down, using an unchanged default password; he then circles the grey door, which only comes up to his waist. He suspects it leads to another dimension. He manages to crack the lock, and confirms his suspicions—and tumbles through as if pushed.

Part Two:

The Sixth Doctor approaches the RWR android with Peri, and confronts it. He banters with it over military intelligence; then it announces that its purpose is to prevent anyone from opening the door. He manages to use logic to get the android to shut down, by convincing it the door is no longer a door, and therefore the android has no purpose any longer. He quickly unlocks the door and pulls it open, then looks inside—and falls in as if pushed.

Part Three:

The Fifth Doctor, accompanied by Nyssa, uses a fake Engineering Maintenance ID card to get the android to shut down, and then works the lock. He questions whether they should open the door; this test has been remarkably easy, after all. But Nyssa begs him to open it and get them out of here; and so he opens the door—and hurtles through as if pushed.

Part Four:

Romana looks over the android, which has been subdued with things from the Fourth Doctor’s pockets—his scarf, his jelly babies, other sweets. She reflects that it wasn’t very intelligent; but the Fourth Doctor says that as a soldier, it didn’t need to be. He uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, musing on how unintelligent the robot was; but Romana reminds him that its processor indicates it has already beaten three of his future incarnations. She wonders what is behind the door as he pushes it open. “Why conjecture,” he says, “when we can see the answer for ourselves—“ and then he cries out as he tumbles in.

Part Five:

Jo Grant is focused on the laser rifle—or antimatter particle rifle, as the Third Doctor points out. The android, meanwhile, is in marketing mode; it explains how it came by the rifle, and how much it costs. The Doctor tells it that Jo is in the market for high-grade weaponry herself, and asks to see the wide-beam setting in action. The robot asks where to shoot it; the Doctor suggests the ground. The beam creates a hole in the ground, which will continue for infinity, as the particles will go on forever. Jo insists she can see the bottom; when the robot leans in to check, the Doctor kicks it into the hole. Meanwhile the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the door; and then falls in with a cry, as if shoved.

Part Six:

Jamie admires the antimatter rifle as the Second Doctor admires the android’s impenetrable zamanite casing. The Doctor questions its impenetrability, and Jamie joins in. The Doctor persuades it to fire the rifle at itself; and of course its head is burned off by the antimatter. Perhaps the robot really isn’t very intelligent. The Doctor tells Jamie that the robot wasn’t wrong; zamanite was impenetrable by all known technology when the robot was created, but the antimatter rifle was invented later. Fortunately the robot wasn’t good with such concepts…but that’s of no consolation as the Doctor tumbles into the doorway with a yell.

Part Seven:

The First Doctor—the youngest in age, but oldest in appearance of all the Doctor’s incarnations—ponders the oddly simple combination lock as his granddaughter, Susan, looks on. He is more mystified by the fact that—according to the entities that own this place—six of his future incarnations have failed here. Susan suggests that he’s more clever than they, but that should not be the case, if they came after him. They should be older and wiser—and anyway, it takes no great intelligence to outwit the android. He had distracted it by giving it a piece of paper with “P.T.O.”—Please Turn Over—written on both sides. Susan wonders what’s on the other side of the door; the Doctor doesn’t know, though Susan suggests it might be the TARDIS. The Doctor asks her to not stand so close to him as he contemplates the door. He wonders if his future selves had any companions with them. He continues to unlock it while musing on the basics of sleight of hand—distraction and division of activities. When he opens the door, he quickly springs aside—and whatever was impersonating Susan tumbles through the doorway as it tries to push him.

Part Eight:

The First Doctor has passed the test; and so, in keeping their own rules, the entities restore the seven Doctors back to the places and times from which they were taken. The entity that had bet against the Doctor complains that seven chances were too many; but its opponent, the other entity, insists that the number of chances had been determined by the roll of the Monopoly dice. After centuries of arguing, their game of Monopoly can at last start…or maybe not, as they set to arguing over who gets to use the dog token.

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I’ve called a few entries—mainly those to which the Fifth Doctor has been subjected—silly. I thought about applying the same term here; but it’s not really accurate, and at any rate I liked this story. A better term would be “absurd”, or perhaps “surreal”. That makes sense, as we’re dealing with a created realm here, similar to the Land of Fiction (The Mind Robber, et al). It’s not the most serious story ever, but it’s enjoyable just the same.

