Audio Drama Review: Masquerade

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

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

And with that, let’s get started!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio Drama Review: The Toy

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today I’m starting a new range of audios–or rather, new to me: Big Finish’s “Short Trips Rarities” range. This limited range consists of stories that were previously subscriber-exclusive bonuses, but have now been released for individual sale. (They are also still available as subscriber bonuses, as well—but don’t think subscribing is no longer worth your while! These releases only constitute about half of the subscriber Short Trips; the rest must be obtained via subscription bonus.)

Like all of Big Finish’s Short Trip audios, these entries are audiobooks rather than full cast audio dramas; they are usually read by a supporting cast member rather than the relevant Doctor actor. They’re also, as the title suggests, short, usually about a half hour long. Currently there are fifteen stories in the range, broken into three “seasons” of five each; however there is no direct connection between stories, and they range over various Doctors and companions without much organization. As a consequence, I can just drop in as I see fit, and you, readers, don’t have to worry about catching every post.

We’ll start at the beginning, though, and that is October 2015’s The Toy. Written by Nigel Fairs, and read by Sarah Sutton, this story focuses on the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric, with cameos from the first four classic Doctors as well as Susan. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this story! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip down to the line divider. However, some spoilers are inevitable in the discussion below. Read on at your own risk!

Nyssa of Traken is determined to lock away her memories of her lost home—but in her dreams, they return unbidden.

Nyssa finds herself dreaming of her childhood on Traken, and the scent of a much-loved flower, and a forbidden archway. The dream turns dark when she sees, and is chased by, the burned and ravaged face of the man who stole her father’s body—the Master. It’s not the first time, but it’s never been so strong; and this time, the memory is fresh when she awakens. She tries to tell the Doctor and her friends about it, but finds them arguing, and so she heads deeper into the TARDIS, looking for a place to think. She is surprised when she finds the doorway from her dream inside the TARDIS—and even more so when she hears a voice from behind it. The sign on the door says not to enter, but she disregards it, and steps inside.

Inside, she finds a number of old but wonderful things. She is drawn to a small chest containing a  brilliant red jewel; and from that jewel she hears voices, calling her by name, asking to be her friend. When she touches it, she is carried away, and finds herself on a planet of red soil and orange sky, with an old man who calls her “Susan”…a man she knows as Grandfather. They visit a great domed city called Arcadia, the man showing her around. She is confused, at first certain she is not this Susan, but soon becoming unsure. Another man appears, his face changing its age, sometimes even resembling her father—if she really even remembers her father?. The man speaks smooth, comforting words to her, offering her a way out of her troubles, if only she will help him, and tell him where she is.

She is about to do as he asks, but the first man speaks up and begs her not to do it. He has changed now, and continues to change—first becoming a younger, shorter, dark-haired man, then a tall white-haired man—but all the while his kind eyes remain unchanged. At last he turns into a face she knows, the face of the Doctor as she knew him before, at Traken and Logopolis. Finally he becomes the Doctor she knows—and he reveals that the other man is none other than the Master. Nyssa fights with the Master, trying to get away, taking injuries in the process…

She struggles awake, finding herself on the floor of the room beyond the archway. The Doctor is there, with Tegan and Adric. At first the Doctor is angry at her for being taken in by the Master’s ruse, but Tegan and Adric talk him down, and tell Nyssa how he went running to find her so quickly that they could barely keep up. Finally the Doctor explains that the jewel is a toy given to his granddaughter—Nyssa knows her name without being told—by an old family friend. It is a node in a telepathic communication network that transcends both time and space. Susan, he says, once become addicted to its use, and he was forced to lock it up for her safety. Nyssa asks if the family friend was the Master, and the Doctor reluctantly admits it was so. She asks if he could still be alive after their last encounter with him; he admits that the Master has a way of surviving the impossible—but, he insists, the Master she contacted via the jewel was a past version, from many years ago. It is very fortunate that she didn’t tell him where to find them; for no good could come of the Master having knowledge of his—and the Doctor’s—own future. And with that, he puts the “Do Not Enter” sign on the door, and leads the way back to the console room.


The Toy is a story that wants to be several things. It wants to be a multi-Doctor story, for one. It’s never confirmed that any of what Nyssa sees in the visions she receives in this story is real; so it’s unclear whether she really met the various past Doctors in any sense. (As an aside, I should mention that the wiki for this story says that the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors also appear; but that doesn’t fit the plot, isn’t mentioned in the wiki’s plot summary, and I don’t remember it, so I’m going to call that an error until proven otherwise. For this release, I don’t have the script—I bought my copy separately rather than as a subscription bonus—and confirming would require more time than I have at the moment.)

The story wants to be a cautionary tale as well. Near the end, when the Doctor describes how addictive the red jewel—the titular “toy”—can be for anyone with a degree of psychic talent, Adric compares it to “The Facebook”, a computer program alleged to have been banned in the 21st century for “turning people into mindless, incommunicative zombies”. But the story doesn’t commit to that take; it’s very much tacked on at the end, with no foreshadowing. It’s actually the one thing I didn’t like about this story, not because I have any particularly strong feelings about Facebook—I don’t—but because it’s shoehorned in so awkwardly.

What the story is, is a character study for Nyssa, albeit a brief one. Now, I will admit that I have many stories with Nyssa still to go, and so my information is incomplete; but until now, it’s been my impression that writers have largely avoided dealing with Nyssa’s feelings about her lost home, Traken. And that’s understandable; Nyssa is much more useful, in a dramatic sense, as a counterpoint to Tegan (who later goes on to be the same for Turlough); and as a counterpart to the Doctor, filling the role that Romana left open. And there are plenty of great stories to be told from those angles. But The Toy takes a direct look into Nyssa’s feelings for her lost world and her family, and it’s haunting.

This phenomenon of leaving Traken undiscussed is even acknowledged in the story. Nyssa comments at one point in the opening that for once, she’s going to avoid the Doctor, Tegan, and Adric, and sit out the day’s adventures, and avoid the battles to be fought, and just find a quiet place to sit and think about Traken. And she should; trauma like hers can haunt a person forever. It’s a wonder she carries on as well as she does.

