Novel Review: The Eight Doctors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio Drama Review: Chain Reaction

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing Short Trips Volume 2 with Chain Reaction by Darren Goldsmith. This story features the Fourth Doctor and, briefly, Sarah Jane Smith, and is read by Louise Jameson. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 2

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

The Doctor sits outside a shopping center, watching pedestrians go by. He takes a pound coin in hand and prepares to throw it, but is interrupted by a security guard named Dennis Brown, who assumes the Doctor is a lunatic. As they talk, a workman nearby knocks over a pot of paint, spilling it onto a cyclist.

Skipping forward (or perhaps backward?) the Doctor has gone back in time to the same moment. With no Dennis in sight, the Doctor rolls his coin toward a pigeon. The bird flies away, leaving the coin. A teenager spots the coin and stoops down to claim it. A businessman with a newspaper trips over the teenager, and the coin gets stuck in the paper. When the businessman picks up the paper, the coin is tossed out and jams the spokes of the cyclist’s bicycle; she is therefore spared the paint when it spills. The Doctor unties one of three knots in his scarf.

The coin, meanwhile, rolls into a delivery bay. The cyclist dismounts to collect it, but is startled by the horn of a delivery van labeled “Sam’s Sandwiches”. She apologizes and bikes away; the coin ends up under a rear tyre of the van. The titular Sam gets out and takes sandwiches from the back. He is watched by a woman named Emma; when he sees her watching, he greets her. She blushes and drops her own pound coin, which she was about to deposit in a parking meter. It rolls into the road and is kicked away by some children; she does not see this, and thinks it is under the van. She gets down to look, and is still there when Sam comes back, greeting her again; more blushes ensue, followed by laughter. The Doctor unties the second knot.

Emma’s coin isn’t finished; it rolls into a builder’s trench, then onto worker’s spade, then is tossed by the spade into a plastic pipe being winched up the shopping center wall. It rolls through the pipe toward the Doctor, picking up speed. He stands up and prepares to untie the third knot. However, Dennis the guard appears again, and interrupts the builder who is working the winch; they argue briefly, and the coin falls into a cement mixer. The Doctor lets go of the knot and rolls his eyes.

Traveling back in time once again, the Doctor tries again. Events proceed just as the second time, and Sam and Emma’s laughter turns to arrangements for a date at an Italian restaurant. Same drives away, and Emma finds the Doctor’s coin, which was under the tyre. Once again, the Doctor unties the second knot. Meanwhile, Emma’s coin makes it into the pipe; and this time Dennis doesn’t appear, allowing the pipe to be raised to full height. The coin lands not in the mixer, but in a market stall awning, and bounces into a sweet stall across the way. It lands in the cash register, startling the owner. The owner turns abruptly and bumps his table, and a packet of sweets falls off, into the handbag of a passing woman. The Doctor plucks the packet from the bag, and says that they were bought and paid for. At last, he unties the third knot…just as Dennis approaches and asks if the Doctor is well. The Doctor leaves the man puzzled when he says that the coins are fixed in space-time—but, unusually, Dennis is not.

Sarah Jane Smith joins the Doctor and asks if he is in trouble. The Doctor says that he was telling Dennis how amazing he is, as the guard is almost immune to time. They leave, and Sarah asks if the Doctor was bored; he says that he kept himself amused, and offers her a jelly baby from the packet.

Short Trips Volume 2 1

I often wondered how the Doctor gets his supply of jelly babies (Gallifreyan Amazon?). This story seems to confirm that just buying them like a normal person is too mundane for our favorite Time Lord…no, he needs a more exciting solution than that! All joking aside, this story is a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the Doctor’s grasp of cause and effect, as he sets up an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events for the express purpose of purchasing jelly babies. He’s killing time while Sarah Jane takes care of her own business; and if this is what happens when he’s bored for an hour, imagine if he had days!

The story is a bit of an expansion on a concept we encountered previously, in 2007’s televised version of Human Nature. The Tenth Doctor, even while still under the effects of the chameleon arch, uses a cricket ball to set off a chain of events which saves a woman from a falling piano. Something similar happens here, though for more mundane reasons (which is appropriate for the often-childlike Fourth Doctor); in fact, in the process here he saves a woman from a falling bucket of paint, perhaps as a direct nod to that scene. The Doctor’s ability to sense the flow of time is a bit ill-defined throughout the series, from a general sense of something being wrong (seen especially in various altered-history stories, such as Timewyrm: Exodus), to very specific knowledge of someone’s future (e.g. Grace Holloway in the television movie). It seems to be at work here in another very specific sense, however; he can tell the exact path events will take in the short scale, at least as long as there is no interference (and there is interference—we’ll get to that shortly). It’s also noteworthy, here and also in Human Nature, that the Doctor’s aim and timing are supernaturally perfect; they would have to be, to reliably get the result he wants. We might write off one occurrence as chance, but here, he does the same thing three times in a row, barring interference.

Right at the end, he gives us an interesting concept: the idea that most beings are fixed in time, with a few exceptions. I hasten to say that this isn’t the same thing as “fixed points” in time; he doesn’t mean that things must take place, but rather, that people as a rule can’t move around in time—all other influences remaining unchanged, people will behave exactly the same every time you watch a sequence of events. Dennis, the security guard who repeatedly interrupts the Doctor’s plans, is not fixed in time; hence he arrives at different times, and interacts with different people, on each pass. Even the Doctor knows this is remarkable, and comments on it; he says that other than Time Lords (who as a race are not fixed in time), there are suspected to be only about fifteen other non-fixed beings in the universe. That could be typical Fourth Doctor bullshitting, but still, it’s rare enough to impress him.

I haven’t had many complaints about these short trips; usually their brevity seems to support their integrity. In this case, though, I had to ask myself, how is the Doctor able to repeat events without meeting himself? Ordinarily it’s heavily reinforced that he can’t do that; I’d cite Father’s Day as the definitive example. The story doesn’t expressly say that he goes back in time to repeat events, but of course he must be doing so; therefore he should encounter himself there, and not be able to interfere without setting up a paradox. It seems, though, that he actually replaces his past self each time. Also, a smaller complaint: why bother with the knots in his scarf? They don’t seem to mean anything, and don’t add anything to the story.

Otherwise, it’s a great story, and cleverly written. It’s exactly the sort of thing I would imagine the Fourth Doctor doing with his spare time. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Next time: We join the Fifth Doctor, sans companions (for once!) in Sock Pig. See you there!

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

Short Trips Volume 2

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Audio Drama Review: The Death-Dealer

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re continuing our look at Short Trips, Volume I with the Fourth Doctor’s contribution: The Death-Dealer! Alternately titled, simply, Death-Dealer, this story was written by Damian Sawyer, and read by Louise Jameson; it features the Fourth Doctor and Leela, and appears to take place early in Leela’s travels with the Doctor. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume I

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

The Doctor and Leela have arrived at a bazaar on a new world, and are engaging in a little shopping. Leela wrestles with the idea of money, as her people haven’t advanced beyond simple barter; but she takes a handful of credits from the Doctor anyway, and tries her hand. While the Doctor visits a sweets dealer in search of jelly babies, Leela wanders around. She spots a merchant—Jason, as she later finds his name to be—carrying a small but functional knife which catches her eye; and it’s only fifty credits! Despite the Doctor’s dislike of weapons, she hasn’t been actually forbidden to own any…and so she pays the man. However, instead of handing her the knife, he stabs her with it! As her life fades, apparently from poison on the blade, the Doctor sees what is happening, and comes running.

The Doctor makes such a scene over Leela’s death that a local policeman is forced to intervene. He seems alarmingly undisturbed by the murder; in fact, he denies that any murder has taken place, and insists that Leela has paid for a perfectly legal death experience. The policeman and Jason realize that the Doctor doesn’t understand what is happening…and suddenly, Leela returns to life, with her wound fully healed. She instantly attacks Jason, holding a deadly Janis thorn to his throat, until the policeman and the Doctor intervene.