This is a multi-Doctor story of sorts, but unlike most such stories, the incarnations don’t meet. That fact dictates the story’s structure, and in turn defines it as a First Doctor story; because the incarnations don’t meet, they will each retain their memories of this situation, and so it has to take place in a very particular order. The parts of the story take place in chronological order, but the Doctors are summoned in reverse order, from Seven to One (hence the title). Otherwise, each progressive incarnation would retain the full memory of what has gone before. In this way the entities in control of the situation hedge their bets; the Doctors become successively less well informed as the contest goes on.

And contest it is. The two entities—unnamed, but affiliated with the colors black and white (and presumably not to be confused with the Black and White Guardians)—who created this Grey Space in which the Doctors find themselves, have set a test before each Doctor. There is a door which must be opened, guarded by an android which must be overcome—and one other aspect of the test as well, which I won’t spoil here. Each Doctor completes the first two parts of the test, but fails the third; only the youngest and least informed, the First Doctor, manages to succeed. There’s no solid reason why that should be so; but it is executed in a way that seems very fitting for his character.

William Russell has the smaller part in this story; he narrates the First Doctor’s segments in parts seven and eight. As usual his impersonation of the First Doctor is spot on. Oddly, his usual character, Ian Chesterton, doesn’t appear here; it is Susan who accompanies the First Doctor. Nicholas Briggs reads the other parts in the story; of course it’s long been established that he is extremely versatile with his voices, and none of his Doctor or companion roles sound bad. Of particular note is his Fourth Doctor impersonation; for a moment I thought I was hearing Tom Baker. I haven’t had much occasion to hear him impersonate Tom; I had no idea he was that good at it.

The only real problem I have with the story is a logical one. Though great pains were taken to set the story up in a believable way, it would almost have been better if the Doctors had encountered one another, so that memories wouldn’t be preserved; because the various later incarnations should have retained the First Doctor’s memory of how he defeated the entities. This is complicated by the fact that their experiences here happen in reverse order; if, say, the Seventh Doctor had remembered, and subsequently won the contest, then the First Doctor’s encounter would never have happened, setting up a paradox. In short: Time travel is confusing as always.

But regardless, if we set aside that objection, it’s a fun story. And that’s where we’ll leave it. With that, this collection ends on a high note (or at least a decent one), and we’ll move on to Volume Four! After that, we move to a monthly series format of twelve releases a year (plus the occasional bonus release). See you there!

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

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Wet Walls

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 with Wet Walls, featuring the Fifth Doctor and Peri. Written by Mathilde Madden, this story is read by Peter Davison, and takes place during a sometimes-controversial series of Five/Peri audios set between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. Let’s get started!

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

Shropshire, 1903, and the rain is pouring down on an old manor house, when the TARDIS arrives. With Peri, the Doctor rings the doorbell; the woman who answers tries and fails to send them away. However, upon hearing that he is the Doctor, she mistakes him for a medical doctor, who has coincidentally been summoned; and she lets them in. She introduces herself as Gretchen, the housekeeper; and she leads them through the dilapidated house to the rooms of the lady of the manor, Lady Catherine. She explains that Lady Catherine is raving mad.

The bedroom is shuttered, lit by candles; Lady Catherine lies in bed—young, pretty, but in her own state of neglect. She is weary, but speaks to the Doctor of children—but there are no children present, and Lady Catherine has never had any. The woman continues babbling, and insists that the walls are wet, but only at night.

Gretchen insists that the walls are not actually wet, but the Doctor insists on staying overnight to investigate further. As the day turns to night, the rain stops—but the peace is broken by a scream from Peri’s room. Peri insists that the carpet and walls are wet—not just to sight, but to touch—but the Doctor cannot feel it. To him, everything is dry. The Doctor has her touch the liquid in the carpet and taste it; reluctantly she does, and realizes it is both warm and salty. They are interrupted by a scream from Catherine’s room; they find her in a state of panic over the wetness that only she—and now Peri—can see. Gretchen is also present, and scoffs; but the Doctor insists that it may not be a delusion after all. Meanwhile, Peri insists that the situation is worse in this room, with walls dripping and oozing—and there is a sound, like a heartbeat. Catherine is rocking in time with it; and, Peri insists, there is something under the bed. A red, pulsing pipe sticks out from under the bed, according to Peri. She insists it is some bloblike animal—perhaps a fetus of some sort.

The Doctor theorizes that some alien entity is using the house to gestate its young, with a zonal shift to keep it out of phase with the inhabitants, but not quite perfectly. Perhaps Peri and Catherine sense it because they are female—but then, Gretchen does not. One thing is clear, though: Catherine is at the focus of the phenomenon, and if it isn’t stopped, it will kill her. Working on a hunch, he suggests finding the creature’s father—and what better place to find an expectant father than pacing in the corridor outside?

