New Series Review: The Waters of Mars

And, we’re back! Temporarily at least. I mentioned recently that I’m taking a hiatus from my regular reviews, mostly due to burnout. With this entry, I’m not promising an immediate and full return; but we’ll see what happens from here.

It’s been quite a while since we looked at the television series in these reviews. When we left off, I had just completed Planet of the Dead, the second of four specials leading up to the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration into the Eleventh. Today, we’ll continue with the third of the four specials, 2009’s very popular The Waters of Mars. Written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, this episode features no regular companion, but includes one-off companion Adelaide Brook, played by Lindsay Duncan. Let’s get started!

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

Still traveling without companions, the Tenth Doctor arrives on the planet Mars. Specifically, he has arrived just outside Sanctuary Base 6, humanity’s first colony on Mars. He is collected by a robot from the base—“Gadget”, as it is called—and escorted to the base commander, Adelaide Brook. When he realizes who she and her crew area, and what the date must be, he is alarmed, and tries to leave. The date is 21 November 2059; and history records that the base exploded on this date, killing the crew. The Doctor senses that it is a fixed point in history, and wants nothing to do with it, though it pains him to let them die.

Before he can leave, a new crisis presents itself. A member of the crew, Andy Stone, is no longer himself; an unknown entity has taken him over, and he is emitting large amounts of water from his body. He attacks another crewmember, Andy Cain, and knocks her out in the access corridor to the colony’s biodome. When the crew discovers this, Adelaide takes the Doctor’s spacesuit under the assumption that he is the source of the infection. With no choice, he goes with her to investigate, along with Gadget and the colony physician, Tarak Ital.

Conversing with Adelaide on the way, the Doctor becomes impressed with her drive and her thoughtfulness about the colony and its mission. However, he slips and speaks of her in the past tense, making her ponder his words. Meanwhile they find Maggie, who is unconscious with a cut on her head. Tarak summons the company nurse, Yuri Kerenski, who brings a medi-pack and a stretcher. Adelaide’s deputy, Ed Groom, arrives as well, having realized that Andy was the only other person present. If this wasn’t an accident, then it means Andy has gone berserk; but Adelaide dismisses Ed’s concerns and sends him back. However, shortly thereafter, Technician Steffi Ehrlich runs Andy’s growls through the computer, and determines it was Andy’s voice. She warns Adelaide by comlink.

Adelaide, the Doctor, and Tarak enter the biodome. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to reactivate the lights, making Adelaide wonder at him again. Meanwhile, back in quarantine in the colony sickbay, Maggie awakens with no memories; however, she is unknowingly carrying the virus. Yuri refuses to let her out until twenty-four hours have passed. Tarak finds Andy, who pours water on his head, infecting him with the virus. Tarak quickly becomes zombielike, as Andy has already been. Meanwhile, changes suddenly come over Maggie, transforming her into the same type of creature. The virus, speaking through her, expresses a desire to possess Earth with all its water. Yuri reports Maggie’s condition to Adelaide, and says she is exuding water from her mouth and body. Seconds later, the Doctor and Adelaide find Andy and Tarak, and discover their transformation. The Doctor and Adelaide run, managing to get back through the dome door and seal it; Andy sprays it with water and slams himself against it, trying to break through. In sickbay, Ed arrives to find Maggie doing the same thing in an attempt to escape quarantine. He confirms to Adelaide that Maggie is contained; Adelaide warns the survivors not to drink or touch the water. The Doctor reiterates that he must go and can’t stay to the end. However, Andy and Tarak attack the door and break through; the Doctor hotwires Gadget for increased speed; he and Adelaide ride it to safety, leaving a trail of fire behind them (and shocking Roman Groom, Gadget’s operator, in the process. They seal themselves inside the command dome, but the Doctor is not reassured; as he insists, water is patient, and always wins.

The Doctor and Adelaide rejoin the others in sickbay, and examine Maggie. He speaks a bit of ancient Martian, and Maggie seems to recognize it. Adelaide explains that they get their water from an ice field; the Doctor realizes the infection came from the ice, and is ancient indeed. The crew plan to escape in their shuttle, but the Doctor grimly tells them that they could be secretly carrying the infection, as it has proven that it can hide in a host until it’s ready to mutate them. All it would take is one drop to infect the Earth. Adelaide decides to inspect the ice field to try to learn more before they evacuate; against his better judgment, the Doctor follows her. Meanwhile, in the now-evacuated sickbay, Maggie steps up her efforts to escape; she takes out the security camera before escaping, and screams, provoking a reaction from the infected Andy and Tarak.

The Doctor tells Adelaide a bit about the Ice Warriors as they overlook the ice field in its dome. As they analyze the ice, Adelaide confronts him about his knowledge; the Doctor hedges a bit, but finally tells her about fixed points in time, and that the base is one of them. However, he denies knowledge of the base’s fate, and redirects her by mentioning something from Adelaide’s past: an encounter with a Dalek, and the deaths of her parents (during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, fifty years earlier). That story, which she has only told to her daughter, will inspire her granddaughter to lead humanity’s expansion to the stars—but only in the presence of Adelaide’s death on the base. When she asks why he is telling her this, he says it is as consolation.

They determine that the water was fine until the filter broke, allowing the virus in, just that morning. But, it would only have infected the biodome; the rest of the water would not be exchanged for another week; this means the others are not infected, and can leave. This prompts the Doctor to admit to Adelaide that it is their deaths that constitute the fixed point—she must die here, today, and he cannot interfere. This is something the time-sensitive Daleks would have sensed, as well, which is why it let her live in childhood. Angrily, she sends the Doctor away with his spacesuit.

However, before the crew can leave in the shuttle, Andy and Tarak climb the outside of the main dome and begin flooding it from above. As the water pours in, it infects Steffi Ehrlich, and then Roman. Roman warns the others to run, just before he transforms. Ed preps the shuttle for takeoff, but Maggie manages to infiltrate it and infect Ed. Before he can transform, he tells everyone goodbye, and triggers the self-destruct system. The shuttle explodes, trapping the virus, but also trapping the survivors. The Doctor escapes the blast, but is tortured by the suffering behind him…and he makes a fateful decision. He decides that, as he is the last of the Time Lords, the laws of Time belong to him—and he can make his own rules. He returns to save the crew.

Only Adelaide, Mia, and Yuri remain, and the base is collapsing. Adelaide tells him to save himself; he remarks about the prophecy of “four knocks” preceding his death, and insists it won’t be here and now. At that moment, Andy begins slamming his fist on the door; but after three knocks, the Doctor electrifies the door, cutting him off. The Doctor decides to heat the environment and boil the water, killing the virus. Adelaide reminds him of his own words about their deaths; he declares that the laws of Time will obey him.

An explosion destroys the environmental controls before he can act. His suit is damaged in the impact. He plans to get another from storage, but finds that section flooded. Maggie heads to the ice field and screams, cracking it; realizing the final death of the base is at hand, Adelaide activates the nuclear failsafe device under the base, planning to destroy the Flood even at the cost of their lives.

Taking his final chance, the Doctor deploys Gadget to the TARDIS, and remotely pilots it to the base. Just before the explosion, the Doctor brings the TARDIS inside and gets the survivors inside. Just after they escape, the explosion destroys the base, taking the Flood with it.

The TARDIS lands on Earth, near Adelaide’s home. In shock, Mia and Yuri run off. Adelaide demands to know what will happen to humanity’s future now, and the Doctor tries to justify his actions; he states that she can now inspire her granddaughter in person. He insists that he didn’t survive the Time War; he won it, and that makes him the “Time Lord Victorious”. He claims this new power will allow him to save influential people such as Adelaide, and also little people like Yuri and Mia; Adelaide rebukes his arrogance, insisting that he can’t decide who is important. She enters her house. The Doctor thinks all is well; but as he turns away, a laser blast is heard inside the house, and he realizes she has killed herself, undoing his changes. The fixed point, it seems, has reversed itself; though history records that Adelaide died on Earth, her granddaughter will still lead the way to the stars, based on stories of Adelaide’s heroism as told by Mia and Yuri.

The Doctor is struck with horror at what he is done, and knows there will be consequences. He sees a vision of Ood Sigma, and questions whether it is time for him to die. He stumbles in to the TARDIS, and hears the cloister bell ringing. He activates the controls, defiantly trying to put off his own death.

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The Waters of Mars was something quite different from the average Doctor Who episode, and it shows in the reception: the episode won a Hugo Award in 2010 for its writers. (I’m not making commentary there; I think the show in general is great, but it doesn’t usually win Hugos.) While it wasn’t the first story to mention fixed points in time, it was perhaps the first in the television series to explore the concept so deeply. As a consequence, it also introduced a new (and mercifully brief) direction for the character of the Tenth Doctor: the much-debated “Time Lord Victorious”. Interestingly, it’s also a Mars story that doesn’t deal with the Ice Warriors, although it mentions them in passing.