Jason explains. His knife contains an efficient poison; but it also contains microscopic nanobots which heal, restore, and reactivate the victim. It is a highly prized service, this “death-dealing”; for when one experiences death, it changes her perspective, and teaches her things about herself that she may not otherwise know. En route back to the TARDIS, Leela talks about her experience, and the appreciation for life that she has gained in its wake. The Doctor muses that he, too, knows something about coming back from the dead—having done it several times, after all—and acknowledges her lesson.

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Second only to Rise and Fall, I find this story to be the most memorable of Volume I’s entries. It seems to take place early in Leela’s travels with the Fourth Doctor, as her grasp of things as simple as money is still at a very tribal level; it definitely takes place after The Face of Evil, and I would place it also just after the second entry in season one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, The Renaissance Man, as that is the point at which the Doctor has just declared his intention to educate Leela. This story seems to be an early part of that effort—but the Doctor gets an education here, as well.

We aren’t given a location. We know it’s a trade world of some sort; the Doctor comments that foodstuffs don’t grow here, but are imported. The unit of currency is the credit, which is such a common name that it tells us nothing. Nor are we given a time period; however, as the Doctor expects to find jelly babies for sale, we can guess that it is at a point far enough into Earth’s future for Earth to have interstellar trade. We also don’t get many continuity references here. There’s a general reference to regeneration, which is a concept with which Leela would not be familiar at this time. Leela is still carrying Janis thorns (The Face of Evil). The nanobots on the knife with which Leela is stabbed aren’t called nanogenes, but are similar in function to the nanogenes seen in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and also to the healing nanites aboard the TARDIS (The Shadow of the Scourge).

Overall: This story, like Rise and Fall, is a contemplation of mortality. In fact, the two stories are very similar; they’re a microcosm of tragedy and its meaning, and the only real difference between the two is the perspective of the Doctor’s companion. In Rise and Fall, the companion (Ian) is outside the situation along with the Doctor; in The Death-Dealer, the companion (Leela) experiences the tragedy firsthand. As such, both are somber and reflective stories; but where Rise and Fall ended with sadness, The Death-Dealer ends on a hopeful note. It’s a beautiful complement, and I enjoyed it greatly.

Next time: Enough seriousness—we’ll move over into the realm of the comedic with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in The Deep! See you there.

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

Short Trips, Volume I

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Audio Drama Review: The Oseidon Adventure

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Oseidon Adventure, the conclusion to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, series one. Let’s get started!

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

Oseidon Adventure 1

Immediately following the events of Trail of the White Worm, the Doctor and Leela watch as the white worm transforms into a spatial wormhole, and the Master calls his allies through.  Many tanks come through the wormhole, until the Master stops the rain, causing the procession to stop.  The tanks are occupied by Kraals of the Second Kraal Army—and they are led by Marshal Grinmal, who remembers how the Doctor destroyed the first army.  The Master offers the Doctor as a gift to the Kraals, who summon their deadly android servants.  The Doctor sends Leela away as the Androids take him down; she promises to return with allies and weapons.  The Master sends Spindleton in his own tank to recapture her.  Grinmal wants to take the Doctor back to their homeworld of Oseidon, but the Master wants to kill him now; the androids intervene and disarm the Master, taking away his staser; they then send the Doctor back through the wormhole to their chief scientist, Tyngworg.  Meanwhile, Spindleton loses Leela in the woods, and sends his helicopter to find her.  The Kraals bring the Master back to the house with Spindleton.  Grinmal negotiates with Spindleton, who wants to rule England when the Kraals conquer the rest of the world; Grinmal approves the plan, and imprisons the Master in the stables; he swears revenge.

Leela uses a horse from the stables to trample the androids guarding the Master. He tries to hypnotize her, but she slaps him, breaking the spell; she frees him, intending to make him fly the TARDIS to rescue the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Spindleton and Grinmal confer about strategy, and Spindleton wants them to attack the local village, Dark Peak, as an example to the surrounding country.  Spindleton wants to burn it, but Grinmal suggests a matter-dissolving bomb.  On Oseidon, the Doctor is restrained by Tyngworg; he jokes about having been strapped to that table before.  Tyngworg intends to drain off the Doctor’s knowledge with an analyzer device, as his predecessor once tried to do; it will take eight minutes.  Outside Spindleton’s house, Spindleton and Grinmal see Leela and the Master race by on one of Spindleton’s prize horses; Spindleton prevents Grinmal from shooting them, for fear of hurting the horse, assuming that the army will hem them in.  Grinmal dispatches the army toward Dark Peak.  Leela gets the Master to the TARDIS, but the Kraals are guarding it; therefore Leela takes Master and the horse through the wormhole to Oseidon.  Beholding the ruined landscape, the Master explains that the surface is radioactive; he suggests that the Doctor is in the nearest of the Kraals’ underground bunker.  Unknown to them, Tyngworg is monitoring the area, and overhears the plan.

The Master and Leela find the Doctor, who is disoriented and calls Leela “Tilly”; he explains about the transfer (or rather, copy) of his knowledge. Tyngworg is monitoring the cell as well, and hears the Doctor tell Leela that the Master will be dropping in on Tyngworg, and that therefore they should go there as well.  Moments later, the Master arrives, but Tyngworg is on his side; Tyngworg mentions that the Doctor in the cell is an android duplicate, which does not know it is a duplicate.  Tyngworg insists he is aware of events on Earth.  The Master tries to hypnotize him, but is unsuccessful, and finds that he himself is an android; Tyngworg is the real Master in disguise.  He sheds the disguise and destroys the duplicate.  The real Doctor is still on the table; he congratulates the Master on his success; however, the Master still intends to kill him.  First, however, he resumes Tyngworg’s voice and calls Grinmal for an update; Grinmal reports that Spindleton has delivered a slightly-eccentric ultimatum to the British government.  He also reveals that UNIT is approaching, and the Master orders him to detonate the bomb as soon as UNIT arrives, even if the ultimatum has not been answered.  When Grinmal objects, he activates an override code for the androids, ordering them to return to Dark Peak and activate the bomb.  The Doctor congratulates him again, but then says it may have been a mistake to leave him connected to the analyzer; his ongoing experiences are still being fed to the android duplicate, so that it knows everything now.  The android arrives to attack, but is shot down at once; but the Doctor is not deterred.  Instead, his duplicate had taken the opportunity to create a Tyngworg duplicate, which is even now ordering the androids to disarm the bomb and attack the Kraals.  The Master loses contact with Grinmal, but in retaliation, he orders an autodestruct of the android Tyngworg.  He then moves to attack the Doctor, but suddenly funds that again, he is an android—and as he ceases to function, the real Master has yet to be seen.  Leela rejoins the real Doctor at the behest of the duplicate—and the Doctor wonders where the real Master is, and what he is doing, as the Kraal invasion seems to be a distraction.

On Earth, UNIT is mopping up the Kraals and the androids, but they can’t find Spindleton, and astrange-colored blood trail leads into the woods. The duty officer at UNIT HQ hands the base over to the Master, and is killed for his trouble.  Spindleton and the Master infiltrate the Doctor’s old lab at UNIT, where Spindleton begins to rebel; however, the Master hypnotizes him and sends him out to join the guards.  On Oseidon, the Doctor and Leela create a new duplicate of the Master to interrogate.  The duplicate doesn’t believe he is an android, so the Doctor has him try (and fail) to hypnotize Leela; he lacks the psychic empathy field that real Time Lords possess, and therefore cannot do it.  Leela intends to melt him down, causing him to beg them to stop; the Doctor wants him to betray his original self, but he refuses.  The Doctor realizes that the wormhole is an integral part of the Master’s plan, but how?  He realizes the duplicates have the Master’s personality, but not his knowledge relevant to the current situation; therefore he looks at recently-deleted items in the Kraal computer.  He finds a file indicating that two types of harmless radiation, Z-radiation and O-radiation, can combine to create deadly ZO-radiation, which has the power of a billion neutron stars.  The Master duplicate realizes that the real Master wants this radiation to restart his regeneration cycle and become functionally immortal.  If he does so inside the wormhole, he will survive the process.  Oseidon is saturated with O-radiation; for the requisite Z-radiation, he turned to Earth, knowing that the Third Doctor once stashed a Z-radiation battery in UNIT HQ after failing to jump-start the TARDIS with it.  The android breaks free of its restraints, forcing the Doctor and Leela to run away.  The duplicate accesses the records to learn the real Master’s plan; but he finds a message from the real Master, who anticipated this possibility.  Accessing the deleted files activated a matter dissolution bomb under the lab, which will detonate in seconds.

