Audio Review: Selected Short Trips

We’re back! You may have thought this site was abandoned–after all, the gaps between my posts are longer than the gaps between Doctor Who‘s television episodes–but here we are. Welcome!

Full disclosure, though: We’re not yet back to a regular schedule. Quite some time ago, we reached fifty episodes of the Monthly Adventures range of Doctor Who audio dramas; and ultimately I want to continue that range, along with some others (especially now that the Monthly Adventures range has ended). But, life is hectic, and that’s a commitment of time and energy that I can’t spare now. Eventually, maybe.

In the meantime, we’re looking today at a handful of Short Trips audio adventures, covering several Doctors and companions. These, too, are out of order; I chose selections based on what looked interesting at the time. If, eventually, we cover all of the Short Trips range, I’ll make sure that the links at the bottom of the relevant pages will give you the entries in the proper order.

But for now, let’s get started! Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t listened to the stories below. Continue at your own risk!

Sound the Siren And I’ll Come To You, Comrade

Written by John Pritchard; Read by Stephen Critchlow

The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive–unintentionally as always–in the Soviet Union, mid-1950s. Their landing site is in the middle of a test zone for a new weapon: The atomic bomb. Naturally the scientists in the area fear the very thing they’re developing, although the soldiers are much more confident. However, the bomb isn’t the only danger present; a monster lurks in the area, a monster that lives on the radiation–and they’ve just given it a feast.

Although certainly entertaining, I found Sound the Siren and I’ll Come to You, Comrade to be the weakest of today’s selections, to the point that I found it difficult to pay attention (you’ll notice that my spoilers up there don’t include the details of the ending–chiefly because I’ve forgotten some of them). Not that it’s a bad story; it just didn’t grab me. Your mileage may vary. While the setting is interesting, there’s not a lot to work with in terms of plot. There is some novelty in placing a story in the early days of the Cold War; but once you set off an atomic bomb, everything else fades into the background. Having a set piece that large removes weight from whatever events are taking place around it.

Continuity references: None to speak of. This story is fairly self-contained.

Museum Peace

Written by James Swallow; Read by Nicholas Briggs

A retired Knight of Velyshaa, Kalendorf, has grown elderly; but still he remembers the war against the Daleks. Even when the rest of the planet seems to have moved on, he remembers. He frequently comes to the war museum, where he sits and thinks in front of a glass case containing three dead Daleks. As he broods on his past and his bitterness, he is unaware that one of the Daleks is not dead at all; indeed, it has monitored him while it gathers its minimal power, and it wants its last act to be one of defiance: Killing the man who killed so many Daleks in his time. Kalendorf is unexpectedly joined by the Eighth Doctor, nearing the end of his life. The Doctor reveals he is facing a choice, a moral dilemma (implied to be concerning the Last Great Time War). He and Kalendorf debate the morality of their respective causes–as the Dalek finds itself also facing a choice: Kill Kalendorf, or the Doctor? Both are great enemies of the Daleks. It chooses, and fires–just as a schoolchild on a tour runs in front of it, taking the shot. Kalendorf destroys the Dalek, then finds the child dead–and finds the Doctor gone, apparently having made his choice.

This story was originally published in print, in the Short Trips: Dalek Empire anthology. There’s a great deal of connection between this and other Dalek Empire stories, as well as other audios (all the way back to Big Finish’s first Doctor Who audio, The Sirens of Time). I have by no means read or listened to all the relevant material; however, one could almost consider Museum Peace to be a coda to those stories. As such it contains everything you need to appreciate it; its references to other works dangle out there as hooks for further reading and listening, but you aren’t obligated to follow them up. I like the portrayal of the Eighth Doctor here as old and tired; he’s not far from the man he will be in The Night of the Doctor. He fits right in with Kalendorf, who is now aged himself. The death of a child is a little extreme for Doctor Who, and a bit shocking, though not entirely unanticipated if you pay attention in the first half of the story. Overall, it’s sad and melancholy, and a little foreboding–but definitely a worthwhile listen.

Continuity references: Mostly to previous Dalek Empire events. The Doctor references two televised Dalek stories: The Daleks, and Genesis of the Daleks, making reference to the potential destruction of all Daleks. The Doctor previously met Kalendorf on the planet Zaleria; Kalendorf does not at first recognize him now, as that was in the Doctor’s seventh incarnation (Return of the Daleks). The Doctor knows his regeneration is coming soon (The Night of the Doctor). The Knights of Velyshaa are in the process of developing time travel, which will be realized in The Sirens of Time.

One more thing: The Doctor here mentions that he has an opportunity to destroy the Daleks completely, clearly referring to the events of the Time War. However, modern additions to the lore have rendered this unlikely. The story was first published (in print) in 2006, late enough to have established the existence of the war, but long before the War Doctor was known to exist. At the time, the assumption was that the Eighth Doctor was the one who ended the war (not even the Moment was known at that time). Of course we now know better–but the story still retains the line in which the Eighth Doctor admits to facing this choice.

Gardens of the Dead

Written by Jenny T Colgan; Read by Mark Strickson

This story is told in first person perspective, from the point of view of Vislor Turlough.

Turlough and Tegan have been verbally sparring for some time, especially regarding Tegan’s (fully justified) lack of trust in Turlough–who, unknown to the others, is under the influence of the Black Guardian. The Guardian wants Turlough to kill the Doctor; Turlough just wants peace. Therefore, when Turlough deliberately causes the TARDIS to land, Tegan is outraged. The Doctor and Nyssa, however, take it in stride; and Nyssa recognizes their landing place as the Gardens of the Dead, a cemetery world covered in dust that has a unique property: It shapes itself into the form of the beloved, departed dead, allowing the mourners to have a moment of closure. The Doctor refuses to go out into the dust, for personal reasons. However, Nyssa goes out, longing to see her father again; and Tegan follows. The Guardian prompts Turlough to kill the Doctor here, but Turlough resists. They quickly discover a kind of psychic parasite in the dust, which tries to use the dust to choke and kill the mourners. Turlough slips and allows Nyssa to know about the Guardian’s demand that the Doctor be killed; but before she can reveal it to the Doctor, she slips and hits her head. The parasite attacks first an old man nearby, then Nyssa, and at last the Doctor, forcing Turlough to make a choice. Defying the Guardian, he returns to the TARDIS, ultimately stumbling into a room that looks just like the gardens, but without the dust; there he finds a water hose, and sprays the dust away from the others, saving their lives. As the planet’s caretakers come in to clean up, the group departs in the TARDIS; fortunately for Turlough, Nyssa doesn’t remember anything of the day’s events.

I’m fond of the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS team, and especially of Turlough, who I feel is underrated as a companion. Therefore it was inevitable I was going to at least enjoy this story. It makes for an excellent followup to a previous Short Trip, The Toy, which was released the previous year, and focuses on Nyssa. Both stories address the topic of her grief regarding the Master’s takeover of the body of Nyssa’s father, Tremas. This time, though, we see it through Turlough’s eyes; and we see the full measure of the conflict he felt while trying to serve the Black Guardian. You get the impression he’s nearly at the turning point here, though the resolution of the story essentially allows him to put the choice off a little longer (the story takes place between Mawdryn Undead and Terminus, so actually closer to the beginning of Turlough’s arc). For all that the story concerns the Fifth Doctor, his role here is limited; were this an episode, it would be a Doctor-lite story. Still, it doesn’t suffer for that; the dynamic among Turlough, Tegan, and Nyssa is good enough to carry the story.

