Audio Drama Review: Flywheel Revolution

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! A few weeks ago, we reached the end of the four early anthologies in the Short Trips range. Today, we pick up that range with the first of its individual releases, Flywheel Revolution! This story was released in January 2015, nearly four years after the previous release in the range, and it is a different animal—longer, with a more involved plot, and a somewhat slower pace. It will set the template for future releases in the range, continuing to the present day. Written by Dale Smith, and directed by Lisa Bowerman, the story features the First Doctor, and is read by Peter Purves. Let’s get started!

Flywheel Revolution 1

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

On a distant and far-future world, a robot named Frankie is confined to a scrapheap. He and his friends—all flawed or damaged—have been consigned here by their masters and makers, who are robots themselves, sent to colonize and develop this world. Frankie is a rover, and his flaw is that his geolocation module doesn’t work; he cannot receive the global timestamp signal, and so for him, it is always 5:15 and 23 seconds. Therefore, he gets lost very easily. This comes into play when he takes his friend—a misaligned boring machine named Toby—to see a monster in the scrapheap. Though he navigates by bouncing off of the magnetic Wall that defines the edges of the scrapheap, he is unable to lead Toby to the monster.

Over several days, he does not give up; and eventually he finds the monster, living—to Frankie’s horror—in the gutted interior of another, larger robot! The creature calls out to him, and seems delighted to see him, but he backs off in fear. Still, his curiosity is fully engaged; and after a few more days of wandering, he finds the monster again. This time, it calls itself the Doctor.

Over a few contacts—horrified on Frankie’s part, excited on the Doctor’s—Frankie learns that the Doctor is also trapped here, separated from his companions and his ship. Communications break down when Frankie sees that the Doctor has built a device to shut off the wall—shut it off? Let them all escape? Frankie can hardly dare to dream of it!—but he has built it from the scavenged parts of Frankie’s dead friends! Frankie erupts at him, and leaves in fury.

When he next sees the Doctor, the creature is solemnly apologetic. He had not understood the horror of what he had done; all he had seen were components. But now, he has disassembled his device…and he asks Frankie to help him lay them to rest with respect. This, at last, wins Frankie’s trust; and when the Doctor offers to repair his geolocation device, he is intrigued (though he does not accept).

Soon, however, the Doctor makes a breakthrough with the Wall. He sends Frankie to gather all of his friends; and he tells them they will soon be free. Then, he has Toby dig down into the soft soil beneath the scrapheap and fill another machine with the dirt—and he launches it skyward, raining down on the wall. Soon, this barrage overloads the magnetic wall, and it fails. The machines are free.

Before the Doctor leaves, he thanks Frankie for his help; and he asks the robot what he will do with his newfound freedom. Frankie thinks that he would like to find the people who condemned them all to the Scrapheap…and teach them how wrong they were. He trundles off, noting that it is five-fifteen and twenty-three seconds—the moment when his new life begins.

Flywheel Revolution 2_edited

As with most short trips, this story happens in a bubble of sorts. The story takes place on a planet whose identity is not given, not populated with any race we’ve previously seen, at a time that is not identified (only that it is in the far future), separate from his TARDIS, and separate from his companions (Ian, Barbara, and Susan, though they are not named, only loosely described). As such, there’s very little continuity to speak of, which is something we saw often in the early anthologies, and I expect it to be the standard henceforward as well.

The most accurate word I can apply to this story is “charming”. It’s the story of the Doctor facilitating a revolution—but not a bloody one; rather, a very small one, not much more than a family squabble of sorts. The robots with whom he deals are most definitely people in their own right; but they’re much like children, and he is very paternal toward them. Paternalism is a common enough trait with the First Doctor, and often it works out badly, but here it seems to be a good thing.

On television, the First Doctor was clever, but not nearly as resourceful as his later incarnations, especially in technological matters. Out of universe, that’s an artifact of the show’s early shifts in direction, I think, as it tried to find a stable identity after starting out as a children’s programme. As well, of course, the Doctor wasn’t really the main character at first, and so most of the resourcefulness was exhibited by the companions. Put another way, the Doctor got them into trouble; the companions got them out. Here, though, he’s quite resourceful (and has to be, given that he’s on his own). He correctly analyzes the political situation (if you can call it that) on the planet; he figures out the wall; he recognizes and understands the various robots; and he expresses his ability to repair them, though they don’t take him up on it. He builds a device from spare parts, though—for reasons revealed in the story—he doesn’t use it. He also has a keen, if belated, understanding of the personalities of the other characters. It’s really a good showing for the First Doctor, at a point in his life when frankly, he could use some good press.

Though the story is set during Ian, Barbara, and Susan’s era, the story is read by Peter Purves (Steven’s actor). I haven’t checked far enough ahead to be sure, but I believe this is usual procedure for First Doctor short trips, at least for awhile (I vaguely seem to recall that William Russell may have read a few? We’ll find out soon enough). Purves is, I think, one of the most steady and reliable narrators in Big Finish’s stable. His performances aren’t revolutionary in any way, but they’re steadily good; and he captures the First Doctor fairly well.