Outside, Leela recovers the horse, and uses it to get them back through the wormhole to Earth. There they meet Captain Clarke, who is acting commander of UNIT while the Brigadier is away on business in Canada; the Doctor has him contact HQ, but he gets no response.  The Doctor realizes the Master must already be there, trying to steal the battery.  The Doctor persuades Clarke to order the convoy back to HQ; he takes Leela to recover the TARDIS and get there ahead of the soldiers.  He insists that if the Master has already succeeded, Clarke will meet him on the way back to the wormhole; the battery plays havoc with TARDIS navigation systems, forcing the Master to transport it by road.  At the TARDIS, they encounter Grinmal, who alone survived the betrayal.  Leela subdues him.  However, the Doctor hears a helicopter, and realizes that the Master is sending the battery through the wormhole in that manner.  As anyone aboard will die in the detonation, the Master can’t be there; and they only have until he arrives to recover the battery and seal the wormhole.  Grinmal realizes his world is about to be destroyed, and volunteers to help stop the Master; he takes Leela and goes to recover the battery, while the Doctor wants to find out how to seal the wormhole.  Meanwhile, Spindleton has arrived on Oseidon with one of his men and the battery; they set up in the mock village of Devesham that the Kraals use as a training center.

Using the TARDIS, the Doctor intercepts the Master, who admits to the plan. The Doctor tricks him into admitting that a temporal pulse will close the wormhole, as executable by any TARDIS.  However, the Doctor reveals that the ZO radiation cannot be controlled; he suggests that this Master as well is a duplicate, and that the real Master is waiting in orbit.  The Master draws a staser, and decides to kill the Doctor at once.  On Oseidon, Leela and Grinmal kill Spindleton’s man, and intends to recover the battery, but Spindleton reveals that it is very unstable, and will trigger if he falls on it.  He reveals his goal in the plan; the Master promised him a rebuilt country, filled with android duplicates which will obey him.  Spindleton shoots Grinmal.

The Doctor demands proof that this Master is genuine before he dies; he suggests that the real Master intentionally withheld knowledge about the uncontrollable nature of the radiation. The Master insists he is real because he can sense a Time Lord in the vicinity (a function of the psychic empathy field), whereas the Doctor doesn’t sense one.  The Doctor admits defeat.  The Master contacts Spindleton and reasserts his control over him; Leela sees this and attacks Spindleton, dragging him away from the battery.  The Master tells the Doctor he will activate the battery by remote; and he forces the Doctor toward the wormhole.  However, the android from the exploding lab comes through the wormhole, having escaped the blast with only some damage; the real Master fires on him, but staser blasts can’t hurt an android, and the duplicate captures him, leaving the remote with the Doctor.  The duplicate drags the real Master into his TARDIS, intending to force him to repair him and give him control of the TARDIS, as he now considers his android self to be the superior version of the Master.  The Doctor bids them goodbye, and takes his own TARDIS to Oseidon’s Devesham.  He finds Leela and Spindleton, and plans to take Spindleton to UNIT custody; but Spindleton intends to stay here, finding this mock village preferable to the real England.  He sends them away, but asks them to take the horse home and set it free; though it’s a magnificent horse, history reports that it was a famous stolen horse, and therefore they can’t return it to its original owners.  They depart in the TARDIS with the horse.

Oseidon Adventure 2

After a rocky start, the first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures ends strong in this story. We pick up immediately after the events of the previous entry, Trail of the White Worm, with the titular worm having transformed into a wormhole to the planet Oseidon, home of the mutated and militaristic Kraals. In typical Master fashion, what follows is a series of twists. The Kraals are known for one thing in particular; they create fantastic android duplicates which have not only the form of their victims, but also the personality. Therefore, once this story begins, it will be a long time before you know who is real and who isn’t. I won’t spoil it; but for once the twists are perfectly deployed. Once again we see the mock village of Devesham as deployed in The Android Invasion; and this time it ends up with a permanent human resident at the end (although, if he is not also an android, he may not last very long—a point that isn’t really addressed when the Doctor leaves him there).

This is a UNIT story, and as such it is hard to get a firm date. The promotional material indicates it takes place in 1979, but with the difficulty in dating UNIT stories near the end of the Brigadier’s tenure (due to contradictory statements within the classic series—the infamous “UNIT dating controversy”), it may actually have to be as early as 1975. UNIT HQ is mostly unchanged, with the Doctor’s things still in the lab. The Brigadier is still around, but is not seen here, being on assignment in Canada. The Master seen here is again the Geoffrey Beevers incarnation as seen up to The Keeper of Traken, indicating this story predates that serial, but comes after Dust Breeding. He’s at his best here, playing several conflicting versions of himself; with disguises and stasers and plots within plots, this is a story that harks back to the Master stories of the Fourth Doctor era very well, and even somewhat to the Third Doctor era.

Leela gets a better treatment here than in some of the earlier stories. I don’t mean to harp on the same point all the time, regarding the Doctor’s poor treatment of her; it’s just that it continues to be relevant! Here, however, there’s none of that for once (she does get called “Savage”, but by the Master this time, and his opinion hardly counts). She’s quite a force in this story: rescuing the Master, navigating the wormhole, freeing the Doctor, taking out the Kraal leader Grinmal, and then allying with Grinmal to recover the Z-battery, the story’s macguffin. She began the series weakly, but ends very strong, and I couldn’t approve more.

There’s one new bit of technobabble here, which adds to the lore of the series a bit: Time Lords possess a psychic empathy field, by which they recognize each other when close together, and by which the Master is able to easily mesmerize others. It’s been handwaved a bit in the past, but here it’s an integral part of the story.

References are mostly back to The Android Invasion, and I’ve covered most of them. The Doctor does refer to meeting the Master last on Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin); and the Master’s TARDIS is in the form of a grandfather clock, which it will still be as of The Keeper of Traken.

Overall: Great story, with little to complain about. If Series Two is this good, we have something to look forward to.

Oseidon Adventure 3

Next time: I’m debating between Series Two, with the Fourth Doctor and Romana I (played by Mary Tamm before her untimely death), and another range. We’ll find out next week. See you there!

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

The Oseidon Adventure

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Audio Drama Review: Trail of the White Worm

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, with the fifth entry, Trail of the White Worm. Written by Alan Barnes, this adventure guest stars Geoffrey Beevers. Let’s get started!

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

Trail of the White Worm 1

The Doctor and Leela land on a muddy day in England…and immediately step into the slimy mucus trail of a large worm. Moments later, it becomes clear that the creature is fleeing, as hunters with dogs and guns are following.  The hunters cut them off from the TARDIS, forcing them to hide in the high grass.  The hunters, Carswell and John, are searching for someone named Julie, and are momentarily stymied by the TARDIS—but the hunt continues.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela come to the abrupt end of the mucus trail; it ends at an electric fence, and it appears the creature went over.  The Doctor wonders if they are inside or outside the barrier.  Knowing they have the scent of the trail on them, Leela borrows the Doctor’s scarf to cross the fence, planning to distract the dogs and hunters while the Doctor escapes.  She taunts the hunters, before escaping herself.  They consider chasing, but decide against—it’s 9:00 AM, and one Colonel Spindleton is about to arrive…in a tank.  Overhearing this, the Doctor confronts them, seeking answers.