Continuity references: Just a few, but they’re major. There are several references to the events of Mawdryn Undead, especially with regard to Turlough’s deal with the Black Guardian. As well, Nyssa speaks at length regarding her father and the Master (The Keeper of Traken). The Black Guardian’s anger at the Doctor stretches back to the events of the Key to Time story arc.

The Best-Laid Plans

Written by Ben Tedds; Read by Jacob Dudman

This story was the winning entry of the 2019 Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity, and can be downloaded for free from Big Finish’s website.

On Dowdonia, a man named Dracksil Forg specializes in ideas. He has made his fortune selling solutions to problems; but lately, perhaps having grown a little greedy, he has begun to cultivate a new clientele: Those who want to rule over others. Warlords and dictators come to him, and he sells them plans, which are inevitably successful…until suddenly they aren’t. It begins with one rather intimidating shark-headed customer, whose plan of conquest backfired spectacularly–but that’s only the beginning. Soon he realizes that there’s a common thread to the failed plans: A grey-haired gentleman who calls himself the Doctor. At last, with Dracksil’s name, reputation, and fortune on the line, he comes face to face with the Doctor…who reveals that Dracksil is, and has ever been, a thief and an opportunist. The ideas don’t come from him; they come from the customers. Dracksil is mildly psychic; he sieves ideas from the people around him like a net collects fish, and replaces them with a psychic lure that brings them into his shop in search of answers. And that would be fine, except that his powers are being used for evil by the various warlords. However, as the Doctor points out, he faces a choice: Stay, be arrested, possibly killed; or leave, forge a new identity and a new life, and use his powers for good.

Big Finish has very little Twelfth Doctor material, so there’s not much to which to compare this story. It’s a slow starter; it’s late in the story before the Doctor is even mentioned–but that’s alright. When he appears, it’s sans companions (a requirement for the Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity); combining that with a description of his short hair would indicate that this story takes place during Series Eight, between the Doctor’s adventures with Clara Oswald. The story is clever and to the point, and fits the Twelfth Doctor’s no-nonsense, blunt manner very well. Regarding the presentation, Jacob Dudman does a passable impersonation of the Twelfth Doctor’s accent and manner; he sounds as though the Doctor has a cold, but otherwise, it’s convincing.

Continuity References: None to speak of. This isn’t a reflection on the story, but rather, on the contest for which it was written. Due to rights issues, stories presented as part of the Paul Spragg opportunity are not permitted to use previous companions or monsters; this usually causes the submissions to be isolated from most of the series’ lore.

The King of the Dead

Written by Ian Atkins; Read by Sarah Sutton

We’re on an “x of the dead” kick with the Fifth Doctor, apparently!

London, 1982: The TARDIS materializes onstage in the middle of the debut showing of The King of the Dead, an interactive play based on the events of the king’s abdication in the 1930s. Immediately the team gets separated by a staff member, Patrick, who seems to know more than he lets on. The Doctor finds himself giving medical attention to an injured man–and in the process he discovers a swarm of spiderlike, extradimensional aliens who seem to feed on the minds of humans. Nyssa and Tegan, meanwhile, learn that there’s something odd about Patrick. When the group manages to reunite, they put their heads together and learn the truth. Patrick’s father was a member of UNIT, who died in an unknown operation. Patrick, seeking revenge, joined UNIT himself, and discovered both the aliens and the means to bring them into this reality. Now, he intends to unleash him on the more than six hundred audience members, creating a crisis which UNIT can’t hide, and discrediting the agency. However, Nyssa tells him about her own desire for revenge on behalf of her father–and how she had at last come to forgive the Master, who murdered her father and took his body. Faced with a new choice, Patrick refuses to help the aliens, and returns them to the place from which they came.

The King of the Dead is a much more complex story than I expected from the Short Trips range, with more mystery and more action. On those points I can’t fault it–it’s an exciting story. It also adds to the theme we had in Gardens of the Dead, regarding Nyssa’s grief over her father, Tremas. This is an older, more mature Nyssa (not by much, I gather, but enough to make her mention it–I admit I’m not entire clear on the chronology, having skipped far ahead in her story to get here), and it shows. The trade-off for all of these high points, is that the story is chaotically put together. We leap straight into the action with no explanation at all, and it takes a few minutes to catch up enough to realize what’s happening. From there, we bounce between viewpoints and scenes erratically, until we arrive at the ending a little sooner than we expected. It almost feels like a found-footage film in that regard–just a little shaky, a little random. In the end, that’s not enough to ruin the story; you should definitely give it a listen.

Continuity References: There’s a fair bit of discussion, again, of Tremas and the Master (The Keeper of Traken) and of Traken’s destruction (Logopolis). The play is based around the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII, which is also mentioned in the Sixth Doctor novel Players. Reference is made to the Brigadier (various UNIT stories) and to the UNIT vault (Tales from the Vault; The Scales of Justice). The Doctor mentions his exile on Earth (Spearhead from Space and most of the Third Doctor era). At the start of the story, the Doctor was attempting to reach the 2012 Olympics; he eventually visits them in later incarnations (Fear Her; Good as Gold).

And that’s it for today! Next time: Who knows? Thanks for reading.

All stories presented here can be purchased from the Big Finish Productions website. Individual sale pages have been linked at the titles, above.

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.


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.

Novel Review: Scratchman

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Stepping out of the New Adventures series for a moment, today we’re looking at a more recent, and more unique, novel: 2019’s Scratchman, written by Tom Baker himself!

…Well, not exactly. Baker is certainly credited as the author; and along with Ian Marter, he wrote the original movie treatment from which the novel is adapted. (In some sources, Marter gets a credit on the novel as well.) But the actual writing was handled by James Goss, and he deserves credit as well, so I’m acknowledging him here.

Cover of the print novel

However, Baker did do the reading of the novel; and it’s for that reason that this time, I chose the Audible audiobook version. I’ll go ahead and say, you should too; if you want to experience this novel, do yourself a favor and pick up the audio. Tom is clearly having the time of his life, and it shows; you won’t be disappointed.

This novel features the Fourth Doctor, along with companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan (placing it sometime early in the Fourth Doctor’s era—we’ll try to get a better placement later). Further, it’s told in the first person perspective, by the Doctor himself. And so, let’s get started!

Novel print back cover

SPOILERS AHEAD! A brief summary begins here, and contains spoilers. If you want to avoid them, skip down to the line divider, below. However, be aware that some minor spoilers may happen in the later remarks as well.

The Fourth Doctor is on trial. The Time Lords have summoned him to Gallifrey to account for his recent actions; and this time, they aren’t playing around. He is accused of interfering in universal affairs—a rather broad charge, and that’s the point, isn’t it? The penalty, should they find him guilty, is to be wiped from existence—but the Doctor isn’t going to roll over and die. Instead, he’s come to teach the Time Lords a lesson in fear—and to do that, he’s going to tell them the story of his recent encounter with the Devil himself: Scratchman.