Prior to rewatching for the sake of this review, it’s been a few years since I last watched this episode. I had gotten impatient with it in the interim, and developed a fairly negative opinion of it. Chiefly that is due to the Time Lord Victorious arc. This is a subject that falls into the category of “small issues that get an undue amount of attention”, at least in my opinion; and I was frustrated with the way that it seems to be such a popular subject for debate, when it essentially begins and ends within ten minutes of a single episode. Now, rewatching, I realize that it’s unfair to judge the episode badly for that reason, when in fact it’s a great story, with a great presentation. I do remember being very impressed with it the first time I watched it, not long after it premiered. It’s one of the best examples of the base-under-siege format in NuWho; it layers body horror atop that format, which is usually a good strategy; you have attack from without and from within at the same time, thus upping the tension. (For reference, compare The Seeds of Doom in the Fourth Doctor Era, which does the same thing via the Krynoid.)

The episode is an early example of a companion being the voice of reason over an out-of-control Doctor. This is something that we’ll see a little more under the Eleventh Doctor; but it becomes a prominent theme with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald (though I hate to admit it, because I can’t stand Clara in that time period—it kills me to admit she may be right on some occasions). The Waters of Mars is more remarkable yet, because it has the companion doing so at great personal cost, not from a sense of heroism, but simply because it’s what must be done.

My only real complaint about the episode is that it serves as a hasty patch for an issue the production team likely didn’t see coming. I can’t verify, but I suspect that Russell Davies formulated the ending he wanted for the Tenth Doctor’s era (as we’ll see in the final special), and then realized that it was going to require considerable setup. There wasn’t enough time left to execute that setup properly, and so it was squeezed into a single episode. The Time Lord Victorious arc was a good innovation (all debate about it aside, anyway), but it really needed more development time in order to set up for the next story. With a little more time, we could also have seen a little more of the aftermath of this choice, in the Doctor’s attempts to put off facing his death. Another minor issue: at this point, we had reason to think that the Doctor still had two more lives (having not discovered the War Doctor yet), and so his reluctance to regenerate seems less warranted than it would ultimately prove to be. Admittedly, this is partly because the Tenth Doctor’s life had been particularly short compared to his other lives, but it would require some studious observation to realize that fact.

Some continuity references: Fixed points have been referenced in too many stories to mention; however, the concept in a more generalized form dates back at least as far as The Aztecs, where the First Doctor was reluctant to tamper with history. That was his general stance on all historic events, but with good reason, knowing that some events MUST not be changed. The Doctor mentions his visit to Pompeii (The Fires of Pompeii; he has been there many times, but is almost certainly referring to this episode). Adelaide Brook encountered a Dalek during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. “Knock four times” is a reference to the prophecy revealed in Planet of the Dead. The Doctor’s space suit was first seen in The Impossible Planet. The Doctor mentions the Ice Warriors, first seen in the serial of the same name. He previously electrified a bulkhead door in The Ark in Space. Adelaide mentions an “oil apocalypse” (The Infinite Quest). The Doctor sees a vision of Ood Sigma (Planet of the Ood). The Time Lord Victorious arc continued in an alternate timeline in the comic Four Doctors. The cloister bell rings to represent the Doctor’s impending death, something last seen in Logopolis. The Doctor’s line about the laws of Time—“And they will obey me!”—is reminiscent of the Master’s frequent “and you will obey me!”.

Overall, I think it’s a fantastic episode, and the high point of the “year of specials” leading up to the regeneration. (Or perhaps the low point, from the Doctor’s point of view.) Unfortunately, in terms of argument, it gets a bit overshadowed by the next special, the much-debated The End of Time. It’s still very much worth a watch, however, especially if you’ve never seen it.

Next time (whenever that may be): We’ll wrap up the Tenth Doctor’s era with The End of Time, a serial that’s either loved or hated. After that, we’ll look ahead to the Eleventh Doctor’s era with The Eleventh Hour. See you there!

Please note that all previously-cited links to Dailymotion have been removed by the user at that site. Doctor Who may be viewed on Amazon Prime and Britbox.

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New Series Rewatch: Planet of the Dead

We’re back, after a VERY long break, with our Doctor Who new series rewatch! When we last watched, we looked at The Next Doctor, the 2008 Christmas Special. Today, we’re resuming with the first of the “year of specials”, 2009’s Planet of the Dead, guest starring Michelle Ryan as one-off companion Lady Christina de Souza. Written by Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts, this story remains the television series’ only Easter special; other episodes have been broadcast near the Easter holiday, but this story takes place on Easter Sunday 2009 (which actually causes a bit of confusion, as we’ll see later). Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched this episode!

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At London’s International Gallery museum, a talented thief takes advantage of the night shift to pull off a daring, Mission Impossible-esque robbery, stealing a thousand-year-old golden goblet worth millions.  She purposely alerts the guards and trips the alarms as she retreats through the roof.  In the street, she takes off her mask as her accomplice is arrested.  The thief, Lady Christina de Souza, takes a bus to escape, but is seen doing so, and the police follow the bus.  Meanwhile, she is met onboard by the Tenth Doctor.

The Doctor is using a small sensor to track rhondium particles, in the process drawing some critical looks from other passengers. He gets more than he bargained for when the bus passes through a tunnel, and disappears in front of the police, who then cordon off the area.  The bus takes heavy damage as it passes through some sort of portal, bursting windows and bending the frame.  When it crashes to a stop, the Doctor sees that they are elsewhere: it is now daytime, and instead of London, a sandy desert surrounds them.

He explains to the passengers that they are on a different world, and throws a handful of sand into the invisible portal, allowing them to see it via ripples in the air. When he is accused of causing it via the rhondium detector, he explains the full situation: he was tracking a hole in reality, which suddenly expanded just before the bus went through it.  The bus driver declares that they can return the same way, and runs for the wormhole; the Doctor tries to stop him, but he doesn’t listen.  As he enters, the passengers see his body burst into flames.  His bare, scorched skeleton comes out the other side, in the London tunnel.  The police, knowing they are in over their heads, call in UNIT, under the direction of Captain Erisa Magambo.

The Doctor tries to calm the passengers, and introduces himself to them: two younger men named Nathan and Barclay, an older woman named Angela Whittaker, and a couple named Louis and Carmen. Carmen surprises him by somehow knowing that the portal was placed deliberately; he realizes that she has a low-level psychic talent, a gift of foresight.  Lou confirms that she has had it all her life, and uses it for small benefits, such as winning ten pounds on the lottery each week.  She tells the Doctor that “Something is coming, riding on the wind and shining…death is coming.”  This upsets the others, and the Doctor has to calm them again, and get them to focus on making it home; and he promises to get them there.  Meanwhile, UNIT arrives and takes charge of the tunnel scene Earthside, and prepares to fire on anything hostile that comes through.

After some verbal sparring, the Doctor and Christina introduce themselves more fully, though each of them clearly have secrets to hide. They are distracted when they see storm clouds approaching—possibly a sandstorm, but possibly not.  They hurry back to the bus, and the Doctor borrows Barclay’s phone and alters it with his sonic screwdriver.  He then—after a small mixup—calls UNIT, and gets put through to Captain Magambo.  He explains the situation, and she connects him to the scientific advisor onsite, one Malcolm Taylor, who just happens to be an enormous, awestruck fan of the Doctor.  He is already at work; he has an unorthodox, but original, technique for measuring the wormhole—and it is growing.

The Doctor hangs up, and sets the group to digging out the wheels so they can drive the bus back through. Its metal shell serves as a Farraday cage, protecting them; even with damage, it should be sufficient.  Still, it won’t run, and so the Doctor and Christina go exploring for anything useful.  The storm continues to approach, and looks to be made of some kind of metal.  Carmen’s visions are increasing, telling her this storm devours.

An alien resembling a humanoid fly captures the Doctor and Christina and takes them to its crashed ship, meeting another of its kind there. The Doctor can converse with them, and tells Christina they are Tritovores, a harmless race.  When they realize that the passengers are also trapped, they become cooperative.  He fixes enough of the ship’s power to run scanners and a probe, which he sends to check on the storm.  He also finds they are in the Scorpio Nebula, on the planet San Helios, far from Earth indeed.  It used to be a heavily populated, advanced world, with cities; but now it is all desert.  Christina questions the Doctor’s familiarity with all of this, and he reveals that he is a Time Lord.  The planet, it seems, died just in the last year, with its population of 100 billion and all their works turning to dust.

Malcolm calls; the wormhole is now four miles wide, though still invisible. All air traffic has been stopped.  The call is interrupted by one from Nathan, who says that the bus is free, but the fuel has run out.  The Doctor drops the call when the probe reaches the storm.  The storm turns out to be a swarm of billions of carnivorous creatures, like massive flying stingrays with metal exoskeletons—and they eat the probe.  He realizes their collective velocity, increasing as they circle the planet, is creating the wormhole—this is how they travel from world to world, consuming everything as they go.  Soon they will pass through to Earth; their bodies are like living Farraday cages, protecting them as they do so.