At some distance, Leela meets the elusive Spindleton—or rather, his voice, as he speaks through loudspeakers. He warns her she is trespassing, and is about to wander into a minefield.  He approaches in a Chieftain tank; he directs her attention to himself, on the balcony of a nearby manor house, and demonstrates that he is controlling the tank by remote.  He uses the tank’s machine gun for target practice, narrowly missing Leela, and then orders her to run as he “brings out the big gun”.

The Doctor works his way into the confidence of the hunters, who tell him that the creature took Julie. He offers to help them, but insists on recovering Leela first.  Carswell is suspicious of him, and implies that the creature can do unusual things, but withholds the details.  They are interrupted when the dogs locate something.  Meanwhile, Leela manages to outlast the tank’s fuel; but she takes advantage of its positioning—pointing its guns toward the house—to force Spindleton to help her locate and recover the Doctor.

The dogs have not found Julie. Instead, it’s a man, dead and missing a shoe; the Doctor notes that the man is dead by molecular extraction, essentially dessicated, and that no one on Earth has that capability.  As well, the mucus trail is nowhere nearby, meaning that they are not dealing only with the creature, but with a murderer.  While viewing the body, they are met by a woman, Demesne Furze, who quickly assesses the situation and realizes that the body was killed elsewhere, then transported here.  She reveals that she has Julie in the boot of her car, much to everyone’s surprise, and lets her out.  She admits to kidnapping the girl, but says she did it to bring her home safely, as the girl was attempting to hitchhike on the highway.  Julie tells Carswell—her uncle—that she was trying to run away to London, as she feels there is nothing for her in this town, Dark Peak.  Carswell calls off the search, and they insist on taking her home—but there is still the dead man to consider, and the Doctor thinks it may be beyond the constabulary…and what about Leela?  Demesne offers to take the Doctor to Lambton Hall, Spindleton’s manor house, as it is on her way back to town.

Leela meets Spindleton at the house, and asks to call the “blue guards,” the police. Spindleton shrugs it off, and shows off his collection of hunting conquests, but he is shocked when she asks him to hunt the creature with her.  However, when she calls it a “worm”, he instantly becomes excited, and agrees to help—but insists on telling his manservant first.  He shows her to the caves beneath the house.

Demesne and the Doctor discuss the “Great White Worm” and the legends behind it, as well as Spindleton’s Swahili manservant. The legends don’t match, however, as the “wyrm” in the legends is a dragon, not a worm.  Demesne drops him at the manor house.  In the caves, Leela and Spindleton view his weapon collection; then the manservant, Mwalimu, arrives, and disarms Leela.  She notes that he is hooded and cowled; he comments that although they allow a deception about it, Spindleton is the servant, and Mwalimu is the master.  The alarm sounds as the Doctor reaches the door, and Mwalimu sends Spindleton to deal with him.  On threat of death, he places Leela by a crack in the floor; she recognizes that the weapon he carries is not of Earth, and she notes fresh blood on the floor.  He tells her it is animal blood, from beasts given as food to the worm—and the worm is coming to feast on Leela.

The worm appears—and it speaks. It refuses to serve Mwalimu, and tells Leela to let it swallow her; it insists it will not harm her, and that she has no other chance.  When she mentions the Doctor, it refers to him as its savior.  She climbs on its back instead, letting slip that she is with the Doctor, which startles Mwalimu; she slides down the creature’s back to escape, and Mwalimu orders it after her.  It leaves, but still refuses to obey.  Spindleton returns and insists he sent the Doctor away; Mwalimu is troubled, and insists the Doctor can thwart their plans.  He sends Spindleton for reinforcements.

Julie sneaks out again in the afternoon, but is caught by John near Demesne’s residence. She ignores his pleas to return, and finds a hidden doorkey, then enters the house, prompting John to follow; she gives him the key.  She admits she is there to steal any valuables she can find, intending to finance her next attempt to run away.  John refuses to help her, until she informs him that his fingerprints on the key and his bootprints on the floor are enough to link him to her petty crimes.  They are interrupted by the Doctor.  John assumes he is a policeman, but he demurs; he admits he has been looking for Leela all afternoon, and that he thinks Spindleton was lying about not knowing where she is.  As if summoned, Spindleton’s tank arrives, and hails them, telling the Doctor that they are surrounded.  A helicopter arrives as well—Spindleton’s reinforcements, a group of mercenaries.  In the confusion, Julie runs off; John finds her when she screams, and she tells him she found bodies in the cellar.  Meanwhile, Spindleton says he is after Demesne; he insists she is actually the worm.  The Doctor is incredulous, until John and Julie return, and their story adds weight to Spindleton’s.

Deeper in the caves, Leela encounters Demesne, who recognizes her from the Doctor’s description. She leads Leela out via an exit to the churchyard.  Outside, Demesne and Leela see the helicopter Demesne determines to help the Doctor.  Leela insists on helping, as the Doctor needs to know about Mwalimu.  Demesne knows about him, and says he is a Time Lord, like the Doctor; she says she can smell the vortex on them, though the comment seems lost on Leela.  Demesne transforms into the white worm.

Spindleton takes the Doctor, Julie, and John in custody, and begins marching them back to the manor house to meet Mwalimu, giving them a lecture about the social situation along the way. He refers to Mwalimu as “the Master”, though the Doctor doesn’t react to it.  The worm overtakes them, and the mercenaries fire on it, to no effect.  The Doctor confronts the worm by name as Demesne; she doesn’t deny it, and swallows the Doctor whole.  He isn’t killed, however, and finds Leela inside it as well, unharmed.  As they confer, he states that the worm is engineered, but to what purpose?  Demesne can hear them, and he questions it, guessing most of the worm’s history.  She admits its original purpose was to dig tunnels—literal “wormholes”—in spacetime.  She knows the Master wants her for that ability, but she does not know why.  She does know that creating the tunnel he desires will consumer her completely—an ouroboros of sorts.  It appeals to him to take it away from here, and says it will digest them if he does not.  He resents the blackmail, but considers it…

Spindleton returns to Mwalimu—or rather, the Master—and reports the Doctor’s death, but the Master is sure he is alive, given that the worm referred to him as its savior. He realizes what the worm must want.  He contacts unknown allies, and assures them the wormhole will be open soon.

Outside, the Worm expels the Doctor and Leela in the churchyard. Leela finds Demesne’s skin; the worm takes it back like clothing, and resumes human form.  She offers to take them back to the TARDIS, but the Doctor insists on dealing with the Master first.  He sends Leela to find the police and summon UNIT, giving her a string of code words.  As she goes, a thunderstorm looms; Demesne seems unusually unnerved by it.  En route to the village, Leela encounters John and Julie, who nearly make her forget the code words; Leela gives them the (now slightly altered) message, and sends them in her place, then returns to help the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Demesne insists to the Doctor that the storm is not natural.  The Master meets them, backed up by Spindleton in his tank, and demands the worm.  Leela arrives, and is shot at by Spindleton, but dodges the shell.  The Master gloats that UNIT will be too late, and reveals a device that summons the storm; he summons lightning to strike Demesne, electrocuting her and triggering her transformation, not just into the worm, but into the wormhole.  As Demesne dies, the wormhole opens.