The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry arrive on an island somewhere off the coast of Scotland (or is it? It’s suggested, but not confirmed), in a recent but unconfirmed year. It seems like a nice place for a break; but as usual, something is very wrong here. It doesn’t take long for the Doctor and his friends to find that strange living scarecrows have infested the island, and are slowly killing the villagers. Or…are they? It soon becomes apparent that they aren’t killing the locals; they’re transforming them into more scarecrows!

The travelers gather the remaining locals into the village church. The Doctor deduces that a virus is the vector for this strange plague, and that the scarecrows spread the virus by touch; but if he can keep them from getting infected, and can destroy the scarecrows, he can stop it. To the latter end, he constructs a machine that will create an evolutionarily targeted breed of moths, which will devour the scarecrows’ outer shells, killing them. He sends Harry out for parts, and sends Sarah to the TARDIS to retrieve an Artron power pack for the device. Harry is infected while out, though he doesn’t realize it. Sarah accidentally allows a scarecrow into the TARDIS; she confronts and defeats it, but not before it infects her—and what’s more, it infects the TARDIS itself. Along the way, the Doctor himself is infected, though he is able to resist it longer.

A battle in the churchyard leads to the deaths of the remaining locals; although the moths do the job, it’s too late, and the scarecrows capture the Doctor and his friends. They take them to the beach, where they are confronted by the power behind the scarecrows: The Cybermen. However, the Doctor figures out that the Cybermen aren’t the problem here; they, too, are tools. Some other power has gifted them with the scarecrow virus, promising them an easy army; that power now has what it truly wants: The Doctor. It appears on the beach in the form of a humanoid at a distance, as the Cybermen leave the scene and walk into the ocean. The figure tells the Doctor to come to him, and turns Harry and Sarah into scarecrows.

The Doctor lands the TARDIS in a strange volcanic world; as soon as he exits, the TARDIS is consumed by vines. He meets a taxi driver named Charon, who takes him on a drive to meet the ruler of this land. The Doctor has already forgotten much, including his own identity and mission; Charon says this is normal here in the land of the dead, and that it will come back to him eventually. Along the way they suffer an attack from the Cyberleader from the island, who apparently is now also dead. Charon drops him near a castle floating in the sky, which the Doctor enters. He suffers another attack on his identity, but refuses to believe he is dead; the memory of Sarah and Harry returns to him and strengthens him. He finds them in a strange ballroom, dancing among a crowd; but this all serves to try to convince him he is dead, and therefore no longer the Doctor. He sees Harry and Sarah leave with a young man, purportedly his next self; and he begins to lose heart. However he meets a young blonde woman—his Thirteenth self, though he doesn’t know it—who distracts and frees him from the influence of the place.

The Doctor then meets the local ruler, Scratchman, who is ostensibly the Devil himself—which makes this place Hell. Scratchman offers to return the Doctor to his own universe and place, if the Doctor will open the way for Scratch to follow—after all, he claims he has made this a better realm, and claims that, much like the Doctor, he would like to do the same in the Doctor’s universe. The Doctor refuses, leaving a battle between them as the only alternative. He recovers Harry and Sarah, but they find themselves battling Scratchman on a huge game board, which is defined by Harry’s memories and thoughts. The Doctor forces a stalemate before Scratchman tries to change the rules. He loses Harry; but Harry makes his way inside the castle, and sabotages the engines that keep it afloat. The Doctor nearly dies in the crash, but is rescued by the Cyberleader; it tells him that its own form of Hell is being forced to do good deeds, and feel the emotions thereof. It states it will not do so again, and then disappears.

The Doctor now knows Scratch’s secret: He feeds on dreams and feelings and memories. The engines were powered by the consumption of the dreams of those trapped in this world; but that source of power is running out. Scratch begins to consume the world itself in an effort to destroy the Doctor; he creates replicas of many creatures the Doctor has faced and defeated, and sends them after the Doctor. He also creates scarecrow replicas of the Doctor’s previous three incarnations, to judge and dishearten the Doctor. The Doctor and his friends meet up with the islanders who died as scarecrows; the islanders know they’re doomed, but they choose to go down fighting, and stand against the army of monsters, allowing the Doctor to make it back to Scratch’s office in the ruins. Scratch reveals that what he really wants—the thing he believes will give him true power over the Doctor—is to know what the Doctor is afraid of. The Doctor tells him (although we, the readers, are not told). Whatever it is, Scratch is overwhelmed by it, and falls into fear himself. He flees from the remains of the monster army, before falling into a chasm to escape them. Quiet falls over the remains of Hell, and the three travelers—the only survivors—find the TARDIS, now restored, and return to their own universe.

Back at the trial, the Time Lords are unhappy with the outcome; but as the Doctor did save the universe again, and sealed the rift to Scratchman’s universe, they have no grounds to convict him. The Doctor concludes his lesson to them by telling them that what Scratchman wanted was not truly the Doctor’s fear, but rather, the Time Lords’ fear. He tells them they are afraid of change; and tells them to take action when the universe is under threat. He then walks out of the courtroom.

Later, while taking a much-belated break, the Doctor talks with Sarah about her experiences in the infected TARDIS, and about the future, and the knowledge of it. He meets briefly with the Thirteenth Doctor again, and talks about their own mutual future. He ends, much later, with a reading of a note from Sarah Jane, who is no longer with him.

I’m going to change up my usual order of things, and list continuity references now, rather than at the end. There’s a method to my madness, so bear with me:

Continuity references: The Doctor has previously been tried (The War Games), and will be again, several times. He mentions the Master’s doomsday weapon (Colony in Space). He mentions several recent encounters: professors (Robot), giant wasps (The Ark in Space), “militant potatoes” i.e. Sontarans (The Sontaran Experiment), mad scientists (Genesis of the Daleks), shapeshifters i.e. Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), and androids (The Android Invasion). Sarah Jane has her own mentions: her aunt Lavinia (The Time Warrior, later in A Girl’s Best Friend), a space station (The Ark in Space), a minefield (Genesis of the Daleks), a mummy (Pyramids of Mars), an android duplicate (The Android Invasion), a stuffed owl (The Hand of Fear), a garden centre (A Girl’s Best Friend–Sarah is seeing possible futures at this point), an exploding school (School Reunion) and a young boy (Luke, Invasion of the Bane et al.). She believes, erroneously, that the Jigsaw Room floor is a tile trap (Death to the DaleksThe Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor mentions the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons) and thinks about the Daemons (The Daemons). Scratchman pulls several monsters from the Doctor’s memories: Giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders), Macra (The Macra Terror), Mechonoids (described but not named; The Chase), a giant robot (Robot), giant maggots (The Green Death), brains in jars (The Keys of Marinus), and a metal city of Daleks (described but not named; The Daleks).

Audiobook cover

How many times has the Doctor met the devil?

It’s a good question! And admittedly, one that’s difficult to pin down. A statement that repeatedly comes up in Doctor Who is that Earth’s history of belief in the devil has been greatly influenced by outsiders. The Daemons from the planet Daemos are once source (The Daemons), as were the Demoniacs (Mean Streets). The Greek immortal Hades called himself Satan (Deadly Reunion), as did Sutekh (Pyramids of Mars). The Beast claimed to be Satan, and certainly looked the part (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit). (This information taken from the TARDIS wiki, not assembled by me.)