Of course, the Master—the villain of this piece—can never leave well enough alone, and he turns her memories against her. It’s a crime of opportunity; this is not our Master, the one we last saw in Castrovalva, but rather, an earlier version. It’s not confirmed just how much earlier, but it’s hinted that it may be the Master from a time just after the Doctor and Susan fled Gallifrey. As a result, he doesn’t even know who Nyssa is; and as she has been overtaken by the echo of Susan’s identity, he at first thinks it is Susan. But his interference gives Nyssa something unique: A glimpse into the past of the Doctor, the Master, and Susan, and a suggestion that the Doctor, too, has known the loss of people he loves. The Doctor even suggests that the Master may feel the loss as well; he says that the Master perhaps couldn’t bear the thought of a universe without the Doctor to cross swords with, and may have left Gallifrey for that reason. (There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for you—they’ll literally cross swords soon enough, in The King’s Demons!)

In the end, it works out well enough for everyone—no great harm done here. Nyssa and the Doctor each come away with a little more insight, so we’ll call this one a win. (Tegan, ever the counterpoint, comes away with a hint of jealousy toward Nyssa; when Nyssa comes up with Susan’s name before the Doctor can say it, Tegan thinks that perhaps it’s another thing he’s told Nyssa without telling the rest of them. Can’t win them all, I suppose.)

Continuity references: A pleasantly higher number than I expected from a Short Trip! Aside from non-story-specific references to past Doctors, it’s mostly references to other Fifth Doctor stories. Nyssa sees the Melkur in her dreams, as well as her parents and the decayed Master (The Keeper of Traken–as if there was any doubt that this one would be mentioned). She mentions the destruction of Traken (Logopolis). Her vision of the other Doctors takes her to Arcadia on Gallifrey (The Last DayMistfall, et al). She sees snow on Gallifrey (Gridlock), and members of the Prydonian Chapter (The Deadly Assassin, et al). She mentions Tegan’s bad dreams and possession by the Mara (Kinda). She sees a future snake-like version of the Master (TV movie). Susan’s psychic powers are mentioned (The Sensorites).

Overall: Not a bad start to this range! Almost, but not quite, a bottle episode, it’s still a cozy story with many references to old familiar territory. You can do worse for a Short Trip. Check it out if you get a chance.

Next time: The next entry in this range is Museum Peace, an Eighth Doctor story with strong ties to the Dalek Empire range. We haven’t covered that range yet (it’s on the list!) but we’ll do our best! Also, after much pandemic-related delay, I hope to get back to the Monthly Range soon as well, with The Wormery. See you there!

The Toy and other stories in the Short Trips Rarities range are available for purchase from Big Finish Productions. Its purchase page is available here. You can read the TARDIS wiki’s entry for The Toy here.

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Audio Drama Review: Moonflesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moonflesh

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Doctor Who Unbound: Zero Sum

No review today–here is some original fiction instead.

“Unbound” is a term coined by Big Finish Productions, the creators of many Doctor Who audio dramas. It refers to stories in alternate universes, where something happened differently–and then, what happens next? An Unbound story in Doctor Who terms is equivalent to Marvel’s “What If…?” stories, or Dark Horse Comics’ “Star Wars: Infinities” comics (for the oldtimers like me in the crowd).

I wrote this story a few years ago for a charity anthology of Unbound stories, but that didn’t pan out for me, so I’m posting it here. Zero Sum asks the question, “What if the Fifth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver hadn’t been destroyed?” Sometimes it only takes a small event to change a life. I hope you’ll like it.

Several Classic era stories are referenced here, and familiarity with them will help, but is not required; those stories include Logopolis, The Visitation, Castrovalva, Earthshock, Mawdryn Undead, and the six stories in the “Key to Time” arc: The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor.

This story has also been posted to my writing blog, Timewalkerauthor, and to Reddit’s new community, /r/WhovianFanfiction (come out and contribute!).


London, September 1666

One could be locked in a lot of cells in five lifetimes. The Time Lord called the Doctor knew it firsthand; he’d been locked up more times than he could count. This one, located in a particularly grimy cellar, was not one of the better cells he’d experienced, but it was hardly a time to be choosy. If only he wasn’t wearing manacles…

He fumbled in one of his voluminous coat pockets, searching for something to help his predicament. The sonic screwdriver? No, not at the moment—but it tumbled to the floor as he searched. “Oh, for a proper key!” Still, he couldn’t afford to be without it; and he quickly knelt and scooped it up, transferring it to the other pocket before resuming his search. He was still searching when the Terileptil leader entered the room and ordered him to remain still.


Earth Orbit, circa 65,000,000 BC

“Please hurry, Doctor,” Nyssa shouted. “We must get Adric off the freighter!”

“The console’s damaged,” the Doctor replied. “Working on it, though!” He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his coat pocket and leaned into the fissure in the console. “Ahh!” he yelled, shaking his hand as sparks flew.

“There’s not enough time!” Tegan said.

“There will be!” The buzz of the screwdriver came from inside the gap between console and time rotor. “Nyssa, set the coordinates, quickly! Tegan, grab—“ “ —This?!” Tegan shouted, and brushed past the Doctor, cyber-gun in hand. The Doctor managed a quick glance toward the inner doors, where the final Cyberman aboard was staggering in, just in time to see Tegan dispatch it with the weapon. She threw the gun down before stumbling back toward the console, but there was a look of triumph on her face.

“Coordinates in!” Nyssa said. No sooner had she spoken than the Doctor shoved her out of the way and threw the dematerialisation switch.


In the vortex, Time is everywhere and nowhere, and as a consequence it means very nearly nothing. Before the TARDIS could materialize at its destination, the Doctor slapped a control, bringing the time rotor to a halt, leaving the ship hanging in the vortex. He let out a sigh of relief, and took a moment to look over his companions. “Is everyone alright?” He helped Nyssa to her feet from where she had fallen, murmuring an apology; then he gave Tegan a cursory examination. Satisfied that no one was injured, he turned back to the console. “We successfully removed ourselves from events before the, well, the inevitable conclusion,” he said, “and as a result we’ve bought ourselves some time.”

“But what about Adric?” Tegan said. “That freighter will have crashed by now!”

“Yes, I’m quite sure it has,” he said, “for someone, somewhen. But for us, it has yet to happen, until we emerge from the vortex again. We can’t go back and change anything we’ve already experienced, but we can try to land at just the right place and time to change what we haven’t.”

Tegan frowned, not grasping it yet; Nyssa stepped in to explain. “He’s saying that we can’t, say, go back to twenty minutes before we left and prevent Adric from staying on the freighter, because we’ve already seen it happen. For us, it’s set in stone. But we can land on the freighter in the same minute in which we dematerialised, and rescue him off it, because for us, his fate isn’t sealed yet.”