They follow the pipe—now suspected to be an umbilical cord—into the garden. When Peri looks back at the house, she sees it covered with a membrane, and pulsing. Against her disgust, she follows the cord into some nearby bushes, and finds a small spaceship. The Doctor knocks, and it opens onto a jellylike alien inside an artificial exoskeleton. He demands an explanation. The creature tries to refuse, but the Doctor doesn’t let it withdraw. He explains to Peri that the creature is a citizen of a planet called Calopia; the Calopians are a single-sex race, ostensibly male, though they wouldn’t view it that way. They usually breed and gestate their young inside damp caverns; but why is this one here, on Earth? The creature reluctantly reveals it had no choice; it needed a copilot to fly its ship, and its first one died in an accident—it seems they stole this ship for a joyride, and crashed here. Its offspring will be mature enough to serve as a copilot in about three hours—but that’s little consolation for Catherine, who may be irretrievably insane by then!

They are interrupted by Gretchen, who is pointing a pistol at the Calopian. Before the Doctor can react, Gretchen shoots the Calopian. The Doctor snatches the gun and tosses it away—but then Peri says that the house…is hatching!

The Doctor scoops up the hatchling, and places it in the now-vacant pilot seat. Peri objects that even with its parent’s memories, it can’t fly the ship alone—but, a second creature emerges. Twins! And conveniently so, as the Doctor points out, placing the second creature in the ship.

Catherine stumbles out of the house and falls on Gretchen, asking if it is over. Gretchen’s words are lost…but it seems to be so. She escorts Catherine to the house, then returns to see the Doctor and Peri off. Peri asks why she and Catherine could see it when Gretchen couldn’t; and Gretchen admits, with some chagrin, that “she” is not a woman. “She” is secretly a man, a former footman in Catherine’s father’s household—and Catherine’s lover. They would never have been permitted to marry; and so, when Catherine inherited the manor, they adopted this ruse in order to quietly set up house together. Peri is stunned by this news; and before the situation can become any more awkward, the Doctor pulls her back to the TARDIS to depart.

Short Trips Volume 3 b

It’s beginning to seem as though the unlikely combination of body horror and silliness is uniquely the domain of the Fifth Doctor. First there was The Deep, his contribution to Short Trips, Volume 1, which saw the TARDIS turn into a whale (and nearly mate with the native whales!). Things got a little better with Sock Pig in Short Trips Volume 2, where we traded horror for sadness. Now, however, we’ve come full circle in Wet Walls. Here the Doctor finds that a manor house has been turned into an alien womb; but only Peri and the lady of the manor can see the proof. (Yes, that is a spoiler, but it’s almost unavoidable; I’ll keep the ending a secret.) Yes, it is exactly as bizarre and disgusting as it sounds.

I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the way this story—and The Deep before it—handle the Fifth Doctor. Certainly the Fifth Doctor is very different from his other incarnations; he’s famously self-effacing and sometimes passive, and it’s popularly claimed that the Sixth Doctor’s bombastic personality is a direct response to the Fifth Doctor—implying that even the Doctor doesn’t like the Fifth Doctor very much. Still, one almost gets the impression from these stories that the writers are punishing him for it, by placing him in the most unlikely, garish, and silly situations they can imagine. No other Doctor has gotten this treatment in this series (so far, anyway, but as they say, the night is young). Personally, I like the Fifth Doctor; he, more than any other, embodies the idea that there are more ways to solve a crisis than violence. I prefer to see him get a serious—or at least believable—story.

I do appreciate that Peter Davison conducts his own readings in these early volumes, as does Colin Baker. Most of the time, his performances are good; I’ve heard other commenters claim that he sounds different from his television appearances, but so far I disagree. One glaring fault with his performance here, however, is his portrayal of Peri. He goes out of his way to mimic her accent and intonation, but only manages to parody Nicola Bryant’s performances. It’s painful to listen to, and I’m glad Peri only gets a few lines here. It would be much better if he would just read the lines in his own voice and leave it to imagination. Peri also features in the next entry, with the Sixth Doctor; let’s see if Colin Baker can do it any better.

Overall: My least favorite entry in this volume so far. We’ll brush this one under the (wet) rug and move on.

Next time: We’ll join Peri and the Sixth Doctor in Murmurs of Earth! See you there.