Trail of the White Worm 2

Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and Michael Cochrane (Spindleton)

 

It’s always interesting when the Master pops up! This story is no exception. The villainous Time Lord has appeared in the audios before—as I write this, I just recently reviewed his first appearance in the Main Range, in Dust Breeding—but this is his first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures; and as such, it takes us back into history a bit. Geoffrey Beevers plays the part, just as he did in Dust Breeding, playing the decayed version that we last saw onscreen in The Keeper of Traken. From the Doctor’s perspective, that hasn’t happened yet, as this story takes place in Leela’s tenure. We know that everything in this season must happen after The Talons of Weng-Chiang, courtesy of some definite references in the season opener; and it’s probably a safe bet that the entire season happens between Talons Horror of Fang Rock, as no mention has yet been made of any of the events of television season fifteen. As well, it seems that the stories in this season flow continuously from one to the next, with only enough gap to account for sleep and travel times.

The Master follows his old habit of using an alias that is a play on the word “master” in some way. In this case, “Mwalimu” is Swahili for “master”, or alternately “teacher”. This time however, he doesn’t bother disguising his appearance (beyond wearing robes), as he wasn’t expecting the Doctor to appear. Leela encounters him first, but as this is her first meeting with him, she doesn’t recognize him. He is a little less decayed than before; he attributes this to the Master’s absorption of energy from the Eye of Harmony during the events of The Deadly Assassin, allowing the Master to heal to some degree. From a meta perspective, this is done to account for the difference in appearance between Peter Pratt’s version of the Master as seen in The Deadly Assassin and Beevers’ version as seen in The Keeper of Traken. He’s working with accomplices here (other than Spindleton, that is), but we won’t find out who until the next entry.

The White Worm is hardly the first shape-changing, sometimes human monster we’ve had—they’re a dime a dozen in Doctor Who, including the likes of Richard Lazarus (The Lazarus Experiment), the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons, et al), various werewolves (Tooth and Claw, Loups-Garoux, et al), and many others. I think it is the first I’ve encountered, however, which is both content with its situation and basically good. The worm’s human alter-ego doesn’t want to cause any trouble; it just wants to be left alone. Of course, the Master won’t allow that. The creature uses a skin suit for concealment, much like the Slitheen (Aliens of London, et al), presumably with some form of compression as well, as the worm is big enough to swallow both the Doctor and Leela. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Worm; it’s misunderstood more than anything else, and though the Doctor tries to save it, it meets a bad end. It’s also the victim of “Unknown Species Syndrome”, that common Doctor Who affliction wherein a creature is of artificial origin, but its original creators are unknown, dead, or otherwise absent; for comparison, see the Fearmonger (The Fearmonger), the Warp Core (Dust Breeding), the clockwork robots (The Girl in the Fireplace, although they were possibly made by humans), and many others. Whether its motives are innocent or not, it does kill to survive; the dessicated, drained bodies it leaves behind are very reminiscent of the similarly-drained bodies in the BBC Fourth Doctor audio series Demon Quest.

This is a much better story for Leela, and she gets to be the badass she was born to be. She faces down a tank, then Spindleton, then the Master, then the Worm, and comports herself well under pressure in every case, even though she really has no clue what she’s up against. It seems the best way for Leela to have a good story is to let her get separated from the Doctor…well, I suppose that didn’t work out so well in Energy of the Daleks, so maybe not. Still, she puts in a good performance here. After several Leela audios, my only issue is that she sounds considerably older than she did in her television appearances. That’s to be expected, I suppose, given Louise Jameson’s age, but then, it doesn’t seem to happen much with other Big Finish actors, who routinely play much younger characters. I can’t help picturing her at her current age, or at least somewhere in between, when I hear her in the audios. Still, she always plays the role well.

We don’t get much in the way of references here, beyond what I’ve already covered. UNIT gets a mention; the Doctor gives Leela a string of code words and sends her to call UNIT for assistance (or rather, call the authorities, and hopefully UNIT’s monitoring systems will catch the code string). Leela refers to some events of this season, most notably that she met the Romans (Wrath of the Iceni; this is another similarity between this season and Demon Quest, in which she met a Roman-era Celtic tribe and a would-be Roman emperor). Beyond that, it’s a relatively reference-free story.

Not a bad story overall; not the best of the season, either (so far, that would be Energy of the Daleks, with Wrath of the Iceni close behind). We’ll reserve final judgment until we get the season finale under our belts. It’s a fun story, and gets bonus points for the Master, even if he is a bit underused.

Trail of the White Worm 3

Next time: We’ll finish up the series with The Oseidon Adventure! See you there.

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

Trail of the White Worm

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Audio Drama Review: Energy of the Daleks

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Energy of the Daleks, the fourth entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. This audio drama was written and directed by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs, and stars Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. Let’s get started!

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

Energy of the Daleks 1

An astronaut named Damien Stephens is about to make a spacewalk from his shuttle to a base on the moon—but his vitals are not right. Nevertheless he plunges ahead.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela are preparing to land in 21st-century London.  Leela has dressed for the occasion, at the Doctor’s direction, but the TARDIS’s sensors indicate something is not right about their destination.  The Doctor lands them in the year 2025; for once they are noticed immediately, but the first observer they encounter is surprisingly nonplussed.  The man indicates that a protest is about to take place, however, intriguing the Doctor, who takes Leela to watch.  Aboard the moonbase, Stephens arrives and meets crew members Lydia Harding and Kevin Winston, who have made some minor adjustments to the control systems.  Stephens is noticeably tired, and asks for his quarters to rest before the system’s test run.  As he sleeps, he hears strange, mechanized voices in his head. Lydia and Kevin discuss Stephens’ strange behavior, and Lydia persuades Kevin to illegally access the security camera in Stephens’ quarters so they can monitor his health.  They find him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep—“I must obey!”.  The system mysteriously shuts off.  Stephens finds himself transported back to his office in GlobeSphere Corporation’s headquarters, where he is confronted by Daleks.  Shortly afterward, Lydia finds Stephens in his quarters, refreshed and ready to begin the test.

The Doctor and Leela find the protest, which includes thousands of people, all of whom are protesting the treachery of “Globesphere”, the GlobeSphere Corporation. The sight of a large holographic screen makes the Doctor realizes he has landed in the wrong time again; he was aiming for 2015, but has brought them to 2025.  He locates an access terminal for the holographic internet; it doesn’t recognize him at first, but he uses his sonic screwdriver to gain access.  He researches GlobeSphere, and learns that the date is 30 January 2025.  The Earth, it seems, is in the grip of an energy crisis—but GlobeSphere, under Damien Stephens’ leadership, intends to solve it.  The Doctor is distracted by an announcement from the protest—one Jack Coulson is about to take the stage.  Coulson’s speech takes place in front of the National Gallery, which now has a huge energy receiver on its roof.  Coulson’s speech is primarily economic, decrying the increased prices that are projected to accompany the transition to GlobeSphere’s new energy source, and the shortages that will result in the meantime, which may cause many deaths.  Just before the crowd can become a mob, a private security force arrives to disperse the crowd, and the crowd turns to conflict, forcing the Doctor and Leela to separate.  Leela is arrested by one of the security officers, whom she finds she is unable to hurt despite her best efforts.  The Doctor, meanwhile, locates Coulson and shows him an energy reading coming from the National Gallery; he escorts Coulson away from the scene.

Leela is taken for processing, but she is unable to answer her captor’s questions, and finds that he behaves as though drugged. The man uses soundwaves to temporarily incapacitate her.  A security scan reveals that she is a time traveler; and the men—the Robomen, to be precise—report it to the Daleks.  She is taken before the Daleks, who use a cerebral probe on her to gain more information.  They question her about her time travel and history; but she is mostly able to resist at first.  However, she is unable to avoid revealing that she is with the Doctor.  Meanwhile, the Doctor talks with Coulson about his history with Stephens; they used to be partners, until Stephens abruptly went off on his own to found GlobeSphere.  Stephens’ advancements are brilliant, but perhaps too brilliant; in their past, Coulson was the intelligent one, while Stephens was the radical.  Further, Stephens gave up his radicalism when he founded GlobeSphere.  A news dispatch reveals that the protest has been dispersed.  The Doctor decides to infiltrate GlobeSphere in search of Leela and the source of the anomalous readings.  He gets Coulson inside the National Gallery via a WWII-era evacuation tunnel.  He determines the energy readings are anomalously high for this era; and Coulson tells him the first test of the system is expected to start at any time.  At the same time, the Daleks detect their entry, and conclude the Doctor is on the scene.