Overall, it’s not a bad foot to put forward with regard to reopening this range. It’s a fairly safe story—nothing too experimental, and we know from the Main Range that “experimental” is a mixed bag at best for Big Finish. At the same time, it manages to feel significant in a way that most of the anthology stories did not. If the upcoming entries can build on this start, the range will be in good hands (and the fact that it’s still running, three and a half years later, says that that is probably the case).

Next time: We’ll join Frazer Hines reading for the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe in Little Doctors! 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.

Flywheel Revolution

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Audio Drama Review: A Star is Born

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we begin a look at the final collected volume of Short Trips audio dramas, August 2011’s Short Trips: Volume 4. I will confess that I’ve been anxious to get through these early collections; I keep a checklist of audio dramas that I’ve reviewed, which is organized by release, meaning that each seven-part collection constitutes only a single entry on the list. Naturally, I feel like I’m not making much progress. But, here we are, at the final collection; after this we’ll move to the monthly releases. We’ll begin this collection with A Star is Born, written by Richard Dinnick. Featuring the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, this story is read by William Russell. 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.

An enormous, damaged spaceship drifts, pulled slowly toward the planet by gravity, falling through the planet’s exosphere. It sends out a distress signal on all available frequencies; and the signal is received by the TARDIS. The time ship’s arrival is overheard and detected by Egrabill, who is on his way to the Provost’s cabin; he is sidetracked by the ship and the aliens that come out of it—two males, one female, and one, the smallest, of which he is unsure. They tell him that they have come to help; and so, he takes them to the Provost, Rode.

Barbara finds herself marveling over the ship and its people, the Metraxi, who are very alien indeed. They resemble sea lions; and they originate from an aquatic planet called Kinneret. However, a virus some generations ago had stripped away their ability to procreate; and so they had turned to cloning technology to save their race. However, this is not without its problems; each successive generation loses a little genetic information, and so experiences a shortening of the lifespan. Some Metraxi had blamed their world, and so they set out into space to seek a new home. That was seven generations ago, on this very ship. And now, the ship is dying—or it will, if it falls to the planet below. Barbara pities them; they have done nothing to deserve this fate.

The Provost introduces himself as “Rode”. He shows them a projection of the engine deck, where the propulsion generators have failed. The reactors are leaking radiation. His crews are not able to handle the situation, though they try. Fortunately, the Doctor is familiar with propulsion systems, and Ian has a science background as well. Rode has Egrabill take them to Greneva, the young but capable female who serves as chief engineer. Greneva, oddly, is suffering from a strange fatigue and bouts of pain. The Doctor examines the control rods in the system, determining that there is no leak after all—and in fact, there is no malfunction at all. Ian agrees that this is very odd, and the Doctor sets out to investigate the engine’s vents, where any remaining leak must be.

The Doctor, Greneva, and Ian don ill-fitting radiation suits, and head into the ductwork. The conduits running inside the ductwork is searing hot. They reach the junction that marks the beginning of the vent network, and Greneva explains how it is supposed to work—a set of pipes redirects steam overflow into the vents. The group tracks the pipes through the ductwork.

Returning to the engineering deck, they find Egrabill explaining more of their history to Barbara and Susan, and expounding on how events fit into the Metraxi religion. The Doctor is enraged at something as he listens to the folklore; and he catches Egrabill’s statement that the reactors have been leaking for years—since before Egrabill was created. The Doctor storms out of the room. Greneva quietly explains to Barbara that the engines have been sabotaged.

The group follows the Doctor to the Provost’s quarters, where he tells Susan that they are seeking the truth. The Doctor confronts Rode, calling him a traitor and scoundrel, and claiming that Rode is responsible for the sabotage and the radiation poisoning of his people—but, why? Rode begins to weep. Greneva says that the radiation was being recirculated into the secondary life support system. Egrabill demands to know if it is true; Ian insists that only Rode has the control over the ship necessary to see it happen.

Rode claims that he gave up a long time ago—that he had decided their search was hopeless. Therefore he took action; the radiation seemed to be the best way to end it all. But now, he sees the irony in his choice: the world below them is the new haven they’ve been searching for. But it was too late! Twenty years of radiation poisoning could not be undone so easily—and besides, now the engines have failed, and they will crash. He counters the Doctor’s accusing tone by insisting that the Doctor and his friends could not comprehend what it was like to be an exile from their homeworld—but, Susan says, they can indeed.

Rode insists he had no choice but to kill them all this way; the ship will burn up on re-entry without its engines. In his mind, he has saved them all from the misery ahead. However, the Doctor says that Rode may have achieved something unexpected: the opposite of what he intended. For Greneva, it seems, is pregnant. In fact, though she didn’t know it, she is probably in early labor. The radiation, it seems, has caused a beneficial mutation, restoring their fertility.

Rode is quickly arrested, and the Doctor takes the Metraxi aboard the TARDIS, along with as much technology and information as they can load. He lands the TARDIS on a beach below. Above, the colony ship is a burning streak across the sky; the Doctor had managed to put it on a course that will cause it to burn over several months, rather than crashing. It will now be a beacon of hope for the Metraxi. Last to exit is Greneva, with her newborn; she thanks the Doctor for saving them. He sends her off, and tells her to look over the child. As she leaves, the Doctor muses that it would be very unlikely for Greneva to be the only fertile Metraxi now; perhaps the race should get used to the sound of children.

