Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: The Interstellar and the Improbable, by Scarlett Ward

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

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

An empty tube station is never not scary.

If anything, it’s worse when the station is unfinished—never used for passengers, its only occupations have been the movie crews that use it occasionally for filming…and oh yes, the rats. But they don’t figure into our story.

Someone does. That someone is an investigative journalist named Sarah Jane Smith: A journalist with a penchant for not just the sensational, but also the impossible, the supernatural, the—dare it be said?–alien. And Sarah Jane has heard rumors about this tube station. It started simply enough; the station is currently being used as the entrance point for an underground ghost tour, of the type that boasts the spirits of the dead, but ultimately relies on cheap jump scares. And yet, two things stand out: For one, this one is unusually successful; and for another, its guests come back different, somehow. They come back raving about the tour, and dedicating themselves to marketing its tickets; but also, somehow, not quite themselves. That is a bait that Sarah Jane—who is no stranger to weird phenomena—cannot ignore.

Now, she stands in the tunnel during the daylight hours, before the tour opens—and she hears a noise. She quickly tracks down and confronts the perpetrator: a young blond-haired woman, accompanied by…a very familiar canine robot?! She quickly learns, though, that this isn’t her robot—rather, it’s another of the same type, perhaps slightly more advanced. The woman introduces herself as Romana, and the oddity of their meeting quickly leads them both to put their cards on the table: Romana, like Sarah Jane, is a former companion of the Doctor, and is also a Time Lord herself (or Time Lady, if you prefer). She and her robot are traveling on their own for the time being, if in limited fashion; Romana is working on a ship of her own, but hasn’t completed it yet, leaving her to rely on a homemade time ring to get around for the moment. In the meantime, she is here investigating the same phenomenon as Sarah Jane. The two quickly—if not quite wholeheartedly—join forces.

As the tour opens for the evening, they join the line of customers. While waiting they talk about the possibilities, and conclude it must be some kind of mind control; thus Romana, who has some telepathic ability, insists on going in first—noting that customers are being admitted only one at a time, ostensibly due to cramped quarters in the unfinished tunnels. Sarah Jane unhappily agrees.

Romana allows herself to be escorted inside. Once down the tunnel, she is seized by two large men, and brought before a large, glowing crystal. They force her to place her hands on it—and instantly she finds herself in telepathic battle for control of her mind and body. She holds out briefly, but the force arrayed against her is strong and angry, and she begins to lose. Desperately she pulls herself and the enemy into a mental construct—a virtual castle, if you will—where she can see her enemy face to face. It manifests as a young woman, who calls herself Ellery Westwall.

Despite Ellery’s attempts to break free, Romana forces her to talk. She reveals that she and her people were destroyed many centuries ago by Rassilon, the near-mythical founder of Time Lord society; and their minds were trapped in this crystal, which has now found its way to Earth. They don’t care about right or wrong or morals; they only want to live again, and if possible, to take revenge on Rassilon’s children. Slowly, however, Romana wears her down, and gives her something she never had before: hope. If Ellery will let Romana fight along with her, they will challenge the leader of the group, Visser, and Ellery will replace him. Then Romana will, somehow, arrange for new bodies for them, bodies that won’t require theft from other beings—perhaps by Looming them, if she can steal a minor Loom from Gallifrey. The details may be a bit unformed, but Romana’s sincerity and determination are unmistakable—and so Ellery agrees.

Ellery takes control of Romana’s body long enough to get back to Sarah Jane, who is next in line. Romana resurfaces, and quickly fills Sarah in on the plan. She escorts Sarah Jane inside; but before Sarah can be exposed to the crystal, Romana challenges Visser to telepathic combat, and battle is joined. She lets Ellery lead the fight—but something is frighteningly amiss in Romana’s brain. The two of them are overcome, and Romana falls unconscious.

Sarah rushes to check on her—and sees a wisp of gold escape from her. But it isn’t regeneration energy—rather, it’s Ellery. With no time for any other plan, she allows Ellery into her mind. She suggests that they challenge Visser, but Ellery is panicking—if Romana couldn’t do it, how can a human?