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

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Nekromanteia

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

Nekromanteia 1

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

Part One

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Three

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

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

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

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

Part Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nekromanteia 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nekromanteia

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Novel Review: The Eight Doctors

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! It’s been awhile since we looked into the world of Doctor Who novels, but here we go again. I set out to review Vampire Science, the second of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, but then discovered to my embarrassment that I never covered the first. It’s been several months since I read it, so my observations may be less thorough than usual; but, without further ado, let’s get started on The Eight Doctors (1997), by Terrance Dicks!

Eight Doctors 1

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

Immediately after the events of Doctor Who (the 1996 television movie, which gave us the regeneration of the Seventh Doctor into the Eighth), the Doctor returns to his TARDIS. He finishes reading The Time Machine (begun during the movie), then checks the Eye of Harmony—where he falls victim to the Master’s final trip. It erases his memory, leaving him in possession of his name—“the Doctor”—and orders to trust the TARDIS…but nothing else.

The TARDIS lands on its own at 76 Totter’s Lane in London in 1997. He intercepts a teenager named Samantha “Sam” Jones, who is running from some drug dealers led by one Baz Bailey; Baz correctly thinks that Sam told the police about his activities. Baz intends to force Sam to take cocaine, causing an addiction that will both punish her and ensure her silence. The Doctor rescues her, but is then caught himself by the police, who believe he is the one dealing the cocaine (as he had it in hand when they arrived). Meanwhile, Sam escapes to school, but tells two of her teachers the story while explaining her tardiness; she takes them to the junkyard to prove her story. At the same time, Bailey and his gang attack the police station to attempt to recover the drugs (as their own suppliers will not be pleased with the loss). The Doctor escapes during the attack, and takes the cocaine back to the TARDIS for disposal…but as the ship dematerializes, Sam is left on her own to deal with Bailey.

Flying more or less on its own, the TARDIS lands on Earth in 100,000 BC. The Eighth Doctor meets the First, just as the First Doctor is about to kill a caveman. He stops his past self from this heinous act, and the two psychically link, restoring the Eighth Doctor’s memories up to this point in the First Doctor’s life. These events have occurred in a time bubble, which allows them to converse without being noticed by anyone; but the First Doctor tells the Eighth to go before the bubble bursts and damages the timeline. The Eighth Doctor takes off again in his TARDIS.

His next stop takes him to the events of The War Games. Here he lands in the vicinity of the survivors of the Roman Legions, and is captured and sent to the headquarters location at the center of the war zones. He meets the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, and Zoe Heriot. Another time bubble forms, allowing him to make psychic contact with his past self, and restores the next segment of his memories; then he advises the Second Doctor to contact the Time Lords for intervention in the War Lords’ plans. He departs again.

Returning to Earth in 1972, the TARDIS lands at UNIT HQ. The Third Doctor and Jo Grant, meanwhile, having just defeated the Sea-Devils, have tracked the Master back to his previous haunt of Devil’s End, where his TARDIS awaits. After a brief standoff with white witch Olive Hawthorne, the Master escapes in his TARDIS. The Third Doctor and Jo return to UNIT HQ, where they discover the Eighth Doctor. The Third Doctor shares a psychic link with his Eighth self, but not willingly; he blames his previous encounter with the Eighth Doctor, during his second incarnation, for the circumstances that led to his exile. The Eighth Doctor—whose memories are starting fill in the gaps as more segments are added—assures the Third Doctor that he will be released from exile, and will even end his life with a noble sacrifice one day. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Master, who attempts to kill the Third Doctor; but the two of them are able to overpower him and drive him off. In the process, the Third Doctor captures the Master’s tissue compression eliminator, and threatens his other self with it, stating he could demand the Eighth Doctor’s working TARDIS…but he relents and gives his other self the weapon, choosing to stay.

The TARDIS next takes the Eighth Doctor back to a time prior to the destruction of the Logopolitan CVEs, and into E-Space, where he meets his Fourth self on the planet of the Three Who Rule. The Doctor has just killed the great vampire, but a few lesser vampires remain…notably one Lord Zarn. He captures Romana and uses her to lure in the Fourth Doctor, intending to transform them into a new king and queen of the vampires. The Fourth Doctor rescues her, but is caught himself, and nearly drained of blood before the Eighth Doctor can find him. He provides an emergency blood transfusion as the local peasants arrive and finish off the vampires. With more memories intact, he departs.