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There’s absolutely nothing experimental here; and perhaps that’s the best way to start this collection. This story would fit well in the usual canon of First Doctor stories; the portrayal of the Doctor is spot on, both in writing and in voice acting, and the companions are also well portrayed, though a bit short on dialogue. (Admittedly, it’s hard to do justice to four major protagonists in a serial-length story, let alone in a twenty-minute Short Trip; the fact that it’s accomplished at all is frankly amazing.) The Doctor is perhaps a bit more proactive than he usually would be in the Ian-Barbara-Susan era; he chooses to answer the Metraxi ship’s distress call, and takes the lead in dealing with the Metraxi. That isn’t completely unprecedented, however; my impression is that he tends to be more assertive in alien settings than Earthbound stories. Slightly more conspicuous is that he is able to make the TARDIS do what he wants here; he is able, first, to home in on the distress signal, and second, to land the TARDIS by choice on the planet below. The Doctor’s degree of control over the TARDIS in the early stories is usually stated to be minimal, but occasionally we get these incidents where it does just what he wants it to; it’s a little odd, and the only explanation I can come up with is that the TARDIS is doing it by choice—she happens to agree at that moment with his decisions.

The Metraxi are interesting aliens; they resemble large sea lions, but they have been victimized three times. First, their race experienced a viral epidemic that left them sterile; second, generations of cloning (due to the absence of natural reproduction) have left them genetically degraded and with shortened lifespans; and third, as the story reveals, they have experienced two decades of radiation poisoning—which may not be an accident. As a result of all of this, their capabilities are a bit diminished, and one can’t help feeling a great surge of pity for them, as Barbara does in the course of the story. Aside from those conditions, however, they behave very much as humans do. The premise of the story sees their damaged colony ship falling toward a planet; they have been searching for several (cloned) generations for a new world, one that won’t try to kill them, and now, ironically, a new world will do exactly that. It’s a premise we’ve seen on television before; 42 featured a ship trapped in a star’s gravity well, and World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls puts a colony ship over a black hole, adding time dilation for an additional twist. In terms of urgency, this story falls somewhere between those two. (For another continuity reference, which doesn’t merit a paragraph of its own, Ian mentions the radiation poisoning he experienced in The Daleks.)

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It has a happy ending; no one dies, and the villain is arrested. There’s no real bearing on any larger events; but the Metraxi represent a race that could appear again at some point, though I am not aware of them having done so as yet. It’s a good start to this collection, and worth the twenty minutes it takes to listen.

Next time: We’ll join the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe in Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, by Foster Marks. 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 4

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Audio Drama Review: Seven to One

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

Short Trips Volume 3 a

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

Part One:

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

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

Part Two:

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

Part Three:

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

Part Four:

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

Part Five:

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

Part Six:

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

Part Seven:

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

Part Eight:

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

Short Trips Volume 3 b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Novel Review: The Eight Doctors

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

Eight Doctors 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Doctors 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio Drama Review: 1963

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we begin listening to Short Trips, Volume 2, released on 28 February 2011. This second collection (of four) again covers the first Eight Doctors. We’ll begin with the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki in 1963, written by Niall Boyce and read by William Russell. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 2

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

A man in an alley cowers as another man looms over him with a flick knife [a switchblade, for the Americans in the audience ~ TLA]. Barbara Wright looks at the scene…which is oddly frozen in place. More than just still, there is no motion at all, not even breath—she cannot even budge the men’s clothes or hair when she touches them. She wonders who the men are; but there was no way to know. Barbara leaves the alley to search for life anywhere in the city; for the entire place is still in just this fashion.

That morning, Barbara awakened to the smell of coffee and breakfast, newly made by Vicki just for Barbara; but she recalls that she did not sleep well, as the TARDIS had flown roughly through the “night”. Vicki calls her to the control room where the Doctor awaits; she finds him filled with excitement over a pending surprise. Ian joins them. At the Doctor’s direction, Vicki activates the scanner…and it reveals London, 23 November 1963—the very day that they left, so long ago.

After the alley, Barbara makes her way down the middle of a crowded-but-still street. She notices that the clock face of Big Ben is frozen at quarter past one; but her own watch continues to move. She hears a voice calling her name…it is Ian, standing on the water of the river! Of course, the water is frozen as well.

The Doctor had been as surprised as they when no motion was evident on the scanner. He blamed the scanner at first, and then—with Vicki’s help—began to work under the console.

Ian and Vicki discuss the situation as they sit in the middle of the river. Ian thinks it may not even be aliens, but the Russians; after all, Kennedy was just assassinated yesterday. He mentions the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how close the world was to annihilation then. She quotes T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.” Ian comments again on the date—and Barbara suddenly remembers: it is her aunt Cecilia’s birthday, and they had a meeting scheduled, at Lyons’ Corner House on the Strand.

Luckily for Barbara, the door is half open due to a young woman entering at the moment of freezing; otherwise they would not have been able to enter. They slip inside, and find Aunt Cecilia sitting at a nearby table, reading a novel called The Price of Salt as she sips her tea and waits for Barbara. Barbara thinks for a moment that Cecilia is about to rise, but of course she isn’t. Ian breaks Barbara’s reverie when he points out that they don’t have reflections in a nearby mirror.

