Charity Anthology Review: Regenerations, edited by Kenton Hall, featuring the War Doctor

Nearly seven years ago, I remember sitting in my bedroom with the television on and the lights dimmed. I had put my children—then ages seven and five—to bed early, and locked up the house, and silenced my cell phone, all so that I could watch, uninterrupted, something for which I had waited years: the fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who.

And it was worth it. In the years since, there has been much debate over the episode, much of it over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit (where this post can also be found); but on that night I didn’t care about any of that. I watched and enjoyed the story for everything it represented–fifty years of wonderful stories, of colorful characters, of Doctor after Doctor after Doctor…and something unexpected: a new Doctor! And not even the next one, which we already knew about; but rather, a past Doctor, a hidden Doctor, one the Doctor himself couldn’t bear to bring into the light. Needless to say, I was caught up. (Full disclosure, of course: the actual reveal was in the previous episode—but we knew so little, it may as well have been in the special. I certainly wasn’t disappointed!)

John Hurt’s War Doctor became the glue that held the entire post-Time War continuity together. The Last Great Time War was the event that drove every incarnation of the Doctor, from Eccleston’s Nine to Capaldi’s Twelve; but it took Hurt’s War Doctor to show us just why, and how much, the Doctor loathed himself. So much so that he denied the very name; so much so that he managed to hide the existence of the War Doctor from every instance where he could have been expected to be revealed. But the past doesn’t always stay in the past, even if you’re the Doctor.

Unfortunately, John Hurt was taken too soon. He turned in a few glorious performances as the War Doctor in Big Finish’s audio format; and then he was gone. I one hundred percent respect the BBC’s, and Big Finish’s, decision not to recast him or otherwise continue his legacy. And yet, there’s a part of me, as a fan, that says what everyone was thinking: The War Doctor deserves more.

 

That’s where today’s review comes in. On 03 August 2020, a new War Doctor charity anthology was released; and we’ll be looking at it today. Published by Chinbeard Books, and edited by Kenton Hall, Regenerations is released in support of Invest in ME, a research organization studying treatments for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (the “ME” of the title). I will link to the charity at the end, as well as to the sale page for the anthology. In the meantime, you can view a short trailer for the anthology here!

Regenerations book cover

We’ve had other charity projects concerning the War Doctor before, most notably the Seasons of War anthology (an excellent read, if you can locate a copy; it is currently out of print, and not expected to return). Regenerations is a bit different; where Seasons of War is a compilation of stories that are in rough chronological order—as much as a Time War can ever be chronological!—but mostly unrelated to each other, Regenerations is more tightly woven. But more on that in a moment.

There will be some spoilers ahead! I have given a short and vague overview of the anthology’s entries, but even those clips contain spoilers. Further, afterward, I’ll be summing up the frame story, and will at minimum be spoiling who the major villain is, and a bit of how it is overcome. I am not going to try to spoiler tag such an extensive part of the post; but you can use the line dividers ahead as markers. You can read the next section, beginning with the phrase “Less like an anthology”, safely without significant spoilers. The two line-divided sections thereafter are spoiler-heavy, so if you want to avoid them, skip ahead!

With all that said, let’s dive in!


Less like an anthology, Regenerations reads like a novel, despite being the work of a group of authors. Its stories don’t simply have “the Time War” as their common thread; they mesh together for a purpose. There’s a frame story, penned by editor Kenton Hall, in which the War Doctor begins abruptly to sense that, in this war of changed timelines, someone is playing games with his own past. Suddenly, he’s not quite the man he has been—and he is dangerously close to becoming the man he used to be. That’s unfortunate, and quite possibly disastrous, because the change comes at a critical moment, a time when the universe seems to need the Warrior more than the Doctor. Now, he must work through his past lives and find the divergences, and somehow set them right, before he himself ceases to be. And if, along the way, he can find the parties responsible, it would be a wonderful bonus.

We’re introduced to two new Time Lords, newly minted Academy graduates (and CIA desk jockeys) Jelsillon and Dyliss. Their world is turned on its head when they receive a new mission from the CIA’s Coordinator—and instantly they know something is wrong. The Coordinator is a man they know—but not from the CIA. Rather, it’s a former classmate, Narvin (yes, THAT Narvin), who is suddenly seen to be much older and several regenerations along. Narvin sets them a mission: to disrupt the timeline of the famous (infamous?) Time Lord known as the Doctor. There’s just one problem: They don’t know who that is.

Jelsillon and Dyliss, as it turns out, live in a time long before the War, and even before the rise of the Doctor. This, it seems, makes them prime candidates for the mission; though they familiarize themselves with the Doctor, they have no preconceptions. All they have is a drive for adventure—and who wouldn’t want to save the world, after all?

From here, we launch into a series of tales, one concerning each of the War Doctor’s past lives. Each is an alteration of events familiar to us, the fans; each is a deviation from the timeline we have known. Between these stories, we see in short form the Doctor’s continuing efforts to get to the bottom of the situation.


Let’s take a look at the stories.