The Doctor can save the humans and the Tritovores, but to do so, he needs the Tritovore ship’s crystalline power source. It is at the bottom of a gravity well engine, but the systems are down, and won’t bring it up.  While the Doctor tries to get it working, Christina uses her belaying system from the museum to rope down into the pit and retrieve the crystal.  The Doctor catches her just in time to disable a security grid before it would electrocute her.  Unknown to her, one of the stingray creatures is trapped in the shaft, and her presence awakens it; she gets the crystal, but the creature chases her up the shaft, and she is barely able to reactivate the security grid in time to stop it.  Meanwhile, the Doctor has gone through her rucksack, and found the goblet, which he recognizes from the court of King Athelstan a thousand years ago…but he doesn’t remember her being there.  When he confronts her, she admits to stealing it—or “liberating” it, as she puts it.  He doesn’t approve, but lets it go, admitting that he once stole his TARDIS.  Meanwhile, the creature starts eating its way through the ship, and they are forced to escape.  One Tritovore returns to shut down the systems, and is eaten; the other fires on the creature before being eaten as well.

Back at the bus, the Doctor tosses the crystal, saving only the anti-gravity clamps to which it was mounted. He puts one on each wheel of the bus, and uses the last on the steering wheel to tie the system together.  He calls Malcolm and tells him to prepare to close the wormhole.  Malcolm has a technique in mind.

The alien systems aren’t compatible with the bus, and it is not working well. The Doctor needs something “soft, malleable, non-corrosive and conductive” to bridge the two systems; Christina reluctantly gives him the golden goblet, warning him to be careful, as it is worth eighteen million pounds.  He promises he will—and then pounds it into deformity so as to make it fit into the system.  Christina tells him she hates him.

Magambo tells Malcolm to close the wormhole, despite the fact that the Doctor hasn’t returned. When he refuses, she draws her gun on him; but even so, he refuses, to her shock.  Meanwhile, the argument gives the Doctor all the time he needs, and he gets the bus into the air.  He takes it through the wormhole with the swarm immediately behind; three stingrays make it through before Malcolm gets it closed.  UNIT manages to shoot down two of the stingrays with missiles, but the Doctor is forced to handle the third; he rams it with the bus, stunning it enough for UNIT to take it out.  Christina kisses the Doctor and retracts her statement about hating him.

The bus lands near the tunnel, and the passengers are taken to be examined before release. Malcolm at last meets the Doctor face to face, and proclaims his undying love…or hero worship, at least.  Magambo salutes the Doctor even though he doesn’t like it.  He warns her that the creatures will create more portals; they can’t help it.  However, he will try to direct them to uninhabited worlds.  He suggests that she hire Nathan and Barclay, who were especially helpful in a crisis; Magambo says she will consider it.  She also presents the TARDIS, having found it on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.  The Doctor declines to stay and help with the paperwork, and the two part ways.

Christina, however, is not going to be freed. She runs to the Doctor, and asks to travel with him, but he turns her down, saying he will never take anyone with him again, having lost them all in the past.  The police arrive and arrest her for the museum theft.  The Doctor prepares to leave, but Carmen stops him and warns him that his “song is ending”.  She tells him that “it is returning. It is returning through the dark, and then Doctor…oh, but then…he will knock four times.”  The Doctor is disturbed by this prophecy.

As a last gesture, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock Christina’s handcuffs. She makes her escape and runs for the bus; locking the police out, she takes off in it.  The detective in charge threatens the Doctor with arrest; the Doctor comments that he’ll “just step in this police box and arrest myself.”  He watches Christina take off, and then returns to the TARDIS to leave.

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A good Doctor Who special is entertaining above all else. Occasionally we’ll get a continuity-defining moment, but we don’t expect that from a serial; we come here to have fun. Planet of the Dead certainly delivers on that goal. It’s not comical in the same sense as some audio dramas (Bang-Bang-A-Boom!, which I’ll be reviewing soon, comes to mind), but it’s upbeat and lighthearted even while dealing with a potentially world-ending threat—something, I might add, that Doctor Who does better than any other series, in my opinion. There are certainly somber moments, like the prophecies about the Doctor’s future (“He will knock four times”), but they’re few and far between.

The Davies era seemed to have a knack for picking one-off and short-term companions. Captain Jack Harkness, as short as his tenure was, became a veritable legend; Adam Mitchell, while by no means good, plays his intended role perfectly; Astrid Peth is charming in her position as temporary companion, and it’s a shame she had to die. Jackson Lake and Rosita were immensely fun, even if their episode has picked up a fair amount of criticism. Here, Lady Christina de Souza, played by Michelle Ryan, is excellent. She’s a combination of Ethan Hunt and Lara Croft, but with more class than either of them. One would think it would play as a string of clichés, but it doesn’t come across that way. She’s correct when she tells the Doctor, at the end, that they would have made a great team; he’s equally correct when he tells her that they already did. With all that said, I have no particular desire to see her return, not because she’s a bad character, but because some performances would just simply be hard to top. She would be not nearly as effective were she a regular companion, although I concede that she would have potential for growth (beginning as a criminal, as she does).

Recently someone posed the question of the differences between UNIT in the Davies era and the Moffat era. I didn’t weigh in at that time, but I’ve given it a bit of thought since then, and I think this episode highlights the problem with the RTD era. It’s an easy distinction: UNIT is best when it has strong characters. I suppose that observation seems elementary, but it’s no less accurate for that. In the classic series, UNIT was carried on the strength of the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, Mike Yates, and (to a lesser degree) Jo Grant and Liz Shaw. Others came and went, but we don’t remember them nearly as fondly, and we don’t look at their episodes as favorably—in DWM’s 2014 episode ranking, Battlefield, featuring Brigadier Winifred Bambera and no familiar UNIT staff, ranked 159 out of 241. The Moffat era gave us strong UNIT figures, or at least memorable ones, with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Osgood. The Davies era did nothing of the sort; the UNIT staff were different in every appearance, and no one stood out as memorable. This episode is a great example of the kind of missed opportunities that abounded; Malcolm Taylor, the scientific advisor, could easily have been a good recurring character (and indeed, he gets a mention, but not an appearance, in The Day of the Doctor), but it was too little, too late. Thus, UNIT feels like an awkward adjunct to the series rather than one of its staples.

In my introduction, I mentioned some confusion regarding the in-universe date of this story. The events of The Stolen Earth, which are mentioned here, take place in May-June 2009, which would make this story occur in 2010, as we know it occurs on Easter. That timing is established in a novel, not in the episode itself. However, that would create a conflict with the upcoming Christmas special, The End of Time, which clearly takes place on Christmas 2009; this story cannot take place after The End of Time, because –among other reasons—an ad on the side of the bus mentions a company owned by billionaire Joshua Naismith, who is ruined in the events of The End of Time. The moral of the story: take any dates from other media with a grain of salt. (Or perhaps it just doesn’t matter—it’s your decision.)

Continuity references: There’s some discussion by bus passengers of the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. The Doctor refers back to Midnight when he talks about the humans on the bus blaming him for their situation. He also mentions the K1 robot (Robot) when talking to Malcolm about UNIT’s files on him. Among Carmen’s prophecies, she tells the Doctor that “your song is ending”; he was also given this message in Planet of the Ood. Christina makes reference to an economic crash in 2008, which features into the audio drama Situation Vacant by way of Theo Lawson, the teenager who caused the crash. Malcolm’s reference to the “Bernard”, a custom unit of measurement, is a bit of a convoluted reference; he states that it refers to Professor Bernard Quatermass, who is fictional in the Doctor Who universe as he is in ours; however, there have been previous references to the Professor and his agency, the British Rocket Group, explicitly in Remembrance of the Daleks, and implicitly in Nightshade, where the titular Professor Nightshade was loosely based on Quatermass. (One day I’ll watch some of these Quatermass serials about which I’ve heard so much…) The TARDIS is found in the gardens of Buckingham Palace; his relationship with the Queen has been hinted in previous stories, including Silver Nemesis and Voyage of the Damned. The Doctor makes an oblique reference to Donna Noble, noting that a friend once called him “Spaceman”. He mentions having been to the end of the universe (Utopia).

Overall: A fun story, and that’s good enough—but we also get some dark hints of the end that is rapidly approaching. Our next installment won’t be so much fun.

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Next time: We’ll check out a well-known story—and a dark moment for the Doctor—in The Waters of Mars. See you there!

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

Planet of the Dead

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New Series Rewatch: The Next Doctor

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

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched this episode!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Doctor 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Doctor 3

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

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

The Next Doctor

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

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

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!