Vicki locates them and calls them back to the TARDIS, where the Doctor has figured out what went wrong. He assures them that London is fine; the problem is with the TARDIS. The ship’s “heart”, so to speak, went wrong; he explains that this feature of the TARDIS keeps its existence in real time synchronized to that of its owner and passengers. Otherwise it would vanish into the past or the future. In this case, it simply—for want of a better term—skipped a beat. As a safety measure, it then materialized at a static point in time and space, allowing it to be repaired by the Doctor while time simply stays still around them. Why London? Barbara asks. To this the Doctor has no answer—perhaps the TARDIS is simply fond of the city. At any rate, it is repaired…

…However, the Doctor can’t simply set time running again. The only thing to do is dematerialize and land again—but the Doctor is no better at steering the ship than he has ever been. So close to home, and yet so far away… The Doctor offers them a chance to look around again, but they decline; they are ready to leave now. Perhaps one day they will make it home for real.

In the wake of their exit, a murdered man was found in an alley. A baby, named John Fitzgerald, was born. And in a cafe, a woman’s niece was late…but that was alright. Elsewhere, with the recent assassination of a President, a new era was beginning—one that many may wish to have stopped. But, as well know, time never stops.

Short Trips Volume 2 1

We seem to be setting a pattern of melancholy stories for the First Doctor; first we had Rise and Fall, and now 1963. It doesn’t matter that we viewers know that Ian and Barbara eventually make it home (and later marry, if the comics are taken as fact!); they don’t know it yet, and for all they do know, they’ll never get there. This kind of “almost but not quite” ending is quite common in serialized fiction—after all, you can’t have your hero achieve his or her ultimate goal while you still have stories to tell—but here it seems all the more sad for how close they come to making it home safely. If only the Doctor knew how to fly his TARDIS…well, I suppose it’s not in the greatest repair at this point, either, so it isn’t all the Doctor’s fault.

I was confused by one notation at the end of this story. Barbara mentions that 23 November is her aunt Cecilia’s birthday, and that each year she meets her aunt on that day for a lunch date. She goes and confirms her aunt’s presence at the designated cafe; but of course her aunt is frozen in place with the rest of London. At the end, when the TARDIS leaves, a list of events that occur thereafter is given. One event is the aforementioned lunch date; the woman notes that her niece is fifteen minutes late. However, to my knowledge, Ian and Barbara are eventually returned to 1965, not 1963 (see The Chase); therefore I don’t know how Barbara’s lunch date could take place here. The though occurred to me that it’s the pre-Doctor version of Barbara—which makes sense, as she shouldn’t be leaving with the Doctor until that evening after school hours were completed. However, Barbara mentions to Ian that “she was waiting for me…but I never came”. The notation at the end conspicuously doesn’t mention any names, so I suppose it could be a coincidental mention of someone else, but that seems unlikely. Perhaps there’s a story I’ve missed, in which they make it home to 1963?

There are few continuity references as such—not a surprise at this point. Vicki does make a point of telling Ian that “Vicki” is her full name, not “Victoria”. There’s a bit of a glimpse of life in the TARDIS, especially as regards eating and sleeping; it’s consistent with what we’ve seen in episodes such as The Edge of Destruction, including food bars that replicate whole meals. Vicki is unusually knowledgeable about 20th century pop culture—she knows a Beatles album by heart—but then, she did study 20th century history (The Suffering).

I will say that, while I think William Russell is an excellent voice actor (and a fantastic alternate for the First Doctor), it’s a little odd to hear him read a story that is chiefly from Barbara’s point of view. Of course, Jacqueline Hill (i.e. Barbara) has been gone for a long time, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic—and perhaps more so, as she never had the opportunity to lend her voice talents to any of these stories.

Overall: Not a bad start to the collection, but not an optimistic one, either. It serves as a reminder that Ian and Barbara’s time in the TARDIS was really the start of something new, and no one—least of all the Doctor—really knew what they were doing. There was a level of everyday stress and struggle that perhaps is absent with most other companions, simply because none of the familiar patterns had yet been set. Add in a moment like this, with so much hope that is then snatched away, and it’s something of a breaking point for the companions. I wonder if future stories will be in this vein.

Next time: We’ll join the Second Doctor and Victoria (not Vicki!) in The Way Forwards; and with any luck, we’ll pick up the Main Range’s Nekromanteia. See you there!

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

Short Trips, Volume 2

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Audio Drama Review: Rise and Fall

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Taking advantage of Big Finish’s recent sale, I’ve picked up a number of entries in the Short Trips and Short Trips Rarities ranges; and that’s what we’ll be listening to today. Given that these stories themselves are shorter than the usual entries, these posts may be a bit shorter as well; but we’ll see. We’ll begin at the beginning, with Short Trips, Volume I, which contains one story for each of the first eight Doctors. The first is Rise and Fall, written by George Mann, featuring the First Doctor and Ian Chesterton, and read by William Russell. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume I

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

The TARDIS materialises on a planet that is new to the Doctor as well as his companions. Barbara and Susan relax in the TARDIS’s wardrobe, trying out clothing, while the Doctor and Ian wander outside. Along the nearby coastline, they encounter a new species, composed of horselike humanoids—and the species is not only new to them, but new in the world, as they have just arisen. They quickly discover that they are out of sync with the timestream of the humanoids; in only a brief time, they watch the aliens’ entire civilization rise and file.