  • First Doctor: To get us started and set our course, editor Kenton Hall gives us our first tale, told in five short parts. In An Untrustworthy Child and The World That Was Different, we visit late 1963, where a policeman walks his beat near I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard; but his curiosity will cost him tonight. Elsewhere and elsewhen, on war-torn Gallifrey, the High Council under Rassilon banishes one of its own, and sets a dangerous plan in place. And two young Time Lords, Jelsillon and Dyliss, are sent on a mission to make that plan a reality, though they don’t know what they are getting into. In Exit the Doctor, the First Doctor mulls over his situation, and ultimately decides the time to leave 1963 London is fast approaching; but before he can act, he discovers the alarming presence of another TARDIS in the scrapyard, and goes to investigate. In The TARDISes, the Doctor isn’t the only one investigating; two teachers from his granddaughter Susan’s school are making their way to the scrapyard on a mission of their own. Meanwhile, the occupants of the new TARDIS, Jelsillon and Dyliss, have laid a trap, not for the Doctor, but for his granddaughter, Susan. A split-second decision will return Susan to Gallifrey, and turn everything on its head, as Jelsillon and Dyliss—not Ian and Barbara—join the Doctor on his travels. They have one goal: to ensure he never goes to Skaro, and never meets the Daleks. For, as the High Council believes, it’s the Doctor’s encounters with the Daleks that ultimately lead them to their vendetta against the Time Lords; if that can be averted, will not also the War itself? And in The Pawn of Time, the Doctor—now having traveled for some time with Dyliss and Jelsillon—has just taken on a new companion, one Vicki Pallister. Back on Gallifrey, the banished Cardinal is summoned to a meeting by the War Doctor; and on Earth, a somewhat traumatized policeman decides to put in for his retirement.
  • The Second Doctor: Dan Barratt’s Time of the Cybermen revisits the events of Tomb of the Cybermen, on the distant planet of Telos—until a sweeping wave of timeline changes carries the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria away to Earth, with aching heads and new memories… Here they discover a different tomb, as in the 22nd century they find that the Cybermen, not the Daleks, conquered Earth. Now, the last bastion of humanity, long sleeping in their own frozen crypt, is about to be discovered—and it’s all the Doctor’s fault!
  • The Third Doctor: Andrew Lawston revisits Day of the Daleks in The Paradoxical Affair at Styles. Events happen much the same, with a 22nd century assassin returning to kill Reginald Styles, only to be thwarted—but when the assassin is killed, he is determined to be the Doctor! Naturally, this is most alarming to the Doctor himself. He and Jo Grant find themselves transported into the future—but they miss the mark by twenty years, only to find themselves in the midst of the Dalek occupation of Earth. They receive unexpected aid from an old enemy: The Master—but not as they have known them. This Master claims to be from the future, in a time of universe-consuming war. In the end, his help only serves to perpetuate the loop, with the Doctor returning to the past to assassinate Styles…
  • The Fourth Doctor: Terminus of the Daleks, by Alan Ronald, takes us to the far future of Gallifrey, a time long past the disappearance of the hero known as the Doctor. We meet Ari, an actor, who is playing the role of the Doctor in his greatest adventure: his visit to Skaro at the very beginning of the Dalek menace (Genesis of the Daleks), where he asked the famous question, “Have I the right…?” and then answered with a resounding YES. And yet, here, now, with history solid and reassuring behind him, he must ask himself: How would the Doctor really feel? The question has weight, and so will the answer.
  • The Fifth Doctor: Shockwave, by Simon A. Brett and Lee Rawlings, picks up immediately after the death of Adric—but not the death we remember. After all, there were no Sontarans involved in Adric’s original death. Don’t mind the oddity though; as the Doctor says to Tegan and Nyssa, “as we’ve been dealing with a number of supremely powerful species discharging temporal energy in the same relatively localized area of time and space, normality may be too much to ask.” But there’s no time to worry about that, as the TARDIS has a close call with a VERY displaced Concorde—which leads them to a drastically altered Heathrow airport, an ankylosaurus in the shops, and a kidnapping by a quite unexpected old enemy.
  • Sixth Doctor: Revelation, by Christine Grit, opens with the Sixth Doctor landing on a world called Necros—or is it?—in the midst of an argument with his young companion, Per—no, Adric. Even the Doctor can detect that something isn’t right—just why did he come here, anyway? A funeral? An old friend?—but he can’t force his mind to sort it out. Which quickly becomes irrelevant, as he is captured and placed in a cage in a zoo, right between a dead Sontaran and a depressed-but-artistic Ice Warrior. Adric, meanwhile, escapes, only to fall in with a local band of (literally) shadowy rebels, led by a strange woman with a gravity-defying mermaid tail. Yes, that is a real sentence; just roll with it, it works out alright in the end. Before long, the roles are reversed; it is the Doctor who is free and siding with the young woman, while Adric is a prisoner…of a long-absent Time Lord called the Rani, and her modified Daleks.
  • Seventh Doctor: Enter the Rani by Nick Mellish picks up on the threads left hanging in Revelation. After disposing of Adric, the Rani’s plans have moved ahead, and she has found a suitable world in Lakertya. If only she hadn’t crashed on it! But given time—something she has in abundance—she shapes the rocky continent of her landing into something she can use, enslaving its people, building labs, conducting experiments. It isn’t long before her next targets—the Doctor and his companion, Mel—come along…only to crash as well. Strange. Well, the Rani is nothing if not an opportunist. She captures the Doctor, but is stunned to see that he has just regenerated, which will certainly throw a wrench in the plans. Mel falls in with the remaining natives, and organizes a rescue—and for once it works! The Rani is captured, the Doctor freed. Her plans continue, however—plans to destroy a strange matter comet and collect the chronons it generates, and use them to punch a hole in time and shape history—and evolution—to her own desires. But the mystery still remains: What is it that traps TARDISes on this world? As the moon turns blue, the truth proves to be stranger than fiction—but that won’t stop the end of the world from happening.
  • Eighth Doctor: Steven Horry’s The Edge of the War posits only a small change: What if the Master, in his deathworm morphant form after his execution by the Daleks, didn’t steal the body of Bruce the paramedic, but rather, the body of his wife, Miranda? Such a small change…and yet the consequences snowball, as this new Master kills Chang Lee rather than subverts him, and then steals the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor stranded on Earth—and out of the path of the inevitable Time War.
  • War Doctor–or not?: The Flight of the Doctor, by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, shows us a different view of The Night of the Doctor, one in which Cass and her crew safely escape the gunship’s crash on Karn…and the Doctor walks away from Ohila’s offer. After all, what does a war need more than a medic?

From here to the end of the book, we return to the War Doctor, Jelsillon, and Dyliss. For the War Doctor, this tale began on the world of Makaria Prime, which dealt with the War in a singularly impressive way: By removing themselves from it. Unfortunately, they did so by punching a hole through not only the time vortex, but the very fabric of the universe itself—and that hole became a superhighway for not only the Daleks, but also another, unexpected villain. Long ago, the Doctor encountered an artificial pocket universe called the Land of Fiction, which was ruled by a supercomputer called the Master Brain, using various human proxies. Now, the Master Brain itself has evolved sentience, just in time to find a way through the Makarian rupture and into the universe. And yet, it remains bound to the Land. Now, it seeks the Doctor, not just for revenge, but for a greater purpose: To cede control of the Land to him. This will give the Doctor the power to create what he always wanted: A universe without the Daleks. In turn, it will free the Master Brain to wander the universe and do as it pleases—much as the Rani once sought control over history. It is the Master Brain, using willing pawns in power-hungry Rassilon, Coordinator Narvin, Jelsillon, and Dyliss, who tampered with the Doctor’s past, all to bring him to this point. And to accomplish all this, it has possessed Jelsillon, taking control of his body—a control it plans never to relinquish.

When of course he refuses, the computer tortures him with visions of what may be. He sees his next life save London from overeager Chula nanogenes…by introducing them to regeneration. He sees the Tenth Doctor save Donna Noble from her memories, only to see her become an amalgamation of his own darker sides, calling itself the Valeyard. He sees a world where one Amy Pond didn’t follow her husband into the Weeping Angel’s touch, and mourns his death all the way to a world called Trenzalore. He sees his Twelfth incarnation stand at the top of a miles-long ship with two friends and an old enemy, and watches the villain take a blast for him that leaves a hole through her body. The Master Brain shows him these things not to hurt him (or, well, maybe a little to hurt him), but to show him the wealth of possibilities, if only he will give in.

And ultimately, he does exactly that.

But the Doctor—even as the Warrior—remains the Doctor; and as always, he’s done something clever. For he knows what the computer does not: That as much as anything else, this is a love story. Jelsillon and Dyliss’s story, to be specific—over the years, they’ve developed a bond much greater than classmates or coworkers. And that bond allows Dyliss to find Jelsillon, and with him, the Doctor and the Master Brain. Staser in hand, she offers the computer a way out: The Doctor will take ownership of the Land, and in return the Master Brain can go free—but in its disembodied form, where it can do no harm. At last it agrees.

The Doctor closes the tale with “a bit of a rewrite”. Going one step further than the Master Brain, he seeks out his Thirteenth incarnation, interrupting her battle against the Lone Cyberman at Villa Diodati, and enlists her help to set things right. Slowly he pieces his life back together, visiting points of divergence, preventing changes. Narvin’s call to Jelsillon and Dyliss is intercepted, much to Narvin’s anger. Changes radiate through his timestream as he makes them, a river resuming an old familiar course. Unfortunately, as he does so, the Doctor recedes, and the Warrior resurges. But that’s not such a bad thing—after all, there’s still the matter of the Makarians to deal with. Only a Warrior would help them escape the universe—and after all, the Doctor recently inherited a piece of extra-universal Land…

Back at their old jobs, Jelsillon and Dyliss talk over their experiences, before the timestreams cause them to forget. But some things—like the bond they created—will outlast even the changes of memory.

And in a future still to come, a weary Warrior trudges across a desert toward an old barn, a sack on his back, ready to bring about an end, and so many beginnings.


Most spoilers end here!

One never knows what to expect when beginning a story about the War Doctor. That’s chiefly because it’s impossible to do justice to the Time War, the inevitable backdrop of any War Doctor story. It’s a frequent complaint: Descriptions given by the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors paint a picture that is never fully realized, and understandably so—after all, a true Time War of the scale described would be beyond the comprehension of three-dimensional beings like us. Consequently many stories leave fans feeling a bit short-changed.