The test of the energy transmission system commences. On Earth, the Doctor hears the Daleks announce his presence to their troops in the building, and he realizes the energy readings are consistent with a Dalek timeship.  On the moon, Kevin realizes the energy levels are far too high, much higher than anticipated; but Stephens assures them it is according to plan.  Kevin and Lydia are not convinced; and suddenly a transmission comes through.  The Daleks congratulate Stephens on doing well, and announce the beginning of the destruction of the human race.

Coulson is shocked to learn a little of the alien origins of the Daleks; but there is no time to discuss it. The Doctor and Coulson witness the Robomen guards, and the Doctor concludes that the timeship is small, with perhaps half a dozen Daleks.  He realizes, as well, that Leela must have been interrogated, and will be inside the timeship.  Coulson has little choice but to go with him; but first, the Doctor borrows Coulson’s “little TV” (a smartphone or datapad, presumably).  Inside the timeship, the Daleks release Leela from her bonds.  She insults them, and insists that the Doctor will defeat them; but they decide to have her robotized.  They have the Robomen place her in the robotizing unit for conversion. She is at first able to resist the control wave, but the Robomen increase the power accordingly.

On the moon, the test ends, and Lydia and Kevin question Stephens about the high energy levels; at that level, and worldwide, they would be a hundred times the amount of energy needed by humanity. However, Stephens has set the controls to maximum, and started the countdown.  In the National Gallery, the Doctor encounters some Robomen, and uses the television device to overload the microwave control signal, disabling them.  He and Coulson disguise themselves in the Robomen uniforms and make their way to the chamber where Leela is imprisoned, encountering more Robomen along the way; it seems Leela is causing trouble with the robotizing process.  The Doctor again uses the TV device to disrupt the control wave, and frees Leela from the machine, introducing her to Jack.  He discovers a Janis thorn in the back of a dead Roboman; the Doctor scolds Leela for using them, but not harshly, as the Robomen are mostly dead already.    The Doctor searches for the energy source, and finds it is close by, about a hundred yards away.  However, a Dalek enters the room and catches them; the Doctor, Leela, and Jack get the Dalek into the robotizing unit and activate the machine at full power.  The Dalek becomes briefly compliant under the effect of the machine, and the Doctor interrogates it.  It reveals the Daleks are there to use the solar energy—focused from the moon—to destroy humanity.  It reveals a teleport (transmat unit) nearby, connecting to the moonbase.  The machine overloads and explodes, disabling the Dalek.

The Doctor, Leela, and Coulson hide from the Daleks in Stephens’ office; the Doctor reveals that the transmat unit is in the office—specifically, built into Stephens’ chair. As the Daleks break in, the Doctor activates the unit, teleporting the three of them away.  They arrive on the moonbase, in Stephens’ bed; Stephens is also there, but unconscious.  The Doctor disables the transmat, preventing the Daleks from following.  However, before he can do anything else, Kevin and Lydia discover their presence and take them into custody. Lydia recognizes Jack, giving the Doctor an opportunity to explain; he accurately describes the current situation. On Earth, the Daleks take their ship and set course for the moon to exterminate the Doctor.  En route, they send a signal to reactivate Stephens.  As Stephens awakens, the Doctor reveals that Stephens is a high-functioning Roboman.  Stephens recognizes the Doctor, lending credence to the Doctor’s explanation; this makes Kevin hesitate at obeying Stephens’ order to kill the Doctor.  Jack tries to get through to Stephens, but is unsuccessful, and the man runs from the room to obey his Dalek orders.  As the others follow, Kevin gets a message from the control center of the base, stating that the Daleks have arrived—and moments later, the control center crew are exterminated.  Shaken, Kevin leads the Doctor and the others to the energy transfer controls, where Stephens is accelerating the process.  Kevin and Lydia evacuate the rest of the crew while the Doctor deals with Stephens.  Leela convinces the Doctor to let Jack talk to Stephens again, as she knows it is possible to resist the Robomen control wave.

Jack distracts Stephens while the Doctor examines the layout of the transfer system. Jack successfully breaks through to Stephens’ buried emotions, but he is unable as yet to stop him from his work.  Meanwhile the Daleks are advancing on the transfer control room.  The Doctor realizes that the system, when fully active, will put a force field around the Earth; but why?  Stephens manages to reveal the Dalek plan:  the overpowered energy source will counteract gravity, expelling the moon from orbit, and thus causing massive meteorological changes that will exterminate humanity.  The Daleks arrive at that moment, and confirm this; they state that the controls are locked, but the Doctor insists on trying to stop the plan anyway.  Meanwhile, Leela can hear the sound of the Dalek timeship nearby.  The Daleks can’t fire on the Doctor, for fear of destroying the controls.  Stephens tells the Doctor to access the power grid of the directional controls, and the Daleks immediately exterminate them.  They threaten to kill Leela to get the Doctor to stop, and he is forced to do so.  The countdown reaches zero, and the transfer begins.  Exultant, the Daleks explain that they came back in time to ensure the extinction of humanity before their many future battles with the Daleks.  The Doctor orders his friends to cover their ears, and he activates the same sonic wave he used on the Robomen, disrupting the Daleks’ concentration and impairing their vision.  The Daleks retreat, still confident they have won.  The Doctor reveals that yes, the beam will still fire.

As the Daleks prepare to leave, they discover that the beam has been redirected at the timeship’s power source. The ship explodes, destroying the Daleks and damaging the base.  The Doctor tells the others what he has done, and credits Stephens with the final clue that allowed him to redirect the beam.  Jack mourns Stephens’ death, and the Doctor admits that he does not know if Stephens could have survived had he not been exterminated.  He reflects that there is a lesson to be learned from Stephens’ desire for a shortcut to the future.  He sets to repairing the transmat for return to Earth.

Energy of the Daleks 2

It’s that time again: the Daleks make their first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures! It’s not a bad Dalek story, either, serving as Leela’s first encounter with them. It’s very much in the classic mold; there’s no universe-sized threat here, but the destruction of Earth is at stake. The moonbase seen here—operated by energy research company GlobeSphere Corporation—is suggestive of the titular facility from the Second Doctor serial The Moonbase, but it can’t be the same, as that serial’s base was established in or around the year 2050, some 25 years after this story. Still, it indicates that the world’s space programs are well underway, and humanity is taking its first tentative steps outward from Earth.

We don’t delve very deeply into the science at stake here. The energy source being channeled to Earth is suggested to be solar, reflected by and collected on the moon; but it begs the question of why the moon is needed—wouldn’t it be more efficient to collect sunlight directly on Earth? Nor is the plan to negate the Earth’s gravity well explained—in fact, it hardly gets a breath’s mention in the dialogue. There’s no time to worry about it, however, because this story moves at what passes for breakneck speed in the Fourth Doctor era—the entire story, with the exception of GlobeSphere CEO and lead scientist Damien Stephens’ arrival and nap at the moonbase, probably covers no more than two or three hours.

The Robomen, first seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (and again in The Mutant Phase), appear here. We learn that they are controlled by a microwave carrier wave, and that this can be disrupted by certain sonic frequencies; as well, it can be resisted by a strong mind, with mixed results. We get a glimpse of the process by which humans are converted into Robomen, but it is interrupted before completion. Robomen have appeared in different forms in various stories; this story is the chronologically earliest appearance, but it’s not the earliest development of the technique, as the Daleks here are from an unspecified point in the future. Unlike the Dalek Invasion of Earth Robomen, the ones seen here can visibly pass for normal humans in a crowd, leading me to suspect that they are the later and more advanced version seen in the audio dramas The Human Factor and Project Infinity (which I have not yet covered). If this is the case, it would place these Daleks as originating after the year 4162, as noted in The Human Factor. Interestingly, Davros and Skaro get no mention here (a first for the Fourth Doctor’s adventures with the Daleks); you can interpret that as you may wish with regard to the Daleks.