“Correct,” the Doctor said. “And the spatial coordinates you laid in are correct, or close enough; but to land with that type of temporal precision, I’ll need to finish these repairs. I don’t dare try it with this much damage.” He glanced down at his sonic screwdriver. “I’ve no idea what I would do without this thing.” Looking up, he gestured at a nearby roundel. “Tegan, there is a toolkit in that storage bin, if you wouldn’t mind; and Nyssa, I could use your help.”


Adric leaped back as the console before him exploded, then turned to see the last Cyberman on the freighter collapse to the deck. He sighed, and turned back to the monitor. “Now I’ll never know if I was right.”

He tore his eyes away from the screen as, behind him, a wheezing, groaning sound filled the air. As the TARDIS materialised with its familiar thump, he was already moving; Tegan met him at the door, slamming it behind him. Seconds later, the freighter, minus one TARDIS, exploded.


Earth Orbit, circa 1983

It still baffled Adric that there could be two of this old soldier-turned-schoolteacher, the Brigadier; but there was no question that it was true. And at the moment, it was all that he and the strange (and apparently non-human) schoolboy, Vislor Turlough, could do to hold this younger version back. “I say, let go of me!” the Brigadier said. “Didn’t you hear that?” Showing surprising strength for his age, he shoved Adric off of his right arm; then he twisted and got a lock on Turlough’s wrist, and sent him rolling across the deck of the starship. Before they could recover, he hurried through the nearby laboratory door.

Adric and Turlough cleared the threshold just in time to see the younger Brigadier and his older counterpart raise their hands, and touch. A blinding flash of light and force sent them flying.


Some time later

The lights of the console room were low; even a time capsule sometimes must bow to the needs of its inhabitants, and maintain some form of day and night. Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough were elsewhere, presumably asleep in their quarters, when Adric entered the room. The Doctor sat in an old, oak chair near the entrance door, one piece of the odd collection of furniture which seemed to appear and disappear in the room at the Doctor’s whim. He was deep in a thick, leatherbound book, but set it aside when Adric arrived. “You’re up late, Adric. What can I do for you?”

Adric seemed hesitant to speak; he glanced around at the room before leaning against the console. “You don’t sleep much yourself, Doctor.”

“Oh, here and there, when I need to, but sometimes I forget when that is,” the Doctor said. “But I don’t think you came to ask me about my sleeping habits.”

“Right to the point, eh?” Adric took another look around, and then nodded. “Alright then. I suppose that’s just as well.” He paused. “Doctor, I haven’t brought it up lately, but…I still want to go home. You know… to Terradon, or… or wherever my people landed. In E-Space.”

He expected the Doctor to shut him down, but to his surprise, the Doctor only nodded, looking thoughtful. “You’ve given more thought to how to make it happen, I suppose.” The charged vacuum emboitment, or CVE, which led to E-Space had been destroyed with most of the others at the Master’s destruction of Logopolis. The memory was always fresh in the Doctor’s mind; fully a third of the universe, including Nyssa’s home in the Traken Union, had fallen to runaway entropy at that time. No mass murderer in the history of the universe could hold a candle to his old friend-turned-enemy the Master now. Regardless, E-Space was closed; perhaps the Time Lords could create a route to the minor universe, but the Doctor was in no position to ask them.

Adric grew more confident at once; he had prepared for this. “It’s a matter of mathematics,” he said. The calculations… well, they aren’t easy, but… but, they’re just numbers! It can be done. And I’m close! I know I am!”

The Doctor nodded again, thinking. When he spoke, it seemed to be a new topic. “Adric, why do you want to leave the TARDIS?”

Had he said it with any kind of hurt, or pleading, or anger, or resentment, Adric might have bristled. Instead, the question held only one feeling: honest curiosity. The Doctor, it seemed, really wanted to know the answer—and now Adric paused, wondering if he himself knew the answer. “Because… well… it’s getting a little crowded here, isn’t it?” His meaning was clear; but again, the Doctor only nodded, and waited. Finally Adric looked away. “I don’t really belong here anymore.”

“Adric,” the Doctor said, “you’ll always have a place here, as long as you want it.”

“But it’s not the same, is it?” The sudden outburst seemed to startle even Adric, but he kept on. “When I first came aboard, it was you and me and Romana and K9, and you were…”

“—Different,” the Doctor completed. “I may have been a different man, but I haven’t forgotten him. Go on.”

“Alright,” Adric said, “you were different. And you’re a genius, and so was Romana, and of course K-9, when I was the only one I’d ever known. And suddenly I had so much to learn, and it was… it was…” He faltered.

A moment passed, and then the Doctor saw it. “Adric… we were like a family to you, weren’t we? Romana and I, you saw us as, sort of, your—“

“I never really knew my real parents,” Adric interjected. “Not well, anyway. So, yes, I guess… anyway. And then Romana stayed behind, and K9 went with her, and then you… changed…”

“I see where this is going, I think,” the Doctor said. “It was at the same time that Tegan joined us, and Nyssa—and now we’ve added Turlough to the mix. I suppose it is getting a bit crowded.” He stood up, and stepped over to the console, then put a hand on Adric’s shoulder. “Adric, you will always have a place here. I told you that, and I meant it. And, though you may not see it now, Tegan and Nyssa both care for you very much. You weren’t here to see their reaction when we nearly lost you, but they would have made you quite proud, I think. Turlough… well, he has a lot of growing to do.” He frowned for a moment, then went on. “But, regardless, I want you to choose a path that will make you happy. If you are happy here, so be it—but I won’t try to compel you to be happy here. If your happiness means going back to E-Space, then I will do whatever is in my power to take you there.” He met Adric’s eyes, and the boy managed a smile. “Now, what do you need to finish your calculations?”

Adric had the answer ready. “I want to go back to Logopolis.”


“But Doctor,” Tegan objected, “Logopolis was destroyed! Along with—“ She faltered, and glanced at Nyssa.

“Oh, go ahead and say it,” Nyssa said. “Along with Traken. It hurts, of course, but there’s no dancing around it. And, Doctor, she’s right! How can we go back there when it doesn’t exist anymore?”

“Well, to be perfectly correct, she’s wrong,” the Doctor said. He worked his way around the console as he spoke, not meeting anyone’s eyes, instead checking settings and flipping switches. He was in a state of excitement—any challenge always had that effect on him—but one could tell he was anxious about their reactions as well. “Logopolis, the planet, still exists. The city, and the people, ceased to exist due to the increasing entropy as the Master closed the CVEs. But, when the mass inrush of entropy took place, it was directed outward from Logopolis onto the rest of the universe.”