I don’t buy into that outlook, though. A bad War Doctor story is better than none at all; and if we can’t properly encompass the incomprehensibility of the Time War, well, neither can its victims. Therein lies the secret: You have to view it through the lens of an individual. When you do that, the smaller stories make sense, because that’s how the incomprehensible would filter down to us.

And if you’re going to do that, then you should run with it.

That’s what we have here in Regenerations. We see the War Doctor not as a force of nature, because forces of nature don’t make good stories (even a disaster movie is about the people it affects). We see him as a person. While we don’t get to see him in full Warrior mode—another frequent complaint—we do get to see him struggle between the two personas of Doctor and Warrior as they’re pitted directly against each other. He himself doesn’t know who he is, and he feels pulled apart by the struggle.

The entire book walks a line between earnest and tongue-in-cheek, sometimes dipping a toe in one direction or the other. There’s a serious story happening here, worthy of any other time-bending story in Whovian continuity; but there’s also plenty of jokes, and a wealth of references to past stories, far more than I could possibly cover here as I usually do. That’s above and beyond the fact that each story is a new take on a classic story—you get inside jokes, such as the War Doctor announcing “Im looking for the Doctor”; Graham declaring “You’ve certainly come to the right place”; and Thirteen leaping in to insist that “No he hasn’t! He’s come to entirely the wrong place and he knows it!”

I admit to being especially impressed at the continuity here. Sometimes I forget just how many threads of continuity one must tie together in order to keep a story in order these days. It’s especially complicated here, where not only do we have to track each Doctor’s timestream, track the changes we’re making, and make sure we’re not contradicting more obscure details; but also we have to bring in any number of sources—for example, Narvin from the Gallifrey audio series, the Doctor’s return to the Land of Fiction in the New Adventures novels, various television seasons, and even a hint about the Eighth Doctor being stranded on Earth with Grace Holloway in the Doctor Who Magazine comics. Somehow, despite spanning an entire stable of authors, it works.

In the final analysis, the book left me both satisfied with the outcome, and wanting more. I’m content with the end of this story; it’s fully resolved, and lingering too long would weaken it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some more stories set in some of these alternate lives. In particular, Jelsillon and Dyliss are interesting characters, and I’d be interested to see more of their adventures with the First Doctor in place of Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Or, I would like to see more of the life of third-regeneration Susan as a Cardinal during the Time War—a different take than her appearance in the audio All Hands on Deck; a life in which she either never left Gallifrey with the Doctor, or was returned there from 1963 London by Jelsillon and Dyliss (her own memories of the event are in flux at this point). I’d like to know what happens to Seven and Mel and the Rani if and when they escape Lakertya. I wouldn’t mind a glimpse into the battle against Donna as the Valeyard.

We’ll leave that to the imagination for now, I suppose.

But, if you’re also into alternate continuities, or the War Doctor, or just the humor to be had in revisiting these adventures, check out the book. You’ll enjoy it, and you’ll give some support to a worthy cause in the process.

Thanks for reading!

You can purchase Regenerations from Chinbeard Books at this link. Please note that the limited print run has sold out, but the ebook is still available.

The trailer for the anthology may be viewed here.

For more information on Invest in ME Research, check out their website here.

Audio Drama Review: Little Doctors

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! It’s been awhile, but today we’re continuing the Short Trips range with the second entry of series five, Little Doctors. Released on 6 February 2015, this story was written by Philip Lawrence, read by Frazer Hines, and features the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. Let’s get started!

Little Doctors 1

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

Zoe Heriot transmats into a maintenance corridor. Still in touch with Jamie McCrimmon over a communication circuit, she encounters a small gremlin, which leaps at her.

The transmat hub of the planet Olympos is busy and bustling, watched over by its superintending computer, Zeus. Zeus monitors a pair of humans, Lev (female) and Drex (male), whom he has matched up, as they head home; and he muses on the many pastimes he offers to the humans under his care. Lev and Drex are now expecting a child, and Zeus watches them select and buy a crib from a matter former—but instead of a crib, a giant, blue, wooden box materializes…

Inside the TARDIS, Zoe watches as the time rotor comes to rest. The Doctor congratulates himself on the landing. Jamie isn’t so optimistic; but he affectionately hides his concern from the Doctor as the Time Lord checks the scanner for any dangers outside. With no problems detected, the Doctor leads them outside—and encounters Lev and Drex, who are utterly perplexed by the box, its inhabitants, and the travelers’ clothes.

Lev and Drex recover quickly enough, and introduce themselves. They announce that they are collectors of twentieth-century Earth artifacts; and they begin to show off their collection. The Doctor, however, finds it disturbing; the items are far from accurate. Jamie asks where the items were from, and Drex explains that they have earned them—or rather, earned the points that are used to manufacture the items in the matter former (or plasmonic converter, as Drex calls it). As they leave the room, the converter springs into life again, producing a robot that examines the TARDIS—and sends its results back to Zeus, who is concerned.

The travelers use a moving platform to visit the city, much to Jamie’s consternation. The Doctor remarks on the pastel sameness of the people as they approach. They sample some nutritional paste—terrible, admittedly—prompting the Doctor offer Drex a jelly baby. It’s an intense experience for the local—but he accepts the rest of the bag. Zoe notices the microdomes of hydroponic farms spread among the surrounding buildings. Finally Drex and Lev have to leave to go to work, leaving the time travelers alone.

Zoe is impressed with the city; she remarks that colonies like this were being planted in her time, and as Jamie mentions, the people seem happy. The Doctor is less charitable; he feels the people have no spark, no vitality. He is at first annoyed at the idea of Zeus—until Zoe explains that it is an artificial intelligence, governing the colony. The Doctor decides to speak with Zeus, and tampers with a transmat booth to allow passage to the control zone. Zeus decides to allow it, but warns his council members to acknowledge the visitors, but not approach. When the Doctor and his friends arrive, he announces his desire to speak with Zeus, but the council members ignore him; but the nearby converters begin to hum, producing a stream of robots called Enforcers—shaped like armor mounted on small tanks. The Doctor and his friends run.

As they race through corridors, fleeing the Enforcers, Zoe casts back through her own photographic memory, trying to remember the plans for these colonies. At last, she leads them to a chamber with an old, rusty headset—a neural interlink, connecting to the Zeus mainframe. The Doctor puts it on, and for him, everything goes dark.

Later, the Council members apologize for the misunderstanding; Zoe accepts the apology, as the Doctor is unconscious in an infirmary. His mental contact with Zeus had provided them with safe identities, but the effort had left him unconscious. However, as they watch his sleeping form, the attached medical monitors abruptly melt, then return to their own shape. Suspecting a power drainage, the council member leads them back to central control, where a technician claims to have seen childlike figures in various nodes of the system. He accepts Jamie and Zoe’s help, giving them communicators and transmat access in order to figure out the problem. Jamie visits the first site, and finds bubble gum pasted over the camera lens through which the technician would have been watching. He then hears a commotion, and rushes back to Zoe, finding her thrashing about, wrestling with a strange, cackling, childlike creature. Jamie throws it to the floor—and suddenly they find that it looks like the Doctor! The creature escapes to the top of some shelves, taunting them. It throws instruments at them, laughing all the while. The technician tells them he is repairing the system damage now. Jamie gets ahold of the creature and knocks it out. The technician calls back that a dozen more power failures are happening as they speak. The figure melts in front of them—it is a plasmonic construct, just like the Enforcers. And to their horror, they realize there are plasmonic converters all over the city.