Although it’s not the first story of the series, this is the first recorded; and as such it’s Tom Baker’s first appearance for Big Finish, as he does not routinely appear in the Main Range. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and his performance here is similar to the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures (Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest, Serpent Crest), which were recorded around the same time (2009-late 2011). As well, this is a better story for Leela, and the usual air of condescension between the two characters is greatly toned down. Susan Jameson doesn’t get a lot of dialogue here—Leela’s part is more minimal than in some of the other entries in the series—but she carries it well, getting at least a few good, humorous lines:

Coulson: Are you as barking mad as the Doctor?

Leela: I do not “bark.”

Coulson: …Oh. Right, then.

The supporting actors are good here, especially Mark Benton in the role of protest leader Jack Coulson. There’s an appearance by Dan Starkey, who is better known as the Sontaran Strax; here he plays a Roboman and also moonbase crewmember Kevin Winston.

Continuity references: Leela is still carrying and occasionally using Janis thorns (The Face of Evil, et al); here she uses them ineffectively on the Robomen, whom the Doctor states are nearly dead anyway. She mentions her previous visit to London (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and refers to the police as “Blue Guards” (many stories, but beginning in Talons). The Daleks refer to various human defeats of the Daleks in the future, which may include The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Daleks’ Master Plan, and many others, though it’s not specified. 2025 in London is a busy time for the Doctor, as he will reappear there in his seventh incarnation in Project: Destiny, and again in Black and White.

Overall, my impression of this story is that it’s very believable. I read in another summary that it seems Nicholas Briggs intended to evoke the Baker era, “with union protests, energy crises and general civil unrest”. That may well be, but in a similar fashion, it’s fitting for today’s world as we approach 2025—less than a decade away as I write this! We have a renewed focus on solar energy, research being made into wireless energy transfer, talk in recent years (here in America, at least) about returning to the moon, an internet that is on the verge of adapting to holographic technology, portable devices that can serve as televisions (among many other functions), and widespread protest movements. It’s not so farfetched to imagine this world arriving soon, sans Daleks and Time Lords of course. But there’s hope to be had, both in the real world and in this story, and the Doctor, as always, embraces that fact. This story doesn’t try to play the fear angle for the Daleks, instead focusing on the threat angle; and it works. The result is a good story, and possibly the highlight of the series (two-part finale pending).

Energy of the Daleks 3

Next time: We’ll get to the aforementioned two-part finale—and revisit another old foe—in Trail of the White Worm! See you there.

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

Energy of the Daleks

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Audio Drama Review: The Wrath of the Iceni (take two!)

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Wrath of the Iceni, the third entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, this story is a notable and rare Fourth Doctor historical. I’ve reviewed it before, but it was only the second audio review I posted, and I hadn’t really worked out a format yet; nor did I have much background as to the audios from which to work. We’ve come a long way since then, and so I’ve decided to post a new review here, in the midst of series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures; but you can still read the original review here if you are interested. Let’s get started!

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

Wrath of the Iceni 1

The TARDIS materializes in a vacant field. The Doctor and Leela emerge and head toward a nearby wood.  The Doctor declines Leela’s suggestion that they return to the TARDIS, and explains that he intends this journey to be a part of her education; he wishes to track her ancestry via the local natives and gain information for her.  Nearby in the wood, two Romans are tracked down by the local warrior queen, Boudica of the Iceni tribe.  The Romans discover her, and kill her horse before threatening her.  They are interrupted by the Doctor and Leela, and Leela takes arms to assist Boudica; Boudica takes advantage of the situation to kill the two Romans.  She introduces herself; when the Doctor learns her identity, he changes his mind and tries to persuade Leela to return to the TARDIS.

Leela refuses, and Boudica supports her in it. To thank Leela for her loyalty, Boudica takes them back to her tribe’s encampment and offers them shelter and food.  When they at last obtain some privacy, Leela asks the Doctor why he was suddenly anxious to leave.  He explains the era in which they have landed: seventeen years ago, the Romans invaded the land that will one day be England, and bought off several local tribal rulers in order to ensure a peaceful conquest.  Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, was one of those rulers; in his will he divided his domain between the Roman Empire and his own daughters.  The Emperor, Nero, disregarded the will and claimed the entire kingdom; when Boudica raised objections, her daughters were taken and publicly raped, and she herself was flogged.  Now—if the Doctor has correctly pinpointed the date, and he is certain he has—Boudica is preparing to lead her tribe in an attack on the nearest Roman town.  History records that her campaign will end in a massacre of her tribe.

Leela insists that they must prevent the deaths of the Iceni, but the Doctor explains that history has fixed these events, and they cannot be changed. Leela doesn’t understand; they are here, now, and the events have not yet happened, and therefore she believes they can and should be changed.  When the Doctor insists, she refuses to listen; instead she goes to Boudica and offers her loyalty and assistance.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is approached by a servant girl named Bragnar. Having overheard his conversation, she believes him to be a seer; now, she wants him to save her tribe.  He explains that he cannot, as they are destined to fail; but perhaps he can save her.  To that end, he decides to take her to the TARDIS, and also to recover Leela if he can.  However, their conspiracy is overheard, and Boudica is informed.  She takes this as a sign of betrayal, despite Leela’s insistence on the Doctor’s good faith.  She heads into the forest on horseback with Leela, and intercepts the Doctor and Bragnar.  Boudica threatens to kill them, but is stopped by Leela, who insists that the Doctor can see the future; she explains that he has predicted that tomorrow’s battle will end in destruction.  Boudica decides to let him live; but she holds the Doctor and Bragnar prisoner instead, planning to extort from him the information she needs to win the battle.

Boudica and Leela overlook the targeted Roman town, Camulodunum; Boudica is confident it can be overrun. She insists that the Doctor can be made to give her more information.

The Doctor and Bragnar are tied up in a tent at Boudica’s orders, and lamenting their situation. Bragnar doesn’t wish anyone dead; she just wishes for peace.  Boudica returns and checks in with the guard, Caedmon, regarding the progress of the situation; he wants to torture the Doctor, but Boudica again forbids it.  Instead, she intends to use Bragnar to get the Doctor to speak.  Inside the tent, Bragnar has grown tired of the Doctor’s banter, when Boudica and Leela arrive; Leela has him untied, but Boudica keeps Bragnar bound.  Boudica demands answers about his prophecy of destruction, and how the Iceni will be defeated.  When he won’t elaborate, Boudica says she will find her own omens…in Bragnar’s entrails.

The Doctor gives in to save Bragnar’s life. He explains that Camulodunum is sparsely guarded, but that it is a decoy; though the attack there will be successful, Governor Paulinus is laying a trap for the Iceni, with his armies held to the north.  When the city is taken, he will return and hem in the Iceni inside the city, then destroy them.  Satisfied, she leaves him in the tent, bound again, and orders a reinforcement of her army’s rear guard; she orders the army to prepare to ride.  Leela is appalled that she won’t release him, but she insists she has many battles to fight, and will make him serve her for all of them.

Leela returns and confronts the Doctor, but leaves him in the tent. She insists that Boudica is a good woman, and declares that she will ride with the army.  To Caedmon’s satisfaction, she tells the Doctor that he must stay and give up his old life and serve as Boudica insists.  However, when Leela leaves with Caedmon, the Doctor tells Bragnar that it’s not what she said, but what she did—and what she did, was slip him her knife.  The Doctor laboriously cuts his own bonds, then Bragnar’s; he comments that Leela was really telling him to abandon her, not his own life.

The army gathers near the Romans encampment, and prepares to charge, though Leela expresses her doubts. Boudica gives a speech to rally her troops, and leads the charge.  The armies engage, and the battle begins.