And here we meet another candidate, Scratchman. This being comes from outside our universe, from a related realm that poses itself as the Land of the Dead. It’s actually unclear whether Scratchman originated there, or whether he came from somewhere else; the Doctor makes it clear that Scratchman’s rule had a definite beginning, and Scratch himself doesn’t deny it.

Scratch’s claim to being the devil is pretty good, as compared to some of the others. The dead really do appear to go to his realm (or at least some of them; this isn’t the only afterlife we’ve ever seen); while there, the Doctor meets the dead villagers that he previously encountered in life, and both he and they seem convinced that the villagers are both real and dead. Even more convincingly to me, the Doctor never denies that Scratch is exactly what he says he is; in fact the Doctor supports that claim, treats him as though he is in fact the Devil, and even later warns the Time Lords that they should fear Scratchman. When the Time Lords mock him for this, he doubles down. Is Scratch truly the devil? It’s up to the reader in the end; but the Doctor himself seems to think so, at least to the limit that he acknowledges that the devil could be real at all.

The Doctor purports to give the Time Lords a lesson in fear; indeed, all the interludes set during the trial are themed around various aspects of fear. The overall lesson seems to be that fear is a tool, and if you can’t overcome it, someone will use it. That lesson cuts in two directions; the Doctor urges the Time Lords to overcome their own fear of change and inactivity so that it can’t be used against them, and so that they don’t fail in their responsibilities to the universe; but at the same time, it’s clear that he overcomes his own fear. He does this not by denying it, but by embracing it and using it to motivate himself. We’re never told exactly what the Doctor fears, but it must be something great indeed, if in the end it drives even his enemy to extremity. (The novel doesn’t take the easy way out here; it would be so simple to say that “The Doctor fears losing his friends” or something sentimental like that, but the book explicitly avoids that option—rather, he makes it clear that he loves his friends, and that love is a potent force for good.)

Now, a bit of theorizing. Let’s think about when this story takes place. Based on the list of continuity references above, it’s clear that this story happens near the end of Harry’s travels with the Doctor. In fact, his last televised adventure, The Android Invasion, has already taken place; but the next story, The Brain of Morbius, does not feature Harry, and gets no mention here, implying this story takes place immediately between those two adventures. (There are mentions of later episodes, but they are explicitly images of possible futures, not memories of things already past.) I think that the Doctor’s “lesson” to the Time Lords here is specifically a reaction to the events of Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor has always considered the Time Lords to be stagnant, standoffish, and set in their ways, qualities he abhors. I think that when they began to interfere by proxy, during his third life, he grew frustrated with their efforts to use him to do things they themselves considered beneath them; and I think this came to a head in Genesis, where he finally refused to comply. Thus he comes here and lectures them about their habit of ignoring their responsibility to the universe, because even in sending him out to do their dirty work, they’ve been refusing to get involved themselves—using him as an “out”, as it were.

But: remember that there’s also a popular theory that the events of Genesis constituted the opening blow of the Time War. My addition: What if the reason the Time Lords began to fight the war directly, is because of the Doctor’s speech here? What if he prompted them to take direct action—and in typical Time Lord fashion, they screwed it up, and started a war they couldn’t win? Essentially, the Doctor called them cowards and dared them to do it. A lesson in fear, indeed! Or at least it’s frightening to think of in hindsight.

The highlight of the story is the perspective. The first person perspective is a unique addition to this story; and with the Fourth Doctor as a narrator, it becomes an interesting look into his thoughts. He’s conceited, there’s no doubt about that; but when coupled with his obvious love for life and sense of humor, it comes across as charming rather than arrogant. This is the Doctor in his youth; I’ve long suggested that given Time Lord lifespans, the fourth incarnation is the Doctor’s adolescent period, where he’s rebellious and wild, but also still has much to learn. This story seems to bear that out. He’s not the jaded and cunning Doctor of future incarnations; he’s sarcastic but not cynical, and even in some ways naïve. It’s refreshing, but it’s not the view of the Doctor that we would get through companion eyes.

Overall: What a fun story! It’s not the most serious adventure out there, though neither is it absurd, despite the premise; it’s just serious enough. And that’s a good place for a Fourth Doctor adventure to be. It’s also highly sentimental; one gets the impression it’s Tom Baker’s memorial to Ian Marter and Elizabeth Sladen, both of whom are referenced fondly, both in and out of character. If you have the opportunity, check it out, and enjoy the trip.

Next time: Well, this isn’t part of a series, and standalone novels are rare among my reviews, so…we’ll see? I may cover the Nest Cottage trilogy; for anyone interested, you can obtain the entire set for one price on Audible, or if you have an Audible membership, for one credit. Regardless, whatever we cover, see you there!

Doctor Who: Scratchman may be purchased in print form from Amazon and other booksellers, and in audio form from Audible and other audio distributors.

The TARDIS wiki’s treatment of the novel may be found here.

Novel Review: Blood Harvest

We’re back! And finally caught up! Today we’re looking at the twenty-eighth entry in the New Adventures series: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks. Published in July, 1994, this entry features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny (I know I say that a lot, but eventually companions will be swapped out, so bear with me), and serves as one of several sequels to the Fourth Doctor serial State of Decay. Not at all coincidentally, it’s also a prequel (of sorts) to the Fifth Doctor novel Goth Opera (because this is Doctor Who, and who said sequels have to come in order?). That novel is the first in the then-newly-launched Past Doctor Adventures line, and though I have read it, I haven’t covered it; but I may try to do so soon, just for continuity’s sake. (I don’t plan to start regular coverage of that line just yet; I’d like to finish the VNAs and the EDAs first.)

At any rate, Terrance Dicks never truly disappoints, and this is no exception—so, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.

Chicago, 1929. Old-school gangland at its finest, and maybe worst. Infamous (but oh so polite) mobster Al Capone runs most of the city, and wages occasional war on rival gang leaders, all under the shadow of Prohibition. Tom Dekker is a private eye, but he may be in over his head when Capone himself hires him to investigate a new speakeasy and its owner, a strange little man called “Doc”…

For “Doc”, Chicago isn’t a playground—but it is deadly. Doc would like nothing more than to see the mobs stop killing each other, and with the help of a gun-toting woman named Ace, he plans to do exactly that—even if it means helping Capone. But something is wrong: every time Doc and Capone get a handle on the situation, something sends it off the rails. It’s as though someone is sabotaging their work—and that someone may not be human.

Far from Chicago, Earth, and even the known universe, Professor Bernice Summerfield is investigating a quiet backwater planet. Its feudal society seems peaceful enough, beyond the parochial struggles between the peasants and the nobility—but the locals tell stories of long-slain Lords with a taste for blood. It doesn’t take Bernice long to find out just how true the stories are. She’ll soon learn that events here in E-space have an unexpected connection to 1920s Chicago—and that someone is pulling all the strings on two worlds, laying a trap for the Doctor. And that’s not even counting the problem of the vampires themselves!