“Okay,” a new voice said, “so what?” Turlough had kept silent during most of the Doctor’s revelation of his plan to return to Logopolis, but now he spoke up. “If that’s true, then going there won’t accomplish anything. And if I understand this correctly, then we can’t go back to when the Logopolitans were still alive, because we—well, the four of you anyway—have already been there. We can’t change events.”

“Very good, Turlough,” the Doctor said. “And you are correct. Violations of the first Law of Time tend to create dire circumstances, paradoxes. We can’t risk it. But!” He made a final adjustment and then stopped, resting his hands on the console. “There is a way around it. Honestly, it’s so simple, I’m surprised you haven’t seen it already.” He glanced at Adric, who waited against the wall. “Do you want to explain it?”

For his part, Adric was subdued; but there was excitement in his eyes. “We go back to an earlier time, before our first visit to Logopolis. Probably several years earlier, at least.”

“Exactly!” the Doctor interjected. “We want the Logopolitans at the height of their powers, but before any hint of their upcoming… well, their demise.” That thought seemed to bring him back to reality a bit, and he looked at them soberly. “But they absolutely must not be told what is coming. I don’t need to tell any of you how knowing the hour and the manner of your own death could be a problem. Don’t you think it would be easy for me to find that out, using the TARDIS? But I shield you from that knowledge, because no one should have it. Not even me. Now, extrapolate that notion to the Logopolitans. Their deaths had an enormous impact on the universe. What would happen if they knew enough to prevent it?” At that last, his gaze lingered on Nyssa’s face.

Nyssa caught his expression. “Don’t worry, Doctor. As much as I would give anything to bring back Traken, I understand. We don’t know the ramifications for the rest of the universe.”

“Or time itself,” the Doctor replied. “Or even for us. We may not be visiting our own history directly, but our actions on this trip have the potential to change our own past. We may not directly violate the Laws of Time, but we can certainly do so indirectly.” He looked at each of them in turn. “We must be very careful.”

With that, he threw the dematerialization switch, sending the TARDIS into the vortex.


The TARDIS stood, half-hidden behind a rocky crag, on a hillside a mile from Logopolis. Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough sat on the boulders scattered in the vicinity, watching as the Doctor and Adric, tiny in the distance, headed for the oddly helical arrangement of low stone buildings that comprised the city. Something was odd about the view; Tegan had caught it and remarked on it at once upon their arrival. “Where’s the radio telescope?”

“Remember that we’ve come to an earlier point in the city’s history,” the Doctor had said. “The universe’s entropy hasn’t reached critical mass yet, though surely the Logopolitans are aware that it is impending. They won’t have constructed their replica of the Pharos project yet—in fact, the original telescope on Earth has yet to be built. That, of course, means we’ve landed as we expected; the current Monitor of the Logopolitans is, I believe, the grandfather of the Monitor we previously encountered. With any luck, Adric can get what he came for, and we can keep the Logopolitans from handing down word of our visit to the next generation.” With that, he had planted his hat on his head, and made his way down the hill with Adric following.

“And so we wait,” Turlough said, scowling. “For how long? Weeks? Months? This block transfer thing, if it’s so complicated, we could be here for years.”

“Oh, you have someplace you need to be?” Tegan sneered. Despite the Doctor’s odd faith in Turlough, she had yet to grant him any trust.

“Tegan,” Nyssa scolded her. “It’s a valid question. We’re talking about mathematics so complicated and variable that they can’t be done by a computer.”

“Exactly,” Turlough said. “Clearly not even the Doctor understands it, or else he would teach Adric himself. Who knows if this will work at all, let alone how long it will take?”

Tegan scowled. “Adric is no normal person when it comes to mathematics. If anyone can grasp it, it’s him. You’ll see.”

Sensing that the conversation was not going to get any better, Turlough gave it a moment, and then stood up. “Well. If you need me, I’ll be in my room, I suppose.” He turned toward the TARDIS. Tegan made a motion as if to stop him, but Nyssa interrupted her with a look.

“The Doctor,” she said when Turlough had closed the door behind him, “says he has the same privileges as the rest of us. Besides, it’s not like he can fly away without us.”

Tegan’s frown deepened. “Nyssa, there’s something about him, I tell you. I can’t put my finger on it, but eventually I will.” She sighed. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”


The TARDIS corridors never confounded Turlough the way they seemed to do to the others. Perhaps sensing this, the Doctor had given him a room further from the console room, down several winding corridors. Turlough wasn’t certain, but he suspected the corridors moved, somehow; but so far he had always found his way.

This time, he had barely closed the door when the floor–the deck? What did one call it in a time ship?–lurched beneath his feet. He felt a wrenching sensation in his stomach, and his vision narrowed as green light sparkled around its edges. For a moment he lost track of time. When his senses reasserted themselves, he found himself on the floor (definitely a floor; too neat for a deck). He clambered to his feet–and found an unwelcome but familiar figure surveying him. “Guardian,” he breathed. “What do you want?”

“Watch your tone, Turlough,” the Black Guardian said. “I’ve come to set you back on track with our arrangement.”

Turlough swallowed, suddenly nervous. This was a being of great power indeed–outside time and space, maintaining the order of the universe, but doing so as a force of eternal darkness and chaos. Turlough wasn’t sure whether to call him evil, but it certainly worked out to the same thing. It was true that he had struck a deal with the enigmatic Guardian: freedom from his exile on Earth in exchange for the task of killing the Doctor. Turlough neither knew nor cared what had led to the Guardian’s frenzied desire for revenge, but he knew one thing: the Doctor had proven to be a difficult man to kill. Turlough remained committed to the cause, perhaps, but he had quickly lost his stomach for the task. “Why should I kill him now?” he demanded. “I’m already free of my exile. Earth is behind me now.”

“But you haven’t returned to your world, have you?” the Guardian said. “You’ve seen the way the Doctor operates his TARDIS. It’s a miracle he ever lands where he intends. He won’t get you to Trion–and that’s if you tell him about it. But you haven’t done that, have you?” Turlough was silent. Some things, like the truth of his homeworld and his own past, couldn’t be shared, even–especially–with the Doctor and his companions. “Only I can finish our bargain and get you to Trion,” the Guardian continued, “and only–only!–if you uphold your end.”

Angrily, Turlough relented at last. It was a trap, and he remained caught in it, if he ever wanted to see his home again. “Fine. I suppose you have a plan? If you haven’t noticed, the Doctor isn’t here at the moment.”

“He’ll return. And he will take you and his pets to the city of the Logopolitans.” Turlough didn’t question it; the Guardian seemed to have as much grasp of time as the Doctor, and possibly more. “Your task will be simple this time. I won’t even ask you to attack him directly. You will simply wait until the right moment… and deliver a message.”