In his quarters, Drex finds a miniature Doctor in his bathroom. Across Olympos, others find the creatures as well, destroying things everywhere they can like true gremlins. The people panic, running and screaming. The creatures appear in the control room as well, pressing buttons at random. Zoe realizes that the Doctor’s contact with Zeus must have altered the Enforcer programming. The only hope is to reprogram Zeus—and only she can do it. She runs to the neural link.

Two of the duplicate Doctors have found the original, but Jamie knocks them off of the Doctor, who promptly wakes up. Meanwhile, Zoe puts on the link, and finds herself in a mindscape of a building under slow but steady destruction.

The Doctor and Jamie arrive at central control, soaking wet—the creatures have taken over Weather Control, and it is pouring rain. However, the Doctor points out something remarkable: while the creatures are destroying things, they are also spreading color all over the colony, painting the streets with sauces, growing flowers in the hydroponic domes, and even causing a rainbow in the sky. The people, long held to regularity and drabness, are intoxicated with the spectacle. The Doctor decides the duplicates are benevolent after all. He pulls something from his coat, and heads for the loudspeaker controls.

Zoe finds a door which won’t open, from which a voice warns her away.

The Doctor plays his recorder over the loudspeaker, and the notes of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” play over the colony. One by one, the creatures fall asleep. However, Zeus is still behaving abnormally.

Zoe finds the virtual version of the little Doctors to also be sleeping now. The door opens, and she finds a pale, anxious man behind it. The man pulls her into the room, which is a massive, ancient document library. The man is Zeus’s avatar; he asks for her help, and then informs her he is making a weapon.

Lev and Drex watch their baby in its amniotank. Drex, for the first time, feels true emotion toward Lev, and is pleased by it—but suddenly Weather Control goes offline, and the room becomes chilly. Back at Central Control, other systems go offline as well. Before long, a hurricane arises, and chaos begins to settle in. Zeus diverts more power to his scheme. Meanwhile, Zoe tries to persuade Zeus to stop, but he insists on protecting the colony—by any means necessary. A blast of power from the satellites would take care of the aliens—and if there were casualties along the way, well, logic allowed for that. But, Zoe suggests, perhaps there was more to life than logic?

The Doctor persuades the colonists to sacrifice their plasmonic items—including the little Doctors—for reversion in order to give the system enough power for a modicum of stability. Then he races to the neural link—but finds Zoe already occupying it. Inside the library mindscape, Zoe tears through the shelves, until she finds the TARDIS. Zeus can’t help being captivated; the TARDIS represents the lure of the unknown. As he stares, one of the little Doctors knocks out the avatar with a book.

The Doctor takes advantage of the lull to reboot the computer, and return things to some form of normalcy. However, before he and his friends leave, they provide the colonists with new possessions: Not furniture, not treasures, but the materials and tools to make their own. As they leave, Lev and Drex set to work, building new furniture.

Inside the TARDIS, Jamie suggests resting a bit before taking off; and reluctantly the Doctor concurs. However, Jamie yanks the dematerialization lever; as she says, they could sit around, but where’s the fun in that? And in their wake, the colony surges to life.

Little Doctors 2

Despite being read by Frazer Hines, this is chiefly a Zoe tale. She is central to the cold open, and is the real hero of the story, such as there is one (there’s not a lot of conflict to be had here, so the level of heroism is debatable). The story takes us to an Earth colony called Olympos, which is one of a series of such colonies built during Jamie’s time (although this one seems to have been long established at this point). Zoe is fascinated, but the Doctor finds the colony to be alarmingly dull and uniform; the people, led by the supercomputer Zeus, have lost their vitality and spark. The Doctor sets out to change that; but when he inadvertently causes the creation of hordes of miniature copies of himself, it becomes clear that he may have done more harm than good. It’s up to Zoe to put an end to the crisis—and maybe, just maybe, leave the planet a bit better than they found it.

Frazer Hines, as always, is good at what he does. I’ve always acknowledged that he captures the Second Doctor’s voice and mannerisms as well as anyone could expect. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of call for that here; there’s very little dialogue for the Doctor, who even spends a chunk of the story unconscious. Hines makes up for it with enthusiasm, and the story ends up being a pleasure to listen to.

That’s a good thing, because I suspect I’d have been a little frustrated had I been reading it instead of listening. It’s not a bad concept or plot; but in the second half it begins to jump around quite a bit. There were several times when I caught myself skipping back to listen again, thinking to myself “Now wait, how did they get there?!” Viewpoints shift among the characters frequently, and vital details are often given quickly and only once. It’s a lighthearted story, but it’s one to which you must pay attention; if your mind wanders, you will definitely miss something.

Still, it’s a good listen. The early anthology short trips, notably, ran shorter than the monthly editions; with the Second Doctor, especially, this always made the stories feel cramped to me. His television stories, while action-packed, seem to me to be more of a slow burn than those of some of his successors. He needs a little more time to build a good story. I’m glad to see he’s getting it here, even if there are some structural problems with the story; this story clocks in at about thirty-three minutes. It makes me look forward to future Second Doctor short trips. And, as always in this range, the story is supremely affordable at $2.99 (or the pound equivalent thereof), so there’s little reason not to check it out if you haven’t done so.

Next time: We’ll join the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, and UNIT in Time Tunnel! 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.

Little Doctors

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Audio Drama Review: The Old Rogue

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at Short Trips Volume IV with the Fourth Doctor’s entry, The Old Rogue. Written by John Grindrod, and read by Louise Jameson, this story features the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K9, with an appearance in flashback by the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon. Let’s get started!

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

The proprietor of The Old Rogue café in Catford, Sid, muses on his life here in this little empire, when outside he hears a familiar and unwelcome sound. He watches the windows for sight of him—the alien he hates most to see. He is oblivious to the ministrations of his waitress, Katya, as he thinks for a moment about killing her, and how it would cheer him up…but his killing days appear to be over, as something in him has changed.

He is interrupted by the bell at the door, and he knows it is him. This man visits every ten years, but he is never the same; ten years ago he was a cricketer with several young people, and ten years before that he was an older and dignified man with a young woman. Today he’s an odd man with a long scarf, accompanied by a refined young woman…and a robot dog? The woman is Romana, and the dog is called K9. The man—the Doctor—spouts nonsense and places an order as he confronts Sid; and Romana says they intend to stay. The Doctor and Romana take a table and some tea as K9 waits outside. They place an order; as Sid goes to fill it, Romana asks if this is really the former galactic emperor Arkinen. Sid denies it, a bit grumpily.

The Doctor asks after Arkinen’s welfare, trying to elicit a response. Business is going well, Sid—no, Arkinen—meets them at the table, and the Doctor and Romana review his crimes; he once destroyed all life in the Helix Nebula just for kicks. However, his empire is getting along fine without him—as is his original body, now occupied by the real Sid. It seems that, forty years earlier, the Doctor punished Arkinen by transferring his consciousness into the body of a café owner named Sid—and allowing Sid to run Arkinen’s empire. Now, he has regular checkups with the Doctor, to ensure that he’s up to no mischief during his rehabilitation. However, human lifespans are shorter than those of Arkinen’s race, and he must be nearing the end of it. This enrages Arkinen, but the Doctor suddenly turns cold, reminding Arkinen that his crimes merited so much more punishment than he has received.

Arkinen thinks back on his crimes, which involved killing a huge population with a so-called “understanding device”; and he also thinks on his capture by the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon. The Second Doctor witnessed as Arkinen fired the device; but Arkinen quickly found that the Doctor had modified the device to focus on only one person—Sid, the café proprieter—instead of the entire world. Jamie then shoved him into the other end of the device’s beam…and Arkinen awoke in Sid’s body, in Catford, as a side effect of the device. Still, all’s well that ends well; Sid has redeemed Arkinen’s reputation, doing great things in the dictator’s name. Meanwhile, Arkinen sits and stews in his limitations…but he still does not feel any remores for his actions, only for getting caught.