Stolen Earth 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journey's End 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stolen earth 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journey's End 2

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

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

The Stolen Earth

Journey’s End (part 1)

Journey’s End (part 2)

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Entities and Alternate Timelines: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Four, Part Four

We’re back, with our new series rewatch! Today we’re continuing Series Four, with this series’ companion-lite and Doctor-lite episodes, Midnight and Turn Left. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not viewed these episodes!

Midnight 1

Midnight:  The Doctor and Donna are vacationing on the crystalline planet of Midnight. The planet is flooded with x-tonic radiation, which will kill any living thing; therefore everything must be sealed in airtight facilities.  Donna is relaxing by an indoor pool, while the Doctor leaves on a bus tour to see the Sapphire Waterfall.  What could possibly go wrong?

The bus’s other passengers include a Professor Hobbes, going along to study the waterfall; Hobbes’ assistant, Dee Dee; the Cane Family, composed of Val, Biff, and their son Jethro; a businesswoman named Sky Silvestry, and a hostess (whose name is not given).  The bus is diverted to an alternate route due to a diamond fall on the road; the route will take about four hours.  The Doctor disables the bus’s rather irritating video entertainment system, forcing the passengers to talk to each other.  He enjoys the conversation himself, though sometimes confusing his travel companions with talk of other universes.  Dee Dee at one point talks about the lost moon of Poosh, which she has researched, leading to her selection by Hobbes as his assistant (although he essentially uses her as an errand girl).  Hobbes gives an impromptu presentation (complete with visuals!) about the planet Midnight, which has no known native life due to the radiation.  The strange circumstances mean that no one has really ever set foot on the planet; even the resort is prefabricated, having been landed intact on the planet.

The bus stops early, for reasons unknown.  The Doctor uses his psychic paper to pose as an agent of the resort’s insurance company, and gets into the cockpit.  The driver and mechanic insist there is nothing wrong with the bus, and they cannot account for the stop.  They open the window’s outer shutter briefly to check the landscape; it is beautiful but barren.  However, the mechanic believes he sees something approaching, before the shutter closes.  They have summoned a rescue vehicle, however, and now the passengers must wait.  The Doctor calms the other passengers, and assures them they will be safe; the bus uses an air recycling system, so they will not run out while they wait.

Something knocks on the hull. The Doctor calms everyone again, and Biff knocks on the door to show that the structure is sturdy; the knocking from outside repeats his pattern.  Hobbes insists nothing can be out there, but no one believes him, and they begin to panic as the knocking continues.  It moves around the hull, finally reaching a now-hysterical Sky.  It ends with a dent in the door beside her, and the lights go out; the bus rocks violently.  A screen comes on behind the Doctor briefly shows an image of Rose Tyler trying—and failing—to get the Doctor’s attention.  The hostess gives out flashlights, and Biff notices that the seats near Sky have been ripped up; Sky herself seems traumatized.  The hostess tries to check on the driver and mechanic, but when she opens the door, she finds the cabin has been ripped off, and radiation is outside.  She manages to close the door before anyone can be hurt.

The Doctor checks on Sky, who begins behaving strangely.  She repeats what anyone says to her.  The Doctor tests her on harder phrases, and finds she can do even lengthy statements perfectly, even if speaking over the other person.  The Doctor speculates that she has been taken over by the entity that was outside on the hull.  By now, as the backup generator comes on and the lights return, Sky is speaking simultaneously with everyone who speaks.  The other passengers want to throw her out, but the Doctor stops them; he thinks the entity is learning.  The passengers turn on him a bit when he won’t reveal his name or world of origin; they suggest throwing him out too if her interferes.  Suddenly, Sky stops repeating everyone else, and only focuses on the Doctor.  He suddenly realizes that now she is saying his words before he says them.

He is now the one doing the repeating, though he seems to be fighting it.  The passengers argue about whether the entity has possessed him, or whether—as he had previously suggested—it is simply stealing his voice.  They decide to throw the Doctor out, as Sky—with the Doctor repeating—encourages them; and Biff and Hobbes drag him to the door.  Sky seems to have recovered somewhat now, and tells them that the entity gets inside human heads.  The hostess catches her out, though; she is using phrases (Allons-y and Molto Bene) peculiar to the Doctor, indicating the entity is still in her, and she has in fact stolen the Doctor’s voice.  Sky realizes that she knows.  The hostess grabs Sky and sacrifices herself to drag the woman out the door and into the radiation, killing them both.

As the Doctor slowly recovers, the passengers wait in awkward tension for rescue.  As the rescue bus arrives, he realizes that no one knew the hostess’s name.  He meets Donna at the resort, though sadly.    Later they talk about the creature, what it was and where it come from, whether it lived or whether there are more.  He decides to inform the resort owners, and to suggest that they leave Midnight permanently, giving it back its peace.  Donna asks the Doctor what it was like without a voice, and he replies with “Molto bene”; she repeats the words, startling him, and he asks her never to do that.

Midnight 2

Midnight takes home the trophy for “Creepiest Doctor Who Episode”. The classic series never really tried for this type of psychological horror (although they did try to be scary in other ways on multiple occasions), and though the revived series sometimes tries, it has yet to top this masterpiece. It’s consistently one of the highest recommended episodes of the revived series, and it’s not hard to see why. If I had to compare it a movie, the one that leaps to mind is M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil, but without the twist ending; Shyamalan’s movies catch a lot of flak, and that one is no exception, but I’m talking about its premise more than the execution. Like this episode, it involves several people trapped in a small space with inconsistent lighting…and one is not at all what he or she seems. I do think this episode does it better, however.

It’s not often we get to see the Doctor actually overwhelmed by a situation. He usually has a trick up his sleeve, or knowledge that someone else is in a position to use, or…something, anything. Let’s be completely honest, though: Here, the Doctor loses. His usual methods are wrong; there’s no saving or negotiating with the disembodied creature. He’s caught completely off guard when it takes hold of him, and he is completely stripped of anything that might be used to get him out of the situation. There’s no TARDIS, no companion, nowhere to run; he has no knowledge of the thing he’s fighting. The only reason—the ONLY reason—that he survives at all is that someone else sacrifices herself. At the end, he is haunted by all of this, and carries that trauma out of the episode.

The Midnight entity—for lack of a better term—fascinates me. We often get disembodied villains and possessions in Doctor Who, but we usually get some resolution. We know, for example, the origins of the Warp Core in Dust Breeding, and we know what came of it. As for the Midnight Entity, we just…don’t know. Where did it come from? Is it native to the planet? Was it always disembodied? What did it want? It seems to want people to die in the radiation, but why? What’s in it for the entity? Does it have a plan? Did it survive when its host died? We just have no idea. Perhaps it’s better that way; not every mystery has to be solved—that’s good storytelling. But I can’t help wondering anyway.

This is the first “companion-lite” episode, unless one counts Love and Monsters, in which both Rose Tyler and the Doctor only appeared briefly. We’ve had a few Doctor-lite episodes thus far, and will have one again with the next episode. I can’t complain; Donna’s reactions to things have been carefully cultivated all seasons, and her peak, if you will, is about to happen in the next episode; this situation would have required too much from her, and would have made the next episode feel anti-climax by comparison. This episode feels very brief; it moves quickly, and there’s enough tension to make you forget the time, so it feels like it passes quickly. That’s okay, though; the story is told perfectly in the allotted time. It is and remains one of my favorite episodes, and competes with Turn Left and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead for best story of Series Four, in my opinion.

Some continuity references: The Doctor has encountered endangered shuttle buses on alien worlds before (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) and will again (Planet of the Dead). Rose appears on a screen, but the Doctor misses it; she appeared as such before (The Poison Sky; this is also part of the series arc). The mention of the lost moon of Poosh is a part of the series arc, soon to be resolved. The Doctor knocks four times on the bus wall, a bit of early foreshadowing of his regeneration (Planet of the Dead for the first mention of the related prophecy, and The End of Time for the regeneration); this also echoes the Master’s drumbeats, as he demonstrated in The Sound of Drums by knocking on the tabletop. He mentions a friend in a different universe (Rose in Doomsday; the wiki also suggests this could refer to Romana in E-Space in Warrior’s Gate). He mentions previous companions Rose, Martha, Donna (still current, of course), as well as the TARDIS and the Medusa Cascade (which has been mentioned many times, and will be seen in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End). He uses his John Smith alias (many past appearances), but to less than stellar success. Not continuity, but worth noting: Professor Hobbes is played by David Troughton, son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton (no relation to this episode’s director, Alice Troughton). This is not his first appearance; he appeared at a young age for a cameo in The War Games and in The Curse of Peladon, and has voice acted often for Big Finish Productions. Had this episode been aired as originally planned (as #8 of the series), it would have been the fiftieth story of the revived series; The War Games, Troughton’s first appearance, was the fiftieth story of the classic series. Unfortunately the order was changed, though it remains the fiftieth revived-series story to be filmed. This episode also does not feature the TARDIS, either inside or outside, the first since Genesis of the Daleks to not include it.

Turn Left 1

Turn Left:  In an alien marketplace, a fortune teller reads predicts Donna’s future.  In the process, she discovers the event that led to Donna meeting the Doctor.  She mentions being in the car with her mother at a T-intersection; Sylvia tried to persuade Donna to turn right to seek a permanent job, but Donna chose to turn left and go to her newly-acquired temp job at H.C. Clements, where she would later meet the Doctor.  The fortune teller asks what would have happened if she turned right, and Donna feels something crawl onto her back.  Under the fortune teller’s power, the past changes, causing a truck to cut off Donna’s route momentarily; in that time, Sylvia persuades her, and she turns right instead of left.

The next scene shows the Christmas party at Donna’s new job, when the Racnoss Webstar attacks.  The Webstar is destroyed by the army, though without the superlaser that was originally used at the behest of Harold Saxon; many people die.  One of the partygoers notices something terrible on Donna’s back.  Donna runs to the Thames, near where the Webstar attacked, and sees UNIT removing a body—the Doctor’s body, as he drowned in the flood that killed the embryonic Racnoss.  Rose Tyler appears and inquires about the body, seeming stunned that it was the Doctor, despite Donna’s reassurances; she disappears moments later.

Months later, Donna loses her job; the company is floundering because the Thames remains closed off, cutting them off from several major business contacts.  The Royal Hope Hospital is transported to the moon; when it reappears, the lone survivor, medical student Oliver Morgenstern, describes the events, including the death of fellow student Martha Jones.  A woman named Sarah Jane Smith had saved the situation and stopped the out-of-control MRI weapon, but had died doing so, along with her son and several young associates.  Rose appears again and tells Donna to go to the country for Christmas, and surreptitiously gives her the means to do so.

Donna accepts the advice, and takes Sylvia and Wilfred away for the holidays.  On Christmas morning, the news shows the starship Titanic crashing onto Buckingham palace, destroying most of the city.  The maid comes in and sees something on Donna’s back, but reports it in Spanish, which Donna does not speak.

Now refugees due to the radiation from the crash, Donna and her family move to a refugee village in Leeds, where they share a house with two other families.  Crisis aid from America fails to arrive when sixty million Americans are turned into juvenile Adipose.  Later on, Luke Rattigan and the Sontarans activate the ATMOS system, poisoning the atmosphere.  Donna is accosted by a soldier who sees something on her back, but he releases her upon finding nothing.  Rose meets her again, and tells her that Torchwood is on the Sontaran ship.  Jack Harkness’s team clears the air with an atmosphere converter, but dies in the process, and Jack—who is immortal—is captured by the Sontarans.  Rose refuses to identify herself, but says that she has crossed reality; she explains that in an alternate reality, Donna saved the Doctor’s life, preventing all of the intervening tragedies.  The darkness now looming threatens all universes, not just this one.  Donna leaves, but Rose tells her she will be needed—and has three weeks to decide.  She warns Donna that coming with her means Donna will die.

Over the next few weeks, England degrades into a form of martial law.  The Italian family in Donna’s house is sent to a labour camp, horrifying Wilfred, who lived through the end of World War II.  That night, through his telescope, he sees that Orion is missing from the sky, and other stars are disappearing.  Donna finds Rose and agrees to join her.

At a UNIT base, Rose shows Donna the TARDIS, which is dying without the Doctor.  She places Donna in a circle of mirrors and lights, which is augmented with technology from the TARDIS.  When she switches on the lights, Donna can finally see the creature on her back: a giant beetle.  Rose calls it a “Time Beetle”, which feeds off of changes it induces in time.  Donna wants it gone, but it can’t be removed; to get rid of it, she must travel in time.  It is not only the beetle that is bending reality, but Donna herself.  Rose places her back in the circle of mirrors, which is a rudimentary time machine (as the TARDIS cannot be used).  Donna says she understands about dying now—if she changes her past, the entire world will cease to exist, to be replaced by the Doctor’s world, which is better.  Rose simply says “I’m sorry”, and sends Donna back in time.

Donna arrives four minutes prior to the decision at the intersection, and half a mile away.  She heads that direction, but realizes she won’t make it.  She sees the truck that intervened coming toward her, and realizes what Rose meant about her death; and she steps in front of the truck.

As Donna dies, Rose appears and gives her a message for the Doctor.  Donna’s younger self sees the traffic that is now backed up, and turns left instead of right.

With the timeline restored, Donna awakens in the fortune teller’s stall, and sees the time beetle fall off of her back and die.  The terrified fortune teller flees the booth.  The Doctor enters the booth and finds Donna, who hugs him, though she doesn’t know why.  He examines the beetle, and says that it is part of the Trickster’s Brigade; usually it would only affect one person, and the universe would compensate.  In Donna’s case, the changes affected the whole universe, forcing an alternate timeline. It’s not the first coincidence about Donna, and the Doctor muses on others, concluding that she and he are somehow linked.  She downplays herself, but he calls her “brilliant”, which triggers her memory of Rose’s message.  He recognizes Rose from Donna’s description, and the words that she gave to Donna:  “Bad Wolf”.  Suddenly terrified, the Doctor runs into the square, and sees the words “Bad Wolf” everywhere, even on the TARDIS.  Inside, the console room is glowing red, and the cloister bell is ringing.  The Doctor tells Donna that it is the end of the universe.

Turn Left 2

I like to think of Turn Left as Doctor Who Unbound for television. It’s the revived series’ first “what if…” scenario, unless one wishes to count Father’s Day (I personally don’t; I consider that episode a closed loop within the regular universe, not an alternate universe). We face the question of “What if Donna never saved the Doctor from the flood that defeated the Racnoss?” It goes on to highlight all the major threats to Earth since that time (The Runaway Bride), and how they played out without the Doctor. It also neatly eliminates all of the Doctor’s allies and potential allies, showing just how much the Doctor influenced their lives. Torchwood 3 (under Jack Harkness) dies defeating the Sontarans (The Poison Sky), with the immortal Jack taken captive by the Sontarans; Sarah Jane Smith and her entourage from The Sarah Jane Adventures die along with Martha Jones in the Royal Hope Hospital (Smith and Jones). UNIT continues to exist, but is severely damaged in the crash of the Titanic (Voyage of the Damned). It’s an interesting parallel with the series four finale, where all of those individuals will make guest appearances.

All of the Tenth Doctor’s companions are, at one time or another, called upon to sacrifice themselves, though it doesn’t always work out that way. For Rose, it’s mostly metaphorical; she sacrifices her happiness and her life with the Doctor by being transported to Pete’s World in Doomsday. For Martha, it’s more literal, as we’ll see in the series four finale, although it doesn’t get carried out; she also put her life on the line for a year in Last of the Time Lords. Donna, who is perhaps the most purely loyal companion of the three, literally sacrifices her life here, by dying so that history can be saved. She embraces it with eyes open, too; she has three weeks of warning that she will die. It’s hard to continue on that path of increasing intensity, therefore future companions of the Eleventh Doctor will subvert the trope; Clara, for instance, will sacrifice herself countless times through her various “shadows”, and then will ultimately be unable to sacrifice herself. Amy and Rory will several time play with the concept of sacrificing themselves not for the Doctor, but for each other. River is in the unique position of being a (sort of) companion of the Tenth Doctor as well as the Eleventh; with the Tenth Doctor, she played it straight and literal, sacrificing her life to save his, but with the Eleventh, it will be subverted, as he sacrifices his regeneration energy (representative of his life, as he points out) to fix her after saving her life from the Weeping Angels. (There may be better examples, as well—something something Pandorica—but I’m short on time and that is the one that comes to mind.)

If Midnight is creepy, Turn Left is ominous. It constitutes this series’ Doctor-lite episode. It’s a great setup for the series finale, and it accomplishes that while working in an alternate universe. It was a great bit of misdirection, as well (or at least it would have been, if not for the “next time” clips broadcast at the end). Rose’s brief appearances throughout the season could easily have been viewed as leading up to this episode, not the finale, as she has extensive appearances here; the fact that she is also in the finale could have been completely hidden until broadcast (again, if not for the next time clips). The episode does foreshadow the finale quite well—you miss a good part of the experience if you only watch the finale and skip this episode—as well as tying in with the spinoffs in progress at the time (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). I’ve picked at the episode’s logic with regard to the alternate universe’s events, but I can’t find any flaws to criticize; if anyone else can find a place where it breaks down, I’d like to know.

Continuity references: I’m going to skip the obvious references to episodes in this series, which admittedly is most of them. To mention them would be to spoil it for people who don’t care for that. Other than those: The Trickster’s Brigade appears in more depth in The Sarah Jane Adventures, which foreshadow this episode to some degree (Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?) There are parallels with Father’s Day, where someone Rose knew dies in her presence to repair a timeline. The Bad Wolf messages are seen again, for the first time since Bad Wolf, though they were mentioned in Doomsday. The Cloister Bell is heard again (Logopolis, et al). Lucius Dextrus mentioned something on Donna’s back in The Fires of Pompeii; that episode is not included in the list of changes here, though perhaps it should be, as the volcano only erupted because of the Doctor and Donna. The Time Beetle resembles and functions like the Eight Legs of Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders). The circle of mirrors resemble the one used to reveal the Mara in Kinda. The Doctor’s death and the resultant problems is a bit of a recurring theme (Blood Heat, Final Genesis, The Wedding of River Song). It’s worth mentioning that Harold Saxon, aka the Master, is not included among the list of catastrophes that the Doctor was not present to prevent; he was not present to release the Master from his altered form at the end of the universe, meaning Saxon never arose.

Overall: Two great episodes, filling out a great second half to the series. There’s a definite progression in seriousness throughout the series, and these episodes fit right in, and set us up well for the finale.

Turn Left 3

Next time: We’ll see the series four finale with Stolen Earth and Journey’s End! See you there.

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

Midnight

Turn Left

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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

The River Begins: New Series Rewatch, Series Four, Part Three

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today we’re continuing Series Four with three episodes: The Unicorn and the Wasp, followed by a two-part story consisting of Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched these episodes!

unicorn-and-the-wasp-1

The Unicorn and the Wasp:  As a classy dinner party sets up, hosted by Lady Clemency Eddison, a Professor Peach is killed with a lead pipe in a library.  As he dies, he gets a glimpse of a giant wasp.

The Doctor and Donna find themselves in the 1920s, and join the party.  The guest of honor is Agatha Christie, who is notable but not yet as famous as she will be, having only six books on the market as yet.  The Doctor privately tells Donna that today is the day Agatha Christie mysteriously disappears for ten days, to return with no memory of the time.  However, he notes that she has just discovered that her husband is having an affair.  They are interrupted when the maid Miss Chandrakala, discovers Peach’s body; Donna compares it to a game of Clue (or Cluedo, for British fans).  The Doctor and Agatha separately start to investigate; the Doctor finds residue indicating the murderer might be an alien.  Donna inadvertently gives Agatha the idea for Murder on the Orient Express, which has not yet been written.  Agatha agrees to work with the Doctor, but chides him for his flippant attitude.

The Doctor and Agatha question the guests who were present before the murder: Eddison’s wheelchair-bound husband, Hugh Curbishley, who was secretly looking at pornography; their son Roger Eddison, who was having a secretly rendezvous with his gay lover, Davenport, one of the servants; Lady Eddison, who claimed to be taking tea, but was secretly drinking; Robina Edmond, who was secretly loading a pistol; and the reverend Golightly, who is the only one with nothing to hide, allegedly at least.  All of them keep the truth secret, although the audience sees it in flashbacks; none of them have verifiable alibis.  The Doctor and Agatha engage in some verbal sparring, and the Doctor notes that Agatha picked up a scrap of paper from the fireplace, with most of the word “maiden” on it, but there is no indication of what it means.  Meanwhile Donna finds a locked room, and forces the butler, Greeves, to open it for her; he explains that Lady Eddison kept it locked for forty years after spending six months inside with malaria.  She finds only toys inside, but hears bees buzzing.  An enormous wasp breaks in through the window, and she temporarily stuns it with a magnifying glass, shouting for the Doctor.  He comes running with Agatha; the wasp is gone, but left its giant stinger behind.  He collects a sample of the venom, and concludes it can probably grow a new stinger.

While gossiping with the other servants, Chandrakala makes a realization about the murder.  Almost immediately, she goes outside, and a statue is pushed from the roof to kill her.  The Doctor, Agatha and Donna find her dying, and she mentions “the poor little child”; but they are driven into the house by the wasp; the Doctor realizes it is a shape changer, and probably has a human form.  However, it hides near the other guests, and he loses its trail.  The guests gather, and pressure Agatha to solve the crime, but she denies being able to do so, and puts the burden on the Doctor.  In the garden, she talks with Donna, and they swap stories of unfaithful men; Donna encourages her about her books.  Agatha doesn’t believe she will be remembered, and then notices a box that damaged some flowers.  She takes it to the Doctor, and he finds a thief’s tool kit inside; Agatha attributes it to a thief at large called the Unicorn.  However, the Doctor suddenly falls under the effects of poison; Agatha realizes his drink has cyanide in it.  He runs to the kitchen and gathers a number of random ingredients (and an unexpected kiss from Donna), which he is able to use to stimulate his enzymes to block the poison and expel it from his body.  Agatha can’t believe the scene.

At dinner, the Doctor laces the soup with pepper, an insecticide ingredient, hoping to expose the wasp.  The storm outside blows a window open and puts out the lights, and the wasp bursts in and through into the hallway; when the lights return, Roger is found dead with a knife in his back, and his mother’s necklace—a priceless relic from India—is gone.

The Doctor encourages Agatha to solve the crime, as she knows human nature very well—the reason her books are so good.  The Doctor gathers the remaining suspects, and Agatha walks through the various suspects, analyzing their situations.  She suggests that Robina is an imposter, as the thief kit was found under her bathroom window; she suggests Robina is the Unicorn, and stole the necklace.  Robina admits to it, and produces the necklace.  Agatha moves to Hugh Curbishley, who reveals that he can walk; he admits that he faked his disability to keep Eddison close to him, as she is still beautiful.  He is not the murderer, however.  Agatha discusses the necklace with Lady Eddison, who brought it back immediately before her six-month confinement; Agatha reveals that Eddison was pregnant, and concealed it from everyone except Chandrakala.  The Doctor says the pregnancy was not normal; her offspring, it seems, is the wasp.  She reveals that she was impregnated in India by a man who was not a man; he was from the sky, and could transform into a wasp.  However, Christopher died in the monsoon of 1885.  He left her pregnant, and gave her the necklace, the Firestone.  Agatha says that Professor Peach worked out the truth, and came to warn Lady Eddison, who is also not the murderer—but the wasp intercepted him.  The Doctor, rather circuitously, gets around to the reverend, who reveals he caught two thieves in his church last week; he uses this to make the point that the reverend is the missing son, and the wasp.  He was raised in an orphanage, confirming it to Eddison.  The reverend’s first transformation was on the night of the break-in at the church; since then, he came to the house to recover the Firestone, which is telepathically connected to him, and to Lady Eddison.  Her experiences with Agatha’s books “programmed” him for murder in that pattern.  Stressed, he begins to transform, and admits the truth.  He fully transforms, and chases Agatha out of the house, as she has the Firestone.  The Doctor and Donna follow in another car.  She stops at the lake, intending to die, causing the wasp to die too, due to the telepathic link.  Donna snatches the necklace and throws it into the lake, and the wasp dives in after it, and drowns.

Agatha collapses, due to the link; the wasp releases her at the last second, wiping her memory of what happened and knocking her out.  They use the TARDIS to drop her off ten days later at the hotel where history records that she reappeared.  The Doctor muses that some of the memories will survive, perhaps, and show up in her books; and he shows Donna that even the wasp will appear in a book…which is still being printed in the year five billion.  She will go on to be the best-selling novelist of all time.

unicorn-and-the-wasp-2

I am sorry to say that I never paid much attention to The Unicorn and the Wasp in previous views. Maybe that’s because it’s a historical (or technically a pseudohistorical, in that it does deal with historical events, but adds sci-fi elements other than just the TARDIS and crew), and I’ve never cared as much for those stories. Regardless, it’s better than I gave it credit for in the past. It’s actually quite a clever episode, with its structure mimicking the game “Cluedo” (or “Clue”, as we Americans call it—and if you’ve never seen the Tim Curry movie based on it, stop reading and go watch it, now. You won’t be sorry) as well as the mysteries for which guest character Agatha Christie is famous. As I type this, I just saw one of Twitter’s occasional emails, containing a tweet yesterday from Janet Fielding about the broadcast of Black Orchid part two, thirty-five years ago yesterday; it was a timely notice, because this story is very much in the same vein as that one. The two are set perhaps a year apart (1926 here, 1925 there), and in very similar surroundings; both involve high-class individuals with dark family secrets.

I have to say that Fenella Woolgar—the actress who plays Agatha Christie—steals the show here. I don’t know a lot about Agatha Christie beyond her work, but the performance here is very believable, as far as I can tell; and she takes over any scene she’s in, which is no mean feat when playing against David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Donna, on the other hand, is very subdued as compared to preceding appearances; she goes overboard for one comical scene, in which she’s “playing charades” with the Doctor to obtain some ingredients for countering cyanide poisoning, but otherwise she’s very calm here. Well, calm for Donna anyway. She does manage—in the same scene—to get in the obligatory kiss with the Doctor; every companion gets one in NuWho, it seems, sometimes regardless of gender. Here it’s played for literal shock value, in that he tells her to give him a shock so as to kickstart his body’s enzymes. Well done, I suppose?