“A message?” It sounded simple, but… “What message? And to whom?”

The Guardian told him.


Adric’s training took eight days. The Doctor returned during the night of the second day, and moved the TARDIS into the city. At the urging of the Monitor–a bald man with the features of his future grandson, but much younger–the group took guest rooms in the city, and attended a reception dinner before being given freedom to roam. The Doctor, however, caught each of them in turn and admonished them to stay close to the TARDIS. “I’ve spoken with the Monitor and urged him to keep our visit off the records,” he said, “but remember that every encounter we make here, and every person to whom we speak, increases the chance that we may change the future. They’ve given us hospitality, and I won’t insult them for it, but… stay close.” He quickly disappeared again, off to audit Adric’s lessons.

On the final day, the Monitor escorted the Doctor and Adric back to the TARDIS. Nyssa and Tegan met them in the surrounding courtyard as they said their goodbyes. “It’s been quite a pleasure,” the Doctor was saying, “and I have to say that I’ve rather enjoyed the lessons as well. Even if,” he added, “they were over my head. It’s not often I can say that, you know.”

“Humble to a fault, Doctor, as always,” the Monitor said with a grin. “And the pleasure is all mine. We Logopolitans have spent centuries shaping our minds toward the thought patterns necessary for these calculations. Even so, you have seen that we require many minds in concert to make our calculations effective. It is a rare and surprising event when we encounter a mind like young Adric’s, born to the ability to grasp it all on his own. He is quite exceptional.” He paused, then added, “Of course, he won’t be able to maintain a steady state of computation for long periods. We manage this by working in shifts, but he is one alone. Still, he can create temporary structures, and permanent ones which do not require maintenance. That should be sufficient for your purposes, I think.”

“Quite,” the Doctor said, a bit hastily. He had made a point of not telling them exactly what Adric intended to create; had he done so, they would surely have insisted on creating the CVE for him, which would have had a much greater chance of upsetting history. “Well, at any rate, we thank you again, Monitor, both for the lessons and for your generous hospitality. But, we really must be going.” He shook hands with the Monitor, and turned toward the TARDIS; then he frowned. “Where is Turlough?”

“He went out walking…” Tegan began.

“I’m here, Doctor!” Turlough interrupted. The group turned to see him entering the courtyard from one of the many passages, flanked by two Logopolitans. The Logopolitans stopped at the entrance, and Turlough crossed to the TARDIS; but a look passed between the duo and the Monitor, who gave them a quizzical frown. “Sorry, I lost track of the time,” Turlough said as he joined the others.

“No harm done,” the Doctor said, and opened the police box door. “Monitor, we’ll be off now, I think. And it looks like those fellows want a word with you.”

“Yes, quite,” the Monitor said; but the Doctor and his companions were already disappearing into the TARDIS. The Monitor shrugged, and went to confer with his subordinates.


The Doctor threw the dematerialization switch the instant the inner doors closed, sending the TARDIS groaning into the vortex. “In a bit of a hurry, Doctor?” Nyssa said.

“Well,” he said, “yes, I suppose so. Oh, no, nothing’s wrong, precisely,” he said, forestalling her next question, “it’s just that… Nyssa, I’ve explained that we Time Lords can perceive the flow of time as a sort of sense, not as clear as most, but a sense nonetheless. And the longer we stay in Logopolis, the more I feel the weight of our every action on the timestream. I think we’re alright, as planned, but it’s best we get away quickly.” He circled the console, setting coordinates.

“So, what now?” Turlough said. “How long until Adric makes his attempt?”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel quite refreshed after the last week. It’s almost been like a holiday. So, if you’re ready,” he said to Adric, “we can get started right away.”

Adric’s usually sullenness was gone, for once, and he nodded. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.

“Right! No time like the present,” the Doctor said. “Or rather,” he added, “the future. Since we’ll need to do this at a time after the closure of the Logopolitan CVEs.” He hit a final control, and the time rotor began to rise and fall.

No one’s eyes were on Turlough as he tugged at his tie and grew pale.


The time rotor slowed, but didn’t stop. “We’ll get a better result if I start while we’re still in the vortex,” Adric had said. “I can set the temporal elements, then build the spatial and dimensional elements on top of them. This CVE will be more stable than the Logopolitan version, because they were forced to work from the spatial components first. I won’t have to work as hard to maintain it, either.”

Now, as the TARDIS slid closer to its target–a point in space far from any civilization, some three hundred years after the destruction of Logopolis–Adric stood with his hands on the console, and closed his eyes. His lips moved, subvocalising, but no sound could be heard. “Is that all?” Turlough whispered to Tegan, who stood for once beside him, against the wall; she shushed him.

On the other side of the console, the Doctor winced. “Are you alright?” Nyssa said, moving to his side so as not to disturb Adric.

“Yes, I… I’m fine, thank you.” He shook his head. “For a moment I felt something… it’s nothing.” He returned his attention to Adric’s face. Long minutes passed, and the Doctor winced again, putting a hand to his temple. “Oh!”

“What?” Nyssa said. Tegan and Turlough had noticed his discomfort by this time, but remained by the wall.

“Nothing, I just… I think I may be feeling some cast-off effect of our journey. Nothing serious, I think.” He straightened. “It will pass.”

At that moment, Adric looked up at him. “Ready, Doctor!”

“Right! Here we go, back to reality!” The Doctor pulled back on the dematerialization switch, and the time rotor picked up speed, sending them careening out of the vortex and back into space.

Everything happened at once. The ship shuddered, hurling Tegan and Turlough to the floor; the three around the console grabbed on and maintained their footing, but only just. The lights dimmed and began to pulse, and the time rotor began to spark and flash red as the TARDIS’s familiar groaning grew loud. Over it all, the cloister bell–the TARDIS’s warning of catastrophic danger–began to toll.

Worst of all–though it took Nyssa a moment to see it–was the Doctor. With the last toss of the floor, the Doctor lost his grip on the console and fell, rolling away from Nyssa. As she watched, light–pale, shot through with sickly prismatic shifts, but pervasive–surrounded him. It was different from last time, perhaps, but it only took a moment to recognize it: the Doctor was regenerating. “Adric!” she shouted. “What are you doing! What’s happening!”

Adric’s eyes were wide now, staring in horror at the Doctor. “It’s not me! I’m not doing this! My calculations were clean, I swear!”

On the floor, the Doctor moaned in apparent agony, and began to writhe. “Well, something’s happening!” The cloister bell’s volume increased, and smoke began to pour from several roundels on the walls; Nyssa recognized them as compartments which housed electronics of various types.

“I don’t know!” Adric shouted. “It’s not me!”

“No,” a new voice said, “It’s me!” All eyes swung toward the scanner, where the Black Guardian’s face could be seen.

“Who are you?” Tegan demanded. “What are you doing to the Doctor?”

The Black Guardian assumed a hurt expression. “The Doctor hasn’t told you about me? How offensive. I am the Black Guardian of Time. Once, your Doctor wronged me in a manner that your mortal minds won’t comprehend. I’ve pursued him since, and now, my revenge is accomplished!” He smiled, an expression made more cruel on his severe face. “And you have none other than Turlough to thank for it!”

Nyssa and Tegan turned to Turlough. He glared at the Black Guardian. “So much for keeping your end of the bargain, Guardian. Throwing me to the wolves, eh?”

“Turlough,” Nyssa said, “you struck a bargain with this monster?”

“Oh yes,” the Guardian said. “In exchange for passage off of the Earth, he agreed to kill the Doctor for me! Shall I tell them what you’ve done, Turlough?” He laughed. “While you were preparing to leave Logopolis, Turlough did a favor for me. Such a small thing… he simply passed a message.”

“What message?” Tegan demanded.

“It should be obvious,” the Guardian said. “He went to the Logopolitans and gave them a warning. He told them what will become of them in two more generations.”

“The Master!” Nyssa exclaimed. “Turlough, you warned them about the Master? The Doctor warned us all not to let them know the future!”

“He said it would be a fair exchange!” Turlough said. “Think about it. If they knew the Master was coming, they would be ready for him. He would never shut down their Pharos project, and the CVEs they created would still be there. That means the universe would still be intact!” He looked at Nyssa. “Nyssa, that means your home would still be there. Traken will still exist! And all it costs is one life.”

“Turlough, you idiot!” Nyssa shouted. “Didn’t you think about how it would cost his life? Even if you overlook the rest of the things the Doctor told us… he only regenerated last time because of what happened at Logopolis!”

Turlough turned his gaze to the Doctor, who continued to twist in pain. The light had grown more intense around him, and was now shot through with red. To everyone’s horror, his hair had gone from short and blonde to curly and dark, and he seemed to have become taller. His face seemed to be in flux; now the gentle mien of the familiar fifth incarnation, now the chiseled features of the fourth. “He’s… he’s de-regenerating?”

“Oh, it’s worse than that, young friend,” the Guardian said. “Your actions have created quite the paradox! The battle with the Master, which you have now prevented, caused the Doctor’s regeneration; but events since that time led you back to Logopolis, and allowed you the opportunity to prevent those very same events. Do you see what you’ve done? The Doctor will stabilize in neither form–and the paradox will tear his TARDIS apart! I applaud you, Turlough. You’ve done something not even I could accomplish!”

Turlough gave another glance at the Doctor, then turned back to the Guardian. “Undo it,” he said. “Undo the paradox! This isn’t what we agreed to!”

“Vislor Turlough, it is exactly what we agreed! And I cannot undo this paradox even if I wished to. My powers do not lie that way. Nor,” he added, “do I have the power to pluck you from the paradox, of which you are now a part. I’m afraid I will not be able to keep my promise to you. But consider, the universe you are bringing about is a better place–” he glanced at Nyssa– “worth the Doctor’s life to you. Isn’t it also worth your own?” His face faded from the scanner.

“Wonderful,” Turlough said, “What do we do now–” He turned toward the others, just in time to see Tegan do a very unladylike thing: she swung a spanner at him, catching him just above the temple. A blinding flash exploded behind his eyes, and then all went dark.

“Damn, but that was overdue,” Tegan said.


“Doctor!” Nyssa shouted. “Doctor!” She hovered over him, afraid to touch him in the throes of regeneration. “Can you hear me? We need you!”

He twisted again, stifling a scream; and then his eyes flew open. Disconcertingly, they were two different shades of blue. “No,” managed to say, in a voice that carried an odd harmonic, as if also in flux. “You don’t need me–” and this time it was the fifth Doctor’s voice– “You need Adric!” Fourth Doctor’s voice. “It’s up to him!” The harmonic flux returned. He let out a piercing shriek that echoed from bass to tenor, and closed his eyes. The regeneration energy seemed to swirl over him.

“Adric?” Tegan said. “What does he mean?”

Adric took a step back from the console. “I don’t know exactly,” he said, “but I know what I can do. I can keep the paradox from tearing us apart, at least for awhile. Block Transfer Computation can do that. Do you know it’s a part of creating a TARDIS?” He shook his head, realizing the urgency of the situation. “It means abandoning the CVE.”

“Adric, if the paradox destroys us, you won’t need a CVE!” Nyssa said. “You’ll be dead with the rest of us!”

He nodded. “Right.” He stepped back to the console and took a deep breath. “I’ll get us back to Logopolis. If anything can overturn this, it’s there. And I can hold us together in the meantime… but I don’t know what to do when we get there. We’re already part of events.” He closed his eyes and began to mutter calculations. Shortly the ship’s shuddering ceased, and the lights ceased their pulsing; but the red glow remained in the time rotor, and the cloister bell continued to sound. Adric reached for the navigation panel, and made a few adjustments; then he threw the dematerialization switch.


No smooth materialization this time–the TARDIS careened out of the vortex and into reality like a grenade into a wartime trench. The battered police box–perhaps more battered than usual–slalomed into the atmosphere of Logopolis at a severe angle, its outer shell heating up until it glowed, then burst into open flame. Inside, Nyssa hauled on the stabilizer controls, desperately trying to drag the crashing ship into a stable flight path, while Adric clung to the console and did his best to hold the ship together. The cloister bell thundered through the console room, louder and faster than before. The TARDIS fell toward the city, then leveled off–but not enough, not enough. Its base struck a Logopolitan house hard enough to tear a hole in the roof; the TARDIS skipped off and tumbled end over end. Internal gravity held its inhabitants on the floor, but inertia sent them skidding around; Nyssa lost her grip on the controls just in time for the ship to crash into an alley. By some miracle, it righted itself in the final impact and fetched up against a wall, sending a cloud of dust and stone into the air.

“Is everyone alright?” Nyssa shouted, picking herself up from the floor. She didn’t wait for an answer, but ran to the Doctor, ignoring her own bruises. He had slid nearly to the exit doors. His features continued to flux, and now his height had begun to shift as well. Energy ran in a mad swirl of colors all over him. “Doctor!” she called as she knelt beside him. “Doctor, stay with us! We’re back at Logopolis, but we don’t know what to do!”

The Doctor only groaned, thrashing about on the floor. In the opposite corner, Turlough and Tegan were picking themselves up; Tegan angrily shoved herself away from him. “Ow…” Turlough moaned, rubbing his head, and then glanced at the scanner. “We’re back at Logopolis? So… we’re, what? Going to prevent the paradox?”

Tegan turned on him. “YOU stay out of this!” she shouted. “You’ve done enough already!”

“Nooo….” the Doctor groaned. “No, he’s… he’s right. Have to stop… but mustn’t… first law!” He collapsed back from the effort.

“The First Law of Time,” Adric said without opening his eyes. He was visibly sweating from the effort of maintaining his calculations. “But… we’ve already broken the First Law! Or rather, Turlough did. He gave the Logopolitans knowledge of their own futures. That’s what caused this.”

“Paradoxes…” the Doctor muttered. “One problem… at a time. Fix!”

Nyssa looked at the others, doubt in her eyes. “I don’t know what he’s suggesting! If we interfere here, we’ll be breaking the First Law again. Won’t that create another paradox?”

“I don’t know,” Tegan said. “But we have to do something!”

“What is the First Law?” Turlough said.

Nyssa gave him an annoyed look, but then realized that he hadn’t been with them long enough to hear it explained. “It’s a law that the Time Lords enforce for the sake of keeping time intact and preventing paradoxes. It says that they mustn’t meet themselves out of order, or meet other Time Lords out of order, or pass on information about the future that has the same effect. It’s that last part that you broke on the Doctor’s behalf by telling the Logopolitans about the Master.” She paused, seeing a strange look on his face. “What?”

Turlough stepped toward the console, thinking. “Time Lords can’t meet out of order, or pass on information.”

“That’s what she said,” Tegan said.

“Adric,” he said, “when have we arrived?”

Adric didn’t have to check the console; he could feel it through his grip on the TARDIS. “About five minutes before you talked to the Logopolitans. If we’re going to do something, it has to be now.”

“Turlough, what are you thinking?” Nyssa demanded.

“I’m thinking,” he said, “that he’s a Time Lord… but I’m not.” Suddenly he slapped the switch that opened the inner doors; and he bolted out, leaving them stunned behind him.

It was Tegan who recovered first. “Come on! I know what he’s going to do. We have to catch him!” She ran for the door. Nyssa glanced at the Doctor, then Adric, and jumped up to run after her.


“Adric,” the Doctor moaned. His voice was more like that of his fourth incarnation now, though his body was more like the fifth. “Adric, can… can you hear me?”

“I’m here, Doctor,” Adric called. “I… I can’t spare the energy to come to you. Too busy concentrating.”

“Adric, you have to… to trust me… do what I say. Ahhh!” He gasped and bent double, then regathered his strength to continue. “The Bl… the Black Guardian… won’t let them… interfere. You… you have to stop him.”

“What? Me?! How?” Adric said. “I can’t–”

“You’re the… the only one… who can,” the Doctor managed. “Block Transfer… it works in… all dimensions… at once. It’s… it’s the only thing that can… can hold him!”

Adric knew it was true. “That makes sense, but… Doctor, if I let go of the TARDIS, it will come apart! And I can’t do both!”

“Trust me! Not all… at once. There will be… a little time… just enough. Do it, Adric… now!”

Adric nodded, and closed his eyes again.


Turlough raced through the narrow streets. Nyssa and Tegan pounded after him. Had they known where he was going, they would have tried to intercept him; but only he knew where he had met the Logopolitans. They narrowed the gap, but it wouldn’t be enough.

He came to a halt as a green swirl formed in the air ahead of him… and the Black Guardian stepped into the street. “Back to play the hero, Turlough? I can’t allow that. You’re too much the villain!” He raised a hand, power swirling around it–and walls of what appeared to be glass appeared around him, trapping him. “What? Impossible! No power in your possession could… Adric,” he said, realizing. “Fool boy! I’ll–”

“No time for that now,“ Turlough said as Tegan and Nyssa rounded the corner behind him. He darted past the imprisoned Guardian, and raced toward the next intersection. At the same moment, another version of Turlough stepped from an angled passageway into the intersection, facing away, and headed down the opposite street. “Just have to catch–”

He didn’t get to finish, as the combined weight of Tegan and Nyssa piled on top of him, driving him to the ground. “Let me go!” he managed. “It’s about to happen! I have to stop him!”

“You can’t!” Nyssa said. “The First Law–”

“It can’t get any worse!” Turlough said. “At least we’ll cure this paradox! It’ll buy us time, and maybe the Doctor or the Time Lords can figure out the rest!” Suddenly the street shook beneath them. A glance back revealed the Black Guardian, surrounded in a nimbus of darkness that thundered against the walls of his prison. He was pouring everything into his attempt to break free–and the city felt his rage. Stones fell from the nearby walls.

“And what were you going to do to him?” Tegan demanded.

“The same thing you did to me!” he grunted. “Tackle him! Stop him from talking to them! Anything!”

Exhausted at last, they released him and fell back on the ground. “Turlough,” Nyssa said, “you can’t do that either!”

“Why not?” he demanded.

“Even if you’re right about the paradox,” she said, “you can’t touch your other self. Remember the Brigadier, on Mawdryn’s ship? The… oh, what did the Doctor call it?” “The Blinovitch Limitation Effect,” Tegan said.

“Right! If you touch your other self, there will be a temporal energy discharge. With time so fragile already, it might be catastrophic! We can’t risk it!

“Then you take him! You already know you can!” He jumped up and started running again as the street shook again, more violently this time. Nodding, they climbed to their feet and ran after him.

They made it only a half dozen paces, before an unearthly screech sounded behind them, and the street shook with its greatest tremor yet. The building to their left collapsed in a roar, filling the street, cutting them off from Turlough. They could just see over the rubble pile; but as they tried to climb, it shifted, sending them back to the ground. “Damn that guardian!” Tegan shouted. “Turlough, do… something! Just don’t touch him! Go!”

He gave them a final look, and ran.


Turlough stopped at the end of the street, where it made an L-turn to the left. Just around the corner, he caught a glimpse of himself, standing in front of the building out of which the two Logopolitans would shortly come. It was only a few paces… but what to do?

Behind him, another building fell in an explosion of dust and stone. His other self looked back; Turlough ducked aside, avoiding being seen. Perhaps the explosion would scare his past self away… but, no such luck.