Interlude: On Gallifrey, the Doctor’s timeline-crossing has not gone unnoticed. Flavia, who is currently president after the Sixth Doctor’s sham trial some years ago, refuses to execute the Doctor for this crime, but keeps him under observation. A political rival, Ryoth, grows angry at this decision, and surreptitiously contacts the Celestial Intervention Agency. They refuse to get involved, but offer to secretly support him; they give him access to the Time Scoop. He uses it to send the Raston Warrior Robot (still in the Death Zone after The Five Doctors) to the Eye of Orion, where the Fifth Doctor is trying to take a vacation with Tegan Jovanka and Vislor Turlough. However, the Eighth Doctor arrives, and the presence of identical brain patterns in two places confuses the robot, leaving it immobile. Ryoth then sends a Sontaran patrol to the planet. The patrol apprehends the Doctors, but they convince the leader, Vrag, to reactivate the robot. It immediately begins slaughtering the Sontarans. Quickly the Doctors put together a device to generate temporal feedback; Ryoth’s next target, a Drashig, is redirected into the Time Scoop chamber. It promptly eats both Ryoth and the Time Scoop, before being destroyed by the guards.

The Eighth Doctor then lands on the space station where the Sixth Doctor’s trial is just ending…in his execution. The resultant time bubble allows both Eight and Six to escape, but they realize something is wrong. This timeline, in which the Sixth Doctor was found guilty, is not the real one; it has been forced into existence by the Valeyard. Somewhere, the actual trial goes on. As that false timeline has been interrupted, this version of the Sixth Doctor will soon also vanish. They rush to Gallifrey, and speak with then-president Niroc. [I have to step out of character for a second here. Gallifreyan presidency rarely makes sense. Flavia became president at the end of Trial of a Time Lord, and then was forced to step down for political reasons; she was replaced by Niroc, and then later re-elected, bringing us to the point at which we met her earlier while monitoring the Doctor’s progress. Whew!] They force an inquiry into the legitimacy of the trial, and enlist former president Flavia to help. In so doing, they step into a brewing rebellion among the Shobogans in and around the capital. The Sixth Doctor finally vanishes during the inquiry. The inquiry exposes a conspiracy among the Valeyard, Niroc, and the Celestial Intervention Agency—with the Master thrown in just for chaos’ sake. As the rebellion erupts, the Sixth Doctor’s real timeline reasserts itself, and it is seen that he has defeated the Valeyard inside the Matrix. The Eighth Doctor visits Rassilon’s tomb and persuades Rassilon’s ghost to release Borusa from his imprisonment; he takes Borusa, who is now very much absolved of his previous crimes, to the Panopticon, where he quickly asserts control of the situation and leads the Time Lords and Shobogans to a peaceful solution.

With Gallifrey sorted for the moment, the Eighth Doctor heads off to locate his Seventh self. The Seventh Doctor has become depressed in the knowledge that his life will soon end (thanks to his experiences in Lungbarrow), and has retreated to Metebelis 3 for contemplation. There he is captured by one of the giant spiders, who remembers the Third Doctor’s destruction of the spider colony. He is rescued by the Eighth Doctor, and a final psychic link fully restores the Eighth Doctor’s memories. The Eighth Doctor’s sympathy overrides his good sense, and he warns his past self not to answer a call that will soon come from an old enemy (that is, the Master, who wants the Doctor to carry his remains home—failing to do so would change the Eighth Doctor’s timeline). However, the Seventh Doctor, having become encouraged, decides to go anyway.

Meanwhile, the Master, ever one to lay a trap, visits a tribe called the Morgs. He obtains from them a deathworm, which allows them to survive death, but at the cost of their bodies and forms. He uses the deathworm on himself, then travels to Skaro, where he will be executed.

The Eighth Doctor returns to Rassilon’s tomb, and implies that Rassilon guided his journey. Rassilon congratulates him, and confirms it; this adventure allowed some loose ends to be tied up, most notably the infamous Ravolox incident (as Ravolox, aka Earth, has now been put back in place). But one loose end remains…

The Doctor returns to the scrapyard in 1997, and quickly rescues Sam from Baz Bailey, handing both Bax and the cocaine over to the police. Just as he prepares to leave, Sam leaps into the TARDIS. He doesn’t want to take her at first, but she insists on at least one trip to see the Universe. He tells her his name is Doctor John Smith; she points out that with names like Smith and Jones, they are perfect pair.