I mentioned in passing a few days ago that this novel was a real page-turner for me, and it was; I finished it in two nights, most of it in one. It’s not that it’s the best novel in the series so far—I’m not sure which that would be, but I’d make a vote for Timewyrm: Revelation–it’s just that it’s like good comfort food. For one thing, I’ve been a fan of Terrance Dicks’s work very nearly my entire life. I grew up reading novelisations of Doctor Who even more than I watched the series, and Dicks wrote most of them (or rather, most of the ones I had access to—he wrote about a third of the novelisations of the classic series). He is almost certainly the only DW author whose name I knew prior to the modern era. Recently I saw a video review of Timewyrm: Exodus, Dicks’s first contribution to the VNAs, and the reviewer commented that, although Dicks was more than willing to write the book, he wasn’t very familiar with the Seventh Doctor at this point. Consequently he defaulted to the Doctor’s core characteristics as he understood them, rather than the personality specific to the Seventh Doctor. I think that’s a fair argument; but I mention it to say that things have changed by now! Blood Harvest’s Seven is much more himself—you can almost hear his accent in his dialogue.

For a second point in favor, this book follows closely on the heels of State of Decay, which is one of my favorite stories. Of course, for the Doctor, it’s been three regenerations and who knows how many years; but for the residents of the vampire planet, it’s been no more than perhaps a decade (characters who were elderly in State of Decay are still alive and active). Romana makes her first of half a dozen appearances in the VNAs; she’s still in E-space at this point, not exactly trapped, but here by choice. This book marks a turning point for her; she makes her return to Gallifrey. (K-9 is conspicuously absent; Romana mentions that he is serving as Lord High Administrator to Biroc, the Tharil leader, as the Tharils become a spacefaring species again. He will, however, rejoin Romana on Gallifrey at some point, possibly offscreen.)

If I have any complaint about this novel at all, it’s that its two storylines seem forced together. Either story could have stood alone, and there’s no good reason for them to be connected. The insertion of the villain that ties them together feels like exactly that—an insertion. I’m willing to overlook it, because both stories are good; the Chicago story ends a bit abruptly, but that has more to do with the historical events described (the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the other killings surrounding it) than the Doctor’s involvement.

You can probably imagine that this is a particularly bloody story. There’s a great deal of killing in the Chicago sequences, consistent with real world history (and maybe a bit more—that’s the point of the story). But there’s also events on the vampire planet, from exsanguinated bodies to large tanks of collected blood to a rather savage battle between humans and vampires. Doctor Who is known for the deaths of incidental characters, but it’s taken up a notch here; besides the large number of deaths, the deaths are graphic and visceral. I can’t see it having ever getting made for television in the classic series, which is a pity, because it’s a decent coda to State of Decay.

Continuity references: In addition to the obvious callbacks to State of Decay, the Fourth Doctor and K-9 make an appearance in a flashback to the end of Warrior’s Gate; the Doctor mentions Adric as well. The PI Dekker will reappear in Players, meeting a younger Doctor (the Sixth) and Peri. The Doctor has both a Reichinspektor General’s badge and Castellan Spandrell’s Gallifreyan Army Knife (Timewyrm: Exodus). Borusa is freed from imprisonment in the Tomb of Rasillon (The Five Doctors); this account will later be contradicted by another release in The Eight Doctors. (That event occurs earlier; it’s possible, given the way he behaves in this story, that he felt he hadn’t served his time yet, and returned voluntarily, to be released again here.) The character of the Time Lady Ruathadvorophrenaltid (Ruatha or Ruath for short) appears briefly at the end; she is a pivotal character in Goth Opera. The Doctor quotes himself from Timewyrm: Exodus (“In an authoritarian society, people obey the voice of authority”). Agonal may be an Eternal (this is suggested in Goth Opera, but that novel is tied tightly to this one), as seen in Enlightenment. Flavia is president of Gallifrey (The Five Doctors), and Spandrell is Castellan (The Deadly Assassin). The Doctor receives a dose of the Elixir of Life (The Brain of MorbiusNight of the Doctor). One of the Gallifreyan Committee of Three is the younger brother (or possibly cousin) of Goth (The Deadly Assassin). Benny mentions Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Ellerycorp Foundation (Love and War), Draconians (Frontier in Space, et al.), and Dulkis (The Dominators). Omega (The Three DoctorsArc of Infinity), the Shobogans (The Invasion of Time), and a Drashig (Carnival of Monsters) all get a mention. It’s also worth mentioning that State of Decay stated that there was only the one village on the planet, whereas this novel states there are many others (not established in the interim, but always present).

Overall: Eh, I’ve already said I liked it. If you want a good, comfortable Doctor Who story—with a little more violence thrown in for spice—this is your book. Things will no doubt pick up again soon, so enjoy the break while you have it.

Next time (if I can manage to finish it): Simon Messingham’s Strange England! See you there.

A prelude to this novel can be found here.

The New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from Ebay and other resellers.



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.

Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology, and Sarah Jane: Superstar! By Joshua Wanisko and Lillian Wanisko

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing with the “Investigations” portion of Sarah Jane’s life, with the seventh entry of the anthology: Sarah Jane, Superstar! by Joshua and Lillian Wanisko. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute. Let’s get started!

Defending Earth (Cover)

Aliens on Earth don’t have many places to congregate—the world isn’t ready for that—but a few exist. One such is the Black Light Tavern, described by its starfishlike bartender, Gleep-Glop, as the armpit of the universe (and a starfish should know about armpits, being possessed of five of them). The decrepitude of the place is deliberate—it keeps the humans away. Mostly, that is. A few still find their way in; but eventually the pub comes to a sort of equilibrium with them. Sarah Jane Smith finds her way to the Black Light (so named because all of its advertising is written in ultraviolet ink, visible to many aliens natively, but to humans only with the help of a black light) for an unusual reason. It seems the pub is putting on a show, and—strange as it seems—the show is all about her! Yes, it’s all about Sarah in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Croydon: The Sarah Jane Story (no, really). She can’t resist investigating, and so it is that she finds herself playing herself…as an understudy. Uh…can’t win ‘em all?

No one believes her when she says she is really Sarah Jane Smith; but that hardly matters. As the play—no, the musical–nears readiness, Sarah meets many colorful individuals in addition to Gleep-Glop (whose real name is a bit beyond the average human): the haughty and stereotypical Director, who learned his fashion sense from a collection of clichés; his assistant and stage manager, Elisabeth, who is the Director’s polar opposite in every way (and is one of the few humans around); a 6’3”, wiry, foxlike alien named Linx (playing a Sontaran and singing about potatoes, no less); a blonde bombshell (not quite human, but close), serving as the main actress for the part of Sarah Jane; and the mysterious Author, who wrote the script. However, Sarah—real Sarah, not stage Sarah—can’t shake the fear that someone knows too much for comfort about her life, as the musical seems to cover all her adventures with the Doctor in startling—but inaccurate—detail.

At last it’s too much suspense, and so she breaks into the Director’s office to find the Author’s notes. She gets more than she bargained for; the Author is there—and he knows who she really is. After a brief negotiation, he refuses to tell her where he got his information; but he takes her on as a consultant, checking the accuracy of the play.

With his help, the others accept her for who she really is, and the days race by. However, there are disagreements with the Author about the details that Sarah wants to correct; and finally, it comes to a head, and she quits the play and returns home. All seems well for a few days, until she receives an unexpected visitor: Elisabeth, the stage manager. The two have a long talk, in which Sarah reminisces about the Doctor, and muses about coming home from that life. Elisabeth confides that she wants to be an actress, not just the stage manager; but the Director considers her indispensable. Sarah advises her to make herself dispensable, if she wants to move up to the stage; and the best way to do that is by letting something in her job fail. In return, Lis gives Sarah what she wanted: the Author’s notes. And, reading them, Sarah realizes where he got his information!