There’s another link in the series arc here. Donna comments that the 1920s still has bees, unlike her time; the missing bees are a part of the events to be revealed in the finale. Most of the links this series have been pretty subtle, unlike the constant barrage of Saxon references last series, and this one is a blink-and-you-miss-it moment; I prefer it that way.

I was especially pleased with the mystery-and-game structure of this episode. The characters correspond to Cluedo characters fairly strongly, and all of the murder weapons from the game are seen. It gets a little silly at points, but that’s intentional; the Doctor and Donna are completely in on the joke, and intentionally play up the references (“Professor Peach…in the library…with the lead pipe!”). As well, there is a lengthy list—too much to repeat here—of Agatha Christie novel references, which can be found on the TARDIS wiki. They play around again with bootstrap paradoxes a bit; Donna continually lets slip things that Agatha shouldn’t know about her own books, then claims credit for them. It’s glossed over at the end when Agatha loses some of her memories; the bits that leak through will survive, but not be attributed to Donna. Still, where did the ideas come from in the first place? Also, at the end, there’s a touching tribute to Agatha Christie, when the Doctor reveals that her books are still in print (in paperback, no less!) in the year five billion.

Some references: Agatha Christie was first mentioned in Last of the Time Lords, when the Doctor suggested to Martha that they visit her; she was also listed by the Eighth Doctor as a companion in Terror Firma. The Doctor’s alleged ability to tell time by smell (possibly faked here) wa mentioned in Scream of the Shalka and The Eye of the Scorpion (also possibly faked in the latter). He references the events of The Unquiet Dead. Donna mentions her dead fiancé Lance (The Runaway Bride). Donna will mention this adventure again in The End of Time. Curbishley mentions an incident in the Boer War; the First Doctor was present at that time (The Daleks’ Master Plan). There’s a bit of a flash-forward; the Doctor mentions saving Charlemagne from an insane computer, which will later take place in The Lonely Computer (presumably earlier in the Tenth Doctor’s life).

silence-in-the-library

Silence in the Library:  A young girl meets with her therapist, Dr. Moon, to talk about the massive library inside her mind.  As she views it, the Doctor and Donna break into the library and barricade a door—and they can see her.

The Doctor and Donna land inside the Library—“so big it doesn’t need a name”—a whole world given to every book ever written, with its core as the index computer.  But where are all the patrons?  Why is the library silent?  The computer only locates two humanoids—the Doctor and Donna—but it finds a trillion other lifeforms; but where are they?  They are met by a computer node with a realistic human face, which tells them to run, because the library is unsafe and sealed; and it tells them that they must count the shadows if they want to live.  The doctor warns Donna to stay out of the shadows.  He admits that he got an oddly affectionate message on the psychic paper, summoning him here; and then the lights start to go out.  They flee to another room, leading to the opening scene witnessed by the young girl—but there is no girl, only a floating security camera, which switches off.

The girl wakes up with the therapist, but suddenly hears the sonic screwdriver, which hurts her head.  The Doctor is using it on the camera; he succeeds in reactivating it, and sees a text screen on the side, begging him to stop.  The girl and the camera seem somehow to be one.  She warns the therapist—and inadvertently, the Doctor and Donna—that others are coming.  Donna queries another node, and is disturbed to find the face is real, donated by a dead person; she nearly stumbles into a shadow, which isn’t cast by anything.  It moves, scaring even the Doctor.  Suddenly a group of five spacesuited figures burst into the room—and one woman greets the Doctor with “Hello, Sweetie”.  She introduces herself as Professor River Song, an archaeologist.  The Doctor warns them to leave as quickly as possible, and to stay in the light until they do.  The expedition leader, Mr. Lux, claims to own the library.  River explains that the library has been silent for a hundred years.    The Doctor explains that all species fear the dark; he attributes it to the Vashta Nerada, deadly creatures in the darkness and shadows.  The Doctor, with River’s help, takes charge of the group, and warns them not to let their shadows cross, for fear of infection.

River pulls the Doctor aside and claims responsibility for the summons; she claims to know the Doctor, and has a diary of events that they shared.  He does not know her, however, and she realizes to her horror that this is his first meeting with her—but it is late in her acquaintance with him.  She is very affectionate with him, but when she realizes that he doesn’t know her, she declines to explain.  A phone of sorts rings, as one of the group tries to call up the data core; it is ringing in the girl’s apartment as well, but only she can hear it.  It stops before she can answer, and the computer terminal says “access denied”.  Soon the girl sees the Doctor and the others on television, speaking with her.  She recognizes him from her vision of the library, but then loses the signal with another “access denied”.

The Doctor tries to look at River’s diary, but she stops him, and tells him it’s against the rules—his rules.  The girl starts to play with the television remote, causing books in the library to fly off the shelves.  The computer gives the Doctor a name:  “Cal”.  He asks Lux about it, who at first refuses.  River and, reluctantly, Lux, reveal what happened 100 years ago:  the library sealed itself, and sent a message saying “4,022 people saved”—the number of people on the planet at the time—but none were seen again.  As they talk, a door opens at the girl’s command, and Lux’s assistant, Miss Evangelista, goes to investigate.  She finds a reading room, then screams, summoning the others, who find only a skeleton in a shredded spacesuit.  A copy of her psyche, a data ghost, is held in the comm unit on her suit, repeating the same things over and over as she fades from existence.  Finally River stops the unit and lets her go.

The Doctor knows what has killed her, and intends to bring it out.  First he quizzes River about her relationship to him, but she refuses to talk.    In the girl’s apartment, Dr. Moon tells her to remember that the real world is a lie, and her nightmares—the library, and anyone in it—are real, and depend on her to save them.  In the library, River talks with Donna as the Doctor sets up.  She explains that the Doctor has not met her yet; they keep meeting out of order, but mostly in reverse from each other.  However, she knows from him about Donna. The Doctor obtains some food, and tosses it into the shadows for the Vashta Nerada—“the shadows that melt flesh”.  The food is consumed.  He explains that they live on nearly all worlds, and usually feed on road kill, but there is little to eat here.  They have no weakness; one simply runs from them.  They prepare to leave through the “little shop”, but one of the team—“Proper Dave”—has two shadows.  The Vashta Nerada have latched onto him.  The Doctor gets everyone’s helmets on and sealed, and River increases the strength of the suits—revealing as she does that she has a sonic screwdriver very like the Doctor’s.  The Doctor uses a teleport to send Donna to the TARDIS, but something intercepts her as she materializes.

Proper Dave has lost the second shadow.  However he begins to repeat himself, insisting the lights are off—and there is now darkness inside his helmet.  He thrashes briefly, and begins to ghost.  He moves in to attack, and only a skull shows in his head—the Vashta Nerada swarm is now possessing his suit.  River reveals a sonic gun like that once carried by Jack Harkness, and cuts a hole in the wall, allowing them out, but the suit follows.  In the apartment, the girl announces that “Donna Noble has been saved”.  On the run, the Doctor says that River’s screwdriver is just like his; she says that he gave it to her, but won’t elaborate.  He says that he teleported Donna to the TARDIS, but the sonic screwdriver reveals she isn’t there; and he sees her face on a node, saying that she has left the library, and has been saved.  Before he can inquire further, the suit chases them again, and they are forced to run.

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Forest of the Dead:  River uses her gun again to open another wall and get them away.  The girl watches it on television.  She changes channels, and finds Donna being delivered to a hospital by ambulance.  Donna awakens to find Dr. Moon, who claims to have been treating her for years.  He suggests that she walk with him by the river, and suddenly they are there. He calls the Doctor and the “blue box” a dream which has ceased.  He introduces her to a man named Lee McAvoy.  In similar jumps, her life progresses, and she finds herself dating Lee, then marrying him, then having and raising children, with large gaps between.  Dr. Moon visits her in her new home, but briefly fuzzes out of existence, replaced by the Doctor, who sees her; but Dr. Moon makes her forget the vision.  Back in the library, the survivors find a safe spot under a skylight, but the sun is setting, and soon the light will end. The Doctor says that  a signal is interfering with his screwdriver; River gives him hers, which has settings he has not installed yet in his.  She tells him he will one day trust her, but she needs him to do so now; so she whispers something into his ear, which stuns him.  Convinced, he leaps back into action.  He tracks the signal to the moon above, which is artificial; Lux calls it a “doctor moon”, meant to protect the integrity of the data core.  Meanwhile, another crew member has two shadows.  While they analyze the situation, the Doctor realizes there is also an extra person in the room—Proper Dave’s suit has found them again.

