Audio Drama Review: The Time Ravagers

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Audio Visuals series, with the second entry, The Time Ravagers. Written by Nicholas Briggs (under the pseudonym Arthur Wallis), this story was released in 1985, and features Briggs in his debut appearance as the Doctor, Richard Marson as Greg Holmes, and Sally Baggs as Nadia. Let’s get started!

Time Ravagers Cover 1

No one said the cover art was awesome. Is…is that a sonic screwdriver in his hand, or a toothbrush?

 

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

Part One: A repeating buoy broadcasts its beacon into space a light year from the Temperon research station, in the Temperos system. On an approaching supply ship, Captain Stride sends his engineer, Harlan, back to his post, before musing on military discipline. He tries to summon his science officer, Okkerby, but she belligerently refuses to come up before landing, and returns to the music to which she was listening. Harlan shortly joins her in her quarters, and discusses her professional affection for time travel—which, as it turns out, is what Temperon station is supposed to be researching. Harlan’s grandfather was alive at the building of the station, and Harlan finds it fascinating, though Okkerby has given up on any breakthroughs. The captain summons Okkerby again; all the ship’s chronometers have gone dead at relative 01:56. More, something is out there—in space.

On the TARDIS, Greg and Nadia are impatient for the Doctor’s return; he has been gone for hours. They see a vision of a brain in the time rotor, and hear the Doctor’s voice, before both vanish. An old man appears in the TARDIS, looking as though he has been wearing his clothes for a century. They realize it is the Doctor, now aged and unhealthy—and before their eyes, he dies.

No other malfunctions seem apparent, so Stride tells Harlan to follow the buoy signal in. However, the signal is gone; the buoy is dead. Harlan prepares a spacesuit for Stride to use in investigating the buoy, and takes the ship close to it; but he superstitiously warns that this is the work of the “Temperon”.

Nadia and Greg muse over what to do without the Doctor. They return to the control room to move his body.

Stride lectures Harlan again, then heads out to examine the buoy.

Greg and Nadia find the Doctor gone—and a new man in his place. They believe he is another time traveler, having killed the Doctor; but they are interrupted as the man tells them the TARDIS is tipping into a time abyss, something he previously thought impossible. He claims to be the Doctor, though it defies belief; but he pilots the TARDIS through a time distortion.

Stride reports to Okkerby as he examines the beacon, where he can find nothing wrong—but no signal either. He investigates further, and find the battery corroded—and strangely, it seems aged far beyond its projected 50,000 year lifespan.

The alleged Doctor brings them safely out of the distortion and to safety. They have a brief argument about regeneration; in the midst of it, Nadia again asserts that she wants to forget about Homeworld. The Doctor overrides their objections, and explains that there is some sort of time-creature—the thing that apparently aged him prior to regeneration—which seems to be in need of help. Greg accepts his story, but Nadia refuses. However, they are interrupted by an alert from the TARDIS; the ship’s power cells are decaying beyond their practically-infinite lifespan. The Doctor realizes the creature is taking them toward the end of time.

Okkerby is not receiving a signal from Temperon station, either; and the ship’s engines are experiencing fluctuations. Stride orders Harlan to make an emergency landing; but the base is nowhere to be seen. Stride orders Harlan to land where the base should be. Okkerby sees that the Temperon sun is going dark.

The TARDIS lands, but the Doctor doesn’t know where. At least there is a breathable atmosphere, so they head out to explore. They find a darkened landscape under a dying sun, with ancient ruins nearby. The whole world seems to be near the end of its life cycle. The trio goes to investigate the ruins, which prove to be millions of years old—though it was quite advanced in its day. As they head inside, a strange voice can be heard growling the Doctor’s name, and asking for help.

The ruin shows evidence of both violence and rapid aging. The Doctor speaks briefly with Greg about Nadia’s distrust of them, before the odd voice is heard again—and apparently only the Doctor can hear it.

As the ship comes in for a landing, its power continues to weaken; Okkerby notices the same ruin as the TARDIS crew, at the coordinates the station should occupy.

The ruin’s power cells have also been rapidly aged, and the Doctor begins to make a connection between this and his own situation. They see the ship coming in. Aboard ship, the crew struggles to get the ship down, with only three minutes of emergency power left. The ship lands hard, near the ruins, but everyone survives. Stride arms the three of them from the ship’s armory, over Okkerby’s objections.

The Doctor notes that the ship is suffering the same degradation, but he is unable to focus as he hears the voice again. Greg and Nadia notice that he is unwell, just before the Doctor passes out.

Stride sends Harlan to scout ahead, against his objections. Greg and Nadia see him coming, and try to wake the Doctor; they also note that Stride and Okkerby have found the TARDIS. Okkerby doesn’t know what it is, but determines it at least won’t blow up. Greg and Nadia carry the Doctor behind a bit of cover and try to hide from Harlan. Harlan tells Stride he hasn’t found anything. Meanwhile, Okkerby concludes that the ruins are the Temperon station, though millions of years aged. The Doctor cries out, giving away their position to the others. Time begins to reverse around them, and the base begins to rebuild as the TARDIS disappears. Suddenly the situation reverses again, and the base disappears—but the TARDIS disappears fully as well.

Stride’s crew finds Nadia and Greg, and Stride tells Harlan to shoot them. The duo run; Stride insists they are saboteurs. The Doctor awakens to overhear this, and Stride demands answers from him. Nadia and Greg manage to hide; in the course of it, Nadia lets it slip that she is beginning to accept that this Doctor is the real Doctor.

The Doctor agrees to try to help, but insists he may not be much help because of his recent metabolic change. Stride places Okkerby to watch the Doctor, and takes Harlan to go hunt down the companions. The Doctor introduces himself to Okkerby, who doesn’t think the situation is the result of sabotage. Conferring, they each learn that the same circumstance brought them there. She tells them they are on Temperos, the legendary home of the beast called the Temperon. The station crew was there to research time travel, which is connected with the Temperon. Meanwhile, Stride and Harlan lose track of the companions. Harlan explains what his grandfather told him about the Temperon, which is consistent with what has happened to them; Stride calls it rubbish. The Doctor examines the damaged chronometers, and concludes they were damaged by the sudden onrush of time.

Greg and Nadia think they may be safe for the moment, and muse on the apparent approaching death of the world and its star. They realize that if the planet aged naturally, the atmosphere would have dissipated. They are interrupted by more weapons fire, as Stride and Harlan find them, and they run again.

The Doctor theorizes that they are heading toward the end of time. A huge brain materializes; the Doctor concludes it is the Temperon. It speaks in the strange voice from before, and calls the Doctor friend. It warns the Doctor of danger that must be resisted. Stride and Harlan return with their captives, and Stride makes Harlan fire on the Temperon, which vanishes. The Doctor berates him as a fool. Harlan is seen to be aged; the Temperon struck in self-defense, it seems. The Doctor insists it is not their enemy, but has been dragging others here to help it defeat the force that is using it. Another time distortion begins, and the Doctor tells Stride to throw down his gun and apologize to the Temperon. However, it is not the creature that appears, but a band of Daleks.

Part Two: The Daleks don’t know the Doctor’s new face. The Doctor stalls them as far as knowing which person is the Doctor, prompting the Daleks to capture them all, which knocks them out briefly. They awaken on a Dalek ship, with no Daleks in sight—but they won’t be gone long. Stride knows the Daleks, but insists they long ago surrendered in their war with the humans. The Doctor laughs at the thought, and insists that they must deal with the situation in front of them. Why do the Daleks want them? Unknown to them, the Daleks are monitoring them, and determine from the confrontation which one is the Doctor. The lead Dalek instructs the others to bring the Doctor to him, and kill the others. The Doctor surmises that this is the case, and plans to bargain with them—after all, the Daleks need him for their work with time travel, and that constitutes a powerful bargaining chip. Still, the Daleks are not to be trusted.

A Dalek come for the Doctor, and Stride’s crew opens fire on them. Okkerby is wounded. The Doctor helps them kill the Dalek, though it sounds the alarm before it dies. The group escapes, though Okkerby slows them down. Okkerby realizes that they are not in a Dalek ship at all, but in the Temperon station, now fully restored. They are interrupted by the arrival of more Daleks, and run. They meet the Temperon again, with another time distortion in place; the Doctor urges the others into the distortion for their safety, but stays behind himself. Nadia stays with him, over his objections, and they are quickly captured by the Daleks. The Daleks try to restrain the Temperon, but fail, and it retreats to the time period from which the group was abducted by the Daleks. It tells Greg that the Daleks had imprisoned it, and then it departs, possibly pulled away by the Daleks. It has, in fact, been restrained to a time cell in the Daleks’ version of the base. The Daleks threaten Nadia as a motivation for the Doctor to help them.

Stride still refuses to believe that they have time traveled, despite Okkerby’s words. Meanwhile, the Daleks bring in the TARDIS and the Temperon, and insist that the Doctor will experiment on the beast—to isolate and extract its time travel abilities. They put the Doctor and Nadia under guard, and leave the room. The Doctor insists they must get answers from the Temperon, though that will be hard with the Dalek guard watching them. He takes Nadia into the TARDIS, reminding them that it’s incapable of travel at the moment; but here they can speak freely, and they may be able to meet the Temperon at the time rotor again. He reroutes power from the environmental controls to the time rotor, to draw the creature in. He muses that the Temperon has given them all a sort of dimensional cocoon, protecting them from the effects of time dislocation. They activate the power, generating a time field to attract the Temperon.

The Daleks send a squad to recapture the humans. Stride tells the others to run for his ship; the group makes it safely inside, where there are greater armaments—though it is doubtful that any of it can stop the Daleks. The Daleks issue an ultimatum to them; if they do not surrender in one minute, the Daleks will attack the ship.

The Doctor manages to make contact with the Temperon, and is not aged this time; he learns what the Daleks want.

Harlan sets up a cannon at a porthole to attack the Daleks, but worries over the possibility of not getting them all. Harlan fires on them from the porthole, and the crew escapes through an escape hatch in the confusion. Okkerby uses grenades to clear the Daleks pursuing them, and the group escapes into the mountains. The remaining Daleks call for transolar disks with which to make an aerial patrol. Their leader orders the death of the “squad leader”, or Stride.

The Doctor has yet to come up with a solution to their predicament. He and Nadia exit the TARDIS to meet a Dalek demanding a report. He hedges as long as possible, making the Dalek angry. He says that he has communicated with the Temperon, which says it will give the information they want if they turn off its time cell. He argues with the Dalek, insisting they don’t have the right to interfere with time this way—that is, by taking its DNA into themselves to gain the Temperon’s abilities. The Dalek departs, and the Doctor begins to get an idea of how to proceed.

Daleks on transolar disks patrol the skies, in search of the humans, who see them coming.

The Doctor and Nadia quietly reroute power so that the Daleks’ next use of the restraint equipment will destroy the Temperon’s time cage.

The Daleks send more of their numbers to reclaim the escapees. They also prepare for genetic engineering. The Doctor says that they have the DNA information the Daleks want. Short on time, he calls out to the Temperon; the Daleks announce that they will kill Nadia if he communicates with it again. They fire up the restraint system, and the Doctor and Nadia duck into the TARDIS as the time cage collapses, freeing the Temperon. It turns on the Daleks, before reappearing in the TARDIS and replenishing its power. The TARDIS escapes—but the Daleks are thrilled to see that the genetic data has been left behind. They order their patrols to exterminate the humans on sight.

The Temperon is in control of the TARDIS, and is too busy to talk to the Doctor. The Doctor tries anyway, attempting to get it to take them to the others. The TARDIS materializes there just as the Daleks approach, and Greg leads the humans toward the TARDIS as Stride provides cover fire. Stride is killed by the Daleks just as the others enter the TARDIS. The Temperon flies the ship away.

The Doctor has insisted that the genetic data he gave the Daleks was junk…but suddenly he’s not so sure. After all, the knowledge came to him very easily. He suspects he may have subconsciously given them the real information, quite unintentionally. Suddenly the TARDIS stops—in space—and the Doctor and the Temperon vanish. Daleks begin appearing out of nowhere, apparently charged with the Doctor’s data. However, the Doctor reappears and reassures the humans that the Daleks are harmless, because they overlooked something: while they can travel in time, they are not protected from aging accordingly. These are therefore greatly aged; and before the crew’s eyes, the Daleks die and fade away. With the Temperon’s help, the plan has been thwarted; but of course the Daleks will be back, as always.

The power cells are recharged, but the Temperon has locked them into a course for one of the humans’ relay stations, where Okkerby and Harlan can be dropped off safely. As for the Doctor…he feels like his life has only just begun—again.