“Turlough!” a voice called behind him. He turned… and saw the Black Guardian, near the previous intersection. He was still encased in the computational walls, but as Turlough watched, the Guardian flickered and vanished, and reappeared ten paces closer, dragging his prison with him. “It’s too late, boy! Even now they come. You can’t undo this paradox!”

Turlough stared at him for a long moment. “I’m through serving you,” he said. “The Doctor is a thousand times the man you’ll ever be. I trust him to know what’s best for the universe, and for Logopolis, and… and for me. I won’t do what you want again.” He paused. “Or even the first time!” Darting back toward the intersection, he snatched up a fist-sized, jagged rock from the rubble of the fallen building, and stepped around the corner toward his other self.

“No!” the Black Guardian shouted.

“Goodbye,” Turlough said through clenched teeth. Then he drew back his arm, and hurled the stone at his other self.

He had one final moment of clarity, in which he saw the Black Guardian vanish in a scream of rage and a burst of flame. Then the stone struck the back of his other self’s head, and everything went dark again.


Tegan’s head swam as the world coalesced around her. She couldn’t recall passing out, but she saw that Nyssa was waking up as well. What had happened?

Rubble still filled the streets, but the Black Guardian was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Turlough; but from the direction of the TARDIS, a figure in cricketing clothes picked his way around the stones and came toward them. Adric trailed behind him.

“Doctor,” Tegan said, “you’re back to normal!”

“Quite,” he said. “And it’s a good thing, too. As much as I enjoyed being my old self–well, when I was him–one must always look forward, not backward.” He offered a hand to each of them in turn, lifting them to their feet. “And I daresay the Logopolitans will agree. They just saw us off, you know–the past version of us, that is. Since we’ve managed to tear down part of their city, they’ll be glad to see this ‘us’ gone as well.”

“That’s a bit unfair,” Tegan said. “This was the Guardian’s work, not ours.”

“True,” he said, “and a nasty bit of work it was, too.” He glanced back at Adric. “But, thanks to Adric here, it was not as nasty as it could have been. A job well done, Adric.”

“So, what happened, exactly?” Nyssa said. “And where’s Turlough?”

“Well,” the Doctor said, “I think Adric can answer that better than I can. After all, by way of his battle with the Guardian, he was here, after a fashion.” He nodded at Adric.

“It’s…” Adric started, then paused. “Well, maybe we’d better look. I want to be sure of what I saw.” He led the way over the rubble, and past a second pile further down the street, to an L-turn. Rounding the corner, he stopped. “I was afraid of that.”

Nyssa made the turn, and stopped short. “Oh. Oh, no.”

Tegan came after her, with the Doctor following. When she saw what awaited them, she stopped, and made as if to speak, then closed her mouth. Finally she said, “So that’s how he fixed it.”

Ahead of them, Turlough–the past version of him–lay still on the ground. Blood pooled around his head, and stained a large, jagged rock beside him. Of the present version of Turlough, there was no sign. “Yes,” the Doctor said gently, “it seems our Turlough sacrificed himself to stop the former Turlough from doing the Black Guardian’s task.” He paused. “Quite noble of him, wouldn’t you say? I think we all underestimated him.” At his side, Tegan nodded, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

“Doctor…” Nyssa said. “I know it was all in the moment, and we all barely had time to think, but… couldn’t he have talked to himself, or something? We didn’t let him tackle himself, because of the energy discharge–”

“Which was the right decision,” the Doctor said. He closed his eyes and concentrated. “A paradox, you understand, is a closed time loop. It repeats itself, ad infinitum. This paradox has been transformed into an open loop by Turlough’s sacrifice. It circles back on itself only once, and then rejoins the normal flow of time. It’s hard for me to feel the flow of that loop, now that we’re on the other side of it, but… I sense that it could have worked out no other way.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Turlough instinctively grasped something that there was no time to explain. You see, Time seeks to close paradoxes. It can’t tolerate them, as a rule. And also as a rule, violations of the first Law of Time tend to create paradoxes. There are some exceptions, but that’s what generally happens. I tried to warn all of you not to violate the first law. That could have created a second paradox on top of the first, and time would have come apart catastrophically here. If Turlough had talked to himself, it would have created such a violation. Similarly, if he had touched his other self, the discharge of temporal energy would have torn time apart, as you rightly assumed. The only safe course was to take action that didn’t pass knowledge to his past self… and that’s what he did. Rather violently, I’m afraid, but I hardly see that he had any alternative.” He fixed both women with a stare. “And lest you go to blaming yourselves, remember that had you communicated with past Turlough, it would also have transmitted information, and been a violation of the first law.”

“So, why did this not cause another paradox?” Adric said. “I mean, if Turlough prevented himself from telling the Logopolitans, then the events that led us to come and stop him never would have happened. We shouldn’t exist here, now.”

“Yes, well… remember that I said that time seeks to close paradoxes–or open them, as the case may be. In doing so, it can’t tolerate a violation of the first law–but it can tolerate violations of lesser laws. Our being here, as relics from a timeline that ceased to exist with the opening of the loop, is a violation of one of those lesser laws; but time is quite happy to put up with it, in order to correct the greater paradox. The only concession is that the present version of Turlough ceased to exist. Well, and also, the moment of correction to the timeline was a bit much for the two of you, being outside the TARDIS as you were. That’s why you passed out.”

“You make it sound like time is alive,” Tegan said.

“Hmm… I suppose after a fashion, it is,” the Doctor mused. “At the very least, it’s non-linear… and it holds mysteries that even the Time Lords have yet to uncover.” He clapped a hand on her shoulder, and turned her toward the TARDIS. “Let’s be going, then.”


The Doctor held the TARDIS door for Nyssa and Tegan. “We’ll swing around and collect Turlough’s body before the Logopolitans move it,” he called after them. “He deserves a proper burial… but not here, where it might risk more paradoxes.”

As Adric made to step inside, the Doctor stopped him. “Adric… what do you think? Do you still want to construct a CVE? Return to E-Space?”

Adric dropped his eyes for a moment. “I think,” he said, “that the things I wanted have caused us enough trouble for now.” He paused. “Maybe someday, when we can be sure the Black Guardian won’t try to interfere. But not today.” He ducked past the Doctor, and inside.

The Doctor watched him go, and smiled. “Good answer.” Then he stepped inside, and closed the door… and with a familiar groan, the TARDIS slipped away.

Audio Drama Review: Tomb Ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a thought, but one that I find intriguing.

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

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

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

Tomb Ship

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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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