In Donna’s reality, her children are a few years older now.  She is beginning to sense the time jumps now; and she sees a strange, robed figure outside.  Time leaps ahead to night, where she hears a door open; and she sees the figure outside again.  Lee finds a note summoning Donna to a meeting in the nearby playground.  The girl, watching via television, urges her not to go.  The next day, she meets the robed figure in the park.  The figure explains about the time jumps.  She explains that they have met in the library; she is what is left of Miss Evangelista.  Back in the library, the group is still running; the Doctor confronts the suit, and gets the Vashta Nerada to talk via the comm unit.  They explain that they are here because they were born in the wood that forms the paper of the books—this is their home, their forest.  Suddenly another crewmember—the other Dave—is consumed, and his suit inhabited.  Trapped, the Doctor activates a trap door, and climbs across the bottom of a walkway to get back inside.  Donna asks about Miss Evangelista’s veil; she reveals that she wears it because her imprint was not captured perfectly by the library, and she appears deformed here.  She says that Donna’s husband and children are not real.  When she uncovers her face, the girl watching is terrified by it.

River is still with the woman with two shadows, whose visor was tinted by the Doctor.  River explains that this is the Doctor, but not her Doctor, and that makes her fearful, though she still trusts him.  He arrives as she explains, and denies that anyone can open the TARDIS with a finger snap, as she was describing.  The woman asks what makes him trust River; but her phrasing tips him off to what is going on.  The library isn’t making people “safe”, it is making them “saved”—like computer data.  At the same time, Miss Evangelista explains the truth to Donna—the library teleports people out, then absorbs their patterns into the computer, literally “saving” them like software.  The Doctor realizes it too, and realizes they must get to the computer core if they want to try to save Donna.  Unlike the other team members, whose imprints were uploaded after death, Donna is a perfect copy, because she was teleported.  Donna asks whose dream this is; Miss Evangelista tells her “Cal”.  The girl causes Donna’s child to fall and get hurt, interrupting her and pulling her away, but miss Evangelista urges her to let the children go.  As the girl becomes frantic, she accidentally deletes her father, and unintentionally starts an autodestruct sequence in the library with a twenty-minute countdown.  Donna senses it as well.  Dr. Moon comes to help the child, but she sends him away.

Lux insists they must get to the core.  River finds a gravity platform that will take them there, and they descend.  Donna is not handling this disruption well, and finds herself putting the children to bed; but the children also realize they are not real.  Suddenly they vanish, alarming Donna.  At the core, the Doctor and his group hear the child asking for help, but the computer is in sleep mode.  The Doctor tries to wake it.  Lux reveals that the control program is not a program; it IS the child.  Her name is Cal—“Charlotte Abigal Lux”—and she was his grandfather’s daughter.  When she was dying as  a child, her father built the library to keep her alive, after a fashion, giving her a life she would otherwise never have.  Cal, in the form of a node, says that she has saved everyone. The Doctor realizes that she has willfully forgotten her original life, so as to preserve her own sanity.  The Doctor plans to use himself to reboot the system, but he knows it will kill him; River knows it too, and objects, but he insists.  He intends to leave the Vashta Nerada to their forests, but take the others away with him, including the survivors inside the computer.  The Vashta Nerada—who have now consumed the remaining crew member—don’t want to accept, until he forces them to look him up; then they retreat, and allow him one day.  River then knocks him out, handcuffing him to the wall, and takes his place in the computer interface.  When she awakens, she explains that she will die here so that all their other experiences will still take place; and she tells him about their last encounter, at which he gave her the screwdriver.  She forbids him to interfere.  He reveals that it is his name that she whispered in his ear, and that it could only mean one thing, but there is no time to say what.  With a final goodbye, she activates the system, and dies—but Donna and all the other survivors are downloaded back into their corporeal forms.  To Donna’s despair, Lee is not among them.  Up in the main library, Lux greets the survivors.

The Doctor sees the survivors off into rescue ships, and meets up with Donna, each of them mourning their losses.  He leaves River’s diary and screwdriver on a balcony in the library.  He acknowledges that the diary contains his future, and offers to look Donna up—but both realize it’s better to leave it alone.  However, as they leave, he realizes that something is still not right—why would he give away his screwdriver at that time if he knew River was about to die?  Wouldn’t he have tried to save her?  He searches the screwdriver, and finds it has an improved neural link in it, with a copy of River inside.  He takes it to the core, moments before the copy would be lost, and uploads her into the library, saving her after a fashion, and giving Cal, Dr. Moon, Miss Evangelista, and the other uploaded team members a new companion.  On the way to the TARDIS, the Doctor snaps his fingers…and the doors open, and close behind him.

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Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead gave us the character of River Song. I could end the review here, and still have said the most important thing. It’s impossible to overstate how important River is to the Doctor’s story, which is really saying something given that nearly every televised appearance of the character occurs within a single incarnation of the Doctor’s life (spoiler alert: not this one). Although this story doesn’t go into it, future episodes will establish that she is the most improbable thing of all: the Doctor’s wife (not to be confused with the episode of the same name, which refers to the TARDIS instead). This story does a fantastic job of something that writer (and future showrunner) Steven Moffat is very good at: placing threads and plot elements that can be easily picked up again, to great effect. I say “can” because sometimes he doesn’t; but often he does, and you end up with a River Song. I can’t speak highly enough about the way her part is played here, especially with regard to how she looks at and speaks to—and of—the Doctor. It’s utterly convincing, and you walk away knowing exactly what she was suggesting about the two of them, even though she never once comes out and says it.

It’s very hard now to discuss this story without also discussing The Husbands of River Song, her final appearance to date (and probably permanently). The two stories bookend River’s life with the Doctor, from his point of view at least (for her point of view, we would have to say this story and A Good Man Goes To War, I suppose). It was done very cleverly; over seven years we get this long-drawn-out romance, and we end by showing the very story that River tells here, of their visit to Darillium and the Doctor’s gift of a sonic screwdriver. We knew the answers—that is, why the Doctor gave it to her, and built in the psychic link that saved her imprint—from the very beginning, but seeing it played out was another thing entirely. Even when the next regeneration happened, and Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor began to interact with River…well, no one imagined it would be Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor that had that final, emotional appearance with her, except maybe River herself, but no one can argue the choice, either. I’ve been critical of Capaldi’s tenure, but this one thing was exactly right. We’ll talk more about it when we eventually reach that episode.

We also get the Vashta Nerada in this story. I give them credit for being the greatest “villain that isn’t a villain” in the new series, possibly matched only by “are you my mummy” child from Series One. They’re not evil—spited, maybe, but not evil. They’re hardly even intelligent. They simply want to survive, and humans are incidental to that. They’re parasites, really, and they’re all the more terrifying for that. Some things not clearly stated, but obvious in hindsight: For one, they are a hive mind. That’s clear from the scene where the Doctor tells them to look him up; wherever that information is stored, it’s not right there where the Doctor is standing, and therefore had to be transmitted to the Vashta Nerada on that spot. For another, they probably can interact with the computer systems, even though their intelligence is probably less than human. It’s very likely that obtaining the information they needed so quickly required computer access rather than the reading of print books. They’re downright terrifying, and very well played.

I wouldn’t mind more stories set in the library, prior to this one. It’s a fascinating location—a human-built library that covers an entire planet. We really only see a few very small portions of it. Libraries have figured into any number of stories (a prominent example is Love and War, which I covered last week), and this one can top them all.

References: As far as I can tell, there is no series arc reference in this story, which is unusual but not unprecedented. Many continuity references are to future stories, which is understandable given the nature of River’s relationship with the Doctor (meeting out of order). She mentions their final date on Darillium (The Husbands of River Song) and the crash of the Byzantium (The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone). Lux refers to the Doctor and River as “bickering like an old married couple” (The Wedding of River Song, many other references to their marriage). The Name of the Doctor will place a version of Clara Oswald here, though unnoticed. The Doctor’s affinity for “little shops” is repeated here. The psychic paper was also used to summon the Doctor in New Earth. The TARDIS’s “Emergency Programme One” gets a mention; it was seen before in The Parting of the Ways. River’s knowledge of the Doctor’s true name will be used again as a misdirection in The Wedding of River Song, but will prove to be real knowledge on her part in The Name of the Doctor. The “finger snap” trick to open the TARDIS will appear several times with the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, and will be learned by Clara as well; it next appears in The Eleventh Hour. River’s reference to armies running from the Doctor probably refers to The Pandorica Opens. River’s “squareness gun” has been implied to be the same one that Jack Harkness owned, having been left in the TARDIS for her to find at some point, although she is never seen here to use it to repair a wall.

Overall: A very clever episode (which I previously underestimated) followed by a very dramatic story (which can’t be overestimated). Not a bad way to continue at all.

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Next time: We’ll begin ramping up for the series finale, with this series’ companion-lite and Doctor-lite episodes, Midnight and Turn Left! See you there.

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

The Unicorn and the Wasp

Silence in the Library

Forest of the Dead

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