Eight Doctors 2

There’s a distinct difference between a good novel and an entertaining one, and few Doctor Who stories illustrate that as well as this one. The novel is almost one hundred percent fan service (and not in the sexual sense; in the sense of things that fans routinely want, such as past-doctor appearances). I love that kind of thing as much as the next person (and probably considerably more); but even I have to admit that this story serves as a cautionary tale about why such things are only good in moderation. I’ll say ahead of time that the book was a lot of fun to read; it has that going for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that—if you’re not reading for enjoyment, why are you reading? Now, with that said, let’s tear it apart.

Since this book is almost completely composed of continuity references, I won’t be able to list them all in a neat paragraph as I usually do. We’ll look at them from the perspective of the problems they cause, and other references will be scattered throughout. The book tries to serve as a bridge between the television movie (which left the Doctor with a blank slate and no companions) and the rest of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels—which, let’s not forget, were the only major Eighth Doctor stories for a long time. (I know there have been comics, but I’m not sure how they fit into the publication timeline.)

The book plays havoc with Gallifreyan presidential succession. It tries to salvage the notable character of Flavia from the end of The Five Doctors; that’s admirable enough, as Flavia is an interesting character with potential. However, it casts her as president, then promptly throws the succession into confusion with President Niroc, who is stated to be president during Trial of a Time Lord. It explains the proper succession, but the explanation is elaborate enough for its own bout of confusion. None of this, of course, deals with the fact that Lungbarrow–to which this book clearly refers—establishes that Romana should be president at this point in the Eighth Doctor’s life. (There’s a very short time between the end of Lungbarrow and the television movie, and this novel proceeds immediately thereafter; it’s unlikely that Romana was deposed and Flavia elected during that time. The events of Flavia’s term seen here could take place before the Eighth Doctor’s timeline; but then why, when monitoring him, does Flavia treat his Eighth incarnation as the current one? It’s never addressed.) This also contradicts a previous novel, Blood Harvest, which was also written by Terrance Dicks. It’s partially explained away by Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum in Unnatural History, where they explain that Rassilon has made improvements to the patterns of history…but it’s Lungbarrow that gets undone, not The Eight Doctors. (And what a pity! Lungbarrow is a much better novel.) Yet more layers of contradiction take place in The Shadows of Avalon and The Ancestor Cell (which I haven’t read yet, so bear with me).

There are lesser contradictions to other stories as well. Sam Jones mentions “silver monsters” having been seen once in Foreman’s Yard; this is a reference to Remembrance of the Daleks, but the Cybermen didn’t actually appear there in that story. The Eighth Doctor, when meeting the Brigadier with the Third Doctor, doesn’t realize he’s been promoted up from Colonel (post-The Web of Fear). However, even the Second Doctor should have known that, as he met him at the rank of Brigadier in The Invasion; therefore the Eighth Doctor should know, having already acquired the Second’s memories. The VNA Blood Harvest states that Borusa was still imprisoned in the Seventh Doctor’s time; to be fair, it also implies he may return to imprisonment voluntarily after a short freedom. The method of “vampirization” (for lack of a better word) seen during the Fourth Doctor’s scenes here contradicts other versions, including Blood Harvest, Goth Opera, and the soon-to-arrive Vampire Science; however, most of those stories are careful to observe that different versions of vampires may reproduce in different ways.

The largest issue I have with this story is that it is the novel equivalent of a clip show. A clip show (and I don’t know if the term is common in the UK as it is in America) is a late-series episode composed mostly of flashbacks and clips from past stories. It’s meant to provide a cheap, easy, filler episode, while bringing later viewers up to date. I understand why the EDA line would begin with such a story; Doctor Who was at a fragile point, having just finished up the VNA line, and just coming off a failed television movie. I imagine there was a perception of not having much to work with, and therefore any effort to tie this new series to the Classic Series in its heyday would have seemed like a no-brainer. One must establish that yes, this is the Doctor, and we will be going forward with him in this incarnation; but he is the same Doctor he’s always been. The problem is, clip shows don’t make good stories; and this one meanders from place to place. It dabbles in the First Doctor’s story, while diving deep into the Sixth; this kind of variation is everywhere throughout the book, and so it feels very uneven and unpredictable. It may have been the only way to begin the novel line, but it was not a good way.