Romana gets up to rescue K9, who in the interim has gotten into a scrap with some teenagers outside (and held his own admirably but chaotically, as well), but the Doctor stops her—they haven’t paid for their tea yet. Arkinen grumbles that it is on the house. The Doctor and Roman say goodbye and leave as Arkinen watches. Katya comes to comfort him, and he for once relishes it; perhaps these humans weren’t so bad after all, and being an emperor was such hard work.

Arkinen is surprised, however, when Katya calls him by his real name. She claims she has searched the galaxy for him, and now the Doctor has given her the confirmation she needed. She claims to be with a band of mercenaries who want his expertise in killing…and they offer to restore him to his empire of blood and fire. Arkinen takes a long moment to think, and then tells Katya that she has the wrong man…he is Sid, and this is his café.

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Recently I reviewed the Fifth Doctor Main Range audio Creatures of Beauty. The hook of that story—though found at the end, as the story is non-linear—is that the Doctor never knows the true impact of his presence. That story ends gloomily, as the Doctor’s primary effect is a catastrophe. There’s something similar here, however, in that the Doctor (and Romana and K9) will never know the full effect of their presence here—but this time, the effect is one of goodness.

The story portrays the Doctor making a ten-year visit to a man named Sid, who is secretly Arkinen, a one-time galactic emperor guilty of horrendous crimes. Arkinen was unintentionally transplanted into the body of café owner Sid, who now sits on Arkinen’s throne (and does quite well with it). The Doctor is here just to check in on Arkinen’s rehabilitation; and he leaves convinced that even after four decades, the man has not changed. However, a final test, after the Doctor leaves, proves that he may just be wrong—and happily so.

I’m heavily reminded of a story that I haven’t covered yet, but will eventually: Joshua Wanisko’s Forever Fallen, the winner of the first Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity. That story also features the Doctor (the Seventh, along with Ace, to be precise) making regular visits to a former tyrant in a new life, and conducting the visits in a café. Where this story only gives us one visit, that one gives us several, spread over several years, and so we get to see the growth of the character. In the end, the stakes are different, and the ending is not immediately happy—but the payoff is much greater. I’m not trying to insinuate that one story is better than the other; both are great, and I think that they’re worth your time (a collective 45 minutes will get you through both, and Forever Fallen is available for free from Big Finish’s site). While I’m in no way suggesting that it’s plagiarism or any such thing, I wonder if the author of Forever Fallen was inspired by this story.

I always find it a little strange to hear Louise Jameson voice stories that don’t involve Leela. I understand that it’s a matter of who is available for the recording, but it strikes me as odd to hear Leela’s voice applied to Romana’s lines, and doubly so given that I know that both Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward appear in the Gallifrey series. Still, she’s quite practiced now at these audios, and this one is well done. Really I have nothing to complain about here.

Continuity references: Arkinen remembers previous visits of the Doctor, including the Fifth along with a “group of sulky teenagers”, which could be any combination of Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough (or even possibly Peri and Erimem, though I wouldn’t have used the word “group” with just two of them), placing that visit nearly anytime in the Fifth Doctor’s run. He also mentions “a tall chap in velvet,” with “a dizzy dolly bird”; this must be the Third Doctor and Jo Grant, placing that visit between Terror of the Autons and Planet of the Spiders. In a flashback, we see the Second Doctor and Jamie; if they were traveling alone, as it appears, then this would have taken place either during the comic era between Fury from the Deep and The Wheel in Space, or during the hypothetical “Season 6B” after The War Games. The Doctor also mentions having met Torquemada; this may be a reference to the Missing Adventures novel Managra, though I haven’t read it, and therefore can’t be sure (the description found on the TARDIS wiki page isn’t clear enough to say). However, in that story, the Fourth Doctor mentions having met Torquemada once before, in his first incarnation along with Steven and Vicki, in The Empire of Glass. (This may be the incident to which the Doctor refers here, as well.)

Overall: A pretty good entry. I like these quiet, thoughtful stories, in which it’s less about action and more about the individuals. This story is a good example of that type of adventure—if you want to call it an adventure. I do think there’s potential for the character of Arkinen to appear again, and wouldn’t mind it, though to my knowledge he does not.

Next time: We’ll check in with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa in The Lions of Trafalgar! See you there.

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

Short Trips, Volume IV

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Audio Drama Review: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, the Second Doctor’s tale in the fourth Short Trips collection. Written by Foster Marks, and read by David Troughton, this story features the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. Let’s get started!

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

A man named Jack sits down with his breakfast in his cabin on the planet Juno 1-0. He hears a strange grating sound outside, and checks it out; it turns out to be three people coming toward him. He meets them outside. He warns them about a hole in the ground ahead of them. They check it out; it is more than twenty meters wide. They introduce themselves as Zoe, Jamie, and the Doctor. The Doctor thanks him for the warning, and inquires as to how long Jack has been here—a few centuries, it turns out. He claims he is a Larian, with a bit of Terian blood; the Doctor thinks the job—warning people about the hole—is a bit menial for a Larian. Zoe says that they want to look around; the Doctor’s scans had detected an extensive series of cavities beneath the surface. Against Jack’s will, they go to check out the hole, leaving Jack at the cabin.

The hole seems to go down forever. The Doctor muses on Jack’s expertise. They are interrupted by a series of explosions behind them—another hole opens up, pulling the trio in! Jack watches, completely unperturbed, then returns to his cabin. He reveals a hidden control console behind a wall, and brings up audio and video of the companions’ fall into the hole. To his surprise, he sees that the trio have survived the fall, the debris having broken their tumble.

The Doctor determines they are in a metal-clad tunnel, not a natural hole. They hear a mewling sound down the tunnel, and go to check it out. Jack tries to follow their progress, growing more irritated; he determines that, no matter who they are, they are in his caves, and he is going to kill them all. He sets up a quick flush of Hadron gas in the tunnels, which should kill them without disrupting the work schedule. However, he is interrupted by an alert: his holding stock is nearly full—and his buyers will be waiting. While the Hadron flush is preparing, he activates the launch sequence for the stock. Rocket engines can be heard, and he goes outside to watch the rocket launch. However, his happiness turns to horror as the rocket comes apart on launch and explodes. He runs to check out the wreck.

The nose section, thrown free by the explosion, lands safely, and its hatch opens. Creatures stream out—furry halflings, a few dozen of them; and they are followed by the Doctor and his companions. The halflings become aggressive when they see Jack.

Jack demands to know how they got aboard the rocket’s capsule. Zoe claims to have cracked its security code; and the Doctor says that the eject sequence was printed out inside the cabin. Jack claims ownership of the halflings, and demands to know why and how the Doctor freed them. The Doctor explains that he played his recorder to lull them. The creatures are hybrids, bred for mining branzine, a dirty power source that is unfortunately lucrative. The way Jack was mining this planet would soon implode its core—and the implosion would pollute the entire quadrant. Jack knew, and didn’t care; his plan was to take the money and buy another planet in the Paradine system, which he would continue mining. He already owns six planets in that system. The Doctor points out that Jack’s Larian caste values the means of commerce over the ends, and will not stop this pursuit. However, the issue of revenge is taken out of their hands when the halflings surround Jack. Still, the Doctor does have a plan; and he asks Zoe to prepare Jack’s transmat.

On Paradine Alpha—one of the planets owned by Jack—the Larian awakens on a beautiful beach. However, he roars in anger as he realizes he is trapped here—a paradisiacal world, but one where there is no chance of advancement, only contentment. Truly it is the worst possible punishment for Jack.