She storms back into the Black Light, and demands to know how the Author got his hands on a copy of the Doctor’s diary. Chagrined, he admits that he found the pages, forgotten, in a copier in a copy shop (along with a receipt for scarf detangler and a barrel of jelly babies—it seems the Doctor is quite a character, as Sarah well knows!). Still, he insists, as fantastic as these stories are, sometimes real life needs a little…massaging in order to make a good story. Sarah doesn’t like it, but she is obliged to agree. The Author—perhaps not wanting his reputation besmirched—agrees to have Sarah back on the production, and agrees to her changes to the script; and in exchange, Sarah allows most of his artistic licenses to remain in place, insisting on only a few (goodbye, Brain of Morbius jello mold!).

The night of the premiere arrives, and Sarah sits in the audience, musing over all that has happened. Certainly this play represents another point of change in her own life, and maybe even in her attitudes…but what did the Doctor always say? Change is a part of life. She determines to face any change with laughter.

…Which is just as well, because the play is a massive flop. (I did say you can’t win ‘em all!) It flops so hard that the careers of everyone involved—except Sarah, of course—are massively diverted in new directions. Sarah thinks, much later, on the lives the participants are leading now; most of them sought new homes and new work, whether alien or human. None stayed with the stage—except, curiously enough, Elisabeth (what is her last name, anyway?), who goes on to become quite the star. Sarah, meanwhile, remains herself, and continues on, having learned and grown and, of course, laughed. And the Doctor, who—quite inadvertently—started this entire episode? He goes on, as well. Change is always a part of his life, but in the important ways, he remains the same. And, as always, he loves the Earth and its people. Sometimes they disappoint him—but when those times come, “he thinks of Sarah Jane Smith and he goes on.”

Wanisko Title Card

Every anthology needs at least one good meta-story! Preferably full of inside jokes and puns—the sillier, the better. Here, halfway through, Defending Earth delivers!

I was familiar—as many Big Finish fans will be—with co-author Joshua Wanisko for his audio Short Trip, Forever Fallen, the winner of Big Finish’s inaugural Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity in 2016. That story is an earnest, serious, thoughtful Seventh Doctor adventure, one that will stay with its listeners for some time. This story—co-written by Joshua’s daughter Lillian Wanisko, for whom this is a first writing credit—is none of that; and that is exactly as it should be! Where that story is full of emotion, this one is full of humor, and utterly lighthearted. How could it not be? It’s Sarah Jane Smith: The Musical!

We’re still firmly in the K9 and Company era here, as confirmed by some of the background details; Brendan gets a mention, though he’s not present, and Sarah Jane still lives in her aunt Lavinia’s house. K9 himself puts in a momentary appearance, though again he is not named as such. Thus, this Sarah Jane is young and energetic, and still—perhaps a little bit—somewhat directionless in life. I’ve commented in other entries that these stories seem to chronicle formative experiences in Sarah Jane’s life; this story makes it explicit, pointing out that this is another moment of change and refinement for her—if not as drastic a change as some.

Not many of these stories have had continuity references (something I usually include in my reviews), other than a general reference to the Doctor or UNIT or—obliquely—K9. This one is different; as it contains an in-universe chronicle of Sarah’s adventures, it mentions several of them directly, often even by name! Notably, we see references to Planet of the SpeedosSpiders (not my error! And, uh…we need Wardrobe over here, please!), RobotThe Monster of PeladonThe Brain of MorbiusThe Hand of FearGenesis of the DaleksThe Sontaran ExperimentThe Ark in SpaceDeath to the DaleksThe Time WarriorRevenge of the CybermenTerror of the Zygons, and Pyramids of Mars. In fact, it’s every story of Sarah Jane’s original (televised) travels with the Doctor, except The Android InvasionThe Seeds of Doom, and The Masque of Mandragora (and to be honest, I may have simply overlooked those). There are also a few meta-references: notably, Sarah declines to talk about the dates of the various UNIT stories; and the character of “Elisabeth” bears a very strong resemblance to a certain Elisabeth from our world, with a very close tie to Sarah Jane Smith…what is her last name?! I’ll get it eventually.

Overall: Nothing but pure fun, here—but that’s exactly what it sets out to accomplish. Did this “really” happen (as much as anything in Sarah Jane’s story really happened)? Does it matter? What matters is that, whether you’re a lifelong fan, or this anthology is your first exposure to Sarah Jane, you’ll get a good laugh—and a little life lesson—out of this story. And that, my friends, is plenty.

Next time: We’re halfway there! We’ll be checking out story number eight of fifteen, with Little Girl Lost, by Tina Marie DeLucia. See you there!

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M.H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.



Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology, and The Name of Universes, by James Bojaciuk

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of this post. We’re looking today at the fifth story in the collection, set during Sarah’s travels with the Fourth Doctor: The Name of Universes, by James Bojaciuk. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute.

Defending Earth (Cover)

Out on the edge of space and time—in fact, outside it—other universes, other realities wait. More than that, they move and live, sometimes on their own, other times full of life. But there are predators even beyond the universes—and sometimes they prey on universes themselves.

The Doctor, with Sarah Jane Smith at his side, discovers just such a circumstance. A great predator, moving without malice, moving on instinct—which can be just as deadly—closes in on a universe in a chase so grand as to defy imagination…and yet so fragile as well. It is up to the Doctor and Sarah to stop the chase, to save this lesser universe from its fate, for the sake of all life inside it.

To do so, the Doctor will take his TARDIS outside the boundaries of N-Space, out of the universe itself—out of all the universes, in fact—something ordinarily not possible, but possible here, with enough finesse. He must bring time and space to a place where they do not exist, impose laws of cause-and-effect and topography where they are foreign. Once he has done so, he can divert the universe out of the path of its predator (which, disdaining to compare it to a shark, he calls a “coelacanth”, that ancient, archaic fish once thought extinct on Earth). To do so, however, he must turn the TARDIS inside out, empty its cargo of space and time into the void—and this will be dangerous for him, but utterly inimical to a short-lived mortal like Sarah.

To both complete the mission and shield Sarah from harm, he sends her on a task. He activates the process from the console room; but to complete the required circuit, she must activate another control, in the TARDIS’s distant engine room. To that end, she sets out through the many and twisting corridors of the TARDIS, deep into its core, all the while keeping the Doctor in remote communication. Even in this desperate circumstance, their banter is light; they debate the question of what one calls a group of universes. A swarm? A litter? The Doctor suggests a “vagabond”, a “gadabout”, or—all heavens forbid—a “gazingstock” of universes.

Soon, however, Sarah finds it hard to concentrate on the game, as the TARDIS begins to come apart around her. Her perception of space, of time, of gravity, of the very relation among parts, is twisted and tested. As a final challenge, she must make a leap across a yawning void to reach the engine room…and she misses. However, the TARDIS itself rewards her courage, as it gently refolds its own geometry to land her safely in the engine room. She activates the controls…

…and finds herself back at the console room. All is well. The universe—no, the universes–are saved. The TARDIS is back to normal, and the mission is complete. And to what purpose? The Doctor opens the TARDIS doors, and shows her: A procession of many universes, receding out away from them in stately order, all radiant and beautiful and worth saving.