Sarah Jane Smith, however, is never one to back down. She has faced Davros, the Daleks, the Sontarans, the Cybermen, and many others, and she is not afraid. As Visser sneers over her challenge, she touches the crystal, and urges Ellery to share her vision with her people…and it works. As hope spreads through her people, Ellery herself is strengthened—and returns to the fight, alongside Sarah Jane. Visser is strong, but Sarah has a flash of inspiration: She asks Ellery to urge the human whom Visser controls to fight back. And the man complies. Suddenly Visser is besieged on two fronts, giving Ellery the edge she needs. At last Visser is broken.

It’s not a clean victory though; for at the last moment, he declares that he will at least die with a body, and pulls out a knife to slash his host’s throat.

Sarah persuades Ellery to temporarily return to the crystal so that she can help Romana. She manages to get the unconscious woman—along with her robot—out of the tunnel and back to her own home, and waits for her to awaken. Romana awakens, and claims she was in a healing coma, and the two compare notes.

Unable to avoid Sarah’s questions, Romana explains what happened. She admits that, ever since regenerating into the form of one Princess Astra—who happens to have been a segment of the Key to Time—her lifespan has been affected. She may be only three hundred and three—a pittance in Time Lord years—but she is dying, slowly but surely. And since healing seems to require unbalancing the Key to Time—and the universe with it—it seems selfish to worry over her one solitary life. She’s been spending her remaining days seeking out places to do good, much like the Doctor before her. Still, it’s the robot who comes up with a suggestion for enhancing her remaining years, and it’s one that applies to Sarah Jane as well: Seek allies, or put another way, make friends. It’s just as well for Sarah Jane to hear it, for she is musing over her past—her travels with the Doctor, and how it changed her. But Romana points out that it’s possible that the Doctor doesn’t makewanderers; he only finds them. Sarah Jane can be that person, regardless of whether she is on Earth or among the stars.

Likewise, as Sarah says, Romana can do the same at home on Gallifrey—and perhaps that is where she should go. After all, why should she face her disease lying down? Gallifreyans are brilliant, but also stubborn: a combination that, for once, may do some good. And in the end, perhaps Romana might make her own people a little better. And in the meantime, there’s still Ellery to deal with, and Romana will need Gallifrey’s help for that. She bids Sarah Jane goodbye, and “thank you”; and Sarah wishes her well, musing that she is at long last beginning to understand why the Doctor loves this world so much.

Ward Title Card

Although we’re still in the “Investigations” section of Sarah Jane’s life, we’ve taken a step forward again. Goodbye, K9 and Company; hello, Big Finish! Or almost, at any rate. In 2002, Big Finish Productions brought Sarah Jane back to the (figurative) screen with a series of Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas (which you can still purchase at the link at the bottom). This story takes place immediately before the first entry in that series, Sarah Jane Smith: Comeback, and brings her character up to a point that listeners of the series will recognize. I, unfortunately, am not yet one of those listeners; I’ve listened to quite a bit of Big Finish’s Doctor Who-related lineup, but haven’t made it to the Sarah Jane audios yet. However, as this story serves as a sort of introduction to that period, it doesn’t make much difference to have not listened to the audios.

I love stories where companions from different eras meet (as we saw in the last entry with Victoria Waterfield, although she and Sarah Jane and the Brigadier had already met in Downtime). Here, one of my favorite companions, Romana, meets Sarah Jane for the first time. (Both appear in The Five Doctors, but do not meet.) Romana and her K9—again not named, at the request of the owners of the character, but identifiable by description—have at some point escaped from E-Space, but Romana has not yet made her way to Gallifrey. At the end of this story, she is poised to do so, thus setting up for the beginning of not one spinoff series, but two (the Sarah Jane Smith audios and the Gallifrey series). Meanwhile, Sarah’s K9 doesn’t make an appearance, but Romana’s K9 has detected his presence on Earth; Sarah muses that her K9 is functioning increasingly poorly, leading up toward his eventual malfunction sometime prior to School Reunion.

Halfway through this story, I was convinced it was more Romana’s story than Sarah Jane’s, much as Little Girl Lost was more about the Brigadier. Sarah Jane does seem to be the kind of character that can facilitate the rise of other people. However, as it turns out, it’s Sarah’s moment to shine; she is the one who—again, by promoting another character—brings about the victory at the end of the story. It’s a confidence boost for Sarah as well, which she will need for the adventures that lie ahead in her near future. It’s a testament to how far-reaching this character’s influence is within the universe of Doctor Who; she touches everyone eventually, and most come away better for it.