With far too many continuity references to list, I’ll stop there, and just refer you to the TARDIS wiki for more information. Instead, let’s take a glance at our newest companion: Samantha “Sam” Jones. I am aware that there’s far more to Sam than meets the eye, with some interference in her history and timeline yet to be revealed; but none of that is apparent yet. She’s very much a television version of a 1990s teenager: bright, almost manic, witty, high-energy, and highly involved. I was reminded instantly of Lucie Miller from the Eighth Doctor Adventures audios, and having already read the next book, I’m convinced that Lucie’s character is directly inspired by Sam’s; the two could practically be twins. Sam is very much a character, though; she’s not very realistic, but she’s very well written. She’s exactly how I imagine an older adult writing the character of a teenager in the 1990s—and of course, that’s exactly what she is. Terrance Dicks is a fine author, but he’s no teenager, and there’s a little bit of “uncanny valley” when looking at Sam…she’s almost, but not quite, normal. Add in the scenes with the cocaine and drug dealers, and the sense of being a little disconnected with the 90s—but still familiar with its pop culture—deepens.

As for the Doctor, we don’t yet know what kind of man he will be. He’s certainly high-energy, but beyond that, he’s still a blank slate. He spends most of this book playing off of the characterization of his other incarnations, which is something that Terrance Dicks nails (and he should, by now, with the stacks of books he’s written). It’s been mentioned that you have to ask which Eighth Doctor you’re dealing with in any given story; the answer here is, “we don’t know”. I’ll report back as I finish more of the series.

None of this makes the book a bad read, and it’s worthwhile at least for introducing Sam’s character, although one should keep in mind that Sam’s involvement is only the frame to the rest of the story. When we meet her again, she will have been traveling with the Doctor for an undisclosed time, and he will also have had some independent travel in the middle of her time with him. While I can’t completely recommend the book, the completionist in me says that you should read it; but feel free to skip it if your tolerance for weak storytelling is low.

Next time: We’ll continue our Short Trips audios, and we’ll look at the next book in the Eighth Doctor Adventures: Vampire Science! See you there.

The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print; however you may find them at various used booksellers.

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Audio Drama Review: Sock Pig

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’ve reached the Fifth Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume 2 collection, titled Sock Pig. Written by Sharon Cobb and Iain Keiller, this story is read by Peter Davison, and features the Fifth Doctor without his companions. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 2

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

An unnamed woman brushes her teeth and returns to her bedroom, where she finds her homemade plush animal, “Sock Pig”, in the wrong place on the bed. The animal has sentimental value, as she made it for her deceased son Ralph, but still, it shouldn’t be in that spot; when she moves it, she notices that it is warm. She muses a bit on her depression after the death of her son, though she doesn’t call it depression. She sees a flash of movement out the window, but then is distracted again by the doorbell—probably her mother; no one else calls on her.

Her mother, impressive as always, enters, delivering meals in tupperware and lightly chastising the woman about moving on, cleaning, eating…the usual. It’s more than the woman can take, and she urges her mother back out the door as quickly as she can.

It’s silent, and then she hears a tapping from the cloakroom.

Inside, she finds a wooden horse, misplaced from the mantle; and it is *galloping around the room, and neighing! Unable to process this oddity, she closes the door on it, and goes to put the kettle on. The doorbells sounds again; preparing to send her mother away again, she opens it.

It is not her mother. Instead, it is a strange young man with blonde hair, a cricket outfit, and…celery? An odd choice for an accessory, but she gets past it. He greets her, and informs her that he is the Doctor, and oh, by the way, she has an Animus Rip in her garden. Cruising on her confusion, he barges in, and heads for the back garden, pausing only to ask for a cup of tea.

She catches him rummaging in the shrubbery, and he babbles on about something called the Anima, which are apparently hard to catch. He produces a strange electronic device, which wheezes like a donkey. She finally collects herself and confronts him, but the relevant burst of energy doesn’t last, and finally she leaves the Doctor alone in the garden, and returns upstairs.

Upstairs, she pushes back tears. As she enters her room, she nudges Sock Pig—and it scurries under the bed! As she gets down on the floor to check, it looks at her, blinks, and waves. Then it runs at her, over her back, and onto the landing—and vanishes. She hears the airing cupboard creak, but she can’t get it open.

She hears a commotion downstairs. The Doctor is inside. She tells Sock Pig to keep quiet, and finds the madman racing around with his device. She asks him to leave, but he is on the trail of the rip. He tries to explain why he must finish, but falters over the technobabble. He realizes she is not afraid, not really; and she begs him not to kill the nice things—the moving items. He gently explains that he has to close the rift, because it is growing; it seems to have been triggered by some terrible event in the house. She thinks of Ralph.