The Doctor suggests a final name for a group of universes: A “Mystery” of universes. Sarah, thoughtfully but kindly, corrects him: The only proper name of universes…

…is a Miracle.

Bojaciuk Title Card.png

I don’t have much to say about this story, but that is for an excellent reason: It speaks so well for itself. My description hardly does it justice; it should be experienced. It is as much poetry as prose; in fact, very little actually happens here, and so the plot is a bit sparse. But, it’s a beautiful story regardless. Sarah Jane and the Doctor seek to save a minor universe—or, put another way, all universes, in a representative sense—and in the process, Sarah gets a glimpse of the beautiful reality for which they so often fight.

And yet we need this sort of glimpse. For us, the readers, it’s a double insight. We get the opportunity to see what Sarah sees here—the beauty of the multiverse—but also we get to see a bit of her growth. Determination—which, we already know, the Sarah Jane of later years will have in abundance—grows out of moments like this, when one gets to see what one is fighting for. I mentioned in my first post that Sarah has had many formative moments; this, then, is one of them. Call it a “booster shot”, if you will; it’s something of a course correction that will carry her into her later life. It’s a short story, and a short episode—the second shortest in the collection; we’ll cover the shortest later—but it’s a crucial moment for her. I’m glad to have read it.

I think I’ve already covered my “Overall” section, and so I’ll move on to the “Next Time”. We’ve finished a third of the stories in the anthology, and three of five parts of Sarah Jane’s life (!); next time, we’ll begin the “Investigation” section, with Sarah Jane in an Exciting Adventure with the Fauxes, by Anna Maloney. See you there!

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M.H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.



Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology, and “Cuckoo Clocks That Work” by James Macaronas

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries beginning here, or via the “Previous” and “Next” links at the bottom of each entry. We’re looking at the fourth story in the collection, set during Sarah’s travels with the Fourth Doctor: Cuckoo Clocks the Work, by James Macaronas. Let’s get started! As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked above. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute.

Defending Earth (Cover)

Sarah Jane Smith is only beginning to get used to this new version of the Doctor. So perhaps she can be forgiven for panicking a bit when the TARDIS turns upside down and is yanked from the time vortex.

As the Doctor fights to stabilize the ship, he explains that something large—an entire world, as it turns out—has been removed from the vortex, leaving a sort of hole. The TARDIS has been pulled along in its wake. That should be impossible—but yet it has happened. The Doctor manages to bring the time capsule to a halt on the planet’s surface, and Sarah Jane follows him out.

They find themselves in the residue of a missile strike. A ruined city sprawls around them. As they explore, the city rumbles and quakes—and suddenly, it changes. Now the city is whole, and populated with people in garish clothing. The city, they learn, is called Tenzin, the only city on this planet, which is one of Earth’s far-flung colony worlds. It is only fifty years old, they are told. Suddenly the Doctor doubles over in pain—something, he says, is wrong with time itself. The city and its people are torn away, disappearing in pieces, revealing a new scene—one of cracked Earth and grass, and no other signs of life.

The Doctor insists that it is not they who are moving through time—it is the planet, impossible though that may seem. The world has been cut out of the vortex, and now it wanders through its own timeline. Or, perhaps, it is being led through its timeline. The Doctor’s pain increases, and Sarah helps him back to the TARDIS. As they run, the scene changes again, this time to a war zone, and they are chased by soldiers and a tank. They make it safely to the TARDIS, if only just barely.

The Doctor quickly insists that they must do something before the time distortion tears the planet apart. He reveals something that Sarah failed to notice: In all the scenes they saw, it was never night. But, he explains, it is unlikely that the planet’s star was stolen with it, as that would take considerably more power. He puts the planet’s light source on the scanner…and reveals it to be a ship. Specifically, a time ship of some sort.

The TARDIS takes them inside the time ship, and the duo set out exploring. They find a bright room containing a television, a chaise lounge—and a young woman, dancing. She introduces herself as Naia, and asks if the Ophanin sent them. In fits and starts, she explains that the planet below, her home, fought for its independence. She is interrupted by the arrival of the Ophanin, vaguely humanoid creatures with faces of fire, who say that they did not bring the Doctor and Sarah aboard. They render Sarah unconscious, and take the Doctor prisoner.

When Sarah awakens, Naia is still dancing. She allows Sarah to watch the Doctor’s interrogation on the television. Naia explains that the Ophanin saved her life, and gave her a second chance—but at what? Meanwhile the Doctor argues with the Ophanin, who claim to know what they are doing to the planet below—and claim to be the masters of time. They say they intend to destroy the Doctor after they finish him. Naia claims that she is the one responsible for the destruction of the planet, not the Ophanin. For the Ophanin, it is an experiment; for Naia, it is personal. She reveals that she lost her younger sister, Elen, during the rebellion, and due to her own foolishness in leaving the child unattended. This experiment will bring her back…and if it destroys the planet in the process, so be it.

Sarah reveals that she, too, has a tragedy in her past: the deaths of her parents. She reveals that she has wrestled with the thought that the Doctor, a time traveler, could take her back to see them, perhaps even save them—but she knows the Doctor would refuse. Why? Because he, like Sarah herself, knows that there’s no going back. One can only learn from the past, and press on, and forge something new. She begs Naia not to dishonor the memory of Elen by destroying the only home the girl ever knew.

Swayed at last, Naia calls the Ophanin, and demands to see Tenzin. After some argument, they relent, and show her a view of the planet…and chaos. Time is breaking down, and minutes flow into each other out of sequence. The inhabitants live and die in moments, filled with terror. Horrified, Naia tells the Ophanin to stop the experiment. The Ophanin refuse, and invade Naia’s mind, forcing her to continue her dance. Sarah Jane confronts her, and talks her through the pain, to thoughts of the future, and of freedom—and the ship starts to come apart.

Sarah and Naia confront the Ophanin, and rescue the Doctor. The Ophanin move to attack—but are stopped by Naia. She holds a bloody piece of circuitry, pulled from her own body, and the Ophanin recognize it as the key piece of their machine. As they watch in horror, she shatters it on the floor, leaving the Ophanin to die in the ruins of their machine.

The Doctor returns Naia to Tenzin; and she comments that it looks different from when she left. He leaves her with a bit of hope: Maybe all the tampering has removed the conflict entirely. Maybe it has always been free. Sarah and Naia say their goodbyes, and Naia assures her that she will forge ahead. After all, time is what you make of it—which is a lesson she taught herself.

Macaronas Title Card

I’ve often been fascinated by those companions who are with the Doctor at times of regeneration. Often he hasn’t warned them of this strange and frightening transition that will come over him, and their reactions range from stunned silence to terror. Sometimes they are aware—our heroine here, for example, had witnessed the regeneration of K’anpo Rimpoche, and had some idea of what to expect—and thus things go a little smoother. Nearly all struggle with dealing with the strange new figure of Doctor after the regeneration, and Sarah Jane Smith is no different. Thus she begins our story mulling over whether she’ll ever get to understand this new Doctor, and whether she’ll ever even make it home.

As an aside, I should mention that this isn’t immediately after his regeneration; in fact, it’s a full television season later. Harry Sullivan has left the TARDIS, and Sarah Jane thinks of having “left Scotland”, presumably at the end of Terry of the Zygons. The phrasing is such that it allows for some additional adventures in between, but no known stories are confirmed. I would suggest that it at least takes place after Planet of Evil, but only shortly thereafter.