At the same time, Romana is the most fascinating character here, because of what’s happening behind the scenes. She indicates that she is dying of a disease that pertains to her form; ever since regenerating into the form of Princess Astra—who, The Armageddon Factor tells us, was secretly a segment of the Key to Time—she has been somehow affected by the Key segment, and is dying as a result. As far as I can tell from research, this is a result of the events of The Chaos Pool, an installment in the Fifth Doctor “Key 2 Time” audio arc, in which Romana temporarily absorbs the Key to Time—but again, this is a story I haven’t heard yet. If anyone knows more, feel free to comment! More interesting yet is Romana’s reference to the often-debated Looms; she considers the possibility of stealing a Loom from Gallifrey to give bodies to Ellery’s people.

Overall: This was a very enjoyable story. It’s classic Doctor Who format, even without the Doctor: a mundane, if creepy, setting, suddenly revealed to be the work of something far beyond Earth. Sarah Jane is quickly revealing herself not just to be a warrior for good and justice, but also a healer of sorts—a restorer of those who are broken. She stands for those who cannot stand on their own. We’ve seen it in several stories so far, and I think it sets her up well for what lies ahead. It’s a good role for her. It was good, as well, to see Romana and K9 again, if only briefly.

Next time: We have one more story in the “Investigations” era: When the Stars Come to Man, by William J. Martin! See you there.

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

The Sarah Jane Smith audio drama series may be purchased here.

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Novel Review: Lucifer Rising, by Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re picking up an older thread from this series: The New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels, published by Virgin Publishing (series sometimes abbreviated as “VNAs”). It’s been awhile since our last visit here—almost two years, in fact, when we examined the thirteenth entry, series editor Peter Darvill-Evans’s 1993 novel, Deceit. I should point out that this is one of the hazards of tracking the Doctor Who universe: There’s so much material to cover, in so many ranges and media, that it’s easy to let a series lapse for far too long. But today, we’re making a course correction, so, welcome back!

Now, a confession: As I moved to pick up this series, I realized that I completed the next novel long ago, but failed to post about it at the time. I’m picking up that lost entry today, but it will be a bit of a rush job; I have various resources to jog my memory, but the material isn’t exactly fresh after nearly two years. As well, I’ll admit to being in a hurry to move on to more recent reading. So, today we’re looking at May 1993’s Lucifer Rising, by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore. Let’s get started!

Lucifer Rising front cover

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

The Doctor, Bernice Summerfield, and the recently-returned Ace McShane arrive on the Project Eden station above the planet Lucifer, and almost mysteriously begin to insinuate themselves among the crew. One of the Project’s team members—Paula Engado, daughter of mission commander Miles Engado—has just died by re-entry, falling into Lucifer’s atmosphere in a starsuit—but unknown to anyone, she saw angels as she died. Miles summons an adjudicator to investigate the death. As the Adjudicator arrives, the team’s mission continues: to research and lay bare the mysteries of Lucifer and its rather odd star system, centered on a strange subsurface power transmission facility dubbed the “mushroom farm”. More deaths occur, along with acts of sabotage—and it seems that Ace, or perhaps the Doctor, may be responsible. Miles slowly loses his mind in the course of his grief, and tries to commit suicide in the same manner as Paula’s death; but he is rescued by Paula’s spirit, accompanied by the angels. The Doctor convinces the Adjudicator of his innocence, and sides with him to help stop a rogue scientist, Bannen, from taking control of the mushroom farm and destroying the system in his ignorance. As the system is activated, the planet’s atmosphere is torn away into black holes. Ace reveals that she manipulated the Doctor into coming here as part of a mission left from her days in Spacefleet; in the twenty-sixth century, there is an exclusion zone around the Lucifer system, and she wants to know why. That portion of the system’s history is about to begin, and she intends to witness it. The Adjudicator is killed by a strange being, and the Doctor kills it in turn, realizing that he has himself been too often guilty of manipulation. He sends the crew away in the Adjudicator’s shuttle, and takes Ace and Bernice to confront Bannen in the mushroom farm. The farm is revealed to control morphic fields, energy fields that shape biology—but the system is now running out of control due to sabotage to its feedback mechanism. The Doctor joins hands with Bernice, Ace, and Bannen, fusing together in the face of the morphic fields, but—through their dreams—providing the necessary feedback to shut down the system. Bannen becomes the new feedback mechanism for the system, and the Doctor and his companions are restored to normal. They depart—and as history demands, the system’s exclusion zone is complete. Later, the Doctor and his friends join Miles on Earth to honor Paula’s memory.

warhead-3

Up front, I’ll say I found Lucifer Rising to be a difficult read. It’s a good story, to be sure, and replete with the weirdness and technobabble that I sometimes expect from Doctor Who; but it takes a long time to get to the point. More than that, the story jumps around quite a bit, with little explanation between leaps. Perhaps the most immersion-breaking moment for me was near the beginning; the body of the story opens in media res, with the Doctor and his companions already having been present on the Eden Project space station for some time, and no one thinking this is odd! In fact, several of the crew find themselves wondering if the Doctor and his friends had been there all along, or were part of the crew. It’s been awhile, but I don’t remember any proper explanation for this phenomenon (something something telepathic circuits, maybe?), and I don’t recall seeing this happen in any other story. I’m accustomed to the Doctor having to smooth-talk his way into a situation. Mysterious, indeed!

I haven’t looked deeply into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production of the New Adventures; but I think it’s telling that the previous novel was written by series editor Peter Darvill-Evans. It seems to have been a course correction of sorts for Ace, who returned therein after three novels away. For the Doctor, that’s been a fairly straightforward time, perhaps a few months at most, but for Ace it’s been three years—and not just any three years, but three years of enlistment in Earth’s Spacefleet. She comes back hard as nails, bitter and angry, and dangerous. Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane double down on that here, and has Ace be the manipulator as well, tricking the Doctor into bringing her here to complete a final Spacefleet mission. I don’t know yet how far this new Ace will go; but she won’t show the first signs of her old, happier personality returning until we get to Shadowmind, a few more books ahead.

Bernice, meanwhile, can’t catch a break, and there’s no sign of any change in the near future. She seems to exist only to have brushes with death, and has several here; otherwise she spends most of her time in the way. I feel bad for her; she has so much potential as a companion—and obviously things must get better at some point, as she takes over as the lead character of the New Adventures after the licensing of the Doctor expires. So far, though, she’s essentially disaster bait, and never accomplishes much. Spoiler alert: That’s not going to change in the near future.

We get introduced to the Guild of Adjudicators here, from which future companions Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej will spring. The Guild was mentioned as far back as Colony in Space, but their first onscreen appearance is here, in the form of the dour and analytical Adjudicator Bishop. Bishop is a bit trigger-happy, and spends a considerable amount of time coming to the wrong conclusions; but I like the guy, and was disappointed to see him meet a bad end. (Not much of a spoiler, that; deaths are like pennies in the New Adventures, they’re everywhere.) We’ll see more of the guild later, of course, but this book does a decent job of setting the tone for them: even Bernice, in the future, is familiar with them, and isn’t a fan.

Continuity References: Quite a few, actually! The starship Hydrax (State of Decay) gets a mention, as one Project Eden scientist, Piper O’Rourke, had a husband, Ben O’Rourke, serving aboard that ship when it vanished. This also gives a timeframe for the disappearance of the Hydrax, as Lucifer Risingtakes place in 2157. Ace refers back to several past stories, including Deceit (mentioning a ship, the Admiral Raistrick, on which she served), Dragonfire(mentioning being from Perivale), Love and War(her love interest Jan, and her earlier love interest Julian), and—indirectly–Colony in Space(mentioning IMC being aware of the Third Doctor and Jo Grant by way of that story). She also dreams of the death of her father, addressed in Rapture. Bernice also mentions Love and War by repeating the story of her father’s disappearance in the Second Dalek War. The Doctor dreams about the hermit on Mount Cadon on Galifrey (The Time Monster), and mentions having spared Davros (and thus condemned billions) (Genesis of the Daleks). This story occurs during—but at a distance from—the Dalek invasion of Earth in 2157, and the Doctor gives Piper the packet of powder that his first incarnation will then use on Earth in defeating the invasion force. Oddly, though, no direct mention of the invasion is made, although it is indicated that they are destroying Earth colonies on a possible track to Earth. The Doctor mentions Orcini from Revelation of the Daleks. The honorific terms Krauand Trau, last heard in The Caves of Androzani, are used here. Ace mentions having stolen the energy packs from a Special Weapons Dalek, last seen in Remembrance of the Daleks. Also, the Doctor mentions his age, claiming to be 943 years old.

A prologue to the story was published in DWM 199, pictured below.

Lucifer Rising prologue

Worth mentioning is that, allegedly, Virgin Books was looking into a possible regeneration for the Doctor, which would have seen his eighth incarnation resembling David Troughton. These plans were being laid at the time of this book’s writing, although it does not directly reference them. Eventually the plans were scrapped, and the 1996 movie, just three years later, would give us the now-accepted regeneration into the Eighth Doctor.

Overall: A good story, with lots of good material, but unfortunately fractured in its execution. It also perhaps goes on a little too long. I may be a bit biased; at the time I read it, I was fairly burnt out on the New Adventures, and this novel had much to do with that. Nevertheless, if you’re coming into it fresh, you will most likely enjoy it.

Next time: I’ve picked up the series again, and we’ll begin with David A. McIntee’s White Darkness! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Little Girl Lost, by Tina Marie DeLucia

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing with the “Investigations” portion of Sarah Jane’s life, with the eighth entry of the anthology: Little Girl Lost, by Tina Marie DeLucia. Let’s get started!

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

The year is 1995, late in the year, and Sarah Jane Smith and now-retired Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart have recently survived a battle with the Great Intelligence at the now-defunct New World University. The University is no more, and the Great Intelligence has departed; but what became of his instrument, the Doctor’s former companion, Victoria Waterfield? Sarah Jane doesn’t know; but what she does know is that she is seeing visions of Victoria everywhere, and they are increasing in both frequency and intensity. And more, in these visions, Victoria is clearly in distress.

Something must be done—but Sarah, despite her visions, is not willing to do it. As it turns out, though, someone else is…because the Brigadier is also having visions of Victoria Waterfield. He would give anything to be able to spend his retirement in peace, pushing his newfound grandson on the swings and gardening with his wife, Doris; but he can’t do that as long as the matter of Victoria remains unresolved. And so, he takes a page from Sarah Jane’s book, and begins to investigate. He finds many oddities—notably, that there is now mention of the woman before 1968, a year in which she should already have been a teenager. As well, he is unaware of it, but his own memories of Victoria—whom he met long ago, long before the incident at New World—have fled him. When he reaches the end of his investigatory skills, he turns to Sarah Jane for help.

Sarah wants nothing to do with Victoria; but the Brigadier appeals to her professional pride, and at last persuades her to meet. Over tea, they compare notes, and form a plan. Gradually they realize that Victoria, like them, has traveled with the Doctor, in her case from the year 1850 to 1968, where she then remained until now. Sarah also realizes there are holes in the Brigadier’s memory, though she cannot say why. Sarah is still unwilling to find her, until the Brigadier insists; he feels that they did wrong by Victoria in not helping her after the fall of New World, and moreover, they are some of the few in the world who can possibly understand her experiences. At last Sarah relents, and commits to helping him find her—and as it turns out, she does have an idea of where to start.

Elsewhere, Victoria Waterfield is alone. She wrestles with the guilt of what she did at New World University—of the way she was used by the Great Intelligence. Her pain is intense, and at last she tears apart the image of the woman she was during that time, cutting her hair, and even breaking the mirrors in her flat, hurting herself in the process. She even decides to hide her name, calling herself Victoria Harris, the surname of the adoptive parents who took her in after the Doctor.

Not coincidentally, it is the Harrises that Sarah Jane and the Brigadier seek out. They find Maggie Harris, Victoria’s adoptive mother, alone in her home, and at length persuade her to answer their questions. They tell her of their own involvement with the Doctor, and reluctantly—but gratefully—she tells them of how Victoria came to them, many years ago. However, during her university days, Victoria left them, returning to Tibet, and they believed her dead in the years since. Maggie’s husband has never given up, and is still searching for her—though, his investigations have currently landed him in the hospital with a broken hip. In the end, she is unable to help them; but they are able to give her some hope, and promise to bring Victoria home if they can.

However, after they leave the Harris home, the Brigadier has an idea. What if Victoria isn’t using her own name? What if she is using the surname of her parents? It’s astounding that neither of them thought of it before—but here they are.

“Harris” being a more common name, this search takes longer—but at last, they find her. She is pale and drawn when they meet her at the door of her tiny flat, and there are bandages on her fingers, and her hair is cut raggedly. She is angry that they have come, but after much pleading, she allows them five minutes to make their case—and then throws them out. However, before leaving, the Brigadier writes a note: “13 Bannerman Road. When You’re Ready. L-S.” Victoria crumples it in fury—how could they understand her suffering? No one could! And yet, quietly, she mulls it over, and then accepts one of their suggestions. She picks up the phone, and calls Maggie Harris.

Weeks later, the Brigadier pays Sarah Jane a visit at Bannerman Road. Sarah is sulking at their failure, though the Brigadier insists that Victoria is within her rights to ignore them. Sarah insists that it’s not that; rather, it’s anger that the Great Intelligence used Victoria’s pain as an entrance point. The Brigadier concedes the point, having realized that his own memories were manipulated by the Intelligence to keep him from properly responding to Victoria at New World. He reflects that perhaps some of those who have known the Doctor can’t be saved—but, they can always try. After all, there are others—the Chestertons, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant…even if Victoria Waterfield remains lost.

They are interrupted by the doorbell. Sarah goes to answer, expecting rowdy neighborhood children—but what she finds is Victoria Waterfield, looking much healthier and of better mind. Sarah invites her in, and over tea and biscuits, this unlikely trio at last gets a chance to talk over the things they have endured—not least of all, this once-little girl, no longer lost.

DeLucia Title Card

I apologize for the delay in posting this review. I intended to post yesterday; but this entry took me to a corner of the Whoniverse with which I was not familiar, that of the various independent video spinoffs. Specifically, this story builds upon Downtime, a 1995 Marc Platt-penned video (and also novelization) that involved the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, and Victoria Waterfield—and that gave us the first appearance of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, who has since been incorporated into the revived series, giving Downtime an extra degree of legitimacy, perhaps. I have yet to watch Downtime–and in fact, if anyone knows a legitimate streaming source available in the US, please let me know—and so some research was required. Unlike the previous stories in the “Investigations” section of the anthology, Little Girl Lost isn’t a separate story set within the time period of a licensed work; it builds directly on the events of Downtime.

So, a quick synopsis: Downtime establishes that Victoria never fully escaped the influence of the Great Intelligence after the events of The Web of Fear. Pulled back under the Intelligence’s control, she returned to England and established New World University, an organization ostensibly offering guidance to troubled youths. However, in truth it serves to enslave and brainwash its students, using them in the Intelligence’s plan to infect the Internet (which may not have been called by that name here, but the description fits) and thus conquer the world. (Incidentally, I see echoes of this in the NuWho story, The Bells of St. John…though it’s perhaps a much more useful idea in the age of WiFi!) The Brigadier and Sarah Jane free Victoria and bring down the University…but in the end, Victoria disappears.

This is where Little Girl Lost picks up, some weeks or perhaps months later. It’s the story of Victoria’s redemption—but not from her own actions; rather, from her own guilt. Moreover, it’s a redemption of sorts for Sarah Jane and the Brigadier, who are also living with the fallout of the events at New World—and in the broader sense, with the fallout of being a friend of the Doctor.

That theme—of how life goes on when the Doctor leaves—will be revisited several times in NuWho, first by Sarah Jane herself in School Reunion, and later by Amy and Rory in various stories, and even to some degree by Clara Oswald and Bill Potts. Life with the Doctor may be glorious, but in the end, there are always pieces to be picked up (for those that survive, anyway, though none of the Doctor’s deceased companions are mentioned here).

I couldn’t shake the impression that this story is actually about the Brigadier. Sarah Jane may have been the hook for the story—after all, it’s a Sarah Jane anthology—and Victoria may have been the goal; but it’s the Brigadier who provides the driving force for everything that happens here. He pushes Sarah to investigate; he pushes Victoria to come into the fold. We get to see a side of him that we rarely see: the sentimental, caring side. We see it first in his thoughts about his family, including the recently-reconciled Kate and her son, Gordy; we see it in the way he speaks of the Doctor’s former companions as a sort of family. He’s gentle toward Maggie Harris, and toward Victoria. He’s thoughtful and quietly persuasive toward Sarah. It’s a far cry from the bombastic-but-formal Brigadier of older days; but it rounds out his character nicely, and gives him new depth. I’ve said numerous times that the Brig is one of my favorite characters, and it pleases me to see him get such a good treatment here.

Overall, it’s a somber, bittersweet story, but with a hopeful ending. We’ve had humor and meta-humor and excitement and action; and just as the portrayal of the Brigadier balances his character, this story brings balance to the anthology. It’s fitting, I think, that it is the center story of the anthology (in numbers, that is; it’s number eight of fifteen); it exists at the point of balance in more ways than one. Well done, Tina Marie DeLucia.

Next time: We join Scarlett Ward for The Insterstellar & The Improbable! See you there.

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

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

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

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanisko Title Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology, and Sarah Jane in an Exciting Adventure with the Fauxes, by Anna Maloney

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of this post.

I mentioned in an early review that this anthology breaks Sarah Jane’s life into five periods. We’ve covered three so far: Childhood; her service with UNIT and the Third Doctor; and her travels with the Fourth Doctor. Two remain, and they comprise the bulk of the anthology; not coincidentally, they also cover periods not as well documented in licensed sources. The fourth has been designated Investigation, and covers Sarah’s life from her appearance in the pilot for K9 and Company, through Downtime, and into her Big Finish audio adventures. I will say up front that I am not well versed in any of those materials, and so, while I’ll put in the necessary research for these reviews, some of you may well know much more than I do. Nevertheless, let’s keep going!

Today’s story, the sixth in the anthology, is Sarah Jane in an Exciting Adventure with the Fauxes, by Anna Maloney. As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute. Let’s get started!

Defending Earth (Cover)

Someone is killing rock stars—and Sarah Jane Smith has the case.

Sent by her editor to report on the recent rash of high-profile murders, Sarah notices a few things almost immediately. The victims all played at a certain club in Liverpool—the Cavern Club—on the nights of their murders. Perhaps more pertinent, all the victims were men, middle-aged, initially successful in the sixties, and now on tour again, with resurging popularity. It’s an odd combination; but it’s enough to point Sarah in the right direction. And it just so happens that another band—the Fauxes—fits the bill…and is en route to Liverpool to play at the Cavern Club. She gathers her troops—her robotic sidekick, and her aunt Lavinia’s young ward Brendan—and heads for Liverpool.

With a little help from her editor, Sarah arranges to replace the limo driver for the Fauxes, and gets reservations in the hotel. She strategically places a newspaper in the backseat of the limousine, one that contains the latest on the murders. Naturally, the Fauxes glance over it, and immediately realize that they may be next, which is just the opening Sarah wants. After some token persuasion, she reveals that she is investigating the murders, and agrees to double as a guide for the Fauxes around the city to keep them out of trouble while they wait for their concert date.

The next morning, she leaves her robot in her hotel room. She and Brendan split up the Fauxes between them, and go to the various clubs in town where the previous victims played—several of them having played other clubs in addition to the Cavern—to ask questions of the staff and managers. Although she gathers some tantalizing clues, it’s nothing conclusive…yet. The group gathers for lunch, and then Brenda takes three of the four musicians back to the hotel, while Sarah and the fourth, Tony, go to another club, The System.

The manager of the System reports much the same as all the other clubs—that the various performers were nervous beforehand, most likely about the murders—though this includes the first to die, who should have had no idea. However, the System is uniquely involved here; one musician, John Dunsmore, was killed here, while navigating the press gauntlet on the dance floor after his show. The manager’s assistant, Peter, reports that he saw a dart in the man’s neck. Further, some windows in the club were broken, though no one can account for when it happened. During this excursion, Tony subtly flirts with Sarah Jane, though she doesn’t seem to notice. She takes Tony back to the hotel, and then turns in for the night, mulling over what she has learned.

In the morning, Sarah is awakened early by a terrified Tony. She follows him to the Fauxes’ room, where they are all packing hurriedly. Tony insists that someone has been in their room during the night, and shows her a playing card with a strange symbol, ostensibly left by the intruder. Sarah Jane concocts a plan; she will check them out, and they will ask the concierge for a recommendation for another hotel, but then they will sneak back in and take up residence in her room instead. Then they will wait to see what happens—after all, the intruder had to have help in locating them. Meanwhile, the symbol on the card seems familiar, but she can’t place it. As she carries out the plan, she has Brendan pack her robot away out of sight.

Sarah leaves the musicians with the room to rest up—their concert is tomorrow. As they won’t allow her to leave them behind, she sends Brendan out for food, and urges the Fauxes to sleep, while she mulls over her notes and the card. She also receives a call from her editor, and gives him an update; crowing over her work, he comments that they are outdoing rival paper The Echo, which heretofore has always seemed to get a photographer right in front of the victims as they died.

In the morning, Sarah takes the Fauxes to the Cavern Club for their rehearsal and sound check. The show will begin at Six P.M. She returns to the hotel and gives her editor another update, then returns to her notes. When Brendan wakes up, she talks it over with him…and then begins to see a connection. She sends him out for copies of the Echo from the dates of the murders. When he returns, she discovers that all the photos were taken by one Rafel Bert, who in each case is right in front of the victim, taking a photo right as the murder occurs, but never catching the perpetrator. She confirms the presence of darts in each victim’s neck. She realizes that the symbol on the card is a symbol for camera film—and that Bert is the killer.

She reports this to her editor, but asks him to wait before acting so that she can be sure. She and Brendan head to the club, but she is forced by traffic to walk, leaving Brendan with the car. In the crowd, she searches for Bert. She catches him just as the press rush begins, and pulls him away as he tries to resist. The Fauxes, led by Tony, dive in to help her, getting Bert in a headlock and restraining him as the police are called. As Bert is taken into custody, the police examine his camera, and find a custom accessory…with a poisoned dart still inside. Sarah whisks the Fauxes back into the car and off to the hotel. Over their thanks, she explains how she figured it out. She downplays her part, but is secretly pleased.

Later, Sarah interviews Bert in jail, and asks why he did it. His answer? Because front page news sells. He did it simply to get his photos on the front cover—and of course, for the money. After the interview, she reports this to her editor, who can only shrug; some people are just that crazy for money, he says. Ironically, though, that Bert mentions the front cover—because today’s front cover has Sarah Jane Smith on it.

Maloney Title Card.png

I mentioned above that I am not particularly familiar with K9 and Company; but I like to think that this story is a good representation of what may have been presented had the series gone ahead. It’s mundane as Doctor Who-related stories go; there’s nothing supernatural, nothing alien, only a run-of-the-mill, Earthly mystery. That’s not to say it’s not a goodmystery, however, and it lets us see Sarah Jane’s investigative skills in full swing.

I should note, here, that although this story is clearly set in the K9 and Company era, and uses at least one character from that series, K9 himself is pointedly not included as such. The anthology project was unable to secure the rights to the use of the character, and so another, unnamed robot is substituted. It’s of course totally coincidental that the robot fits in a large suitcase, can be tripped over, and calls her “Mistress”…

Sarah Jane is fully on her own here. No Doctor, no UNIT—this is her show, and she gets things done. The sometimes whiny, fretful Sarah Jane of her television appearances is nowhere to be seen anymore; this Sarah is capable, strong, clever, and utterly unrattled by anything that happens around her. She’s gone from companion to leader, and it’s a good look for her. Granted, the threats are more mundane…but that doesn’t make them any less threatening. If, when I first watched The Ark in Space, you told me that the woman who gets stuck in a crawlspace and has to be goaded out by the Doctor, would one day wrestle a murderer to the ground in the middle of a crowded dancefloor, I would never have believed it. She’s certainly come a long way.

On the downside: The story loses focus here and there, with a few “rabbit trail” plot elements. There are hints that Tony, one of the Fauxes, is trying to flirt with Sarah, but she is oblivious to it, and nothing ever comes of it. K9—excuse me, other robot–is completely extraneous here (and understandably so, given that the author had to tread lightly due to the rights issue; but it would have perhaps been better to leave him out completely). Brendan, aunt Lavinia’s teenage ward, is mostly extraneous; he serves as a sounding board for Sarah, which is useful enough, but then the story really has no place for him in the second half, and shuffles him off into a metaphorical corner. There’s only room for one hero (heroine?) here.

Overall, though, it’s a sunny future at hand for Sarah Jane Smith. She’s doing what she loves, and she’s good at it. It’s nice to see a more earthly adventure for her, no Slitheen or Sontarans required. The story is of moderate length, perhaps three times the length of the previous entry; it’s not a quick read, but it’s not too complex, either.

Next time: We’ll continue the Investigation era with Sarah Jane, Superstar! by Joshua and Lillian Wanisko. See you there!

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

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

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

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…is a Miracle.

Bojaciuk Title Card.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macaronas Title Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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