The Doctor and Bragnar locate a pair of horses, and hurry toward Camulodunum; Bragnar is alarmed, but the Doctor insists he is going to rescue Leela, despite what she asked of him. Meanwhile, Leela is becoming more and more distraught at Boudica’s bloodthirst; she is ashamed to see the Iceni killing the aged, sick, women, and even those who had surrendered.  Boudica orders her troops to destroy the city’s temple and the final survivors inside, which include British slaves—Leela protests, as Boudica plans to kill them as well.  Leela confronts Boudica, and insists that the woman is fighting not for her country, but for revenge.  She declares that the Doctor was right—Boudica is not a good woman, and her battle is wrong.  She reveals that she released the Doctor, which Boudica takes as a betrayal.  Boudica attacks Leela, declaring that she has “scarce fought an equal”.

The Doctor and Bragnar arrive in the last of the battle, where they meet with Caedmon, who chases after them. Caedmon kills the Doctor’s horse; the Doctor sends Bragnar away for her safety, and confronts Caedmon.  Caedmon intends to defy Boudica’s order and kill the Doctor, blaming it on the Romans; but Bragnar doubles back and attacks Caedmon, unintentionally killing him.  They set off again to search for Leela.

Leela and Boudica are still battling, as the Doctor arrives. Boudica manages to strike her while she is distracted, but she is not badly hurt.  She orders the Doctor not to interfere; and moments later, she gets the advantage.  She refuses to kill Boudica, instead leaving her behind.  Boudica is undeterred; she refuses to consider herself defeated, and continues the larger battle.

On the road back toward the TARDIS, Leela and Bragnar discuss the battle. The Doctor admits that he didn’t tell Boudica the truth; there was no army coming from the north, and no defeat today.  Instead, it was a Roman massacre that took place, just as history had recorded.  However, in the future, Boudica will go on to fight other battles, which will lead to her ultimate defeat—not today, but on a day to come, when her pride and arrogance will leave her own army hemmed in to be slaughtered.  Leela admits that she may no longer have the stomach for slaughter, leading the Doctor to comment that her education may be progressing after all.  At the TARDIS, the Doctor explains how Boudica dies: facing death in battle, she kills her daughters, then poisons herself.  Violence brings its own end, it seems.  As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor considers that Leela has had enough education for now; it’s time for something different.

Years hence, Bragnar passes on her story to her own daughters as the sole survivor of her tribe.

Wrath of the Iceni 4

Historicals may have become rare in Doctor Who over the years, but at least they’re familiar, for the most part. Perhaps in part because of the programme’s origins in children’s television, it tends to stick to well-known parts of history. This one, however, covers a corner of history which I knew nothing about, and indeed had never heard of prior to my first time listening. That probably says more about the difference between American and British education than it does about Doctor Who; but still, it came as a rare surprise to me.

For any other American fans like me, who may not be familiar with the particulars of distant eras of British history, the titular Iceni were a British Celtic tribe, with this story—and presumably much of their history—ending around AD 60 or 61. Boudica was queen of the Iceni by necessity; her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the tribe, but of necessity become a partially independent ally of the invading Romans some seventeen years earlier. He intended for his daughters to rule after him and continue the alliance; but after his death the territory of the Iceni was claimed fully by Rome. Boudica protested, and was subsequently flogged; her daughters were publicly raped. Boudica then led the Iceni and some of their allies in revolt against the Romans, destroying Camulodunum (modern Colchester, according to Wikipedia) before moving on to Londinium (modern London), and in the process killing about eighty thousand Romans. However, they were eventually defeated by the Romans and practically wiped out, with Boudica either committing suicide or dying of illness (there is some debate). This story takes place in the earliest days of her campaign, just before and during the attack on Camulodunum. The Doctor and Leela fall in with Boudica quite by accident, but Leela is taken with her warrior ways, and chooses to help Boudica’s cause. The Doctor, meanwhile, knows how history plays out, and knows that helping the Iceni is futile; nevertheless, his knowledge slips out, and he is held prisoner as a seer. Toward the end, Leela realizes her mistake, but is in too deep to back off; therefore the Doctor, upon escaping, is forced to rescue her. He tells Boudica what she wants to hear, but cleverly hides the ultimate outcome, causing her to commit to her original plan without changing history. In the end, Leela cannot save the Iceni, but with the Doctor’s help, she saves one person—a woman named Bragnar, who survives to tell the story to her own daughters.

Over five decades, we’ve seen nearly every possible take on the idea that history cannot be changed. This episode is nothing new; it’s just very tragic. Then again, history itself is often tragic; and this story, at least, reports it as accurately as can be done when adding the Doctor to a story. We don’t watch or listen to these stories in order to see how the Doctor changes things; we listen to them to see the clever lengths to which he must go to prevent changing things. In that regard, this story is very reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii with the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; the Doctor would find it exceedingly simple to change things, but that change would most likely have catastrophic repercussions throughout the future. Therefore he has to work at not changing anything; and his task is made that much harder by a companion who wants more than anything to save everyone. The only answer that will allow him to maintain his identity as the Doctor, and yet preserve history (even with its tragedies!) is to do what he does in both stories: save someone.

As a reminder, this is still very early in Leela’s story. As far as can be told, this is only her seventh adventure with the Doctor. Thus he is still on his quest to educate her about her own species’ history. Boudica’s era is familiar territory to Leela, as she is also of a “savage” tribal background; therefore the Doctor is far less condescending toward her here than in most stories, because he knows he is surrounded by people just like her, who won’t put up with it (or understand it, probably). He does take the opportunity to give her the lesson about history being unchangeable, although without the level of technical detail he gives to more technically advanced companions. This is truly Leela’s story, not the Doctor’s, even though the screen time is about equally split between them; for the first time, she is the confident one, and she makes her own decisions. She may be wrong in the end, but seeing her take charge is practically majestic; and even the Doctor seems to acknowledge that.

Continuity References: Leela expressly says that history can be changed, despite what the Doctor says; this is a reference to The Foe From the Future, which, though an audio, is set immediately before The Talons of Weng-Chiang (and notably was originally written to be the series 14 finale, but was not produced). The Doctor’s observation (regarding Bragnar) that one person is unlikely to make a difference is also a reference to that story. He hates Morris dancers, which nearly killed him in The Daemons. He makes reference to the Morovanian Museum, and Leela mentions Reginald Harcourt (The Renaissance Man). He mentions his earliest encounter with Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and the extinction of the dodo (The Last Dodo–Doctor Who has a story for everything). A few future references are noteworthy, although I usually try to avoid them until we reach the stories involved and can look back: Leela claims her name has no meaning, contradicting several future audios (notably, The Catalyst); The Tenth Doctor and Donna will meet Boudica again in The Lonely Computer; the Doctor plans a trip to the 21st century (the next entry, Energy of the Daleks). Iris Wildthyme claims to have been at the siege of Colchester (or Camulodunum in this case; The Elixir of Doom). Boudica and the Iceni get a mention in Byzantium!.

Overall: It’s worth noting that this is the first pure historical for the fourth Doctor in any performance medium (and possibly still the only—I haven’t looked ahead at later series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, but we’ll find out as we get there). While it’s fairly straightforward—as I said, there are no great surprises here—that’s all it needs to be, being the first historical for him. The conflict between Leela and the Doctor is not new, and isn’t going away anytime soon—all in all, they are a bit of a one-note duo—but it’s done well here, and this story does more than any other I’ve encountered to make Leela’s point and make it sympathetic. Her way of life is valid; it’s just not always applicable. She’s a moral and noble and valiant character, and all of those strengths get showcased here; she just happens to be lacking a piece of relevant knowledge about history. It proves to be a hard and bitter lesson for her, but learn it she does.

Wrath of the Iceni 3

Next time: Energy of the Daleks! See you there.

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

The Wrath of the Iceni

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