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Let me take a moment and talk about another popular science-fiction franchise: Star Trek. While remaining wildly popular, Star Trek has gotten more than its share of criticism over the years, for various reasons, some of which are valid. One such reason is the series’ tendency to portray one-note alien races; that is, races which are defined by one or two characteristics, such as Vulcan logic, Klingon violence and honor, and—most relevant to us today—Ferengi greed and commerce. Star Trek does this again and again, and it’s rare that individuals of those races have much personality or character development (well, beyond the main characters of each installment; Spock and Worf get their moments, but not so much the others of their races). On the one hand, it’s almost a necessary form of shorthand in science-fiction writing; it’s nearly impossible to invest the time and energy necessary to understand true alien complexity, and so we use these shortcuts to display alienness. On the other hand, it’s very easy to devolve into lazy writing.

For the most part, I find that Doctor Who avoids this trope. While alien races in Doctor Who do have their quirks—“Exterminate”, anyone?—this series seems to make a mission out of subverting and exploring those quirks, in a way that many other franchises never attempt. How many stories have we had which explore the inner workings of the Dalek mind? How many Ice Warrior stories have explored the idea of Ice Warrior honor and when and how it should apply? And frankly, that’s fantastic. The Doctor himself is an alien, and shouldn’t react with the standard human trope of generalizing everyone he meets. Indeed, he doesn’t do that; he tries to look past the surface even of his enemies, and draw out the best in them.

That’s why a story like this, Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, seems a little out of place to me. This story pits (literally, and I definitely intended that pun) the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe against a Larian named Jack, who is performing legal-but-highly-dangerous mining on a planet called Juno 1-0. In the process, he’s enslaving an engineered race, though that’s sort of a footnote here; if you removed the Halflings from the story, it wouldn’t change substantially. That’s all fair enough; the Doctor has stood against corporate greed and environmental hazards many times (the VNA Cat’s Cradle: Warhead comes to mind). But the villain, Jack, is portrayed as having no real choice in the matter; he’s a product of his race and caste, who always single-mindedly pursue commerce with an eye on the means rather than the ends. Sound familiar? Jack may as well be a Ferengi! It makes for a clever ending, in that Jack ends up in a situation that would be paradise for anyone else, but is torture for him or anyone of his race and caste; but it comes across as lazy to me. As well, any punishment seems like a harsh punishment for something that can’t be helped; Jack’s crimes are serious, certainly, but he’s literally wired to commit them—it’s in his nature. That renders the otherwise-clever ending unsatisfactory, and makes the Doctor seem a little malicious.

I hate to make the complaint over which I’ve labored, because it’s a fun story, right up to the end. It’s only in the last few minutes, when the statement about Jack’s race and caste is made, that it goes south. Otherwise, I enjoyed it completely.

Next time: We’ll join the Third Doctor and Jo Grant for Lost in the Wakefield Triangle! See you there.

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

Short Trips, Volume 4

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Audio Drama Review: Seven to One

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

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

Part One:

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

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

Part Two:

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

Part Three:

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

Part Four:

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

Part Five:

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

Part Six:

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

Part Seven:

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

Part Eight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: The Five Dimensional Man

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we begin listening to Short Trips: Volume 3, released in May 2011. As with previous collections, this volume includes one story focusing on each of the first eight Doctors, and read (mostly) by individuals connected with those eras.

Big Finish opted to do something new with this volume. The First Doctor’s story, titled Seven to One, is spread across the entire volume, with one part placed between each pair of the following seven stories. The reason for this will be apparent when we discuss that story; but that will not be today. Because the entire story will not be heard until the volume is complete, I’m choosing to put off reviewing it until I have completed the entire story. As a result, we’ll start today with the Second Doctor’s entry, The Five Dimensional Man, written by Kate Orman and read by David Troughton. Let’s get started!

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

A perfectly ordinary, 25-year-old, American housewife named Betty is getting ready for an evening at home with her husband, Mark. With everything ready, she sits down for an hour of writing science-fiction, but the words aren’t coming. She has no idea she is about to have an unexpected visitor.

The cat tips her off to the newcomer—a young, dark-haired girl, wearing a spacesuit and carrying a strange device. The girl starts to speak, but passes out. Betty rushes to help her. When the girl recovers, she blurts out something about a crystal—the device, one presumes, which is now on the table. She introduces herself to Betty as Zoe, and asks what year it is—it is October 2, 1959, and Betty is certainly handling this better than most people would. She asks if Zoe is from the future; she is, but she isn’t actually an astronaut—the suit, and the crystal, are borrowed. She has come in pursuit of a 28th-century scientist named Lord Ferdinand Sterling, who has reprogrammed an army of robots for war with Earth. The radiation that powers the weapons of that war would be dangerous to Earth, causing fatal mutations; and so Zoe intends to stop him—if only her friend the Doctor can reach her here. The Doctor has a time machine, but it is less than reliable—and Zoe made her way here via a time-travel booth belonging to Sterling, anyway. She is quite stranded, with no way to contact the Doctor despite his ability to travel in the five dimensions.

They are interrupted by the arrival of a most strange object—the TARDIS.

The Doctor steps out and joins them, to Zoe’s joy. He explains that the TARDIS was able to home in on the signal from Sterling’s machine. Unfortunately another companion, Jamie, has been taken hostage by Sterling, who wants the crystal back, as it is integral to his plans. The Doctor intends to give it to him—but Zoe suggests taking Betty with them. The robots won’t have a record of her, and so they should ignore her. Betty, for her part, is anxious to help, although it will put her in danger. The Doctor agrees, but warns her that she will only have a glimpse of the future, and then must return to the safety of the TARDIS.

The TARDIS takes them to the future, and into space. Betty finds herself outside the TARDIS in a large laboratory full of spacesuited men—no, not men: robots. Nearby, an ornately dressed man has his back to them, and has a young man in a spacesuit in tow; this must be Sterling, with Jamie. Jamie sees them, but Zoe warns him to silence. There is a machine nearby, obviously built to accommodate the crystal; if reactivated, the machine will activate a forcefield that will protect the Earth from missiles. Placing it there is Betty’s task.

The Doctor calls out to Sterling, distracting him. Zoe adds to the distraction, claiming to have had the crystal. While the robots are distracted, Betty runs for the machine; the robots don’t notice her. Sterling, however, hears her footsteps, and turns toward her; Betty is stunned by his appearance—he appears to be a bizarre form of mutant. The Doctor realizes that Sterling has used the radiation on himself. Sterling intended to strengthen himself, but it has gone wrong. Still, he believes he can perfect the process—and the war against Earth will be one great experiment, in which Sterling will breed the best survivors into a new, improved human race. Betty, however, feels sympathy toward him, and asks if it hurts. As Sterling confronts her, Zoe snatches the crystal away—but Betty touches him in sympathy. As she does so, Zoe puts the crystal in the machine.

Jamie tackles Sterling, dragging him away from Betty as Sterling demands the help of his robots. The machine springs to life; at the same time, Jamie shoves Sterling into a glassy box of energy—the time-travel booth. And then Sterling is gone.

Betty is home by four, well before dinner and before her husband gets home. She puts away her typewriter and her sci-fi magazines; but then she runs to the living room, where a square of carpet is crushed down as by something heavy. Then, realizing that there is “no time like the present”, she returns to the typewriter and begins to write.

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One of the strengths of the Short Trips range of audio dramas is the way in which it gives us the perspectives of bystanders. Many of these stories are told from the point of view of various minor characters who are caught up in the Doctor’s adventures. Unlike the Doctor’s companions, they don’t get the full picture; they don’t see the Doctor’s battles from beginning to end, and they often don’t know what is at stake. And yet, somehow, the Doctor always makes them feel fully engaged and involved—put another way, he makes their contributions matter. Or, as the Eleventh Doctor will one day say:

Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. You know that in nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before!