For the aliens, it is the opposite. From their perspective, the strangers on the hill had been there since prehistory, never moving. During that prehistorical period, one of the humanoids dies, reflecting on the life-long presence of the strangers.

Later, the aliens move to a hunter-gatherer civilization; and still the figures on the hill remain still. They are worshipped in this age, known as the Unmoving Ones. Children, as they come of age, present an offering to the Unmoving Ones. One man, Kilik, prepares his son Ethric for the ritual; his son examines a small amulet in the shape of the TARDIS, and asks why this ritual is made. It is tradition, as Kilik explains; after all, the strangers, though unmoving, are responsible for so much of the humanoids’ civilization—the design of their clothes is based on the strangers, and their homes are shaped after the TARDIS. Ethric agrees to complete the ritual of tribute. Meanwhile, in the Unmoving Ones’ timestream, Ian watches the constant motion of many lives blur past as more advanced buildings rise and disappear.

In an industrialized era, the scientist Pol determines that the Unmoving Ones are alive—they are in fact moving, albeit infinitesimally. He denies, however, that they are from a preceding civilization; they seem to predate all intelligent life on the planet, in fact. Though no one will believe him, he is sure they exist in a different time stream—normal to them, but slow to Pol’s people—but he knows better than to make such claims publicly, as they would make him a laughingstock.

It is now the futures, centuries later from the perspective of the aliens. There are colonies on the moon, and they want their independence. The war has come to this ancient location, this centuries-old city, and the bombs are falling. A young boy named Call Box—after the ancient structure on the hill—is too young to understand, and hides in his bedroom, clinging to toys in the shape of the Doctor and Ian, as the bombs begin to fall on his home.

The Doctor and Ian watch as life and civilization are wiped from the planet by the separatists on the moon. The city falls into ruins as they watch; a final building is in the shape of the TARDIS, though much larger. They sadly reflect that the entire history of this world, rise and fall, has happened in less than a minute from their perspective. “Time, Chesterton,” the Doctor muses, “is not the same for everyone.” Without knowing what to say, they return to the TARDIS.

Short Trips Volume I 1

We certainly picked a sad story to begin with. This story isn’t very interactive as far as the TARDIS crew are concerned; to put it briefly, Ian Chesterton and the First Doctor witness the entire history of a new civilization, from first arising to final annihilation, in the space of about a minute. That’s it. There are no great spoilers to conceal here, because the entire plot is encapsulated in the title. There’s no effort to save the civilization—in fact, there’s no time to get involved with them. They simply come and go. Along the way we get brief vignettes from the lives of members of that species, who know the Doctor and Ian as the “Unmoving Ones”—not dead, but moving and existing so slowly and for so long that they become icons to the people. It isn’t enough to save them in the end, unfortunately. It’s a tragic story, and doesn’t hesitate to bring the tears—the final alien perspective is that of a small child, too young to understand the destructive war going on around him, as the bombs begin to fall on his home.

Still, I find it compelling. There’s something noble, or at least worthy, about bearing witness to the passing of that which we cannot save. This civilization, this world, has one chance to say to the universe, “We were here!”; and it’s the Doctor and Ian who grant them that chance. No one else will ever know; if time on this world progresses as we have seen, even the ruins will be dust by the time anyone else sees this world. We, the listeners, also bear witness (and never mind that it’s a fictional story). It is certainly a memorable story; this is my second time listening to Short Trips, Volume I, and this is the only story I can remember in great detail without reviewing. It’s solemn, but even though it’s very different from the average Doctor Who story, it’s worthwhile.

If you’re looking for hard science, this isn’t the story for you. It conspicuously doesn’t dig too deeply into the science of the conflicting timestreams, and that’s just as well. While in the real world there is some evidence that smaller creatures do perceive time in a different way (looking at us lumbering behemoths as slow and unwieldy), such creatures still live in the same world as us. The wind, the waves of the ocean, the day-night cycle—phenomena like this still move as we perceive them. It’s difficult to imagine an intelligent civilization rising and perceiving a single ocean wave as lasting for thousands of years. That civilization mastered local space travel—we know this because at the end, they have colonies on the moon—and yet they would not perceive any kind of motion in the universe at all, having elapsed so quickly that they would never see a sunrise or sunset. It’s stretching things a bit, is what I’m saying. (As an aside, the first time I listened to this story, I assumed the creatures were in fact much smaller than humans, and that their entire civilization was essentially spread out at the Doctor and Ian’s feet. On repeat listening, I think I was wrong about that—the city grows up around them. This, however, begs the question of how they can be sure the entire civilization dies, and not just this city. Also, regardless of the passage of time, why are they untouched by the bombs?)

Continuity references will generally be fewer in the Short Trips entries than in longer stories, naturally; but there are still a few. Reference is made to recent events in France, a clear reference to The Reign of Terror. Ian, as well, muses about the Doctor’s piloting of the TARDIS; the Doctor’s incompetence at this task has been a running theme since An Unearthly Child, and will continue to be so for years to come. At one point the Doctor calls Ian “Charlton”; his failure to pronounce “Chesterton” correctly is also a common theme, present since An Unearthly Child. Bonus non-continuity reference: the local inhabitants are described as equine humanoids, with horselike faces; inevitably, all I can picture is Bojack Horseman (a show I haven’t even watched!). Ah, well.

Overall: A good entry, if different, and a fair start to the Short Trips range. If only it wasn’t such a tearjerker. George Mann, with whom I was only familiar by way of Engines of War, proves to be a subtle author for short fiction. William Russell, age notwithstanding, does a fantastic rendition of the First Doctor, and of course of Ian as well; I know he has played both roles for Big Finish on many occasions, but this story (in my first listen) was my first encounter with him in that capacity, and it’s always stuck with me. It’s the next best thing in audio to having William Hartnell back in the role (with all due respect to David Bradley, who is great in his own right).

Next time: I’ll try to post these daily as much as possible, as they’re very short and easy to complete. I still have plans for Jubilee on the back burner, and I’ll be finishing up I, Davros in a few days; in the meantime, the next Short Trips entry, featuring the Second Doctor, is A Stain of Red in the Sand. See you there!

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

Short Trips, Volume I

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Prose Review: Fanwinked

We’re back, with another Doctor Who prose review! I say “prose” instead of the usual “novel”, because what I’m reviewing today isn’t strictly a novel; it’s a collection. I’m a bit behind on the New Adventures—didn’t make it through Transit in time to post about it this week—and so we’ll cover something different that I finished recently. Today we’re covering J.R. Southall’s Fanwinked, an unauthorized collection of Doctor Who short stories. It’s off the beaten path, but bear with me; it may interest you, and it’s currently in print (unlike most of the New Adventures). Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

Fanwinked

I have to say up front, I was a little confused when I discovered this book (via a post on the Facebook page for the War Doctor charity anthology, Seasons of War, which with any luck should be arriving in the mail this week). It’s billed as unauthorized—the author doesn’t shy away from descriptions of “fanfiction”—and yet it’s still for sale. I’ve been working toward publication for some time, and I still have no idea how that can be legal, but apparently it is. At any rate, allegedly all royalties are being donated to charity, so perhaps that has something to do with it.

The key descriptor I have for the book is “irreverent”. It’s not a serious take on the Whoniverse at all, although there are a few serious stories in it. Most of its selections are parodies of one sort or another. Don’t let that discourage you; they’re mostly good parodies, if not quite Curse of Fatal Death good. When I say irreverent, I also mean that there is material here that—while not particularly lurid—would be a bit too racy for the television series, though not by much. (He may allow it to be called fanfiction, but it’s not THAT kind of fanfiction. Mostly.)

It is worth it to take a moment and copy over the book’s back-cover blurb before we go on:

Somewhere in space and time, Peter Cushing really is the first Doctor Who, Hugh Grant’s TARDIS turn lasted longer than a few Fatal Death minutes, and Adric is the King of the Neanderthals.

In this same alternative reality, the United States produced their own domestic remake of the series, Clara met the eighth Doctor over a cow, and the eleventh Doctor had an insatiable desire to terminate Amy and Rory with as much extreme prejudice as he could muster.

None of these things are real. But don’t let that stop you.

The blurb is a bit misleading. There is a Cushing Doctor story, but it’s strictly within the universe of the Cushing Dr. Who films; and as far as I could tell, there is no story that includes Hugh Grant’s Doctor (or if there is, he’s vague enough not to make it obvious; maybe it was a planned story that was cut?). Adric definitely is king of the Neanderthals, however; we’ll get to that. The other stories it references are as it says.

Let’s take a glance at each story. I’m listing them out of order; I want to look at the parodies first, and then finish with the more serious works. Many of the stories are set up like an Unbound audio: “What if…?”

The book opens with “The Silent Space”. This Eleventh-Doctor story asks the question, “What if you open the TARDIS doors while it’s in flight?” The answer really has nothing to do with the question, but that’s beside the point. The story’s real purpose is to provide a send-up of the show’s habit of killing Rory Williams at every opportunity—in fact, he dies a few times in this story—and to that end, it brings in River Song at various ages, and not one, but two Amys—who end up kissing each other. Hey, I did say it was mostly not that kind of fanfiction. It’s a funny story, but it’s a little disorganized; there are certainly better. The book also includes an earlier draft of this story, which is in the form of a script rather than a short story, but hits all the same notes. The story was first published in a fanzine called Fanwnak (and no, that isn’t a misspelling, it’s actually titled that way).

“River Song’s Bedtime Story”, also written for Fanwnak, is a good followup to the “The Silent Space”. It uses the framework of River—the adult River, mind you—visiting her parents, Amy and Rory, overnight for the first time; and she insists on something she never got as a child: A bedtime story. Okay, silly, perhaps, but simple enough. The story they tell her reads as a parody, but actually is fairly serious with regard to its events. In the story, the Doctor takes Amy and Rory (post-The Big Bang) back to Totter’s Yard, 23 November 1963, to show them where his travels had their beginning (yes, I know, not literally the beginning, but shut up, this is fanwank at its best). Their plans take an abrupt turn, however, when they end up rerouted to Dallas a day early, and meet none other than Lee Harvey Oswald. The Doctor’s usual take on such events is to leave them untouched, but there’s just one problem: Oswald is a Time Agent from the future, and he’s here to save the president! Insert chaos, watch things degrade from there. I won’t spoil the ending.

“Companion Peace” rounds out this early trilogy of Fanwnak submissions, all of which feature the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River. This is the only story that I truly didn’t like, and for one simple reason: It’s creepy as hell. In its presentation, it feels very much like Curse of Fatal Death; it features the Doctor divesting himself of past responsibilities—mostly in the form of his companions, whom he repeatedly tries to drop off in dangerous situations—and obtaining a new love interest. That’s fine; it’s funny. Then you reach the last page; and for once, I don’t mind giving a spoiler. On the last page, you find out that the new love interest…is a memory-wiped Susan. You find this out just before the Doctor goes to bed with her. This is completely out of character for this author, and honestly I have no idea what the hell he was thinking, or how he got even an independent fanzine to publish it. I promise you the other stories are not like that.

“Dance of Light” brings us to a section of stories that feel parodic, but really aren’t; the author is writing a serious story, but cloaking it in humor. It’s well done in most cases, and is similar to the way that the Christmas specials tend to run; in fact, one story that we’ll get to could be a sort of Christmas special. More of that later. This story—written under the pseudonym “Terrance Dick”, without the final –s–actually doesn’t involve the Doctor at all. It’s a UNIT story, set shortly before the Third Doctor’s regeneration in Planet of the Spiders, and it gives us the story of Harry Sullivan’s arrival at UNIT. Sergeant Benton, the Brigadier, Mike Yates, and Jo Grant find themselves obligated to thwart an alien invasion while attending a celebration of UNIT’s tenth anniversary. It’s a neatly written story, and gives Jo and Mike a chance to take center stage, however briefly. Harry—the real Harry, if that’s not revealing too much—does appear near the end. The Doctor gets a brief mention, but does not appear. Anything else I could say would be a spoiler; but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and was sorry to see it be so short. (Big Finish, take note: Perhaps a set of UNIT Short Trips wouldn’t be out of order…?)

“Maid of Eight” is another faux-parodic story. It’s narrated by Clara Oswald, although that isn’t revealed until later, and involves one of her many “echoes” from The Name of the Doctor. This one meets the Eighth Doctor; it’s not particularly clear from the story itself that that is the incarnation appearing here, but between the descriptions given and the title of the story, it’s obvious. Eight is traveling alone at this point. I’m not fond of Clara in her later seasons, but I’ve always admitted to liking the “impossible girl” storyline, and this story falls under that umbrella, so it’s not bad. It also includes a cow with green milk. What’s not to love?

“Time-Shock” is the promised Adric story, and takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the popular complaint that the Fifth Doctor could have saved Adric. The Doctor wants to go back and save Adric; Nyssa and Tegan, not so much. There are some suggestive moments—okay, some very blatant suggestive moments—between Nyssa and Tegan, and some innuendo involving the Doctor; this is not a family story, but it’s not creepy like “Companion Peace”, either. The story begins at the end of Earthshock, and ends with Adric becoming the expected King of the Neanderthals (and the Australopithecus, and…). How he gets there is something you just have to see for yourself. Suffice it to say, he didn’t die after all, despite the best efforts of his female companions.

“Let’s Regenerate!” is written in script form. I have to say, I’ve read it once, gone over it a few more times, and I still have no idea what’s going on. That in no way makes it any less funny. It involves the various Doctors meeting and progressing through their regenerations, finally culminating in a new, Thirteenth Doctor (gloriously portrayed as John Cleese). The Valeyard makes an appearance; we get not one, but TWO Capaldi Twelfth Doctors; and the first through third Doctors are portrayed by Kenneth Colley, Sam Troughton, and Sean Pertwee. Every Doctor delivers a ton of one-line non sequiturs, but always perfectly in character. I’m still laughing, even if I can’t quite figure out why.

“WHO” asks the question: “What if Doctor Who was remade in America?” You may have seen the list that went around a few years ago of who might play the various Doctors, had the show been made in America (it was quite good, except for Nicholas Cage). This, I assure you, is as far from that as you can get. We’re so deep in parody territory here that we may never get out. The author uses multiple pseudonyms within this story; his favorite is “Stephen Muppet”, poking fun at Steven Moffat. This story is the most egregious example of that. It’s another Eleventh Doctor story, though only incredibly loosely so; it takes the characters of the Amy Pond (or rather, Aimee Bond—yes, it’s that kind of parody) era and loosely retells the story of Genesis of the Daleks, and I do mean loosely. Rory still manages to die, or almost anyway. There’s a lot of innuendo here, but nothing particularly gratuitous, unless you count renaming the TARDIS as “Travels In Time And Space Shuttle”—you figure out the acronym. Yes, they make exactly that joke. It’s a funny story, but I felt like it tries too hard; it’s humor on the same level as the old Mad Magazine or Cracked Magazine comics, but without the experience those magazines had after years of writing such things.

“The Happy Man” is parody by merit of its subject matter, though it tries to be a serious story. It’s a sequel to The Happiness Patrol, and brings back the Kandy Man—excuse me, the Happy Man, as he’s calling himself here. It’s hard to write a story about that character without unintentionally becoming a parody; Southall doesn’t really manage the trick. It’s not a bad story, though. It begins with a drug epidemic, and ends as a human-interest story, and somehow the transition doesn’t seem contrived. It does give us a made-up companion character, Punk, rather than using Ace; I think that was a good decision, as Ace would have taken over this story, and it’s not about the companion. It has one of the better speeches about the Doctor’s (and the companion’s) purpose, and it’s worth the read just for that scene. I enjoyed it anyway, but if you just can’t stomach a Kandy Man story, it’s probably skippable.

“Pieces of Eight” is by far the strangest story in the collection. I was sure at first that it was going to be some kind of parody. It’s written in script form, and an animated version exists on YouTube, although I haven’t looked it up as yet. It’s an Eighth Doctor story, and at first glance it’s another take on the popular trope of having the Doctor meet his past selves inside his own mind. It lampshades this trope by having the Doctor recognize that that is what’s happening; but still, nothing works out quite like he expects. The various version of the Doctor have alternate names here, like “Stream” and “Flavour” and “Choke”; that’s one of the reasons I assumed it was a parody, and laughed appropriately. By the end of the story, you’re not laughing anymore, as the story very suddenly pulls the curtain back, and you realize that it’s a commentary on the Time War, before the War even begins. I was completely caught off guard by this turn of events, and I like to think I’m good at spotting a twist coming. It’s a very good story, though it can only really spring its twist on you once, and probably wouldn’t hold up to rereading (or as I call this, “Shyamalan Syndrome”). It does seem to have been written before the War Doctor was introduced, as it skips over him and ends with a cameo of the Ninth Doctor. (In context, that’s not much of a spoiler—read the story!)

Now we reach the truly serious stories, of which there are three. These occur in the middle of the book, but I delayed them to the end of the post, because they’re worth the extra consideration. “Time’s Past is a short piece, only requiring two or three minutes to read, but it is hands down the most emotional piece in the book. It’s a very brief encounter between an aging Ian Chesterton and the Eleventh Doctor, in which they reminisce without ever quite revealing their identities to each other. It doesn’t matter; they know. (It doesn’t take into account Ian’s previous meeting with the Eleventh Doctor in Hunters of the Burning Stone, but then, stories in other media often overlook the comics, so that’s forgiveable, perhaps.) This story made me cry, which is something that almost never happens with regard to a story. It also takes into account the real-world death of Jacqueline Hill, giving a corresponding death to Barbara at some point in the past, and handling the entire matter very respectfully, but also very emotionally. It’s my favorite entry in the collection, and I highly recommend it. I’ve often imagined such a scene between the Twelfth Doctor and Ian, and I had hoped that he would make a cameo in Class as one of Coal Hill’s board of governors, so that we would have such a scene; but it didn’t happen, of course. This story is very much what I would have imagined, though with a different Doctor.

“The Short and the Tall of It” is the aforementioned Cushing/Dr. Who story. It’s narrated in first person by that universe’s version of Ian, who is still dating Dr. Who’s granddaughter, Barbara, placing it between the two films. It implies that there have been other adventures in Tardis (again, not a misspelling—see any post about the movies for more details) since the first, with Ian a semi-unwilling participant. It’s this universe’s answer to Planet of Giants, and makes clever use of both time-travel (Tardis-free, this time) and changes in size. I’m fond of the films, and I like stories with the Cushing Doctor, rare as they may be; and I really had no problems with this story. It’s pure fun, but that’s exactly what it aims to be, and it succeeds.

Finally, there’s “Everything In Its Right Place”. This story centers on the War Doctor, and constitutes Southall’s contribution to the Seasons of War charity anthology. It seems to hinge on other events covered in that anthology, though I won’t be sure until I receive my copy; it implies that the War Doctor previously relocated Earth into another dimension. In Earth’s place, something else has arisen, riding on the dreams of the displaced planet. It’s told from the point of view of Alice, a peculiar girl who seems to be not entirely human…but she’s becoming human, or so the Doctor thinks. It plays out similarly to such classic stories as The Mind Robber, with changing environments and adversaries; it ends with a poignant loss, before the Doctor returns to his war. It’s the older War Doctor in view here, although I understand that the charity anthology includes stories of his younger self as well. There are two versions of this story as well; the version that was submitted for the anthology appears first, and an earlier draft rounds out the book. Both are good; the changes don’t seem to improve so much as change focus.

As a whole, the collection is better than I expected when I bought it. At a price of just five dollars for the Kindle edition, I wasn’t expecting much; I just thought it would be a few hours’ idle entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised. There’s really only one low point (“Companion Peace”), and several of the other stories give insight into corners of the Doctor Who universe that often slip through the cracks and get forgotten. It’s an emotional roller coaster, running the gamut from humor to sobriety to nobility to “Why would you WRITE that?!” It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition; the link is below. If you’re the kind of fan for whom “canon” is less a structure and more a friendly suggestion, you’ll love this collection; and even if that’s not you, you’ll still find something to enjoy. Check it out!

Next week: Hopefully I’ll be back on track with the VNAs, reviewing Transit. See you there.

Fanwinked, by J.R. Southall, may be purchased from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.  Link is below.

Fanwinked