Regardless, Sarah’s prime reaction to the strangeness of her situation here is to take charge and make her own decisions. Here we see her not only resolve the situation at hand, but also save the Doctor’s life, and save an entire world from destruction. It’s a moment of bravery and passion that bodes very well for her future, especially when—further down the road—she will begin to have her own adventures, sans Doctor.

James Macaronas does an excellent job of capturing the banter that is so common between Sarah and the Fourth Doctor, especially at the beginning of the story. His portrayal of Sarah and her demands for explanations of the time phenomena sits well with everything else we know about her; and he gets the charming, somewhat off-the-wall humor of the Doctor. The duo don’t get a lot of dialogue with each other here, but the dialogue we do see is just right. Macaronas also plays up a less-well-explained facet of our favorite Time Lord: his sensitivity to time itself. This will get more screen time with the Seventh and Eighth Doctors, years later; but it’s used to good effect here in highlighting the crisis in the city of Tenzin.

More than anything, this story is quick. You can consider this both a positive and a negative. On one hand, the story flows so well that it’s a pleasure to read; on the other hand, I was finished in perhaps fifteen minutes, and was left wishing for more. To be certain, it says everything it needs to say in that short span; but it says it so quickly that you have to wonder if you missed anything. This is all the more strange in that it’s not a short story on the page; I’m reading the ebook edition, where pages are surely shorter than in the print edition, but even so, this story was eighty pages long, just a bit shorter than the previous entry, but twice the length of the next story. (More on that, of course, tomorrow.)

Overall: It’s a good story, perhaps hampered a little by how quickly it moves, but otherwise interesting. I won’t call it “fun”, as I’ve called other stories, because the Doctor and Sarah Jane are in a high-stakes situation, and the mood is tense. I will, however, call it compelling, and I suspect other readers may do the same.

Next time: We’ll move on to The Name of Universes, by James Bojaciuk! See you there.

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M.H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.



Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology, and “Flow”, by Niki Haringsma

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries here and here. We’re looking at the third story in the collection, set during Sarah’s travels with the Fourth Doctor: Flow, by Niki Haringsma. Let’s get started! As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked above. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute.

Defending Earth (Cover)

The TARDIS lands in a most unusual cupboard. The room vibrates with motion; but stranger still, it appears to be made of silk, much like that of a spider or silkworm. Poking their heads out, they find that the odd room is being carried by a mothlike, only mildly humanoid woman, who calls herself Arren, and who is very shocked to see her unwelcome passengers. Below them, there seems to be no solid land, only floating islands and a vast amount of space on this large world. Their presence does not go unnoticed; Arren is swiftly attacked and captured—no, arrested–by similar creatures whom she calls “drones”. She calls out defiance against something she calls the Ascendant. And in the struggle, Sarah falls out.

Death seems imminent—but Sarah is saved when another mothlike woman swoops in and catches her in a web of silk. This is Jianna, Arren’s lifemate, who was telepathically summoned by Arren to save Sarah. She takes Sarah to a nearby island, where the ground opens to admit them into a sort of hive. Finally finding a moment to talk, Jianna tells Sarah that she and her fellow workers are struggling for freedom from their rulers, the Ascendant, for whom the drones work. It was all going well…until the plague came. A strange disease that spreads as a red flush in the skin and veins, it infects both drones and workers, but kills the workers. Now their kind are dying out—and even as they search the hive, they find that all their allies here have died. Only Jianna and Arren remain.

And Jianna is infected.

Against Jianna’s fatalism and fear, Sarah takes the initiative. Determined to get the Doctor and Arren back, she begs Jianna to call out to Arren and locate them. Jianna insists it is too far for normal telepathy; but, pressing her face to the earth, she is able to set up a resonant psychic scream, which reaches Arren, but also reaches the drones, and summons them all alike. Sarah passes out under the psychic onslaught.

She awakens in a wooden, cagelike cell, guarded by drones. The Doctor, Arren, and Jianna are there; Jianna is unconscious from the plague. Arren frantically tries to take the plague from Jianna’s body into her own, but only succeeds in lessening the burden, not relieving it—and infecting herself as well. Sarah and the Doctor brainstorm, but are unable to find a plan that will get them out.

But, there is hope; for the Doctor doesn’t realize the natives are telepathic. When he learns this fact, he is able to open his own mind and tune in to them; and he finds the psychic speech of the Ascendant. He learns—to the shock of everyone involved—that the Ascendant are the plague! In seeking to abdicate their responsibilities toward their underlings, they shrank themselves to microscopic size, and invaded the veins of the other classes. Now, however, they sense the Doctor—and find him to be a far better host. They begin to make plans to invade his body.

Locked in a trance, the Doctor lets them in. Moreover, he draws them in, before they are ready. They are unable to seize control of him—and before they can regroup, the Doctor ejects them, and Sarah traps them inside a mascara bottle, sealing them in. The crisis is averted…and before returning to the TARDIS, they decide that it is only right to let the workers and drones—who are now free of the control of the Ascendant—to decide their fate.

Haringsma Title Card

This is a short and fairly light entry in the anthology, and I’m inevitably reminded of the early Big Finish Short Trips anthologies. Those stories were known for being small, well-contained plots, with minimal casts of characters and small crises. Haringsma’s story puts us on a world that seems to be sparsely populated, with species reminiscent of the Menoptera of The Web Planet; in fact, were it a solid planet rather than one composed of sky islands, I’d be tempted to say it’s the same world. That story, however, is underrated, in my opinion; people sometimes judge it by its visual quality rather than its story. I would not like to see the same thing happen here—the setting is unusual, almost fairy-tale, but the story is interesting despite its brevity.

I wondered when I started this anthology if any of the stories would turn out to be more about the Doctor than about Sarah Jane. Not every story, of course, will feature him at all, as with The Sparks; and not all will fall into this pattern, as we saw with Swinging Londons. This story, however, is definitely the Doctor’s story, although it’s told from Sarah Jane’s point of view. I’m not complaining, though. The Doctor is, after all, a big personality, and one that’s hard to upstage. Dozens of companions over the years bear witness to that fact, and that includes Sarah Jane. Therefore I think it’s fine that he takes center stage here. The fun, for us, is in watching him (as well as the situation) through Sarah’s eyes. We see how much she invests herself in the situation; how quickly she feels empathy for the moth people; how much she fears for the Doctor when he is invaded by the Ascendant. I wouldn’t say Sarah Jane is prone to snap judgments; but when she commits to a situation, she commits. We see that in action here, and it’s glorious.

If anything at all can be said against this story, it’s that it’s too short. I find myself wanting to know more about this world and its people. Of course we have everything we need in reference to the problem at hand; but I would love to see more. Near the end of the story I realized that we never find out the planet’s name, or the name of the species; that’s unusual, and it leaves me wondering.

But, overall, it’s a swift, graceful story, and it accomplishes its goals quickly and with aplomb. It was a pleasant reminder of all the great adventures Sarah and the Doctor have had together…there’s a reason why they are one of the most fondly remembered Doctor/companion pairs. We get to revisit that here, and it’s exactly as it ought to be.

Next time: We’ll be looking at Cuckoo Clocks that Work, by James Macaronas. See you there!

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M.H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.