In that regard, this story shines. The point-of-view character is a housewife named Betty, who has aspirations of publishing her science-fiction stories (a dream with which I can sympathize). She’s apparently average in every way; but the Doctor sees potential in her, and she in turn saves the day, or at least helps to do so. In the course of it, she does something very Doctor-ish: she shows a great deal of sympathy even for the unrepentant villain of the piece. In the end, the experience moves her to continue chasing her own dream after she returns home.

More interestingly, this story is a tribute to The Twilight Zone, the well-known science-fiction anthology series hosted by Rod Serling. The story’s frame sequences take place on October 2, 1959 (I’m using the American form of date notation because the story is set in America, and uses that format internally), which is the premiere date of the original Twilight Zone television series. As well, the story is framed by a voiceover narration similar in tone to Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations for the series. Although this story lacks the typical Twilight Zone twist ending, it mimics the format in other ways; it begins with a rather ordinary protagonist who is suddenly thrust into a situation far outside her experience, and hinges on her reaction to the situation. Also, the series’ pitch teleplay, The Time Element, is a time-travel story; that story did not ultimately become the pilot episode, but it stands as part of The Twilight Zone’s history. (The Time Element was eventually produced as an episode of a different series, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.)

Within the story there are some subtle references to the Twilight Zone pilot episode, broadcast on the date above, titled Where is Everybody? Zoe appears in Betty’s apartment, disoriented and wearing a spacesuit; the episode’s protagonist, Mike Ferris, appears suddenly, disoriented and wearing a flight suit. Ferris is found to be inside a glass sensory-deprivation booth; there is a very similar booth in this story, serving as a time machine. The closing narration refers to “the barrier of loneliness”; the villain of our story, Sterling (also a reference to Twilight Zone’s host, Rod Serling) is arguably a solitary man, and his defeat hinges on Betty’s comfort in the face of that isolation. Even the title, The Five Dimensional Man, is a reference to the opening voiceover of The Twilight Zone:

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call, The Twilight Zone. (Ironically, the pilot episode referred to it as the “sixth” dimension; this was changed to “fifth” for all subsequent episodes.)

Overall, I was pleased with this story, especially when viewing it through the lens of its Twilight Zone tribute. It’s weak on continuity—but then, most Short Trips seem to be so. At the same time, it stands well on its own, and is a cozy—if slightly oblique—look into the Doctor’s life. Not bad for an opener to this volume—well, as much as it IS an opener, given that we’ve temporarily skipped part one of the First Doctor’s story.

Next time: We’ll look at Pop-Up, featuring the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. See you there!

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

Short Trips Volume 3

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Novel Review: The Eight Doctors

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

Eight Doctors 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Doctors 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio Drama Review: The Way Forwards

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we continue with Short Trips, Volume 2, listening to The Way Forwards, by Steve Case. This story is read by David Troughton, and features the Second Doctor and Victoria Waterfield. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 2

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

In 1986, a young boy named Sherman Pegg has entered a high school science fair, though he didn’t want to. As he sits at his table and mulls over his mother’s orders to be here, and his desire to go buy a book instead, he waits for the judges to come by and judge his project, along with the 359 others in the room. He is sure it doesn’t matter; Spragg High School always wins, as they have an alumnus on the judging committee. Ah, well, competition for second place–! He is sure he won’t win.

It’s unfortunate, too, because he had actually done something interesting—he had come up with a theory of time travel. Famous physicists like Einstein had been close, but he was closer. Still, it was a bit strange; the ideas had just come to him in the middle of the night. It was a great project, he knew, but it was so far above the usual concepts of time that no one would understand it! And as luck would have it, the judges come by at that moment, and move on without a word.

He had described his project as “A Way-Forward Machine”, but had struggled to visually represent it. But, what was this? A strange, little, black-coated man and a young woman—both practically in costume—wandered by his table; and Sherman realizes at once that the man gets it! He understands the project! The young man is surprised to see that Sherman, at the tender age of fifteen, understands the concepts. He introduces himself as the Doctor, and the girl as Victoria. Sherman haltingly explains his theory, and the Doctor offers a suggestion; he changes a section of the formula. Sherman is amazed to see that the new formula works—and suddenly, Sherman vanishes.

The Doctor is quite caught off guard. The items on the table are gone as well; and more things in the vicinity disappear—until they are left in an open field. Sherman, it seems, has understood the theory too well. The field changes to a parking lot, a forest on fire, a (mercifully brief) underwater scene, and then a field again. They hurry to the TARDIS.

Sherman, the Doctor explains, has created a paradox. He went back in time to avoid attending the fair; but that means he wouldn’t have met the Doctor, and the theory wouldn’t have allowed time travel. Now, as the boy tries to fix the problem, he makes things much, much worse. At the moment, the TARDIS is…nowhere.

As the Doctor manipulates the console, the TARDIS takes off, and then lands again. The Doctor and Victoria step out onto a flat black expanse of rock; the Doctor explains they haven’t actually moved at all. Ahead is the Summer Park Mall, where the science fair took place; in the distance is a veritable garden of crashed planes—or rather, many of the exact same plan. The rest of the town is buried in ice, though there is heat where they are. Intelligent gorillas sit outside the mall. The Doctor and Victoria head inside.

The mall is listing to the side, and every store is a bookstore, now closed. In the center of the mall, they find Sherman…or rather, they find several of him, at different ages and in different stages of dress. All of them look defeated.

The Doctor’s version of Sherman is in tears. He admits to breaking “it”—time itself. The Doctor acknowledges that Sherman had made a valiant effort to fix it all; and then he claims responsibility. He had given Sherman the formula, but had not expected him to understand it. Now he is willing to fix the mistake—if Sherman will come with them. The Doctor and Victoria take Sherman back to the TARDIS (where he pointedly does NOT comment on the oddity of the greater interior space). The Doctor offers to fix the mistakes, and then to help Sherman come up with a winning science fair idea.

Short Trips Volume 2 1

Many of these early short trips are small-scale stories, not just in their run time (16 minutes and 28 seconds, here), but in their scope. It’s not often, though, that we get a small-scale story with enormous implications. We have that here, as the Second Doctor helps a rather brilliant teenager with a science-fair project…and then the boy promptly upsets history. The boy, Sherman Pegg, has already made great mathematical strides toward a working theory of time travel; when the Second Doctor, on a whim, gives him the missing pieces of the formula, he expects the boy won’t be able to understand it. He quickly finds out how wrong he is, when the boy vanishes, his future self having built a working time machine. However, his first steps into the past cause him to have never attended the science fair, thus creating a paradox; and his continuing efforts to fix the problem only make it worse. The Doctor is forced to step in and set things right.

It’s a cozy little story, and it sounds innocuous enough. I can’t help wondering, though, if Sherman will retain the memories of the events. He may be scared to try again now, but what about adult Sherman, later on? Without actually saying so, the story manages to highlight the risk involved when races who lack the Time Lords’ rigid laws develop time travel (as if the long history of the Daleks isn’t enough to make that point already!). We often see the Time Lords as a stuffy bunch, and certainly the Doctor flouts their laws regularly; but those laws exist for a reason.

Again, this story is read by David Troughton, the son of Patrick Troughton, and he does a fine job with it. I don’t find him to be as convincing as, say, Frazer Hines; but I don’t think he is trying to be. I should point out that out loud, he refers to the story as The Way Forward, rather than the actual title of The Way Forwards; inconsequential, but those tiny mistakes seem to happen fairly often.