They are interrupted by the toaster as it races around his feet and out into the hallway. He warns her that anything in the house could come to life. She is okay with that; the items are funny to her. He explains that Anima create life, then feed on the resulting energy. And this one seems to be jumping to new objects. Unfortunately, it’s a spiraling process, ever increasing, until it can even animate the whole house, or every house. They track the Anima upstairs.

He plans to simply stun the Anima, allowing it to be pulled back through the rip and into the Vortex. She wants to know if it hurts, but he doesn’t answer. He wrenches the airing cupboard open—and Sock Pig attacks, knocking the Doctor out.

Sock Pig cowers in the corner, then leaps into her arm. Suddenly, she comes to terms with the idea, and decides that she loves it as much as it loves her—and that she will fix the situation. She shoves Sock Pig into her pocket, and runs. She begins quickly collecting all the moving items—which aren’t moving at the moment—and moving them into the upstairs bathroom. If she can collect enough, perhaps the Doctor—when he awakens—will overlook Sock Pig. The Doctor catches up with her as she collects the garden gnome.

In the bathroom, he sets up a circle of mirrors, and pulls out the sonic screwdriver. The combination will send the Anima back, and close the rip…but he hasn’t forgotten the pig. He takes Sock Pig, and places it in the center. When he activates the sonic, the pig starts screaming…but he assures her that he must, or else people will be eventually die.

Energy jumps around the items. The seconds count away. At last, Sock Pig falls silent…and the woman weeps. He at least has the decency to look guilty. He hands her the Sock Pig, and she asks him to leave.

As he leaves, he says something about a harmless sliver of residual energy…and asks about Ralph, as he noticed the boy’s room. He says, almost apologetically, that the sliver of energy will last about sixty months…grief, hopefully, will lighten sooner than that. And as he leaves, she notices the Sock Pig is still moving. Smiling, she puts the pig to bed, and sings it to sleep. Later, after she and the animal have both slept, she sits down to make some lists, and some plans, and then they go for a walk. Life hasn’t ended after all.

Short Trips Volume 2 1

As far as runtime is concerned, this story is right in the middle of the collection at sixteen minutes and thirty-eight seconds; but there’s a lot of activity crammed into that short span. It’s a fast-paced story, full of the kind of frenetic activity that we only sometimes get to see with the usually-staid Fifth Doctor. We open on a woman who is clearly suffering from grief and depression, though the term “depression” isn’t used; at some point not long before this story, she has lost her son, Ralph. (This story seems to leave much implied; he is nowhere stated to have been her son, or she his mother, but their relationship is clear. She seems to have been raising him alone, as well. Her name, and that of her own mother, are never given.) The title comes from a homemade toy which she made for Ralph, and now treasures in his memory. That toy, and many other household items, come to life at the hands of an invisible force called the Anima, which invades from the Time Vortex through an Animus Rip. However, it’s not a malicious invasion, and it’s never clear whether the Anima are even intelligent. They simply want to feed and grow; but in so doing, they’re dangerous to humanity. The Doctor doesn’t want to kill them; he simply wants to send them home, and close the rip. Needless to say, his unwilling hostess doesn’t take the news very well. I won’t get into the ending here, but suffice to say it is a happy one.

The topic of depression and grief is a little personal for me. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had personal, familial experience with both, especially in the context of losing a child. It’s been long enough that listening to this story was not an emotional landmine as such, but I feel a great deal of empathy for the woman in the story. It’s encouraging to see that by the end, she’s found what she needs to begin to overcome the grief. In real life, it isn’t always so simple; but there is always hope, even if we don’t feel it.

Continuity References: We actually have a few! The wiki draws a connection with the animate scarecrows in The Family of Blood; while the source of their animation is different, the mechanism may be the same. The Fifth Doctor still has his sonic screwdriver, placing this story before The Visitation; also, the circle-of-mirrors device is most likely based on the one used against the Mara in Kinda, likely placing this story after that. The wiki also states that the writers meant to imply that the Doctor sometimes goes out at night (or, well, at TARDIS’s night) while his companions sleep, and has adventures of his own; we see this sometimes in non-televised media, notably in Timewyrm: Exodus. The Anima should not be confused with the Animus from The Web Planet. Also, though this isn’t a continuity reference, this story is read entirely in the present tense rather than the usual past-tense or mix of tenses.

Overall: a poignant story, but with a happy ending. I had my concerns when I saw the title; I was beginning to think the Fifth Doctor’s contributions would all be as silly as The Deep from Volume I. Still, it turned out well in the end.

Next time: we’ll cover the shortest entry with the Sixth Doctor in The Doctor’s Coat! 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.

Short Trips Volume 2

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