Audio Visuals 1

Where The Space Wail was strictly a pilot episode for the series, The Time Ravagers wastes no time in jumping into more complex stories. This story is a tale of strange temporal phenomena, time skipping, and TARDIS oddities; and in that sense, I can’t help but be reminded of Big Finish’s first Doctor Who audio, The Sirens of Time. While this story isn’t a multi-Doctor story as Sirens was, it shares some common elements with that story, and it’s easy to imagine that Briggs’ experience here helped shape that later story. As well, this is a Dalek story—perhaps that’s a spoiler, as it’s not obvious at the outset, but it’s not much of one, as the cover and promotional blurb mention the Daleks. As Dalek stories go, this one is at least middle-of-the-road, and I would even say it’s one of the better stories. We have the Daleks attempting to incorporate the power of time travel into themselves, making them temporal beings—a step beyond their previous forays into time travel. As often happens, the Doctor is manipulated into helping them; and as always happens, it doesn’t go as planned. One would think they would learn by now.

We open with what is possibly the most underplayed regeneration since the First Doctor’s. The Doctor is offscreen when we arrive, having gone to pursue another mysterious time traveler—the beast called the Temperon, as it turns out. When he returns, he is severely aged, and dying. His companions don’t witness his regeneration, and have to have it explained to them; but other than some ongoing bits about Nadia’s distrust of the new Doctor, that’s it. The Doctor does present a small amount of regeneration fatigue; he has a little trouble pulling himself together; but he overcomes it quickly. Without visuals, it’s a little difficult to picture this new Doctor, who is different in demeanor from any classic incarnation; I don’t recall seeing much video or many pictures of Nick Briggs, so I lack a face to attach to this character. The impression I get is perhaps closest to the Ninth Doctor; though I would qualify that by saying that he is more laid back and less angry than the Ninth Doctor—perhaps a view of what that incarnation would have been like without the Time War. Of course, it would be two more decades of real time before that incarnation would be created; at the time of this production, Christopher Eccleston was only twenty-one, and still four years from his professional stage debut.

The official site’s production notes for this story explain that it was a nightmare to record, mostly due to problems with the cast. Between cast changes and conflicting schedules, three recording sessions were required. The third session was strictly to record the Dalek voices (oddly, given future history, NOT provided by Nick Briggs). Due to delays in obtaining the modulator used to modify the voices, regular cast members couldn’t be used; producer Bill Baggs was ultimately able to get Michael Wisher (of Davros fame) and David Sax to record the parts. While present, Wisher also recorded his cameo for The Space Wail (as the Homeworld judge) and the recorded space buoy for this story. As a coda to this difficult production, some master tapes were stolen a few years later in 1987, The Time Ravagers being one of them; therefore the version available on download is technically a remix, with some additional music.

The secondary story here is that of a supply ship crew caught in the events of the main story. It’s a format we’ve seen a few times before: a leader who is utterly unreasonable and power-mad, accompanied by a few more reasonable subordinates who end up helping the Doctor. The leader, Stride, gets his comeuppance, as is customary; surprisingly, his is the only non-Dalek death in this story. The voice acting of the secondary characters is decent; for the primary characters, not so much. Briggs does as well as usual, but Richard Marson’s performance sounds phoned in (and being the eighties, perhaps it literally was), and Sally Baggs’ heart is clearly not in her performance. (Sally, incidentally, is the reason for the second recording session, as she was completely unavailable for the first session; her lines were dubbed in during editing.)

We do have a few continuity references here, mostly pertaining to the Daleks. The Doctor implies that they have more traditional time-travel (“[Time travel] was only ever crude in your hands”), placing this story sometime after The Chase from the perspective of the Daleks. The Daleks use transolar discs to fly; these were first seen in a very early and obscure short story (told on cards issued with candy cigarettes, no less!) called Doctor Who and the Daleks. The devices have featured in various stories, but never on television as yet (according to the TARDIS wiki anyway—I feel I’ve seen them, but I could be wrong), but seem to have disappeared sometime during the Time War, when flight technology became widely incorporated into the Dalek casings. (It’s only loosely relevant, but some more interesting facts about Doctor Who and the Daleks: This 1964 release is, allegedly, the first prose story to feature the Doctor in the history of the franchise, and possibly—though not definitively—the first prose work of any type in Doctor Who. If you own the DVD release of The Keys of Marinus, you can find a rendering of this story among its extras. It is also the first to picture the Dalek Emperor in any medium.)

Overall: I enjoyed this story quite a bit. It’s a good introduction for Briggs’ Doctor, despite being a little weak as a regeneration story, and picks up the pace and the action over the previous entry. At about eighty minutes, and two episodes, it’s almost exactly double the length; from the previews I’ve seen, this seems to set the template for most of the upcoming stories. Check it out!

Next time: We’ll continue with the third entry of this first season, Connection 13, which takes us back to Earth and—possibly—to UNIT. See you there!

The Audio Visuals may be downloaded legally and for free here. Please be cautious; the hosting site is prone to unsafe links.

Audio Visuals official site (does not include download links)

Doctor Who Expanded wiki page for The Time Ravagers

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Audio Drama Review: The Space Wail

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Before Big Finish Productions began to produce licensed audio dramas, there was another line of Doctor Who audios: the Audio Visuals. From 1984 into the 1990s, these fan-produced productions expanded on the Doctor’s adventures off-screen, and added a new dimension to the Doctors and companions we knew. Many of the production team members went on to work on the television series or Big Finish audios, and some of the Audio Visuals have been remade as official Big Finish stories. I was recently able to download these early audios, and while I am continuing to review Big Finish’s work as well, I thought it would interesting to also take an occasional look at this series.

Today we’re listening to the pilot episode of the series, The Space Wail. Written by Gary Russell (under the pseudonym Warren Martyn), this story features Stephen Payne as the Doctor, and Richard Marson and Sally Baggs as new companions Gregory Holmes and Nadia. Let’s get started!

The Space Wail 1

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

Part One: On a prison ship known as Despair, a family from the planet Homeworld awaits execution for various mostly-minor crimes. Execution takes place offworld, and this ship will transport them to the place of death. Knowing they have only three hours to live, the family—numbering nine individuals—gathers in their cell to plan an escape. Meanwhile, the ship’s central computer, known as BABE, kills one of the ship’s guards shortly after his arrival aboard the ship.

The Doctor lands on Earth in search of a good cricket match. He arrives early, and in the course of his explorations he loses track of the TARDIS. He searches for his missing police box; along the way, he bumps into two schoolboys playing football. One of the boys, Gregory Holmes, helps the Doctor track down the TARDIS, but he scoffs at the Doctor’s claim that the box flies. He stops scoffing, however, when the Doctor shows him its interior. Greg asks the Doctor for a lift back to the school, and the Doctor agrees; but the TARDIS, as usual, has other plans.

The TARDIS materializes aboard Despair, and its occupants are quickly captured by the guards. They are accused of the murder of a guard, though the Doctor denies it. The ship’s commander threatens them with torture by mind drain; he tells them that most prisoners would choose death over suffering the device, which drains away the mind before returning it in damaged form.

Meanwhile, the family escapes from confinement and runs. They encounter BABE’s interface; the computer taunts them before turning the mind drain device on them. The device kills all but one of them, a girl named Nadia, who manages to escape.

Part Two: Nadia is not the only one escaping, as the Doctor and Greg manage to evade the guards. They collide with Nadia, who is at first distrustful, until she realizes that they are not from Homeworld. They assist her in checking to see if any of her family survived, though she is sure that none did so. They reach the chamber where BABE waits—but so do the remaining guards.

BABE takes charge of the situation, and admits the truth. She is an extension of the central computer on Homeworld—this much is no secret—but her purpose is far more than navigation. “BABE” stands for “Brainwave Absorption Biological Experiment”, and the task of all the subsidiary BABE units is to increase the central computer’s own power by absorbing as many minds as possible, before destroying themselves in deep space. She acquired the mind of the ship’s commander, Gryc, shortly after he came aboard; she then restored enough to revive him, but under her control. And now, she has acquired a taste of the Doctor’s mind—and she wants more.

A confrontation leaves Gryc dead, BABE reeling, and the guards on the run. The Doctor and his new companions also escape. Meanwhile, BABE revives Gryc and sends him after the Doctor. She uses the voice of Niton, one of Nadia’s family, to lure in Dag Solomon, the ship’s engineer, before the guards can use him to disable BABE. Gryc catches up with the Doctor just as he sets to the task of reprogramming BABE, and begins to throttle Nadia; the remaining guards arrive at the same time, and try to destroy the computer. She begins draining their minds, killing them one by one. The Doctor trades verbal barbs with BABE as he struggles to find his dropped sonic screwdriver; he manages to reprogram it to self-destruct. He sends Greg back to the TARDIS with Nadia, and tells him to collect Solomon as well, if they find him. BABE begs the Doctor to die with her, but he has other plans; he reverses the computer’s polarity. The resulting shockwave will reverberate back to the base unit on Homeworld, destroying it as well. He finds his screwdriver, and darts out, just minutes before the computer—and the ship—explodes. He manages to join Greg and Nadia in the TARDIS, and informs them that he had found Solomon’s body along the way. The TARDIS escapes the ship just before its destruction.

And yet, all is not well. The Doctor brings up Homeworld on the scanner—just in time to see the planet explode. It seems that the Doctor’s sabotage caused an echo into the core of the planet, destroying the entire world. The Doctor reels in horror at what he’s done, though Nadia is surprisingly calm about it. She and Greg—who have been talking about their experiences—ask to go to Cassiopeia to swim, and the Doctor reluctantly agrees.

Audio Visuals 1

After many of Big Finish’s polished, professional audios, it’s a bit jarring to listen to the Audio Visuals. That is absolutely not intended to be an insult, and I want to be clear about that from the outset. What the production crew accomplished is remarkable given the era; in 1984, they were, for all practical purposes, walking around with a tape recorder and hand-splicing in the music. (Certainly I’m exaggerating—it was a bit more complicated than that—but the medium has come a long way since.) And yet, beneath that is a story that is…well, pretty good, perhaps surprisingly so. This pilot episode, The Space Wail, is brief, even for this series; it clocks in at about forty-one minutes, where most of its sequels are over an hour. It makes some mistakes that are clearly a result of this being the first attempt: some of its cuts are abrupt, and it assumes some knowledge that it really should be providing for the listener. That last is no particular surprise; the cast and crew were fans of the television series, and they were circulating the tapes (yes, tapes! Cassette tapes, to be precise, and all duplicated by the crew themselves) among established fans. This is likely to be no one’s introduction to Doctor Who; but as a result of that assumption, the storytelling here is weakened.

It’s still a good story, though. We have the Doctor—traveling solo at the outset—stumbling into a spaceship occupied by a power-mad computer that possesses the ability to drain away the minds of its living victims. And whose mind is more tempting than a Time Lord’s? That’s close enough to a spoiler that I won’t say more; but suffice it to say that any and all of those elements would be at home in an episode of the classic series. It’s a bit dark for a series opener; the Doctor wins, but there’s a terrible and unforeseen cost. Nevertheless, we’re off to a good start, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

It’s never established which Doctor is portrayed here. I’ve heard arguments that it isn’t intended to represent any of the televised Doctors; and indeed, the Doctor Who Expanded wiki, which I used to gather some of the production information, treats it as though it is a separate Doctor. He is portrayed here, and only here, by Stephen Payne, who (according to the TARDIS wiki, assuming it’s referring to the same individual) also served as a photographer in some of Reeltime’s Doctor Who documentaries. He only plays the role once; future appearances are played by Nicholas Briggs, who of course would go on to Big Finish Productions, as well as voicing the Daleks for the television series. Payne’s portrayal is most similar, I think, to the Fifth Doctor; and given that the episode was recorded in 1984, I think it’s most likely that either the intention was to portray the Fifth Doctor, or that Peter Davison’s performance inspired Payne’s. Listen to the story if you have the chance; it will be hard to picture any other incarnation. (To be fair, 1984 was the beginning of Colin Baker’s tenure, and Gary Russell states that both he and producer Bill Baggs were fans of Baker’s Doctor; but the character we see here is nothing like the bombastic Sixth Doctor.)

The Doctor acquires two new companions here. Gregory Holmes, played by Richard Marson, is a student from Earth who happens across the Doctor, and is drawn into the TARDIS; the Doctor doesn’t intend to take him along, but the TARDIS, it seems, has other ideas. Nadia, played by Sally Baggs, is a criminal from the planet Homeworld, though her alleged crimes are never addressed. Her entire family is slated for execution as the story begins; however, her world takes a hard line against crime of any type, and so her guilt remains to be determined. Suspiciously enough, she’s very cavalier about losing her family and her planet…

I feel compelled to mention that the unusual title, The Space Wail, refers to the sound—possibly psychic; it’s poorly described—heard in the TARDIS upon the deaths of a large number of people at the end of the story. To describe more would be another spoiler; I will say, though, that it reminds me very much of a certain moment in Star Wars: A New Hope. You’ll figure it out easily enough, I imagine.

I expect I’ll touch on this more in upcoming entries, but it’s worth mentioning that the Audio Visuals were very much illegal, in that they represented a significant copyright infringement. Curiously enough, the BBC didn’t seem to care, as Gary Russell mentions in an interview:

We were fans doing some stuff for a handful of people. We never advertised in professional magazines, we kept ourselves to ourselves. In doing so, we broke every copyright rule in the book (hell, Terry Nation would have crucified us – although I think our Dalek stories knocked spots of Saward’s!) JNT was certainly aware of us, but he didn’t care. Why should he? We were no more than any other fan product and at least we weren’t printing articles about him or the show. I doubt Saward knew or cared. He wouldn’t know drama if it bit him.

It’s just as well, as it could be argued that without the Audio Visuals, we may not have had Big Finish’s later work. Ironically enough, Russell was very critical of this episode, and felt it had a number of deficiencies, which would soon be addressed in later entries.

There’s nothing to be mentioned in the way of continuity references, and I suspect this may largely be the case throughout the series. While there will be some episodes involving major enemies such as the Daleks, one gets the impression that the writers and crew took pains to make this series separate from the source material where possible. However, I’ll keep an eye open for anything in future episodes.

I mentioned in passing that many people who worked on this series have since gone on to other Doctor Who projects. That list is quite extensive even from the first episode. Gary Russell, notably, has written, edited, and directed many Doctor Who and spinoff stories in television, print, and audio. Michael Wisher, who has a minor role here, portrayed Davros in his first appearances, and provided Dalek voices and other roles. Bill Baggs went on to found BBV Productions, which also produced spinoffs of Doctor Who. The list quickly becomes lengthy; for this episode, several cast and crewmembers went on to work for Doctor Who Magazine.

Overall: Not a bad start. It’s nostalgic for me to listen to these productions; I’m not previously familiar with them, but the production values say “1980s” in many ways. My childhood was in that decade, and this story brings back memories. I’m excited to continue the series.

Next time: Nick Briggs joins the cast as a newly-regenerated version of the Doctor in The Time Ravagers! See you there.

The Audio Visuals may be downloaded legally and for free here. Please be cautious; the hosting site is prone to unsafe links.

Audio Visuals official site (does not include download links)

Doctor Who Expanded wiki page for The Space Wail

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New Series Rewatch: The Next Doctor

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today we’re watching the 2008 Christmas Special, The Next Doctor, guest starring David Morrissey as…well…the Doctor. Or is it? Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched this episode!

Next Doctor 1

Christmas Eve, 1851, finds the Doctor landing in London, where he hears a woman calling his name.  Her name is Rosita, and it seems she isn’t calling for him—and moments later, another Doctor runs up.  He has his own sonic screwdriver, and tells Rosita to go back to the TARDIS, and calls himself a Time Lord, and even uses the Tenth Doctor’s catchphrase (“Allons-y!”), but there’s no time to talk; they are dealing with a monster: a primitive, half-converted form of Cyberman!  The new Doctor lassos it, and is dragged up the side of a building, with the Tenth Doctor hanging on for life.  The creature drags them through the building’s upper floor; just before it can pull them out the window, Rosita arrives with an axe and cuts the rope.  She is unamused, but they are simply glad to be alive.

The new Doctor introduces Rosita as his faithful companion, before she returns to the newcomer’s TARDIS.  The two Doctors compare notes, but the Tenth Doctor is dismayed to see that the newcomer doesn’t remember being him; he cautiously calls himself John Smith instead.  The new Doctor claims that he has amnesia; he doesn’t remember anything before the coming of the Cybermen, who fell from the sky, and did something to his memory.  He does acknowledge, though, that John Smith may know about his past, before departing himself.  Elsewhere, the creature—called a Cybershade—shows its footage to the Cybermen, who pinpoint the new Doctor as their enemy, the Doctor.  With their human ally, Miss Mercy Hartigan, they plan an attack for 1400 hours.

At 1400 hours, a funeral procession for the deceased Reverend Aubrey Fairchild wends its way to the cemetery, leaving the Reverend’s house unguarded.  The new Doctor goes to check it out, but the Tenth Doctor beats him there; he sees that the new Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver is a regular screwdriver, which is “sonic” because it makes a sound when tapped.  Together the duo search the house for information on a man named Jackson Lake, who arrived in London three weeks ago before being killed by the Cybermen; but Lake’s body was never found.  This kicked off a series of murders and child abductions that led to the Reverend’s death by electrocution.  The Tenth Doctor notices that the new Doctor has a fob watch, which may be a chameleon arch focus; but when he opens it, it is normal and not in good repair.  The new Doctor’s memories are hinting at the Doctor’s history, though.  The Tenth Doctor finds strange items in a desk drawer:  Cybermen infostamps, which contain historical information about the era.  The new Doctor remembers that he was holding one when he lost his memory, which he also refers to as his regeneration.  He pleads with John Smith for help.  However, they are attacked by Cybermen, and forced to run.  Trapped upstairs, the Tenth Doctor finds that they are not after him, but the other Doctor.  The new Doctor overloads one of the infostamps, and its energy release destroys the Cybermen.  He comments that he did this once before.

While these events occur, Miss Hartigan arrives at the funeral with Cybermen and Cybershades.  They kill most of the mourners, but save those who are owners of workhouses and orphanages; those survivors are fitted with earpods for Cyber control, then released.

The two Doctors meet with Rosita at the new Doctor’s home, which is curiously seen to contain the belongings of Jackson Lake, the first victim.    The new Doctor’s TARDIS is there, but something is wrong; it is a hot-air balloon, and not a disguised TARDIS.  (TARDIS, in this case, stands for Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style.)  The Tenth Doctor knows now what happened, and explains it to the new Doctor.  He explains about the Battle of Canary Wharf, and how some of the Cybermen were trapped in the Void at its conclusion; but when the universal walls were weakened in another battle (i.e. the events of Journey’s End) they escaped into 1851 London.  They happened upon Jackson Lake, who was a simple mathematics teacher.  In his home, they killed his wife; Lake then grabbed an infostamp as a weapon, but broke it open.  While it did destroy the Cybermen, it rebounded on Lake and overwhelmed him; it was filled with information about the Doctor, which overwrote Lake’s memories, causing him to believe he is the Doctor.  As a final bit of evidence, the fob watch has Lake’s initials.  The new Doctor’s memories return in a rush, and he is overwhelmed and breaks down crying.  The Doctor discovers that the luggage contains a bandolier loaded with infostamps.

The crisis won’t wait, however.  The Tenth Doctor—the only Doctor, now—takes Rosita to do some investigation.  They find the Cyber-controlled workhouse owners sending the children from their houses to the Thames via a guarded sluice gate.  As they try to sneak by, they are confronted by Hartigan.  She explains her compliance with the Cybermen, who offered her freedom in return for her help.  He gives the Cybermen the infostamp, and they absorb the information, determining that he is their enemy as opposed to Lake.  Hartigan says that the children will be used as a workforce to create “it”, but she does not elaborate further.  As she orders the Cybermen to attack, Lake arrives with another infostamp, distracting the Cybermen and allowing the trio to escape (with Rosita getting in a very satisfying punch on Hartigan).  Hartigan declares that the Cyberking will rise tonight.

Lake explains that when he moved to London to teach, he found the Cybermen in his basement, leading the Doctor to suspect that there may be a route from the house into the Cybermen’s base of operations.  Returning to the house, they find a piece of stolen Dalek technology called a Dimension Vault, which the Cybermen used to escape the Void.  They also find the expected tunnel, which leads to the sewers and the base.  Meanwhile, the children are forced to generate power for the Cyberking.  The Cyberleader tells Hartigan that she will become the Cyberking.  To her dismay, this is what they meant when they said she would have freedom:  Freedom from emotion when she is converted.  However, her will is too strong, and as soon as she is converted, she destroys the Cyberleader.

The Doctor, Jackson, and Rosita reach the base, and find a power gauge approaching 100%.  When it gets to 100%, the children will be eliminated.  They begin rescuing the children, but this brings back another painful memory for Jackson: the Cybermen not only killed his wife, but kidnapped his son.  He finds his son during the rescue.  The base explodes, but it is too late:  the Cyberking—an enormous, steampunk dreadnaught in the shape of a giant Cyberman, and containing a conversion factory—rises from the river with Hartigan and her Cybermen aboard.  They attack London, and the Doctor sends Rosita and Jackson to safety.  He takes the Dimension Vault and the balloon “TARDIS”, using it to fly to the Cyberking’s head level.  He offers to take Hartigan and the Cybermen to a place where they can live peacefully, but she is not interested.  Reluctantly he attacks her with several infostamps, but she mocks him when it doesn’t kill her.  However, it accomplished his purpose: it severed her from the Cyberking.  She is horrified at what she has become, and the severed connection destroys her.  The Cyberking self-destructs and begins to topple onto the city.  The Doctor uses the Dimension Vault to send it into the Vortex before it can strike, where its destruction will cause no harm.

Afterward, Jackson invites the Doctor to Christmas dinner.  The Doctor refuses, and instead lets Jackson see inside the real TARDIS; he is impressed, but overwhelmed, and admits he has had enough adventure.  He notes that the Doctor has no companions at the moment, which the infostamp showed him is unusual; the Doctor says that they always leave, and break his hearts when they do.  At that, Jackson insists on having the Doctor in for Christmas dinner, to remember those who have been lost.  At last the Doctor agrees, and says that of all the people who could have been the Doctor, he is glad it was Jackson Lake.  With that, they leave to celebrate Christmas.

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Whenever discussion occurs about the various new series specials, this one seems to be oddly underrated. I wouldn’t put it at the top of the list, by any means; but neither would I put it at the bottom. I found this story hugely entertaining. In many ways, it’s the Tenth Doctor equivalent to the Eleventh Doctor’s The Snowmen; it’s set in Victorian England, introduces temporary companions with secrets pertinent to the Doctor’s life, involves a classic Doctor Who enemy (or at least a variant on one), and finds the Doctor mourning the departure of his companions. I would rank that story comparably to this one; both are solid, entertaining, suspenseful stories, not at the top of the list of specials, but hardly bad, either.

When this episode premiered, I was as taken in by the title as most people. We knew David Tennant would be leaving the role eventually, and the Doctor would be regenerating; there was no reason to think that this couldn’t be the regeneration episode, or at least the episode that would set up for a regeneration. It would certainly have been original; we have never on television had the current Doctor encountering his successor prior to the regeneration (unless one counts the brief appearance of the Twelfth Doctor in The Day of the Doctor). Unfortunately (or fortunately, or both, depending on your point of view) it was not to be. David Morrissey—here playing Jackson Lake, who believes himself to be the Doctor—would have made a fine Doctor, and even now I wouldn’t object if he assumed the role; but instead, there’s a clever story about how he could be the Doctor, and yet not. I suggested a few days ago that this idea may have come in part from the Main Range audio drama The One Doctor, which sets up a similar situation for the Sixth Doctor (in which case the impersonation was intentional rather than accidental). Had the writer of the two stories been the same, I would be convinced of it; the stories certainly have enough similarities.

This story is one of the rare instances where we get a very thorough nod to the classic series Doctors. When the Doctor reactivates the Cybermen infostamp that caused Lake’s memory issues, it shows a brief shot of each of the first nine Doctors (War Doctor not shown, as the character hadn’t been created yet, and would have been confined to the Time War anyway). It’s a nice scene, but it doesn’t make complete sense; these Cybermen are from Pete’s World, and though they may know about the Doctor from the Battle of Canary Wharf, there’s no way they should have such information about his past or his Time Lord nature. One can only surmise that they got some of it from the Dalek technology they stole, but that’s a weak guess at best; the Daleks from the void ship (Doomsday) would not have known about the Ninth Doctor, who is pictured here. The Doctor also mentions that Jackson Lake may not be the next Doctor per se, but a future incarnation regardless; this is one of the few instances I’ve seen which doesn’t manage to coincidentally prepare for the revelation of the War Doctor. Most discussion of future regenerations doesn’t seem to place a number, or else (as in The Impossible Astronaut) implies the Eleventh Doctor dying by one means or another, which is consistent with him being the final incarnation. Occasionally, though, something like this will slip through, as it should, given that the War Doctor hadn’t yet been created; the wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often!

This story begins the broad arc of the 2009 “Year of Specials” (even though this story was broadcast at Christmas 2008, it is usually counted with the 2009 specials). That arc, we will see, is perhaps looser than past series arcs, but concerns itself with the Doctor’s impending regeneration, or, as the Tenth Doctor would think of it, his death. While this story doesn’t show that death after all, it gets the Doctor—and the audience—thinking about it.

Miss Hartigan is hardly the only villain of her type—for comparison, see The Crimson Horror, plus many other stories in various media—but she is certainly a compelling one. She has few of the stereotypical villain weaknesses, though she does monologue a bit. As a Cyberking, she’s more than just the average Cyberman, but she does retain the same weakness to emotional reality that most Cybus Industries Cybermen have; when the Doctor uses the infostamps on her, it’s the equivalent of removing the emotional circuit in previous episodes. The Cyberking itself is a great addition; Doctor Who doesn’t often do steampunk, but when it does, it does it well. (How they managed to hide that thing in the river is anyone’s guess.)

There are a few noteworthy milestones in this story. It is the first revived-series episode to show any footage of the first eight Doctors (rather than drawings, as in Human Nature/The Family of Blood), with the exception of the Fifth Doctor in Time Crash. It is the first new series episode with a male main companion, though we will get another one very soon. It was the final episode to be produced in standard definition. It is the first Christmas special set in the past (though not the first Christmas story; that honor goes to The Unquiet Dead in the revived series).

Some continuity references: The Cybus Cybermen return, last seen in Doomsday. Future versions will for the most part be either a hybrid version with the Mondas Cybermen (in the far future; this has not been stated onscreen, but revealed in supporting materials) or else a creation of Missy (Dark Water/Death In Heaven). The Doctor mentions the weeping angels (Blink) and the events of Journey’s End. He uses a sword effectively (The Christmas Invasion, et al). He mentions never having used a hot air balloon, but this isn’t accurate (The Emerald Tiger); however, subsequent memory loss may account for it. A similar transfer of brain patterns happened, though without the intermediary infostamp, in Minuet In Hell.

Overall: I’m fond of this episode, even if it isn’t one of the best specials. It certainly deserves its place. For pure entertainment and good feelings, it’s hard to beat, and worth the time for a viewing.

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Next time: From snow to sand, in Planet of the Dead! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; link is below.

The Next Doctor

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Audio Drama Review: The One Doctor

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #27, The One Doctor. Written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, and starring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush, this story is the first of Big Finish’s rare Christmas releases, though it’s not specifically a Christmas story; and it gives us a more comedic take on the main range. Let’s get started!

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

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“At last! I control everything!” the Doctor gloats…over the Monopoly board.  Mel is not fond of the melodrama, especially when the Doctor is winning.  It’s just as well; he finds the villainous mindset boring.  They are interrupted when the TARDIS drifts off course, following a distress signal into the far future, further than its usual range.  The signal calls them to the planet of Generios One, the capital of the Generios system, much to the Doctor’s annoyance.  They arrive during a celebration, and are accosted by the drunken Citizen Sokkery, who tells them that they were just saved from the alien Skelloids…by the Doctor.  And yet, the Doctor doesn’t feel the presence of any future incarnation—so, who actually saved Generios?

They find the mysterious new Doctor at the Great Council Complex, where he is being congratulated by Councillor Potikol, although his explanation of his feat sounds wrong.  This Doctor wants to leave, but his companion, one Sally-Anne Stubbins, reminds him that their “Stardis” is not ready to go—it must be repaired, and that requires pluvon crystals.  Unfortunately, there are none in the Generios system, but Potikol offers them cash—a hundred million credits, according to Sally-Anne—to purchase some in another system; the new Doctor finally accepts it as a loan.  When Potikol leaves to get the money, the new Doctor and Sally-Anne laugh and admit they truth—the “Doctor’s” name is Banto Zame, and they are con artists who have just scammed an entire system.  Outside, the real Doctor and Mel arrive, happening across Sokkery again as well.  The “Doctor” on Sokkery’s newspaper isn’t any incarnation the real Doctor recognizes.  He gets Mel to pretend to faint, causing the guards to escort them inside to recover.  As soon as the guards are out of sight, they slip away to find the imposter.  Meanwhile, Potikol returns after a long wait and says there has been a problem; a piece of space junk has drifted through the system, disrupting the computer links, preventing any withdrawals.  The “Doctor” and Sally-Anne fear they’ve been found out, but Potikol is sincere; he says he sent a ship to destroy it, but soon learns that the ship was destroyed.

The real Doctor and Mel find the council chamber, and overhear the imposters planning to buy a planet—Abydos—with the spoils of their crimes.  He bursts in and accuses them, but Banto turns the tables on him in front of Potikol by accusing him of the same scam!  As the guards escort Mel and the Doctor out, Potikol tells the imposter that the “flotsam” is now headed for Generios One.  The “Doctor” must save them again!  Meanwhile, the real Doctor and Mel are put in an admittedly comfortable cell.  The Doctor fumes over Banto’s cannibalizing of his legacy and reputation.  He begins to try to get them out, but they are interrupted by a sonic wave that can be heard all over the planet.  It is caused by a great UFO, descending toward the council complex.  And the Doctor falls victim to the sound wave…

When the sound stops, the UFO—the Cylinder—speaks.  It demands the three greatest treasures of Generios as tribute to its masters; if the planet refuses, it will destroy the entire Generios system.  It gives them about three hours to cooperate.  Banto agrees to gather the treasures, and Potikol has his “Stardis” brought to him so he can go to take care of it.  However, Banto secretly believes the Cylinder is a fraud perpetuated by the Doctor; he is only staying around to ensure he receives the hundred million credits.

Having heard the message, the Doctor uses the food dispenser to escape the cell; his decidedly low-tech method—ramming it into the cell door—irks Mel, but it works.  He explains that the message is too high-tech and expensive for petty criminals; this threat is real.  They make their way back to the council chamber, and see the guards bringing in the “Stardis”.  Meanwhile, Potikol gives Banto a list of the treasures, unaware that Banto’s real plan is to track down and eliminate the Doctor and Mel, thinking that that will stop the threat.  As Potikol leaves again, the real Doctor and Banto argue, with Banto still believing the Doctor is another fraud, and the Doctor outraged at Banto’s scam—and at the “Stardis”, which is in the shape of not a police box, but a portable toilet.  They are interrupted by the Cylinder, which tells them they are losing time; when Banto argues with it, it destroys the eleventh planet of the system, and fires a beam through the chamber, past Sally-Anne’s face.  Banto realizes that the threat is real, and decides to flee with Sally-Anne.  The “Stardis” is actually a short-range teleport, leading in this case to the spaceport; the Doctor and Mel force their way in with Banto and Sally-Anne, coincidentally causing Potikol to see it disappear in a curiously TARDIS-like manner…plus flushing?  It’s smaller on the inside, and very uncomfortable for four, but the Doctor reprograms it to take them directly to the TARDIS console room.  Banto and Sally-Anne are stunned by the TARDIS, and finally are convinced that they are facing the real Doctor, not an imposter.  He tries to leave, giving the list of treasures to the Doctor; but the Doctor has already taken off.  He’ll need help finding the treasures, and Banto and Sally-Anne could use a lesson…

The TARDIS lands on Generios Eight, inside a great echoing chamber.  The first treasure, called “Unit ZX419”, is supposed to be here.  Banto can’t recall what is significant about this world, but there is something.  The Doctor leaves Banto with Mel to find the treasure, and takes Sally-Anne to the fourteenth world, as time is short.  Banto sees something in the shadows…  Meanwhile, on Generios Fourteen, the Doctor and Sally-Anne search for the second treasure, called “Mentos”.  They follow some music to a ruin, while Sally flirts with the Doctor; however, she can’t out-talk the Doctor.  At a ruined amphitheatre, they see two figures on stage; a woman asks trivia questions, while an elderly man answers them.  It seems to be a game of some sort.  Back on Generios Eight, Mel and Banto have found that the chamber is a storage complex, full of furniture, which is all marked with alphanumeric codes.  Banto remembers the truth:  The planet was long ago occupied by a furniture company, which eventually turned over operations to its robots, the Assemblers.  The Assembleers went mad, and subsequently killed the entire population.  “UNIT ZX419” is probably one of the items here…but the Assemblers are coming out to kill them…

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The Assemblers are unimpressed with the organic creatures and their alleged lies, and furious when they find that the humans have come for Unit ZX419, which the Assemblers consider their greatest achievement.  However, their leader, Assembler One, relents unexpectedly and says they can have it…if they can assemble it.  They place a pile of boards before the humans.  Mel and Banto start assembling it—it appears to be a shelf system—but the first section disappears while they work on the next section.  And, are the instructions getting longer?

The Doctor concludes the box on which the old man stands must be Mentos.  He is partly right; the man himself is Mentos’s real-world interface, and Mentos is a computer that can answer any question asked.  It does this by a system of research devices in a shadow universe, which can time-travel to obtain answers.  The questioning woman has been playing this game for 33,000 years, long after the death of the audience; and she won’t stop until Mentos misses a question.  So far, it never has.  She, too, is an electronic simulacrum, and due to an unfortunate and long-dead war, the people who could shut her down are all dead.  When the Doctor intervenes, she blasts him with energy.  He and Sally-Anne both sink into despair, but soon he comes up with a plan.  Meanwhile, Mel and Banto realize that the parts of the unit exist in multiple dimensions, explaining its constant vanishing and reappearing, and the oddities with the instructions.  Giving up for a bit, they swap stories, with Mel telling an inspiring story from her childhood Christmases; Banto is inspired by it and decides to try to delay the Assemblers, while Mel reluctantly admits that the story didn’t work out as well as it seems.

The Doctor gets the Questioner to let him ask a few questions, and she allows him two.  Mentos forestalls him by announcing that he cannot be stumped by logical conundrums like a lesser computer, and the Doctor fishes for replacement questions.  He asks about the wallpaper at 35 Jefferson Road in Woking in 1975, but Mentos finds that question simple.  The Doctor then asks about his own three wishes on his 900th birthday; somehow, Mentos gets that one as well (galactic peace, better control of the TARDIS, and manageable hair).  Mentos reveals that the Doctor had revealed the information to a cellmate during a subsequent adventure, and that the cellmate was also a projection of Mentos.  It seems the computer really is everywhere.  However, the Questioner allows Sally-Anne two questions as well.  She asks what she told Banto on the night he asked her to marry him; however, Banto has a big mouth, and told many people that Sally admitted she had had breast-enhancement surgery.  Ranting, Sally-Anne retorts “What doesn’t Mentos know?”  The Doctor seizes on this and insists it is actually her second question.  It is the only question he can’t answer, and with the end of the game, he shuts down.  He disconnects the box and returns to the TARDIS.

With two minutes before the Assemblers’ deadline, Mel finds a cheat:  since the shelves can’t be assembled, the Assemblers can’t know what it is supposed to look like when completed. The instructions never end; therefore they won’t have a final picture.  Therefore, when the Assemblers return, they simply claim the project is complete.  The Assemblers realize to their chagrin that they can’t prove Mel wrong.  The TARDIS rematerializes then, and while the Assemblers go over the instructions,  Mel and Banto get the shelves into the TARDIS, and dematerialize.  The Assemblers realize that they’ve been beaten by organics; they conclude that this is impossible, and therefore never happened.  Therefore they erase the event from memory, and get back to making furniture.

Only 25 minutes remain on the Cylinder’s deadline.  Despite ongoing arguing in the TARDIS, the Doctor gets them to the fifteenth planet.  The treasure is a large diamond, just lying on the ground—can it be that simple?  The Doctor tries to pick it up, but it won’t budge—and a giant amoeba swallows him.

The Doctor isn’t dead.  He manages to punch one of the creature’s organs, causing it to spit him out—hurting its…feelings?  He realizes it can speak, and is actually quite intelligent.  It’s a Jelloid, an incredibly long-lived creature; it has a contract to guard the diamond for fifty million years, of which it has completed thirty million.  Unfortunately it’s quite lonely, even to the point of writing a song about its loneliness.  It’s a pleasant creature, and having heard of the Cylinder’s ultimatum, it agrees to give the Doctor the diamond.  However, it will need to go switch off the forcefield over the diamond—and it can’t leave its spot.  After all, it’s waiting for a delivery of an entertainment center, and everyone knows that deliverymen show up as soon as you’re not ready… Sally-Anne offers to watch for the delivery while the Jelloid goes to shut off the forcefield, and it reluctantly agrees.  Back on Generios One, Potikol is panicking; the Doctor only has fifteen minutes to return…

The Doctor and Mel go to the TARDIS for the Doctor to change into a clean coat, and Mel stays to set the ship for a quick departure.  All four travellers are bothered by the buzzing of an insect.  While they are inside, Banto and Sally-Anne argue, and Banto reveals that while he’s been courting Sally-Anne, he’s already been married.  When the Doctor comes back, Sally-Anne runs into his arms.

The forcefield goes down, and Banto takes the diamond to the TARDIS while the Doctor stays to thank the Jelloid.  However, the creature finds a plaque on the ground, saying that the deliveryman came and left…and the Doctor realizes the buzzing was no insect, but a fast-moving Vecton, moving too fast to see.  Suddenly Banto—having watched the Doctor—manages to dematerialize the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor and Sally-Anne to face an angry Jelloid.  Miffed at the thought of twenty million more years without even an entertainment center, it COULD teleport them back to Generios One, but why?  They are its first company in millennia.  The Doctor promises that if it sends them on their way, he will use his TARDIS and bring an entertainment center himself—within five minutes of  his departure.  The Jelloid agrees, and it sends them back to Generios One.

Mel furiously orders Banto to go back for the Doctor, but he knocks her off balance by asking her to marry him (causing her to lie and claim to be an android, but he doesn’t buy it).  Thus the TARDIS arrives back at the council chamber just as the deadline expires.  Its appearance surprises Potikol, but he accepts that Banto is the Doctor.  The real Doctor and Sally-Anne arrive at the same time, and the four present the treasures to the Cylinder.  The Cylinder accepts the tribute, and asks the Doctor to step forward to be rewarded; Banto claims the title, and the Doctor allows it.  The Doctor insists, against Mel and Sally-Anne’s objections, that he is in fact Banto, and Banto is the one true Doctor; he kisses Sally-Anne as evidence, which convinces the Cylinder.  It traps Banto—the real Banto—in a tractor beam, and admits that its real purpose was to capture the Doctor all along; the quest was just a means of identifying the Doctor.  It will now place the “Doctor” in a time bubble and take him to its homeworld, Chalzon, to face its masters, the Sussyurats, and answer for his crimes.  The Cylinder apologizes to the Generians and departs with Banto.

Potikol still believes that Banto was the Doctor, and tells the people that the Doctor gave up his freedom for the sake of Generios.  The Doctor explains to Mel and Sally-Anne that he had figured out the truth, and let Banto be caught in his own web.  Sally-Anne—saddened that the kiss wasn’t real—is called out to let the crows show its gratitude to her in the absence of the “Doctor”; after all, as the Doctor points out, for a short while she really was his companion, and handled it well.  She accepts the crowd’s praise…and the ten million credits for the power crystals, of course.  As the Doctor and Mel prepare to leave, he says that he’s never met the Sussyurats before, but will be sure to annoy them when he does—but first they have an entertainment center to deliver, and a game to finish…and oh yes, Banto to rescue—eventually.  After all, there’s only room for the one Doctor in this universe.

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And now for something completely different! Or perhaps not completely, but certainly different enough. I’m tempted to say that this story delves into what it means to be the Doctor, and talks about his identity, etc., etc., as so many stories have done…but no, it’s not really that at all. What it does give us is identity theft, of the Doctor, that is. (This may be construed as a spoiler if one only has the cover blurb to go by, but it happens early enough that I have to mention it in order to make any progress here at all.) Con artist Banto Zame impersonates the Doctor, with his fiancée Sally-Anne impersonating a companion; the story happens at an indeterminate time far in the future, further than the Doctor customarily goes (because he finds it boring), and therefore he can get by with this ruse. How exactly he does the deed that verifies his credentials before the beginning of the story—defeating the Skelloids—is not exactly described, but it can be assumed to be part of the ruse. The Doctor, of course, isn’t fooled at all.

The real draw here, of course, is the humor. It’s a serious story, in that there’s no indication that it isn’t part of the regular Big Finish universe; but the banter among the characters, and the ridiculous situations, are great fun to hear. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary, but not much; nearly everything that happens is plausible enough in the Doctor Who universe—it’s just silly. From an oddly polite, world-destroying cylinder, to a lonely single-celled monster (who really isn’t so monstrous when you get to know him), to the IKEA furniture from another dimension…this is not your average story!

The tone, as it starts out, is comparable to The Next Doctor (which, coincidentally, comes up this week in my rewatch—stay tuned!). It doesn’t take long to reveal that the “new” Doctor isn’t really; but that’s fine, because he quickly finds himself obligated to carry on the ruse, in hilarious fashion. When you build your sham reputation on solving a crisis, what happens when a real crisis comes? It doesn’t end so well for Zame, but don’t worry—no one dies in this story (well, except for the millions of residents of the planet Generios Eleven; it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without SOME wanton destruction, would it? At least the Cylinder apologizes for the destruction, before beating a hasty retreat.) Banto Zame is no Jackson Lake—he is and remains a scoundrel—but I can’t help wondering if this story helped to inspire that one. I didn’t find anything to indicate that it does, but it seems likely to me.

One surprising gem here is that this story gives us Matt Lucas’s first (and so far only) foray into Big Finish territory. Lucas is better known in recent years for playing sometime-companion Nardole in the two most recent Christmas specials, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. With his appearance here, it’s an interesting coincidence that at the time of this writing, he only appears in Christmas specials, despite multiple media. He plays two roles here: that of the main villain, the Cylinder; and that of the lonely single-celled monster I mentioned earlier, the Jelloid. I recall not caring for Lucas’s character in The Husbands of River Song, but between The Return of Doctor Mysterio and this story, I’m starting to respect his acting skills a bit more, and I look forward to future appearances. Perhaps at some point we’ll see him in Big Finish again as well.

This story is a sort of spoof on the various multi-Doctor stories, as the title may have given away; we’ve previously had The Two/Three/Four/Five/Eight/Infinity Doctors in various media, and here we get The One Doctor, which cleverly hits both beats: A multi-Doctor story, but only one Doctor. (Personally, I keep holding out for a The Thirteen Doctors, but with the recent death of Sir John Hurt and the apparent unwillingness on the part of the various productions teams to revisit the War Doctor now, I suppose it will never happen…) To this end, the two “Doctors” and their companions get shuffled and reshuffled, and there’s some funny chemistry among them. The Sixth Doctor gets a kiss (!) and Mel gets a marriage proposal…all may not be as it seems, but it works out in the end. There are some decent, Douglas Adams-style jokes in the Assemblers, minor villains who turn out to be furniture-building robots with a distaste for organic life; at one point, they realize they were beaten by organics, decide that that is simply impossible, and therefore conclude it never happened. Sorted!

Despite the humor, there are still some continuity references. The Cylinder mentions several aliases of the Doctor: John Smith (The Wheel In Space, et al), Johann Schmidt (Timewyrm: Exodus, et al), Theta Sigma (The Armageddon Factor, et al), Ka Faraq Gatri (“Bringer of Darkness”, Timewyrm: Revelation, et al), Doktor von Wer (The Highlanders), and “Snail” (Lungbarrow). Mel mentions growing up in Pease Pottage (Terror of the Vervoids). Banto mentions the Quarks (The Dominators, et al). The computer Mentos mentions logical conundrums that sometimes are employed to disable computers; this occurred previously in *The Green Death, and with less success in The Space Age. The Doctor mentions carrot juice as the cause of his good eyesight, a nod to Mel’s love for the substance in Terror of the Vervoids and The Ultimate Foe (where, by dint of Baker’s lack of a televised return, it becomes his Doctor’s final televised line). Mel mentions having the memory of an elephant, which is another running joke, appearing in Terror of the Vervoids and Time and the Rani. The Doctor says that his hair stands on end in the presence of another of his incarnations; this is also mentioned in The Light at the End. In an extra scene tacked onto the end of the final track, the Doctor and Mel celebrate Christmas together in the TARDIS, complete with snow in the console room (unfortunately). They decide to have a sherry and watch the Queen’s speech on the long-unused time-space visualizer (The Chase)…but they end up watching Queen Elizabeth the first, not the second. The queen’s speech is mimicked in The Day of the Doctor many years later, when she talks about killing the Zygon duplicate: “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman…but I have the heart of a king” becomes “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman…but at the time, so did the Zygon”. Also, there are a few meta-references: the third part of the story uses the alternate theme featured in the international version of Carnival of Monsters; and, also in the extra scene at the end, the Doctor breaks the fourth wall to wish the listeners a merry Christmas, much as the First Doctor did in The Feast of Steven (The Daleks’ Master Plan). As well, there are an unusually high number of real-world references and spoofs, which I won’t get into here; for more information, check the TARDIS wiki and the Discontinuity Guide entries for this story.

Overall: This is a really good, well-constructed, light-hearted episode, and I found it enjoyable. We don’t get these stories often, and they’re usually fun. The next year would bring another, similarly-styled Christmas special with Bang-Bang-a-Boom!; but after that, Christmas specials become subscriber exclusives, and start to deviate from the comedic format. Bottom line: Enjoy it while it lasts!

One Doctor 4

Next time: We begin the second “season”, if you will, of Eighth Doctor stories in the main range; Paul McGann’s stories, at least at this early date, tend to be grouped together into arcs that were released in rapid order. Therefore, for the next six weeks, we’ll have Eighth Doctor stories on both Monday (Main Range) and Thursday (Eighth Doctor Adventures). I promise I didn’t plan it this way, but there you have it. We’ll join the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller this Thursday in Brave New Town, and the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard on Monday in Invaders from Mars! 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 audio dramas may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The One Doctor

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End of the Line: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Four, Part Five

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today we wrap up series four with the two-part series finale, The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. It’s not quite goodbye to the Tenth Doctor yet…but we’re getting close. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!

Stolen Earth 1

The Stolen Earth: After the “Bad Wolf” scene at the end of the previous episode, the Doctor and Donna rush home to Earth, to find that it is a normal Saturday.  Yet, if Donna met Rose, that means the walls of the universe are breaking down.  They return to the TARDIS, where the Doctor’s severed hand is bubbling in its jar; outside, things begin to shake.  The TARDIS shakes violently, and the Doctor finds they are in space—but the TARDIS didn’t move; the Earth did.  It’s missing, like several planets before it.

On the other side of the universe, the Earth is intact, but rattled.  At UNIT, Martha Jones learns that the sky has changed.  In Cardiff, Torchwood Three—Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, and Ianto Jones—also notice the strange sky.  At Bannerman Road, Sarah Jane Smith checks on her son Luke, and finds it is dark outside; her computer, Mr. Smith, refers her outside for a better look.   Wilfred Mott and Donna Noble see it outside their home as well; all parties have now seen the impossible in the sky.  And on a street in London, Rose Tyler materializes, carrying a large gun.  She looks up to see other worlds looming large in the sky—twenty-six of them, to be precise.

Donna fears for her family’s lives, and the Doctor can’t reassure her.  Instead, he seeks help from the Shadow Proclamation.

Mr. Smith detects two hundred ships heading for Earth.  UNIT receives notice of a Code Red Emergency; and Martha can’t reach the Doctor by phone, as the signal is being blocked.  The fleet reaches orbit as Gwen urges her family to stay safe.  Sarah Jane detects a massive space station at the center of the worlds.  Rose evades looters, then sees a screenshot of the approaching fleet.  Martha calls Jack, and determines that no one can contact the Doctor.  They discuss a UNIT plan called Project Indigo, for which Martha is in New York.  Mr. Smith detects an incoming message from the ships, which reaches everyone on all frequencies:  “Exterminate”.  Everyone panics; the Daleks have returned.

The Dalek ships invade, attacking all over Earth and killing many people.  Geneva sends a message to UNIT, placing the Earth at war via an “Ultimate Code Red”.  Aboard the space station—the Crucible—the Supreme Dalek declares it will soon be ready, and declares the Daleks to be the masters of Earth.

The Doctor and Donna reach the Shadow Proclamation’s space station, and are confronted by its Judoon guards.  Meeting with one of the Proclamation’s leaders, he finds that 24 planets are missing, not just Earth; he probes for more information, and adds Pyrovillia, the Adipose breeding planet, and the lost moon of Poosh, bringing the total to 27.  It seems planets aren’t just disappearing from space, but from time.  The Doctor adjusts the model of the missing planets, and suddenly the worlds move into a formation that sets them up likes cogs  in a machine.  The Doctor suddenly recalls that someone once tried to move Earth before.

The Daleks disable the Valiant, causing its crew to abandon ship.  Worldwide, military bases are being targeted.  UNIT pulls Martha from her post as her base is invaded by Daleks, and sends her away with Project indigo, a teleport backpack reverse-engineered from the Sontarans; her commanding officer gives her something called the “Osterhagen Key”.  As she teleports away, Jack thinks she has died, as the backpacks lack stabilizers.  The Supreme Dalek announces that Earth has been subjugated, and a voice asks it for a progress report; it reports that the Crucible is nearly ready, and the Doctor has not been reported.  The voice belongs to a figure with a clawed hand; and he has the mad Dalek Caan in restraints.  Dalek Caan predicts that the Doctor is coming.

Donna has an odd encounter with the Proclamation leader, who is aware of the beetle that was on her back.  She announces that Donna is something new, and predicts a loss yet to come for Donna.  Donna reminds the Doctor that the bees were disappearing in recent months; the Doctor says the bees are actually from another world, and were evacuating home, but they emitted a frequency that matches the transmat that moved the planet, giving them a trail they can follow.  With that clue, the Proclamation declares war, and tries to seize the Doctor and the TARDIS, declaring that he must lead them into battle; but he dematerializes before they can act on the declaration.

The Daleks round up humanity in the streets, but Wilfred intends to fight back.  He only has a paintball gun, but he knows that he can blind the Daleks with it.  Another man tries to fight back, but the Daleks destroy the man’s home with his family in it, causing Wilfred to retreat with Sylvia.  Another Dalek catches them, and he shoots its eye, but it dissolves the paint.  Just before it can kill them, Rose destroys it from behind.  She collects them to help her contact Donna and the Doctor.

The TARDIS lands in space at the Medusa Cascade.  The Doctor reflects on coming there as a child of 90 years, to visit the rift there.  The planets aren’t there, and the trail ends.  Torchwood listens as Earth surrenders and the Daleks take control of Earth.  However, Rose hears a signal on Sylvia’s computer—a familiar voice, communicating by subwave.  Mr. Smith and Torchwood catch it as well.  The voice calls Jack Harkness down for his despair—and the image resolves into Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister (yes, we know who you are).  She can communicate with everyone except Rose, who can’t make herself heard, as Sylvia lacks a webcam and microphone.  Martha Jones joins the circuit as well; no one is aware of Rose, but Rose can see and hear everyone.  Martha says that she was teleported to her mother’s home, where the laptop suddenly activated; Harriet claims responsibility for connecting everyone, using sentient subwave software which is allegedly undetectable.  Harriet forbids Martha to use the Osterhagen Key, and focuses on the Doctor instead, despite his destruction of her career.  She sets them up as “The Doctor’s Secret Army”.  Jack realizes they can boost the phone signal using the subwave and their various systems; however, this will expose Harriet to the Daleks, but she doesn’t care about her own life—only about saving the world.  The teams connect the Cardiff rift generator (for power) to Mr. Smith via the subwave, and Martha provides the Doctor’s number; Sarah Jane initiates the call.  The TARDIS receives the signal, and the Doctor tracks the signal; but the Daleks track it to Harriet’s location.  The mysterious figure warns the Dalek Supreme about the “Children of Time”, the Doctor’s friends, who stand against them.  Rose, Wilf, and Sylvia send the number as well, adding to the signal. The Daleks burst in on Harriet.  The TARDIS takes damage, but moves one second out of phase, into the future.  Harriet transfers control of the subwave to Jack, just before the Daleks confront her, and kill her, and her signal goes dark.  Around the TARDIS, twenty-seven worlds—and one massive space station—phase into existence.  The Medusa Cascade was put out of sync with the universe, but now they have found it.  The TARDIS gets the subwave signal and makes contact with everyone but Rose, who can still see them all, but can’t make contact.  Meanwhile, the mysterious figure breaks into the subwave network on audio only, and confronts the Doctor; he is revealed to be Davros, creator of the Daleks, striking fear into the Doctor and Sarah Jane, who both remember him.

The Doctor believes Davros was destroyed in the first year of the Time War, but Davros explains that Caan rescued him via emergency temporal shift.  Since then, Davros created new Daleks from his own cells, so as to keep them pure of genetic contamination.  The Doctor breaks contact and takes off, headed for Earth.  Davros sends the Daleks to find his companions on Earth; they locate Torchwood and send an extermination squad.  Jack gets a teleport base code from Martha and uses it to activate his vortex manipulator, and teleports away with a large gun.  Seconds later, the Daleks break into the Torchwood Hub on Gwen and Ianto.  Sarah Jane leaves Luke and Mr. Smith at home to go find the Doctor.  Rose, meanwhile, contacts her own support staff, who teleport her to the TARDIS’s location.  The Doctor and Donna land in London and exit the TARDIS, and find it empty.  He sees Rose arriving, and runs toward her…only to be shot down by a Dalek.  Jack teleports in and destroys the Dalek, but the damage is done…and the Doctor begins to regenerate.  They carry him into the TARDIS.

Sarah Jane is stopped by Daleks.  Daleks enter the Torchwood Hub, where Gwen and Ianto open fire on them.  The regeneration begins.

Journey's End 1

Journey’s End:  The Doctor suddenly redirects his regeneration energy into the hand in the jar, and remains unchanged.  He explains that it is a matching biological receptacle, allowing him to siphon off the remaining energy and avoid changing after healing himself—much to Rose’s pleasure.  Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler appear and save Sarah Jane from the Daleks, while searching for Rose.  At Torchwood, the guns are ineffective; but the bullets are seen hanging in the air, and the Daleks aren’t moving.  Ianto explains it is a time lock, developed by Toshiko Sato before her death—but, though it saves them, it traps them inside.  Suddenly the TARDIS loses power, and the Daleks teleport it to the Crucible while Sarah Jane, Mickey and Jackie watch.  Mickey explains that their teleports take a half hour to recharge.  Sarah Jane, Mickey, and Jackie surrender to the Daleks, and are taken to the Crucible as well.  Martha leaves via teleport to activate the Osterhagen Key, refusing to tell her mother what it does.  She lands in Germany, and avoids German-speaking Daleks to get to a UNIT station.  The Doctor questions Rose about the future she saw in her universe, and she admits that the stars were going out.  Therefore her team built a device to transport her here, which she could do suddenly, because the dimensions began to collapse.  She says that all the timelines seem to converge on Donna.  The TARDIS lands on the Crucible, and the Daleks call the Doctor out.  He explains that he has to go out, because these Daleks are at the height of their power, and know how to overcome TARDISes and their defenses.  The others agree to step out with him, though Donna is experiencing a strange sort of trance.

The Doctor, Rose, and Jack step out to confront the Daleks, but Donna hangs back, sensing something strange—and the door closes on her, locking her in.  The Daleks deny responsibility, but intend to destroy the TARDIS anyway; they drop it through a hatch into the Crucible’s heart, where its Z-neutrino energy will destroy the TARDIS.  Things begin to burst into flame around Donna.  The Daleks make the Doctor watch the destruction.  However, Donna sees the hand in the jar start to glow, and touches it; regeneration energy floods into her, and the jar explodes.  The hand begins to regenerate, and expands into a full figure—another Doctor?!  In ten rels, the TARDIS will be destroyed; but the new Doctor makes it dematerialize.  The Daleks believe it has been destroyed, and gloat over the Doctor.  Jack opens fire on the Dalek Supreme, which kills him; the Doctor pulls Rose away, remembering that she does not know about his immortality.  Jack winks at him as he the Doctor is escorted away.

The TARDIS is safe, and the new Doctor explains that he is different—he’s a biological metacrisis, created with some of Donna’s traits when she touched the jar.  He only has one heart, as well—part Time Lord, part human.  He reminds Donna that she is special—and realizes he can see her thoughts, and knows that she really believes she is nothing special.  He concludes that they were inevitably heading to this moment, in some kind of destiny—and it’s not over yet.

Martha reaches the station, and meets its lone guard, and gains access to the Osterhagen Key control room after disabling the guard.  She connects with the other Osterhagen stations, which are already ready.  Meanwhile, Sarah Jane, Jackie, and Mickey are added to a group of prisoners on the Crucible.  The Doctor and Rose are placed in energy cells and confronted by Davros.  The Doctor realizes that Davros, too, is a captive; he is not in charge of the Daleks, and the Doctor calls him their pet.  Davros turns toward Rose, and claims to own her; he explains that Dalek Caan prophesied her presence here.  Caan predicts fire coming.  Davros explains that Caan was driven made by his view of time in his time travels, but gained some prophetic powers.  He predicts the death of one of the “children of time”; the Doctor takes this to be Donna, believing her to be dead.  Davros reveals the Daleks’ plan:  they have built a reality bomb.

Sarah Jane and Mickey escape the prisoner group, but are forced to leave Jackie behind.  The Daleks set up a test of the reality bomb, to be used on the prisoner group.  The planets align, and the field they produce together channels Z-neutrino energy in a single stream into the Crucible’s prisoner chamber, wiping out the prisoners as though they never existed.  Jackie’s device recharges at the last second, and she teleports away to join Mickey and Rose, but is unable to save any of the others.  The test is successful.  Davros explains that it cancels the electrical field of the matter it affects, dissolving the matter.  Released into the universe, the energy will break through the Medusa Cascade’s rift; all universes will fall to the field, and literally everything—reality itself—will cease to exist.  Only the Daleks will be left.  The Dalek Supreme recalls all the Daleks to the Crucible.

Fully recovered, Jack reconnects with Mickey, Sarah, and Jackie.  Sarah Jane reveals a secret: a special gem called a Warp Star—not a true gem, but a powerful explosive.  Meanwhile, Martha connects with the other stations, and prepares to activate the device, but waits.  She intends to give the Daleks a chance to surrender.  The new Doctor has a plan as well; he has a way to reverse the explosion onto the Crucible, killing only the Daleks.  Martha appears on the screen in Davros’s chamber, where the original Doctor can also see, and explains what the key does:  It will destroy the Earth, rupturing the machinery of the reality bomb in the process.  It is a final failsafe, a form of mercy on the human race if their suffering is too great.  Martha and Rose meet for the first time in this manner.  Jack also tunes in with his group, and threatens to use the Warp Star, which is wired into the Dalek mainframe—it will destroy the entire Crucible.  Davros confronts Sarah Jane, and gloats over her.  Davros tells the Doctor that, though he abhors violence, he transforms his friends into weapons, who then sacrifice themselves for him.  Already today it’s happened, with Harriet’s death and (ostensibly) Donna’s.  The Doctor thinks over the many who have died for him and in his adventures—LINDA, the Face of Boe, Astrid Peth, Luke Rattigan, River Song, and many others—as Davros declares his final victory:  he showed the Doctor himself.

The Daleks counter both plans by transmatting Martha, Jack, and the others into the Vault with Davros.  All are imprisoned at once; and Davros orders the Supreme Dalek to detonate the reality bomb.  Detonation will take 200 rels.

The new Doctor activates his plan, and the TARDIS materializes in the Vault.  However, Davros shoots the new Doctor with a stun weapon and traps him in an energy cell.  The weapon they were carrying is destroyed, with only 19 rels remaining.  The countdown begins—but Donna shuts down the process at the last second, and reverses Davros’s stun weapon onto himself.  He sends in the Daleks to exterminate her, but she shuts them down, spewing technobabble explanations the entire time.  She reveals that the biological metacrisis that created the new Doctor ran two ways; she herself acquired some Time Lord traits, including the Doctor’s technological skill.  The real Doctor realizes that this is what the Ood meant when the referred to “the DoctorDonna”.  She deactivates the holding cells and seals the vault.  She keeps the Daleks at bay while the two Doctors begin work.  Together the three of them begin sending the planets home using the Crucible’s systems while Jack and Mickey keep Davros at bay.  Martha and rose get rid of the Daleks in the room.  Donna explains that it was Davros’s stun beam on her that activated the Doctor’s knowledge in her brain; the Doctor explains that this is what the converging timelines were leading to.  Davros is angry at Caan for misleading him; but Caan denies wrongdoing.  He admits that he saw the Daleks throughout time, was disgusted, and decreed “No More”, leading him to manipulate timelines to lead to this moment.  The Dalek Supreme breaks in, and Jack destroys it, but destroys the magnetron system in the process; only Earth remains, but the real Doctor will have to use the TARDIS to get it home.  He heads to the TARDIS.  Caan tells the new Doctor to bring about the end of all things Dalek.  He agrees; the Crucible alone is a threat even without the bomb, and the Daleks are deadly enough on their own.  They must be destroyed.  He sets the Crucible to self-destruct.  It horrifies the real Doctor, however, who would not have committed genocide.  He gathers everyone in the TARDIS, and tries to save Davros as well, but Davros refuses, and calls the Doctor the Destroyer of Worlds.  Caan’s last words tell the Doctor that “one will still die”.  They escape just as the Crucible explodes.

The Doctor calls the Torchwood hub, where Gwen answers; he also calls Luke and Mr. Smith.  Mr. Smith is to use the rift power to link the TARDIS to Earth; K9 appears and provides the necessary TARDIS basecode.  The Doctor places five companions on the panels of the TARDIS, and takes the sixth himself—as the TARDIS was designed for six pilots—and they tow the planet back to its normal orbit.  Despite some turbulence, it arrives safely.

The TARDIS lands on Earth, discharging its various occupants back to their lives.  Sarah Jane chides the Doctor for acting like a loner, when in truth, he has an enormous family on Earth.  Mickey opts to stay on this Earth, as Rose has moved on, and his grandmother in Pete’s World has since passed away.  The Doctor deactivates Jack’s vortex manipulator again, and tells Martha to get rid of the Osterhagen Key.  He then takes Rose and Jackie back to Darlig Ulv Stranden—Bad Wolf Bay—in Pete’s World.  Jackie says goodbye, and tells the Doctor about her baby, whom she named Tony.  The real Doctor tells Rose she has to go back despite her objections; he intends to send the metacrisis Doctor with her, as he cannot tolerate a version of himself that would commit genocide, and the metacrisis Doctor needs someone to keep him humane.  It’s better for Rose, as well; she will have the Doctor she always wanted, but he won’t regenerate, and will age and die with her.  The walls of the universe are closing, and the Doctor must leave with Donna; Rose is still not convinced, and she asks both Doctors what he intended to say at their last parting.  The real Doctor refuses to say, but the new Doctor whispers it in her ear; and she answers him with a kiss.  In that moment, the real Doctor and Donna depart in the TARDIS.

Donna is enjoying her new knowledge, but the Doctor is concerned.  As he watches, her mind seems to glitch repeatedly, and she falls into distress.  She knows what is happening; her brain can’t tolerate the stress of the metacrisis.  They both know they only solution.  She fears to go back; but she must.  The Doctor tells her at the last minute that he is sorry; and then he hypnotizes her, and seals away her new knowledge.  To do so, he must also seal away all her memories of him and their time together.

He takes her home, and tells Wilf and Sylvia that the knowledge was killing her.  She will be fine now, as long as she doesn’t remember.  Remembering will burn up her brain, and so they can never tell her.  To her it must all just be a story that she missed.  He gives her credit for her deeds; but she can never know that for one moment, she was the most important woman in the entire universe.  Sylvia insists that she still is; and he tells her that perhaps she should tell Donna that sometimes.  Donna awakens and walks in, and the Doctor briefly introduces himself as John Smith, then slips out, noting that she safely does not remember him.

It is raining outside as he leaves.  Wilfred asks the Doctor what he will do now; he promises to watch out for the Doctor, and to keep his secret from Donna, but to remember on her behalf.  The Doctor departs in the TARDIS.

Stolen earth 2

In my opinion, this story is and remains the best series finale to date. It does, I admit, have some stiff competition; Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways is very good, as is Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords. Eleventh Doctor series finales are good, but don’t seem to have as much punch as this one, in my opinion. It helps that we get nearly every major cast member from not only the revived Doctor Who, but also Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures; if there’s going to be the proverbial fanwank, this is a good way to do it. Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, and Ianto Jones fill out the roster for Torchwood (as this story comes after the deaths of Owen Harper and Toshiko Sato). Sarah Jane Smith, her son Luke, the computer Mr. Smith, and K9 stand in for The Sarah Jane Adventures. From Doctor Who, of course we have the Doctor and Donna; but we also get appearances from Martha Jones, Rose Tyler, Jackie Tyler, Mickey Smith, Wilfred Mott, Sylvia Noble, Francine Jones, Harriet Jones (I am beginning to think the DW universe only has three last names…), the Daleks, and Davros, as well as Jack, Sarah Jane, and K9.

Many story arcs are revisited and/or concluded here, from the very minor to the critical. Harriet Jones dies in this story, though she goes out in the most honorable way possible, having fully redeemed herself; it’s also the final instance of the “Yes, we know who you are” running joke that pertains to her (even the Daleks make the joke!). Rose makes her final appearance in the current timeline, though we’ll see an earlier version of her briefly in an upcoming episode. Martha makes her final major appearance, though she too will get a brief appearance in an upcoming story. K9’s final appearance is here, though he persists on The Sarah Jane Adventures. We finally get to see the Shadow Proclamation onscreen, and they’re kind of useless. The Cult of Skaro meets its final end in the reappearance and subsequent death of Dalek Caan. The series arc—regarding the disappearing planets and the missing bees—is resolved, and the planets are ultimately restored. The Doctor’s severed hand is resolved, in the form of the Metacrisis Doctor—this is perhaps the longest-running plot, covering three seasons and a season of Torchwood. An explanation is finally given for the TARDIS console room layout (and the Doctor’s bad piloting)—it is meant for six pilots, which had been hinted before, but not confirmed. Donna’s story arc reaches its end, drawing in threads all the way back to The Runaway Bride, although she will get a coda of sorts in The End of Time. Mickey returns from Pete’s World, though Jackie and Rose stay; he too will get an upcoming cameo, but is otherwise finished. The ongoing thread regarding the Doctor’s conflict—that he claims to be a man of peace, but shapes his companions into suicidal weapons—reaches its resolution here.

There’s been an escalating series of threats in each series finale to this point. The Parting of the Ways sees the Daleks threaten Earth of the future, and destroy a great part of it. Doomsday doubles the threat by adding the Cybermen to the Daleks, and threatening two worlds. Last of the Time Lords makes it a universal threat by putting the Master in charge of a universe-conquering fleet. This story takes one look at those, scoffs at them and calls them amateurs, and decides to crank up the threat to the ultimate heights by threatening existence itself. It’s a fantastic story, but it creates a problem: Where do we go from here? Indeed, the next several finales will hover around this level. The End of Time (not a true finale, but serving as one for the upcoming specials) also threatens existence, but through time rather than space. The Big Bang does the same, but from the beginning of time rather than the end. The Wedding of River Song does the same, but by attacking causality instead of a point in time. The Name of the Doctor capitalizes on that concept by attacking the Doctor as a specific form of causality. Once we get to the Twelfth Doctor, we get a bit of a reset, and go back to smaller threats, because honestly, what’s left at that point? We’ve exhausted the universal threats for now, I think. This is, to put it bluntly, as extreme as it gets.

I have to give credit to Catherine Tate and David Tennant for their acting skills here. Both were required to play two parts here—their usual characters, and the hybrid versions. Both pulled it off flawlessly. Tate absorbs the Doctor’s phrasing and mannerisms as if they were her own. Tennant does the same, and adds a degree of shock at himself—he’s stunned that he’s behaving this way, it seems. In a performance of this size, it would be easy to lose those details in the multitude of scenes that had to be filmed, but they never miss a beat.

Some noteworthy things about this story: The Stolen Earth is the 750th episode of Doctor Who since its premiere in 1963. It also technically contains the Doctor’s eleventh regeneration, though that is unclear at this point, as the War Doctor had not been revealed; either way, he uses up a regeneration without actually changing here. As that regeneration is the cliffhanger between the two episodes, there is no “Next Time” preview; this had only happened once previously, in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. The opening credits had a record six names: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman, and Elizabeth Sladen. Several other guest stars are credit over the opening scene. Oddly enough, Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott) and Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble) are not so credited. Richard Dawkins makes an appearance as himself; he already has a tangential connection to Doctor Who, in that he is married to Lalla Ward, aka Romana II, who was previously married to Tom Baker. Adding to the coolness factor, Ward and Dawkins were introduced by Douglas Adams. The Time War is noted to be time-locked; I am not sure, but I think this is the first time the term is used. It actually appears twice; the Torchwood Hub is time-locked as a final defense measure, developed by Toshiko Sato before her death. Part two, Journey’s End is the longest season finale episode to date, at 65 minutes in its uncut version.

There are far too many continuity references to mention here, which is to be expected in a story of this type. However, a few that are easy to overlook: There have been references to the Medusa Cascade as a possible destination for the Doctor for some time, beginning in Last of the Time Lords. Jack’s gun (used against the Daleks) is the same one he carried in The Parting of the Ways. The Doctor’s disabling of Jack’s vortex manipulator is practically a running joke by now; it began in Last of the Time Lords, and will continue until The Day of the Doctor. The Doctor mentions someone trying to move the Earth a long time ago; this is intended to refer to the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but also happened at the hands of the Time Lords in The Mysterious Planet. The Doctor makes an early reference to the Nightmare Child, which will be repeated in The End of Time. Most of the missing planets were only mentioned this season, but Woman Wept was first mentioned in Series One’s Boom Town; its freezing oceans, unexplained at that time, were probably connected to its relocation here. Callufrax Minor, another missing planet, may be a reference to Calufrax, which became a component of the Key to Time in The Pirate Planet. The Doctor and Rose hint that Gwen looks familiar, a reference to Gwyneth from The Unquiet Dead, to whom Gwen is ostensibly related. The entire story is a sort of answer to Genesis of the Daleks, where Davros said he would destroy all life for the sake of the power it gave him; here, he tries to do just that. The reality bomb’s function is similar to the Valeyard’s partical disseminator (The Ultimate Foe), which is an interesting coincidence, given that many fans speculated that the Metacrisis Doctor would become the Valeyard. (I, for one, am in that camp, and would love to see that happen.)

Overall: Not the best season (though by no means bad!)—that honor still goes to series three—but by far the best finale. I could watch this one over and over. If you’ve not yet watched it, give it a try.

Journey's End 2

Next time: We move into the “year of specials”, in which there is no full series, but simply four consecutive specials. I intend to tackle each one separately, giving us a little more time with the Tenth Doctor. We’ll begin with The Next Doctor. See you there!

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; Links are below.

The Stolen Earth

Journey’s End (part 1)

Journey’s End (part 2)

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Prose Review: Fanwinked

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

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

Fanwinked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanwinked

Audio Drama Review: He Jests at Scars…

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama! Today, we’re taking a break before returning to the Eighth Doctor Adventures next week, and checking out a range we haven’t visited yet: Doctor Who Unbound. These stories are not your typical entries; instead of falling into one of the established ranges, they ask the powerful question: “What if…?” As the stories aren’t related, we aren’t obligated to take them in order; today’s entry is actually the fourth in the series. I don’t intend to make a series of this, but rather, to review them as I happen to acquire them. Today we’ll be listening to He Jests at Scars…, written by Gary Russell and starring Michael Jayston and Bonnie Langford, which asks the question, “What if the Valeyard had won?” Let’s get started!

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

he-jests-at-scars-1

An aged Melanie Bush is in prison.  She has a reputation as the Lady Melanie Jane Bush; and one of the prisoners, Nula, believes she is a god.  When she is forced to kill another prisoner, Gerrof, her place is confirmed.  She is biding her time, intending to find and reason with the Mighty One, the ruler of all, who was once known as the Doctor—and if she can’t reason with him, she will kill him.

The TARDIS arrives at a planet called Pakha.  The man piloting it no longer calls himself the Doctor—he is the Valeyard.  He sends companion Ellie Martin to climb a cliff and recover an ancient Diadem, which is terribly powerful.  Ellie calls him the Doctor, which he resents.  Using greganic acid to cut a path up the cliff, she climbs up; while she does so, one of the native, hamsterlike Pakhars arrives and confronts them—but is stunned to see that they arrived in the TARDIS, which is legendary on Pakha.  It seems the Doctor once visited this world, and his adventures led to the loss of the Diadem in this ravine.  The Valeyard kills the Pakhar nonchalantly, and claims the Diadem; Ellie accepts it, but is surprised that the Doctor would do such a thing.  Then again, he isn’t the Doctor anymore.

On the Time Lords’ space station—the site of the Doctor’s trial—Mel confers with the president-elect and with the head of the Celestial Intervention Agency, Coordinator Vansell, concerning the outcome of the trial.  Although the High Council has been purged, and Earth has been restored to its place, the Doctor is still trapped inside the Matrix.  His fate is uncertain, but Vansell and the president decline to rescue him.  Instead, they want to analyze what will happen if the Valeyard does indeed defeat the Doctor and acquire his lives and memories, as it is an unprecedented opportunity for study.  The fact that he is an amalgam of the Doctor’s darker aspects means nothing to their experiment.  With Mel, they enter the Matrix through the Seventh Door to observe, but find that things are already going wrong.  The victorious Valeyard, having escaped and acquired a companion in Ellie Martin, arrived on the Hyperion III instead of the Doctor and Mel, and ended up slaughtering the humans by mistake, leaving the Vervoids alive and headed for Earth.  Mel questions her own absence; the Matrix shows that she never left Earth, but eventually died of a brain tumor.  On the day she would have met the Doctor, the Valeyard sent Ellie to delay Mel and prevent the meeting.  During the flashback, the Valeyard lets slip that he also went back and helped the Thals destroy the Daleks in their first bunker, preventing the rise of the Daleks.  Although he is changing his own past, he ignores the consequences, assuming he can put it all back the way it was if necessary.  Vansell defends the Valeyard’s actions, comparing it to the mission the Time Lords once sent the Doctor on to destroy the Daleks at their creation; he suspects the Valeyard, unencumbered by the Doctor’s scruples, may be useful to the CIA.  He views another projection, in which the Valeyard saves the Silurians in the Galapagos, allowing them to awaken on time, expecting that they will meet the humans and help them advance.  Even Ellie questions this, but the Valeyard threatens to take her back to where he found her—a situation in which she was about to be killed in a protest accident.  Shaken, she relents, and also stops calling him the Doctor.  Again, the Valeyard is certain he can undo his actions if he chooses.

Suddenly, the Matrix begins to break down.  It seems that Gallifrey and the space station have been destroyed, and now the Matrix is decaying; in a few decades it will cease to exist completely.  The change occurred on Uxarius in 1471; changing the Doctor’s previous experience there, the Valeyard obtained the planet’s superweapon and used it to destroy Gallifrey, removing the Time Lords, whom he views as competition.  He intends to conquer the Universe with the weapon.  Vansell realizes his mistake in letting the Valeyard escape; and without Gallifrey, he lacks the power to restore the timeline by force.  Mel offers to try to reach the Doctor within the Valeyard; the President gives her his personal Time Ring, and Vansell gives her a staser pistol.  Everything rides on her victory; and she departs.

To incorporate the weapon into his TARDIS, the Valeyard must reconfigure the interior beyond its usual capabilities.  For assistance he tries to go to Logopolis, but finds it destroyed in the wake of the Master’s actions there.  He uses his TARDIS to knock the Fourth Doctor off course en route to the planet, thus changing the events that led to the planet’s destruction—however, he accidentally causes a Time Ram with his past self’s TARDIS, and destroys it.  The released energy destroys Logopolis, which will cause the universe to end…but more to the point, what happens to the Valeyard if his past self is dead?  He is now a living paradox.

In the prison, the older Melanie learns from Nula that the prisoners are all representatives of time traveling races, and each is the last of his or her kind, as the Valeyard eliminated them to remove competition.  Nula is an Archetryxian, and the deceased Gerrof was a Tharil.  When they die, their species become extinct.  Mel reveals that the Time Lords were the first to go.  Nula agrees to help her, but first they must get past the guards, who are Morloks; they are a time-traveling race as well, but survived because they surrendered to the Valeyard, and now serve him.  Mel kills the guards at meal time.

The Valeyard tries to correct his error by warning his fourth self to avoid Logopolis, but the time distortion around the events is growing, and he can’t materialize.  Therefore the Fourth Doctor only hears a bit of the warning, and it is what inspires him to go to Logopolis in the first place, thus ensuring the events as they stand. He realizes that Time is trying to repair itself by removing him from existence, and warns Ellie that she will not escape if that happens.  He tries again to prevent disaster by going back further in time to Uxarius and using the weapon to destroy Logopolis before his fourth incarnation visited.  He successfully does so, but immediately feels unwell.  Ellie realizes the problem:  the Fourth Doctor’s visit was his second visit, and the Valeyard has now destroyed Logopolis at the moment of his first visit there, thus killing himself again.  Ellie helps him back to the TARDIS, where he is insulated from the Vortex, and he recovers, but now has gaps in his memories.  Ellie begins to search the Doctor’s old diaries for anything that might help.

Another flashback shows Melanie’s approach to the prison before her incarceration.  On a slave ship with Nula and Gerrof, she sees the Mighty One’s city of Chronopolis as they approach, and it confirms that the Mighty One is the Valeyard; though made of crystal, it looks just like Brighton.

he-jests-at-scars-2

The diaries reveal that it was the First Doctor who visited Logopolis along with Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet, immediately after a trip to Kiev in the thirteenth century.  The Valeyard is now obligated to try to prevent that visit from taking place, and intends to go to Kiev and kill Dodo, deterring the Doctor from that otherwise-pleasurable trip.  Mel materializes in the TARDIS, having just left the Matrix.  She tries to reason with the Doctor, but the Valeyard insists that the Doctor is dead; instead he intends to find the weapons the Doctor hid or destroyed, and use them to reshape reality in his image.  He lays out his plans for Kiev; when Mel doesn’t believe it, he casually kills Ellie to make his point.  He then damages the Time Ring and sends Mel off through time.  Thus begins Mel’s ten-year journey to make her way back to him.

At Chronopolis, Melanie and Nula make it to the Mighty One’s throne room, and fight their way in.  He does not recognize Melanie at first, and when he does, he remembers multiple possible deaths for her.  Hearing his words, she realizes that there is no chance of reasoning with him.  He insists that the Doctor is no more, but she isn’t convinced; the presence of the prisoners indicates he may still have a bit of morality left in him.  He declares that he has power over all time, and over creation and destruction; to prove his point, he blinks in and out of time, killing Nula five years in the past, then five minutes ago in the corridor outside, then restoring her life.  Melanie shoots him, but he blinks back a few seconds and snatches the gun from her before she can fire.  However, as he gloats over her, everything around Melanie vanishes, including the Valeyard and Nula.

Melanie finds herself in the TARDIS console room.  The Valeyard—the real Valeyard, not an illusion—is there as well, and paralyzed by fear; he cannot move even one step.  He reveals that Chronopolis was an illusion, generated by the TARDIS in its final efforts to protect the Valeyard from himself.  He has made so many changes to the universe, history, and his own past that they have cascaded, until now he doesn’t know what is real.  Given the chance to be real, he wasted it on destroying reality…his only recourse in the end was to live in the illusion.  Chronopolis manifested as his home; and when Melanie arrived, she perceived it as hers as well.  Worse, time has become so fragile that the Valeyard now fears that any action at all will tear the universe apart—and thus, the TARDIS has frozen them in place with its internal force fields.  Now, it lacks the power to do anything except hold them in place; and Mel’s Time Ring is not programmed for anything but carrying her to his location.  Therefore, here they will stay…for eternity.

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A brief confession: It’s only been a few years since I discovered the existence of the Valeyard. My childhood experience with Doctor Who ended with the Fifth Doctor, and though I saw the television movie in first run in 1996, I knew very little about the Doctors that came between. When I discovered the existence of this character, I fell in love with the idea—an evil Doctor? What’s not to love?! Certainly we already had the Master, who sometimes seems to fill that role; but this character strikes at the heart of what it means to be the Doctor, and further, threatens the very fabric of the Doctor’s existence. I fully understand why the series has been reluctant to revisit the character over the years; but it’s nice to occasionally see him appear again. There’s no better place for it than the Unbound series, and this story—“What if the Valeyard had won?”—was begging to be written.

The chief difference between the Valeyard and the Master is that the Master has no obligation to maintain any scrap of morality. “I’m not good!”—to put it in Missy’s words. If he (or she) wants to kill, no problem. Destroy a solar system? Or maybe a third of the universe? Do it for the lulz. The Valeyard, on the other hand, has to justify his actions. His justification may be totally wrong, but it will make sense to his internal logic; and in some way, it will indeed gratify the scrap of the Doctor’s morality that remains in him. Even when he kills Ellie, it is for a purpose that he at that time perceives to be the greater good. That, essentially, is what this story is about, though it cloaks it in the language of disruption of timelines. Moreover, the Master has to justify it all to his companions. He frequently explains himself to new companion Ellie Martin (borrowed in alternate form from the Sarah Jane Smith range of audios), because, no matter how much he threatens and insults Ellie, he wants her to agree with him, to see it his way. At the end, he does the same for Mel; and he even, after a fashion, apologizes for what he has done. By that time he has badly upset history, to the point that time itself has grown fragile; he fears that even the slightest action on his part, even so much as taking a single step, may destroy the universe. The only solution is to remain immobile for eternity, courtesy of the TARDIS, and even that may not save the universe—but he does, finally, make the sacrifice to see it happen. One could argue that in that sense, the Doctor wins out.

The story demonstrates that while the Valeyard is fascinating, he’s not particularly good at being a villain. He wants to throw caution to the wind and do what he likes, but it never works out. Not only do his actions backfire on him, but also they have terrible consequences for the universe. As a result, his evil degrades into caprice, and his ambition degrades into fear and cowardice. By the end he’s reduced to literal trembling—if the TARDIS would let him. The lesson in it, if there is one, is that you can’t have it both ways; underneath his actions, he wanted to bring good to the universe, much as the Doctor does, but using evil actions to make it happen will never work out.

Mel figures into much less running time here, but her performance is outstanding. This is an older, jaded Mel, at least in the later appearances; the health nut is gone, and a warrior has arisen in her place. She is mistaken for a Time Lady, and though she denies it, she could pass for one quite admirably. Mel in the classic series got flak from fans because she wasn’t a particularly serious character; I always attributed that to her youth, and gave her a pass on that count. This Mel is all grown up, and—to borrow a phrase that Mel herself borrows from The Incredible Hulk–“you wouldn’t like [her] when [she’s] angry!” It’s a sad ending for her; I’ve already spoiled it a bit, but I won’t spell it out more directly here. It’s not what she deserves, and we can be glad this isn’t the “real” universe.

I’ve never listened to the Sarah Jane audios, so I don’t know much about what Ellie Martin (played by Juliet Warner) is like there. Here, she’s essentially a clone of Ace, with a bit of Mel’s attitude, and maybe Peri’s as well. She questions the Doctor frequently, calls him by the wrong name, gets manipulated and dispatched into dangerous situations, and carries canisters of a chemical weapon with her (greganic acid in this case, as opposed to Nitro-9). It’s a good performance, but nothing we haven’t seen before; and I suppose that’s just as well, since I’ve already said that she dies during the story. She is instrumental in preventing Mel from meeting the Sixth Doctor (as documented in Business Unusual, though with some slight changes that probably owe to other meddling the Valeyard has already done), thus inadvertently freeing Mel from her timeline and allowing her to be dispatched to fight the Valeyard, though that was not his goal, of course. Coordinator Vansell makes another appearance here, and is indirectly responsible for the whole catastrophe, though he tries to make up for it. As well, we see that the Time Lords have purged the traitorous High Council from Trial of a Time Lord, and have placed a new president-elect (heard but not named here).

Given that this story deals with the Valeyard’s take on the Doctor’s entire life, there are a lot of continuity references. The megabyte modem from The Ultimate Foe gets a mention here; that bit of technology sounds laughable now, but we can handwave it by assuming the term means something different in the Whoniverse, as this item’s functions aren’t really described anywhere. The Valeyard kills his fourth incarnation with a Time Ram (The Time Monster, Engines of War, et al). The president-elect gives Mel a Time Ring (Genesis of the Daleks; Vansell also directly references that story’s events). There are frequent references to Logopolis and its destruction by the Master (Logopolis) as well as a charged vacuum emboitment, or CVE (Full Circle, Logopolis). The Valeyard mentions leaving Gallifrey with Susan (An Unearthly Child, Nightshade, Lungbarrow, The Day of the Doctor) and describes Chronopolis as appearing like a large house at the foot of a mountain (Lungbarrow). He mentions numerous companions of the Doctor: Steven and Dodo, Peri and Evelyn, Ace, Charley Pollard, C’rizz, and Hex; the last of those had yet to be introduced in the audios, but would be soon, a trick that goes all the way back to Mel’s premature appearance in Trial of a Time Lord. He recovers and uses the Diadem from Pakha (Legacy, a VNA novel also written by Gary Russell, which I have not reached in my readthrough; note that he also wrote the aforementioned Business Unusual, which gave us most of Mel’s backstory, including her full name). He also recovers and uses the Uxarian superweapon from Colony in Space (and erroneously says that he was there ten thousand years before—a behind the scenes goof, as it should say one thousand). He saves the Silurians who were murdered in their sleep in Bloodtide. Among his prisoners are an Archetryxian and a Monan (The Apocalypse Element), a Tharil (Warrior’s Gate) and an Urbankan (Four To Doomsday); a NImon is also mentioned (The Horns of Nimon), and Moroks (The Space Museum) are his guards. Vansell first appeared in The Sirens of Time, and has since had numerous appearances in prose and audio. Mel, Vansell and the president review the events of Terror of the Vervoids. Vansell compares the Valeyard to the Watcher (Logopolis), and his comments conflict with the existence of Cho-Je in Planet of the Spiders. The Valeyard references a trip to Kiev by the First Doctor and his companions, which occurred in Bunker Soldiers. Mel’s various deaths as cited by the Valeyard refer to Heritage and Dragonfire, though with some changes. He mentions Battle TARDISes, which first appeared in The Stockbridge Horror, and again in various Time War stories.

Overall: This is a particularly dark and sad story, and a commentary on the Valeyard and—by extension—the Doctor. The title comes from a Shakespeare quote, cited in full by the Valeyard: “He jests at scars, that never felt a wound” (Romeo and Juliet), the implication being that the Valeyard made light of the Doctor’s experiences and decisions without understanding the full import of what he was mocking. He suffers for it, and always will—and takes Mel with him. A terrible ending indeed, but a compelling story.

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Next time: On Monday we’ll continue the Main Range with Colditz; and on Thursday we’ll begin the Eighth Doctor Adventures, series two, with Dead London! 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.

He Jests at Scars…