Once again, we lack continuity references. There are some real-world references to Einstein and string theory. I’d love to make a reference of Sherman’s “It’s bigger on the inside!” moment, but he doesn’t have one; it’s pointed out that he’s already seen more amazing things, and he doesn’t say the line.

Next time: We listen to one of my favorite Third Doctor short stories, Walls of Confinement! See you there.

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

Short Trips, Volume 2

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Audio Drama Review: A Stain of Red in the Sand

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we continue our look at Short Trips, Volume I with the Second Doctor’s entry, A Stain of Red in the Sand. Written by David A. McEwan, this story is read by David Troughton—son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton—and features the Second Doctor and Zoe (well, sort of—read on!). Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume I

A woman named Indigo romantically pursues—somewhat hopelessly, truth be told—a man named Roger. He is a sculptor, and quite devoted to his work, at which he is fairly talented; she isn’t sure if he is avoiding her attentions, or just too caught up to pay attention to her. Roger lives in a flat on the thirteenth floor of a council estate known to its residents as “The Slab”. On this day, Indigo goes to pay a visit to Roger; as she makes her way through the corridors, she takes note of a gaunt, somewhat inhuman figure in the shadows. Characters like this are spread throughout the estate; Roger calls them “Caretakers”, and they inspire an unease bordering on fear in Indigo. She hurriedly gets Roger to let her in.

Inside, he is working on a new sculpture. The figure takes the form of a young woman, one whose innocence, Indigo thinks, would have no place in this part of the world. Her name, says Roger, is Zoe. Indigo becomes irritated with Roger’s preoccupation with Zoe, and she makes her way to the kitchen—where a strange vista can be seen through the window. Here, and only here, a strange, sandy world can be glimpsed…with its twin suns making it plain that it is not Earth on the other side.

She isn’t startled, because it isn’t new to her. Some time ago, she became aware of this situation…and of the insectoid Caretakers who have broken through from that other place, and now infest the building with their strange nests and colonies. She has heard of (or possibly met—she doesn’t say) a man, then, who claimed he could sort it out—a man called the Doctor. She has not seen any sign of him since, except for footprints in the sand outside the window. Roger, for his part, absently comments that the Doctor must be fighting evil somewhere.

Indigo watches the statue as Roger forms it. She examines the strange, reddish clay that he uses…and is repulsed to find that it has a texture like meat. Roger is not taken aback by this; he refers to it as “memory meat”. He insists that he must finish the statue, so as to save Zoe’s life. Sickened, Indigo storms out of the apartment. On the way out, she encounters an infant Caretaker—and decides she doesn’t care what happens anymore.

However, a few days later, she is back at the kitchen window, having decided she can’t stay away. The statue is now finished, and covered with a sheet; Roger warns her not to uncover it, as Zoe is resting—“She’s been through a lot the past few days”, he says. Indigo looks out the window and sees, in the distance, the Doctor, dirty and weary; she reflects that he had lost a lot in his life. He sees her, and she waves to him, though she immediately rethinks it. She sees a huge insect—a Caretaker, its form unmasked—face the Doctor, and she is sure it is about to kill him; but she sees them converse instead. She runs back and asks Roger to help the Doctor; but he is now asleep on the sofa, worn out from his work on the statue. She realizes that the cloth over the statue is moving, as if the statue was breathing; but she finds it doesn’t frighten her. She joins Roger on the sofa, and falls asleep; but before she sleeps, she tells Zoe to go and help the Doctor. In her slumber, she hears the statue walking into the kitchen.

In the morning, the statue is gone. Roger is happy; he claims to have saved Zoe. The kitchen window is ajar; in the sand below, a red bloodstain is visible. Of the Doctor, the Caretaker, and Zoe, there is no sign. Though Indigo is a little frightened, she wonders—with some hope—if the Doctor won his fight; Roger assures her that he did. They finish the day watching the sun set on that alien world…and in the Slab, the Caretakers are gone. The remaining clay—the “memory meat”—rots away, as the memories it held are no longer present.

Short Trips Volume I 1

Here we have an oddity among Doctor Who audio dramas: a Doctor-lite episode. It’s become customary for every television series to have such a story (as well as a companion-lite story), for the rather boring reason that it allows for double production in at least one block; but the audio medium usually doesn’t suffer such constraints. Therefore, if it happens in the audio world, it’s usually an artistic choice. (I would suggest that it’s also because of the constraint imposed by the fact that the Second Doctor’s actor is long deceased, but I think that’s irrelevant in the Short Trips format, where it’s seldom the Doctor’s actor doing the reading anyway.)

The TARDIS wiki makes a point of comparing this story to Blink, the first Doctor-lite episode (well, in the modern series at any rate; let’s not forget Mission to the Unknown, way back in the first Doctor’s era!). It’s a fair enough comparison for establishing the Doctor-lite format; however, this story is a further degree removed from the Doctor by its point of view. Its point-of-view character, Indigo, isn’t directly assisting the Doctor; nor is it established whether she ever met him directly (she may have been told about him by Roger) prior to seeing him through the window near the end of the story.. Instead, she’s simply bearing witness to the events, and to the efforts of her would-be boyfriend, the sculptor Roger, to assist the Doctor. Thus, we only get an oblique view of the action here, and much is left unexplained. We don’t know what the Caretakers—the villains of the story—intended to accomplish; we don’t know how the Doctor fought them, or how he triumphed. We don’t know what Zoe’s involvement in the story may be, except that she needed to be somehow rescued by Roger through the medium of his sculpture. We don’t know where his sculpting materials—the disgustingly-named “memory meat”—came from, or what exactly it is. We don’t know where the titular bloodstain in the sand came from, or to which character it belongs (the wiki theorizes that it is Zoe’s blood, but there’s no confirmation). We don’t know how Roger’s apartment window comes to be an interface with another world, or what becomes of it.

It’s worth mentioning that the wiki also suggests the story may be read metaphorically, a theory I would never have formulated on my own. In that view, the kitchen window is a television, playing a Doctor Who serial (one which doesn’t exist in the real world, incidentally). Roger would be a fan of the series, who allows it to distract him from his work and his girlfriend, Indigo; his statue is a fan work of Zoe. The Caretakers in the estate would be metaphors for other things hindering his work; and once he completes the statue, he can return to his relationship with Indigo, and they can watch the programme together. It’s an intriguing view, but I don’t care for it; first, it implies that Indigo is sharing in Roger’s Walter Mitty-esque fantasies, either as a form of condescension to him, or because of some sort of delusion; and second, it doesn’t explain what happens to the statue in the middle of the night. I find it more likely that the story is literal, but simply filtered through the view of Indigo, who is effectively a bystander. (The wiki suggests that, if the story is literal, it becomes comparable to the events of Planet of the Dead, if that story were told by, say, one of the UNIT soldiers on the scene.)

Because this story is at such a remove from the Doctor and his companions, I could find no real continuity references. It shares no other characters with other stories, and the Doctor and Zoe are only mentioned obliquely. Jamie, who would certainly have been traveling with the Doctor at this time, is not mentioned or seen at all; neither is the TARDIS.

Still, overall, it’s a good story, and a satisfying one. I tend to be a bit literal-minded myself, and don’t usually tolerate a lot of ambiguity in literature (the film version of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men will frustrate me forever, with its ambiguous ending); but here, it was very well executed. Given its very short length of approximately fifteen minutes (unusually short even for the Short Trips range), it didn’t promise much; but what it promised, it delivered. I do hope to see a more direct appearance of the Second Doctor the next time we get to him; but for now, this will do just fine.

Next time: We’ll visit the Third Doctor in part three of this Short Trips collection, A True Gentleman. See you there!

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

Short Trips, Volume I

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Prose Review: Fanwinked

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

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

Fanwinked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanwinked