Review: “Moon Man”, Peter Capaldi Charity Zine

It’s review time again! Today we’re covering…something a little different!

After my recent review of the Defending Earth charity anthology, I received an email from Ginger Hoesly, the host of a charity ‘zine (do we still use the apostrophe? Or is it just “zine” these days?) titled Moon Man, focusing on everyone’s favorite (twelfth) Time Lord, the esteemed Peter Capaldi. Ginger asked me if I would be willing to review the project, which is on sale now (see below for a link!). This corner of the fandom is really something with which I have no experience, and so—partly for the cause, and partly for my own curiosity—I gladly agreed. And, here we are!

Moon Man 1 cover

Moon Man Cover Art by Rhiannon McGuiness

This zine (we’ll go with that spelling—take that, punctuation!) is, as I said, focused on Peter Capaldi rather than the Twelfth Doctor. However, the prose portion of the zine is a unique Twelfth Doctor story, and so it fits with the theme of this site. The story is accompanied by forty-one illustrations of various roles from Peter’s career, submitted by many artists in a variety of styles—I’ll be featuring a few as we go. All proceeds from the sale of Moon Man will go to the Glasgow School of Art, Peter Capaldi’s alma mater; sales are open until 29 April, and can be accessed at the link below.

As always when I cover charity projects, there will be spoilers ahead! My reason for including more spoilers in this type of review is that charity projects, unlike licensed work, don’t get the kind of long-term availability, or documentation, that licensed works get. To a very real degree, once it’s over, it’s over. I believe, though, that many charity stories are rich contributions to the greater Whoniverse, and deserve to be recorded in some way—and so I document them here as I can. But, don’t be fooled—no summary is a substitute for actually purchasing and reading the material. Check it out!

Moon Man 2 Local Hero

Danny Oldsen from Local Hero, art by Arianna Climaci

When I sit down to summarize the plot of a story, it’s a straightforward—if sometimes tedious—affair. You start at the beginning, point A, and work through points B and C, all the way to point Z, the end. I can’t do that today, though; because the story contained in Moon Man is something different: if I may borrow the term, it’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. (I’m sure that term is copyrighted, so let me say that it’s me using it to make a comparison; the term isn’t used anywhere in the zine.) Over the course of about a dozen possible selections, the story builds through various scenes at the discretion of the reader. In the first scene, a quick trip to the shops turns into a disaster in the making for Clara Oswald and the Twelfth Doctor, as the TARDIS tries to pull itself apart. The ship is attempting to land in at least a dozen places and times, all at once! The Doctor is able to narrow it to two, but Clara is forced to make a snap decision as to which they will visit. In each of the scenes that follow, the TARDIS shuts down and refuses to budge—in one case, locking them out—until they do…something. What they must do, remains to be seen.

Moon Man 3 The Hour

Randall Brown from The Hour, art by Emma J. Goddard

In one scene, the TARDIS takes them to the Happer Institute, a combined sky-and-sea observatory—but it lands them in the past, shortly before the construction of the observatory, where Clara briefly encounters an oddly familiar young man. In another, while the Doctor constructs a micro-artron detector to help them track their progress, Clara encounters a late-evening office worker named Randall Brown, who has no time for her at all. A third takes them to 1992 Scotland, where the TARDIS promptly locks them out—until they help a stranded motorist named Gavin Bellini. Clara starts to see a pattern in their stops, and snaps a picture of Gavin with the strangely-oblivious Doctor…

Moon Man 4 Soft Top Hard Shoulder

Gavin Bellini from Soft Top Hard Shoulder, art by Valentina Mozzo

Cardiff, 2013: The zombie apocalypse is on, despite the Doctor’s dour insistence that he’s never done this before (a lie, I might add—see my recent review for White Darkness). The TARDIS lands at a World Health Organization facility, where a few survivors wait. The Doctor ultimately leaves Clara secured in the TARDIS while he impersonates a more traditional doctor—a WHO Doctor, one might say (though Clara is having none of that!). Another place, but not far off in time: Windsor Gardens, 2017, the Doctor impersonates a Mr. Curry to get close to a strange, anthropomorphic bear…which is decidedly not of alien origin. A surge of guilt, courtesy of Clara, makes him rethink his plan, and the duo withdraw. Back to Derbyshire, 1988, where they are accosted by a young man in traditional Scottish garb, desperately seeking a set of bagpipes, much to the Doctor’s disgust—and Clara’s astonishment that the young man’s face is not familiar to the Doctor.

Moon Man 5 World War Z

WHO Doctor from World War Z, art by Sochika

The TARDIS seems to be growing tired—if that is possible—as it takes them to Paris, the 1600s. And yet it’s not Paris outside when the door opens; rather, it’s Prague, 2013—but with a rather large number of people in 1600s period dress. Perhaps the TARDIS is confused? As it turns out, it’s a film shoot, for a new version of The Three Musketeers. Clara is distracted by the filming as the Doctor encounters the actor who plays Cardinal Richelieu…and criticizes his appearance. Doctor to the end! But at any rate, the TARDIS pulls itself together for another trip. This time, it travels to Rome, 1st Century A.D., where it lands in a rather colorful villa. The Doctor stays inside to work on the TARDIS while Clara has a look around; but she is stunned to see a man with not only an approximation of the Doctor’s face and voice, but exactly the same face and voice! As soon as she is free, she races back to the TARDIS, but before she can take the Doctor to look, the TARDIS lurches into motion again.

Moon Man 6 Torchwood

John Frobisher from Torchwood: Children of Earth, art by Sirlsplayland

2010 London finds the Doctor sitting in the office of a man who looks just like him…a spin doctor named Malcolm Tucker. He plays the role reasonably well, just oddly enough to confuse Malcolm’s coworkers as he quizzes them on events of the last two weeks. Not coincidentally, that’s how long the TARDIS has been present; but it is not the only alien presence in the area—and why is everyone getting strange headaches? Why are there new security updates on every computer first thing each morning? Still, he only has a little time to work here, as Clara keeps the real (and rather abrasive) Malcolm Tucker busy. He’s nearly successful; but he is found out by one of the coworkers, Sam, who recognizes him for his profound lackof swearing—did I mention that Malcolm could be abrasive? He confides in her that the government—perhaps all the way up to Downing Street, where there is currently an unusually high concentration of artron energy—has a virus, and not only the computers, but the individuals, are being affected. As he prepares to wage war on the virus, Sam throws in her lot with him.

Moon Man 7 Paddington

Mr. Curry from Paddington, art by Sophie Iles

Fans of Capaldi’s long and storied career will have no doubt caught on long ago to what is happening in this story. I was not so lucky; I grew up in the US, and never heard of Peter Capaldi until he was selected to be the Twelfth Doctor. I still am unfamiliar with most of his work (though I’ve picked up a bit of The Thick of It, which is remarkable and fun and too vulgar to watch with the kids, meaning I don’t get to watch it often). As a consequence it took me about three or four scenes to realize what was happening. That’s not a complaint about the presentation; it’s more a lament about my own lack of foreknowledge.

Moon Man 8 The Lair of the White Worm

Angus Flint from The Lair of the White Worm, art by Tousle

I’ve presented the scenes in a certain order above; but that’s only a concession to the summary format, and it is almost certainly the wrong order. Each “path” through the story is about four scenes long, and some endings can be reached in different ways. Because this story is a tribute to various roles, none of the scenes dig deep in terms of plot; they pass quickly. Likewise, none of the endings seem like traditional endings; rather, every scene and ending feels like the jumping-off point for a new adventure. Indeed, I’d be thrilled to see fanfiction writers (or professional writers, for that matter, in other charity projects) pick up these threads and run with them; some of them, especially the scene with Malcolm Tucker and the “zombie apocalypse” scene, seem especially promising, and I’d love to see where they go!

Moon Man 9 The Musketeers

Cardinal Richelieu from The Musketeers, art by Melissa Dow

But, none of that is necessary here, because this is a tribute rather than a single story—and a great tribute it is, as well. The story serves as a tribute not only to the various roles, but also and especially to the Twelfth Doctor. The characterization and dialogue are spot on; Clara, especially, is as witty as ever, the Doctor as socially awkward and overbearing as ever. I’ve been uncharitable to Clara in the past; but this is early-stage Clara (the story, based on descriptions, seems to fit best in early Series 8), when she’s still very likeable, before tragedy strikes in the form of the doomed Danny Pink.

Moon Man 10 The Thick of It

Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It, art by Raine Szramski

What stands out most of all, though, is the artwork. The range of styles is impressive; the sheer number of artist contributors caught me off guard. I’ve included a few—those connected to the story, and those most relevant to Doctor Who, but the zine is worth picking up simply for the art. (I don’t have room to credit every artist here individually, but I have tried to do so with the selections I’ve featured here.)

Moon Man 11 The Fires of Pompeii

Lobus Caecilius from Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, art by Jose Rod Mota

Overall: I didn’t know what to expect, this being my first experience with this type of work. I was pleasantly surprised. Moon Man is an entertaining story, accompanied by a phenomenal set of illustrations, and it’s worth adding to anyone’s collection. Check it out!

Moon Man, a charity zine tribute to Peter Capaldi, may be purchased here. All proceeds go to support the Glasgow School of Art. Thanks to Ginger Hoesly and her talented group of artists for putting this project together!

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Letters from the Heart

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we reach the end of our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we conclude the “Family” portion of the anthology with the fifteenth and final entry: Letters from the Heart, by Anne-Laure Tuduri. 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. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Center, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

Sarah Jane Smith has grown old. Her health is no longer what it once was; but her mind remains sharp and bright, and though her adventures may have come largely to an end, she remembers the amazing life she has lived. She considers herself blessed to share those memories with her granddaughter, Lily.

Lily is now old enough to attend school on her own, in London. It is a bit of a struggle for her, due to her autism, but she feels she is making the adjustment; and with the support of her grandmother, she is optimistic for her future. In the meantime, her interest in alien cultures—learned from Sarah Jane—has grown immensely, and she relishes the chance to not only make new friends, but to discover new contacts by way of Sarah’s connections at UNIT and at her old house at Bannerman Road (now occupied by an adult Rani Chandra, who continues Sarah’s work).

Still, it’s a long way from Sarah’s cottage in the country; and so grandmother and granddaughter send emails back and forth, telling each other news of their lives, and giving encouraging words. As the year progresses, plans are made for the Christmas holidays, when Lily will return home. Her mother and father can’t make it—stuck in Peru, and if one is being completely honest, they still don’t fully know how to handle their daughter. They may be happier where they are; but others will visit: Sky, and Luke, and maybe even—dare Lily hope?—the man in the blue box, Sarah’s old friend, who drops by occasionally…when he can find his way.

After the holidays, Lily finds herself back at school, and all as well—until Sarah Jane throws a spanner into the works. It seems Sarah has an unexpected guest: an alien named Anya, from the planet Creex, crash-landed in a faulty escape pod. Sarah has a plan to get Anya home; but her own health isn’t up to it, and Anya, fearful of the military, won’t allow her to involve UNIT. With Rani traveling abroad for a month, the only one Sarah can count on…is Lily. Can she come in two weeks and pick up Anya, and take her to Mr. Smith at Bannerman Road?

Lily is horrified at the thought at first—this is every fear and anxiety in one place, although she has to admit she would love to meet the alien. How will she make this work? What if something happens? Sarah, though, responds gently to her fears, and after much discussion, talks her down—and gets her to agree to the plan. Two weeks later, Lily picks up Anya—whose blue skin really does stand out—and takes her to Bannerman Road late at night.

Unfortunately, Mr. Smith is not able to construct a teleport strong enough to get her home. Instead he is forced to summon a rescue ship that is passing nearby…but nearby is a relative term, and it will be two weeks before they arrive! With little recourse—after all, it wouldn’t be safe to leave Anya alone at Bannerman Road—Lily takes the alien back to her flat, and resigns herself to buying twice the food for two weeks—while still making her classes work. Talk about stress!

But in the end—and much to Lily’s surprise…it all works out. Anya proves to be a quiet and respectful houseguest, which is just what Lily needs, as noises and overstimulation set off her nerves. The two discover a mutual love for learning, especially about other civilizations; Anya, as it turns out, was on a vacation cruise when her ship suffered a fault and sent her crashing to Earth. She tells Lily of her own world, and its violent history, which ultimately led to its modern pacifism and its status as an interstellar hub. And—better still—with the help of Mr. Smith, the two will be able to keep in touch!

It’s a good ending for Lily—but of course it’s never over, because there will be more adventures, and more aliens. With a little chagrin, Lily admits to her grandmother that she could have handled it better…but then again, she can still do so in the future. After all, she has big shoes to fill—and she wants to make Sarah Jane proud.

Tuduri Title Card

Here we are, at the end! And what a journey it’s been. We’ve walked with Sarah Jane Smith from her childhood, through her time at UNIT and adventuring with the Doctor; adventuring both on her own and among friends; settling in at Bannerman Road; and now, aging gracefully and peacefully. No one, I think, deserves a peaceful retirement than Sarah—and no one deserves more to know that her legacy won’t end as she ages. That’s what we have here, with her granddaughter Lily.

I mentioned Lily a few entries ago, but a quick recap: This character, along with her mother Lauren, were introduced in the prose Short Trip story titled Lily, from 2004’s Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury collection by Big Finish production. (To clarify: this is one of Big Finish’s print Short Trips collections, published before the range moved to audio.) The timing of the story indicates that Lauren should have been born near the end of what would become The Sarah Jane Adventures; that series didn’t mention Sarah’s pregnancy, but doesn’t contradict it either. Lily is autistic (and I apologize if my phrasing here is offensive to anyone; I don’t know what the accepted form is at this point). As a result, her parents don’t fully understand her, and often rely on Sarah Jane to assist with raising her while they travel the world for their work. Sarah, however, dotes on the young girl (though, at the time of Lily, she too is struggling to cope, a struggle which will be eased with help from the Fifth Doctor). In this story, Lily is older; her age isn’t specified, but she is old enough to live alone, and to attend one type of school or another. Our story consists entirely of email correspondence between Lily and Sarah.

I said in my last entry that not every story is about the action; sometimes, what you need is to know the minds and hearts of the characters. It’s far less about what happens to the characters, and far more what happens in them. The same is true for this story. For Sarah Jane, it’s peace and contentment and happiness—something she’s had coming for a long time, in my opinion. For Lily, it’s optimism and hope and a better understanding, not only of herself, but also of the world around her, and her place in it. Sarah’s story may be coming to its end—though admittedly it’s a good end—but Lily’s has just begun; and she could find no better footsteps in which to walk than those of Sarah Jane Smith. At the same time, the path she walks is uniquely her own, and she comes to appreciate that here.

There’s not much in the way of direct continuity references; but a few oblique references are made. UNIT gets a mention, and Sarah still has connections there, though certainly all of her old friends must have moved on. The Doctor still comes around to visit; Lily refers to him as “Byronic”, leading me to believe we’re dealing with the Twelfth Doctor again, though opinions may vary. (I’m a little rusty on my Byron, sorry…) Luke and Sky are still around, though both are away from home. There is even a tongue-in-cheek reference to the infamous UNIT dating controversy, in which Lily states that “UNIT really did a good job with their cover-ups in the 70s/80s (such a good job we’re not even sure of the correct decade!).” Which, now that I think of it, is as good an explanation as any.

Overall: It’s the tone of this story that nails it for me. The text is exactly what one would expect in emails from a socially sheltered teenager and her grandmother. Sarah is a little more formal and reserved, but always kindly and even apologetic where necessary. Lily is emotive and prone to outbursts, and changes topics quickly; she rushes through some parts, labors over others. Given that everything is written in first person—these are, after all, emails—it’s perhaps the most convincing piece in the book. Moreover, it’s the ending that the anthology needed. If you were able to obtain a copy, check it out!

And, that’s it! At the editor’s request, I have submitted some interview questions; if the answers come back, I’ll post them here. Otherwise, thanks for reading, and for following along! See you next time.

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. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

The Sarah Jane Adventures may be purchased on DVD from various retailers, and may be streamed on various streaming services.

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Full Circle, by M.H. Norris

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re nearing the end of our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing the “Family” portion of the anthology with entry number fourteen of fifteen: Full Circle, by anthology editor M.H. Norris. 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. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Center, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

Maria Jackson returns home for the first time in several years, taking a break from her university studies. Just as her plane lands, she gets a call from an old friend: Sarah Jane Smith. It’s not long afterward that she is met by another friend, one she has not had opportunity to know as well as she’d like: young Sky Smith, Sarah Jane’s adopted daughter.

There’s no time to lose, for they have a mission to complete!

All her old memories come racing back the moment Maria sees the Star Poet. It isn’t the same one she met on that long-ago night, when she first discovered aliens were real; but it could be its twin. What is it about Earth being a popular destination for the residents of Arcateen Five? And what gets them stranded here? But never mind that now.

Sky greets the Poet, and explains that her mother heard the distress call and sent them to fix the alien’s transportation. The alien, whose name is Am’i, is delighted to meet them; she has heard of Sarah Jane from her mentor, whom Sarah once helped to return home. Sky, who has an…unconventional relationship with electricity, has Maria complete the actual repair, just in case of more damage.

With the mission complete, Am’i smiles gratefully at them, and makes her departure in a show of brilliance. And Maria, who once perhaps doubted her own memory, is gratified to see it. Perhaps her name, and that of Sky, will be told on Arcateen Five just as Sarah Jane’s has been.

How strange would that be?!

But for now, it’s enough. And as Maria and Sky turn to go, Maria tells her an old story: of how she once learned that aliens were real.

Norris Title Card 2

We’re very nearly to the end of the anthology, and we’ve reached the end of The Sarah Jane Adventures as well. Of course—and unfortunately—real-world history records that the series ended due to the untimely death of its star, Elisabeth Sladen. In the universe of Doctor Who, however, Sarah Jane Smith still has adventures ahead of her, and stories to be told.

This particular story—which only features Sarah Jane by mention, not in its events—serves as a sort of coda to The Sarah Jane Adventures. It brings us full circle—hence the title—to the very beginning of that series, and back to the event that opened it for us: Maria Jackson’s encounter with the Star Poet behind Sarah Jane’s house. Anthology editor M.H. Norris, who wrote the tale, mentions in her introduction that the “Family” segment of the anthology includes one story for each of the Bannerman Road children: Luke features in Gifts for Good; Rani in The Circles of Drel; Clyde in Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault. However, when no story was forthcoming for Maria, she decided to put together this piece, and place it in a most unexpected spot—at the end of the collection, long after Maria left the Bannerman Road gang. It was certainly the right choice, as Maria gets to put the finishing touch on those years, just as she opened them, so long ago.

Not a lot happens here; but sometimes, not much is needed. Even in the Doctor Who universe, not every story is about the action. Sometimes, what you need most is a look into the minds and hearts of the characters; and that is exactly what we get here.

If this story is a coda, you may ask, then why is it not the final entry? I mentioned in the previous review that there is one more known chapter of Sarah Jane’s life, which is briefly documented in the prose Short Trip titled Lily. The final installment of the anthology will again revisit that part of Sarah’s life, and will expand on it; and so, for now, we say goodbye to Bannerman Road and the children who have lived there. As endings go, this one is exactly what one would hope for.

Next time: Letters from the Heart, by Anne-Laure Tuduri! 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. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

The Sarah Jane Adventures may be purchased on DVD from various retailers, and may be streamed on various streaming services.

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault, by Sophie Iles

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re nearing the end of our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing the “Family” portion of the anthology with entry number thirteen of fifteen: Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault by anthology artist Sophie Iles. 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. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Center, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

Everything ends eventually; and all children must grow up.

Clyde Langer is no exception. Preparing for university—or more to the point, for getting into university—is possibly the most nerve-wracking thing he’s ever done, and that’s up against facing alien threats ever day! Fortunately, he has Rani Chandra to talk him down, and Sarah Jane Smith to escort him to campus visits. The university they’re visiting today may not be his first choice; but he hears they have a good art program, and he keeps an open mind.

Traffic makes them late, and so they miss the first opportunity for a tour. With time suddenly on their hands, Clyde and Sarah decide to sit in on a rather popular physics lecture—so popular, in fact, that there are warnings to arrive early, despite the lecture hall holding three hundred seats! It’s worth it, though; the tall, grey-haired professor with the Scottish burr in his speech is a captivating speaker, deftly weaving Shakespeare and astronomy and physics into a single speech that is more like a tale, and is utterly engrossing. At the end, there is applause—and Sarah Jane is convinced she’s met this man before. But, where?

The odd sense of déjà vu isn’t the only strange thing here, though. Sarah’s detector wristwatch picks up evidence of alien life…and a strange void in the readings, down in the maintenance sector, a spot where nothing at all can be detected. The alien readings are coming from what is clearly the odd professor’s apartments. Sarah sends Clyde there to investigate, while she goes to check out the void. First, though, she catches the professor on his way out of the lecture and speaks with him a moment. He is brusque toward her, but friendly enough; but as he quickly excuses himself, he calls Clyde by name—a name he really should not know.

Meanwhile, in the professor’s apartments, he closes and locks the door. He is accosted by his butler (as the man thinks of himself), a bald, rotund man with the odd combination of a jovial face and a determined expression. Somewhat chagrined, the professor admits that he is hiding—after all, what else do you do when confronted by your best friend?

Sarah and Clyde have a quick lunch before investigating. Clyde isn’t hungry, and tucks his sandwiches into his pack for later. The duo then splits up, and Clyde heads up to the apartments. He notes that the nametag by the professor’s door says “Smith”—there do seem to be a lot of them about, eh?—and then he eavesdrops a bit on the two men within. When he hears the professor mention Sarah by name, he bursts in.

Down in the maintenance area, Sarah finds something totally unexpected: A large vault door with complex locks. More to her shock, she finds a speaker, which allows her to speak to its interior—and get a reply from a woman with a Scottish accent.

The professor and the bald man quickly explain that Sarah is in danger. They take Clyde with them to find her—and the professor produces a blue-and-silver wand that makes a very familiar buzzing sound. To Clyde’s utter disbelief, he realizes who the professor must be; but there’s no time to discuss it. Sarah is about to do something that everyone will regret, and with the best of intentions. She is about to open the Vault.

With the help of K9 and Mr. Smith, Sarah has obtained schematics for the rather exotic Vault, and she knows what to do. She sets her sonic lipstick building to the correct pitch to open the doors. Meanwhile the woman inside continues telling her about the “crazy man” holding her captive. At last the doors rupture and fall away, and Sarah walks into the white void inside. However, when she is inside, the doors stitch themselves back together, sealing her inside. The woman lowers the light, revealing a lounge with a piano and armchairs, and explains that this is a dead zone, with no signal able to get out. There is something menacing about the woman, but she didn’t entrap Sarah; but no worry—her captor, the professor, will be along shortly to get Sarah out. That is, if the woman doesn’t kill her first.

Clyde and the others race to the Vault door—and find another figure there, one that Clyde knows well: The Trickster. The professor knows him as well, and isn’t afraid. The Trickster admits to luring Sarah into the Vault, and now he offers an agreement: The only way the professor can get Sarah out is to also release the prisoner.

Inside the Vault, the woman talks with Sarah, describing how she and her captor have baited each other across the universe and the centuries. Then she reveals that she knows Sarah’s secret: that Sarah Jane is pregnant, and hasn’t told anyone, not even her other children, Luke and Sky.

The Trickster vanishes. The landscape around them changes to bare earth, and the professor realizes that this is a representation of the future that awaits them if he accepts. They are forced to run, then, from a pair of creatures akin to wolves. Clyde uses his sandwiches to distract the wolves, allowing him, the professor, and the butler to get up to momentary safety on the ridge. There, while they catch their breath, they debate whether there is any way out of this situation, and whether the deal is straightforward. The professor insists that letting the prisoner out—letting her join forces with the Trickster—would be madness, a death sentence for countless others, as the woman loves chaos just as much as the Trickster does. Either way, though, it seems they lose.

He makes his decision.

The Trickster materializes in the Vault. Sarah recognizes him at once; and the woman has heard of him and his fellow members of the Pantheon of Discord. In turn, he knows of her, once Death’s champion, now with many names behind her. He tells Sarah of the agreement on which the professor must decide, and what it will cost. Sarah is defiant—but it is too late. The doors of the Vault are opening.

Clyde and the others make their way back to the Vault. The professor insists they will defeat the Trickster, but Clyde can tell that he feels defeated already. Nervously, he tells the professor about their last encounter with the Trickster, in which Sarah had the chance to prevent her parents’ deaths; as that would have served the Trickster’s plans, it was Sarah’s parents who decided to let themselves die as history recorded, thwarting him. It’s less than hopeful, though; the Trickster’s plan seems airtight. Nevertheless, the professor hasn’t given up hope entirely; after all, there’s Sarah Jane still to consider.

Their plans, however, crash to a halt when they see the Vault doors opening.

Sarah Jane reconnects with Clyde; but no one understands what is happening. The Trickster laughs, sure of his victory. Chaos will reign on Earth! But the Trickster hasn’t counted on the prisoner…or her refusal.

She may, as she points out, love chaos. However, she is no one’s agent but her own. The door may be open—but she refuses to walk through it. If she leaves, it will be with the permission of her jailer—and on her own terms. She refuses the agreement. The Trickster has no choice but to leave, though he does so in fury and futility.

As the group leaves, the prisoner seems amused. She insists they’ll talk over these events, soon; and the professor agrees. Saying their goodbyes, Sarah and the others leave, and the professor seals the vault behind them.

Clyde talks with the butler about the woman. She may have saved Sarah Jane, but it was almost certainly because it served her own plans. After all, she is one of the most vicious, murderous figures in history…but the professor is doing everything he can to reform her, to make her good. And he has 950 more years to do it, give or take.

Sarah Jane stands in the professor’s—no, the Doctor’s—office, confronting her old friend at last. Did he really not want her to know it was him? The sad truth is, yes, he did. After all, he wants no one to know of the Vault and its prisoner. She lectures him briefly about the danger, the precariousness, of the situation; but he insists he has it under control. It was only by the woman’s choice that things ended well. The Doctor insists, though, that he was working on a solution—and specifically one that would save Sarah. After all, the world needs her, especially for what lies ahead…but he stops himself from saying too much.

Sarah insists, in the end, that he shouldn’t carry the burden alone. He has friends to help him, anytime he needs them. Herself, UNIT, other old friends and companions…she offers to call UNIT for him, getting things started. The Doctor won’t say so, but he is grateful. In return, he assures her that her unborn daughter will be okay. Sarah doesn’t need to worry. And as she leaves, for what may be the last time—how can she know, either way? How can anyone?—she bids her old friend a fond farewell.

Iles Title Card

Of all the things in this anthology, this was the most unexpected for me. A Twelfth Doctor story? From my favorite part of his tenure? Fantastic! The author goes out of her way to avoid making it obvious from the beginning that this is a Twelfth Doctor story (or a Doctor story at all); in fact the word “Doctor” never appears. Neither do “sonic screwdriver”, “sonic sunglasses”, “Nardole”, “Missy”, “the Master”, or “Susan”, though all of the above feature in the story (Susan by way of her picture, the Master by way of explanation). The university in question is never named. Truthfullly, if one hasn’t watched series ten of Doctor Who, the entire subtext would be lost, though I think it would become obvious to any Doctor Who fan that the professor in question is the Doctor. I will say that it took me a bit to catch on; it wasn’t until the end of the Doctor’s lecture that it clicked with me. Well done!

In my watch of The Sarah Jane Adventures, I haven’t yet reached this point. Luke has gone on to his own university life, and Sky has been adopted, meaning that this story takes place at least in the fifth series, and possibly after the end of the series five. It exists to bridge the gap between The Sarah Jane Adventures and another, somewhat obscure bit of Sarah Jane’s life. There’s a prose “Short Trip” short story titled Lily, featured in the holiday anthology Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury, and written by Jackie Marshall; in this story, it’s revealed that Sarah Jane eventually has a biological daughter named Lauren, who then grows up to have a daughter of her own named Lily. From what I gather, the timing of the story makes it very likely that Sarah would be expecting Lauren at about series five of The Sarah Jane Adventures; and that’s the approach taken here. Sarah is indeed pregnant in this story, though the father of the child is never mentioned or identified. Both the Doctor and Missy are aware of the situation; the Doctor, indeed, should be aware of it, as Lily features the Fifth Doctor visiting an older Sarah Jane as she babysits Lily.

The only issue I have with the story is that the matter of Sarah’s pregnancy feels shoehorned in. While it may be the reason the author wrote the story, it undoubtedly is a difficult thing to address when the television series makes it clear that the Bannerman Road gang aren’t aware of the situation. That, in turn, makes it hard to fit into the story naturally. The author did her best, and it hardly creates a problem, but she certainly had that challenge to deal with. It’s especially difficult, given that Sarah Jane is really past the customary age to have children…not that the author created that situation, but she’s forced to deal with it. It would have been easier to explain had there been any mention of the father and his relationship with Sarah, but again, those details aren’t included, here or in Lily (as far as I can tell).

But, don’t let that stop you! This is a good story, and shouldn’t be skipped. As well, there are some minor continuity references. Reference is made to Luke having gone to university (The Nightmare Man, et al.). Sarah Jane sees Susan’s picture on the Doctor’s desk (The Pilot, et al.). Nardole mentions that the Doctor and Missy have nearly 950 more years to work out their issues (Extremis; I’m not convinced that Missy’s imprisonment began immediately prior to the Doctor’s time at the university, which in turn makes the number here a bit suspect, but I’ll concede the point for now). Clyde explains the Trickster’s last plot (The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith). Sky is mentioned as present, though not seen (Sky). Nardole mentions his “mistress” and how she sent him to the Doctor (Extremis). I should also mention that Bill Potts is absent, further confirming that this story occurs in or around 2011, long before Bill comes to the university.

Overall: We’re near the end of the anthology now, and I expect the last few stories to be a bit more sentimental (I know already that the next entry is). I very much appreciated having a decent, if short, adventure here, with characters that I love, from a period of the Doctor’s life that I love. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find this story, and I recommend it.

Next time: We have two more stories to go! The next, very short entry, is titled Full Circle (not to be confused with the classic serial of the same name), again by anthology editor M. H. Norris. 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. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

The Sarah Jane Adventures may be purchased on DVD from various retailers, and may be streamed on various streaming services.

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: The Circles of Drel, by Harry King

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 posts via the links at the bottom of the post. Today we’re continuing the “Family” portion of the anthology with entry number twelve: The Circles of Drel, by Harry King. 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. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Institute, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

For all that Sarah Jane Smith has seen and done, she remains ever the skeptic. So, when a young girl disappears—and the locals immediately start blaming aliens—Sarah is unimpressed. Still, as Rani Chandra points out, there are a large number of crop circles in the area…and some of them are inexplicable…

So it is that Sarah and Rani find themselves in the field of a farmer by the name of Patrick Finch, who has a brand-new crop circle to see…for a small fee, of course. Sarah declares it a fake, and rightly so, leaving the farmer angry but speechless.

Over coffee, Sarah and Rani talk over the situation. This circle was a fake, but some others are more credible; and there have been lights in the sky near where the girl, Anna Clarke, was abducted. Sarah is at a loss, until Clyde Langer calls from Sarah’s house at Bannerman Road, with news: Mr. Smith has determined that Anna Clarke was involved with a number of crop circle enthusiast groups. While she seems to have been a novice, and doesn’t seem to have contributed much, there is some slight connection to the land of Patrick Finch, who has a much higher than average incidence of crop circles. Sarah gives Clyde some additional search parameters, and then arranges to have Rani stay with her overnight.

“Overnight”, in this case, means a cold hillside overlooking the one field of Patrick Finch that has never had a crop circle—yet. It’s just a hunch, but Sarah expects something. She isn’t wrong; Finch soon enters the field and spends a laborious few hours constructing another crop circle. However, just as Sarah is about to give up, a light appears in the sky—and behind it, she can just see a saucerlike spaceship. The light shines down on Finch in his pickup truck and scoops him up, truck and all, then vanishes, taking him with it. Rani manages to get some grainy footage of the event.

Rani’s footage isn’t great, but Sarah sends it to Mr. Smith for analysis. Later in the day, he returns with new information: The ship is a Drel ship. The Drel tend to be cosmic joyriders of a sort, living for fun; one of their pastimes is buzzing by more primitive worlds in their ships, sometimes doing the interstellar equivalent of drag racing. More to the point, when a Drel finds a good racing location, they will often mark it with a unique marking…a crop circle, to be direct. This puzzle is beginning to come together.

But Clyde also has information. As it turns out, Anna Clarke posted pictures of a crop circle very shortly before her disappearance—and it’s a very familiar circle: one located on the farm of one Patrick Finch. In the background of the photo can be seen the characteristic light of the Drel ship.

Sarah and Rani return to the field, this time forewarned. The plan is to attract the attention of the ship; with two of them, it will be momentarily distracted, and Sarah will be able to use Mr. Smith to contact the ship. It works flawlessly; the ship arrives, Sarah and Rani separate, and the ship scoops up Rani. However, Sarah can’t get Clyde on the phone to activate Mr. Smith! As the ship turns its light on her, and she begins to drift into the air, Clyde finally picks up—and Mr. Smith puts her through to the Drel, with translation.

One quick explanation, and the Drel return her to the ground. It seems that Finch’s crop circles look identical to the markings left by a rival group of Drel racers; when humans were detected, the confused Drel picked them up. They agree to return the others, and even to leave the area…as long as Sarah Jane doesn’t report them to the Shadow Proclamation! Laughing, Sarah agrees.

Cue up one grateful Rani, one angry Patrick Finch…and one very scared and confused Anna Clarke. After a few words to deflect Finch’s ire, Sarah introduces herself to Anna and agrees to take her home. After all, all’s well that ends well.

King Title Card

Not every story in Sarah Jane’s universe represents a massive threat to the universe. Sometimes, kids will be kids—and for once, I’m not talking about the Bannerman Road gang!

Here we have a fairly small-scale story, and that’s pleasant enough. It’s good to know that not every alien out there is another Bane or Slitheen. Sarah Jane and her friends (I say “friends” because, although this story takes place in the “Family” segment of the anthology, Luke Smith is strangely absent) find themselves investigating the case of a missing teenage girl. At first it seems that the case may be more mundane than usual (and, I might add, more horrifying if so—real, human-based abduction cases would be heavy material for The Sarah Jane Adventures). It takes a turn into the paranormal when Sarah discovers that the aliens are real, and that they are…joyriding kids?

More or less, at any rate. The Drel aren’t specified to be juvenile, but they act like joyriding teenagers. They come to less-developed worlds and let themselves be seen flying by, all in good fun (for them, not so much for the locals). Sometimes they engage in drag racing of a sort, and for this they leave markers at particularly good tracks—hence, crop circles. They aren’t interested in conquest or destruction; they just want to speed around, have fun, and not get caught.

There’s not a lot to say about the story—it’s cozy and enjoyable, but particularly mundane as Sarah’s adventures go, and generally lacking in continuity references—but I will say this: I can’t help wondering if it’s a bit of an ode to Douglas Adams. The Drel could be carbon copies of the “Teasers” described in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Those aliens, with whom secondary protagonist Ford Prefect hitched a ride to Earth, are described as “usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets which haven’t made interstellar contact yet and buzz them…[t]hey find some isolated spot with very few people around, then land right by some poor soul whom no one’s ever going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him wearing silly antennae on their heads and making beep beep noises. Rather childish really.”

One could do much worse than to pay tribute to Douglas Adams—who, I might add, has his own extensive history with Doctor Who, though not with Sarah Jane Smith (I think). I can’t swear that the reference is intentional; but even if not, it adds a layer of richness to this story that I loved.

Overall: A cute, fun story, more direct and simple than some of the others, but in no way do I mean that that is a bad thing. Nor do I mean that it reflects badly on the author’s skills; frankly, it’s hard to have a quiet story in the Whoniverse and make it good! Harry King pulls it off with grace here. It’s a nice reprieve from the constant existential threats, and I enjoyed it.

Next time: Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault, by Sophie Isles. 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. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

The Sarah Jane Adventures may be purchased on DVD from various retailers, and may be streamed on various streaming services.

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Gifts for Good, by M.H. Norris

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 posts via the links at the bottom of the post. Today we begin the fifth and final portion of the anthology, titled “Family”, with entry number eleven: Gifts for Good, by anthology editor M.H. Norris. 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. Sales of the anthology come to a close TODAY, 2 April 2019, so if you would still like to purchase a copy, act soon! (I will be finishing this series even after the sale period closes—we’re near the end now!)

Defending Earth (Cover)

Sarah Jane Smith loves a good show as much as anyone else; but she has no patience for charlatans, especially of the “psychic” variety. It’s no surprise, then, that she is grumpy as she takes her seat near the back of the grimy, worn theater; but her old friend the Brigadier is the one who invited her—as well as her son Luke and his friends Rani and Clyde—and so she bears it for his sake. The act, consisting of four young people who bill themselves under the name Mimir, from the old Norse mythology, aren’t bad as these things go; but Sarah is convinced their predictions for various audience members are just a product of cold reading, or perhaps—in this Internet-savvy age—careful research rather than any kind of power. She is less than enthused when one of their members, Lynx, stops and promises her that she will meet an old friend from a time of adventure in her past. After all, Sarah has had many adventures—but only one old friend comes to mind, and she’s already seen him again in recent years…

The Brigadier, for his part, is not disturbed by Sarah’s ranting. He patiently explains that a contact at UNIT has expressed some interest in the group: not enough yet for UNIT to take an active role, but enough to prompt some off-the-books investigation. Who better than Sarah Jane to handle such a job? After all, he muses, better her than those people down in Cardiff…and it’s not like Sarah is alone, even if her allies are children.

They are interrupted on the way back to Bannerman Road by a call from her living computer, Mr. Smith, who advises her to hurry—because a spacecraft has landed in her attic. Sarah Jane races home with her friends in toe and vainly warns the children to wait downstairs. She heads up to the attic, her senses on high alert…and drops her guard when, to her utter surprise, she sees a familiar, white-haired man.

The Doctor—her Doctor, the Third Doctor—has, after so many years, returned.

Over the course of the evening, catching-up ensues. The Doctor’s TARDIS has been pulled out of the vortex by a strange confluence of temporal influences. His Sarah—the much younger version—is away at the moment, visiting the 1970s version of Aunt Lavinia while the older woman is on a brief visit home. Sarah and the Brigadier introduce the children, who have of course heard all about the Doctor; and they catch him up on some of the things that have happened (but certainly not all—Sarah carefully avoids mention of any later incarnations, including the recent visit by the Tenth Doctor). Finally, as Clyde and Rani return home, and the Brigadier does likewise, the Doctor falls to discussing the situation with Mimir, mostly with the precocious Luke. He assists Mr. Smith with running and refining a program that will help them track any temporal disturbances associated with the group—which, it increasingly appears, is also what is holding him here. He recruits Luke to help.

Later, during the night, Luke approaches the Doctor and talks about a more personal matter. He describes his own situation, and the lessons he has learned in his time with Sarah Jane—and those he still needs to learn. The Doctor perceives that one thing Luke lacks is confidence; and so, to build the boy’s confidence, he gives him an impromptu fencing lesson. As the morning approaches, Clyde joins them.

In the morning, Mr. Smith’s efforts come to fruition: there are temporal anomalies surrounding Mimir. It all began when they mysteriously won a lottery jackpot more than a year before, which they have used since to fund their tours. However, in addition to the good coincidences surrounding them, others close to them are suffering unusually bad luck. The Doctor theorizes that one of the group may be a member of a temporally sensitive race—the Vainkrons, the Tiqai, the Cadels, or perhaps the Bulvins. Such races can manipulate probability by viewing a person’s potential futures, then nudging them toward a preferred outcome. But, whoever is doing so here, isn’t doing a good job of it.

They are interrupted by Mr. Smith. Another kind of anomaly has become apparent: a Sontaran has been spotted in downtown London! The children have met these aliens before, and know what they can do; and so Sarah warns them to stay behind while she and the Doctor tackle the threat. Of course, no one listens; but at least the children give her the courtesy of a head start before following her.

The Doctor and Sarah interrupt the lost and confused Sontaran, who is causing chaos and holding a female hostage—perhaps not coincidentally, another audience from the Mimir show, Sarah notes. She challenges the Sontaran, while the Doctor moves in to physically attack; but they seem to be outmatched. The situation is only resolved when Luke, armed with his fencing foil, charges out behind the Sontaran and lands a blow on its probic vent, knocking it out. It’s a great lesson for the boy…but of course, that won’t stop him from being in trouble with his mother for disobeying. A kid is still a kid, after all.

With UNIT handling the return of the Sontaran to its people, and the crisis averted, attention returns to the matter of Mimir. Sarah has arranged an interview with the group, and will be taking Luke with her. Meanwhile, the Doctor gives her a detector that will let him pinpoint the source of the temporal anomalies. He is almost certain now that the culprit is secretly a Tiqai, a humanoid race with temporal sensitivity. They can be identified by their golden eyes, though this one is probably wearing colored contacts.

While Sarah interviews the group, Luke notices that Lynx has wandered off. He finds him sitting on the theater stage—and realizes that the young man appears to be wearing contacts. He takes the plunge, and asks Lynx directly if he is a Tiqai. In the process, he confides the truth about his own alien origins. Lynx admits it, and reveals that he is an orphan, adopted by humans after his own world was caught in the crossfire of two warring races. He knows what he is doing—he only wants his friends to be happy—but he knows it isn’t working out right. He admits that he can’t fully control his powers. He also admits to knowing of Sarah Jane before coming to Earth; it seems she and the Doctor once, many years ago, visited a world near his own, and dealt well with a situation there. Tales of their exploits ultimately made their way to Lynx, though he never expected to meet Sarah Jane! But none of that helps with his problem.

Someone can help, though—and the Doctor joins them on the stage. He graciously offers to teach Lynx how to use his power without harm, and without getting on Time’s bad side.

Later, with the anomalies resolved, the TARDIS is back to normal, and the Doctor is free to leave. He says his goodbyes again to Sarah Jane, and the Brigadier, and the children. Over Sarah Jane’s nostalgic tears at the memories of their times together—both good and bad—he acknowledges what they both know to be true: That it’s the good times and the bad that made each of them what they are; and that, after it all, the world needs Sarah Jane Smith.

Norris Title Card 1

We’re nearing the end of our adventures with Sarah Jane! This story, the eleventh of fifteen, takes place during the events of The Sarah Jane Adventures–specifically, during Series Three, as it is stated to take place in 2009. This places it after the Tenth Doctor’s appearance in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, as she mentions early in the story.

Unlike some of the other spinoff materials referenced in this collection, I have watched some of The Sarah Jane Adventures, though I have yet to complete the series. I can say that this story is very much in keeping with the tone of the series; it’s lighter, more child-friendly, but still quick and action-oriented. It’s a bit of a reunion episode, bringing together not only Sarah Jane, the children, and the Brigadier—but also the Third Doctor, in what is most likely Sarah’s last meeting with him. If I have counted correctly, it makes for six encounters between the Doctor and Sarah in the era of the revived series of Doctor WhoSchool Reunion, Tenth Doctor; the Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Tenth; The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, Tenth; an unseen encounter connected to The End of Time, Tenth (still in the future); this story, Third Doctor; and Death of the Doctor, with the Eleventh Doctor, also still to come as of this story. (If I’ve overlooked any, please comment below!)

I’ve always been a great fan of the Third Doctor; I think he may be a bit underrated in the face of such characters as the Fourth, the Eighth, and the revived series Doctors. It’s wonderful to see him again here, though it’s certainly bittersweet, knowing that there isn’t much room left in Sarah Jane’s life to have any more such encounters. There’s a poignant scene at the end where the Doctor, about to depart, wipes a tear from Sarah’s cheek, harking back to his regeneration scene—which, though history for her, is still to come for him. It’s haunting in its effect.

With all that said, this is still a fairly lighthearted, low-stakes story. It’s a bit contrived; it’s not really explained how the time-sensitive Lynx’s powers conspire to drag the TARDIS from the vortex, when it seems his powers are of a low-impact nature; and it’s never really explained how the Sontaran gets to downtown London. But if you get hung up on those details, you’ll miss out, because the story isn’t about those details. It’s a story about family, and memories, and hope, and—especially for Luke and Clyde—confidence.

There isn’t much in the way of continuity references here; while there are a few references to old adventures, they are to adventures that were created specifically for this story. However, there is an interesting bit, almost small enough to miss, where Luke tells the Doctor how he was created. The Doctor speaks with familiarity on the subject, and one gets the impression this may be a nod to the idea of Gallifreyan Looms—minor, but a nice touch, if that’s how it was intended.

Overall: A good segue into the “Family” portion of the collection. It’s both fun and sentimental, nostalgic and fast-paced. One would think those qualities wouldn’t go well together; but one would be wrong. Check it out!

Next time: The Circles of Drel, by Harry King! 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 available until TODAY only in ebook formats and a print edition (preorder only on print edition).

The Sarah Jane Adventures may be purchased on DVD from various retailers, and may be streamed on various streaming services.

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Novel Review: White Darkness

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels, with the fifteenth entry, David A. MacIntee’s White Darkness. Published in June 1993, this novel weighs in at 244 pages, and is MacIntee’s first contribution to the Doctor Who universe. Let’s get started!

white darkness cover

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

After events at Lucifer were a bust, the Doctor is ready for a break. He attempts to take Ace and Benny to Key West, Florida, 1915; but as usual, his aim is…less than stellar. Instead, the group ends up in Haiti, 1915, which may as well be a world away from Florida. The island is ruled by the despotic President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, but his reign is under threat by General Rosalvo Bobo, the leader of a popular rebellion—nothing new in Haiti, but the timing is unfortunate, as both the Germans and the Americans have a vested interest in the tiny nation. The Doctor and his companions are pulled in when they stumble upon some mutilated bodies, and are taken in for questioning from General Etienne, who is loyal to President Sam.

The Doctor quickly takes charge of the situation, and ingratiates himself with the group’s guard, Captain Eugene Petion. He begins an investigation into the deaths, but moreover, into rumors of the dead rising; Haiti has long had talk, and sometimes more than talk, of zombis, but this seems out of proportion. He does not realize just how deep the web goes: for the Haitians are not the only ones present. The Germans have a hidden base on the island, in which they have allied themselves with a houngan named Lemaitre, or Mait for short; Mait’s underlings: the assassin Carrefour, the vodoun bocor Henri, and an American military attache—and devoted killer—named Richmann. With their help, the Germans are seeking to industrialize the ancient arts and potions that the locals use to create zombis, giving them a mass-produced weapon that will bring the war in Europe to a standstill—in Germany’s favor. As well, the American Marines under Admiral Caperton wait at nearby Cuba, poised to invade at a moment’s notice.

The Doctor senses odd telepathic whispers, which lead him to the local university and a doctor named Howard Philips. Philips, in addition to performing the autopsies on the original bodies, has long been researching the zombie tradition; and also, he has found something stranger still. He tells the Doctor of carved stones—now located in the university museum—that seem to date back much, much further than even the existence of humans, and which radiate a strange power. The Doctor sends Benny to investigate the stones; but she is captured by Henri, and taken away to be made into a zombi herself. Mait, fearing the interlopers’ influence, orders General Bobo to begin his attack on the palace. Ace returns with Petion to move the TARDIS to a new location, but they are attacked while en route; she manages to get them inside and pilot the ship to a safe location as instructed. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Philips try to return to the hospital, but are ambushed unsuccessfully by Richmann. Bobo and his men attack the palace, and Sam commits suicide (later to be believed an assassination). Meanwhile, the Marines, seeing their opportunity, invade the island to restore order. The Doctor quickly works his way into their ranks, and begins using them for his own purposes.

Benny awakens and escapes, only to find herself in the underground German base. She learns of their plan to use the mass-produced chemicals, and then escapes through a tunnel to the sea, coming ashore just in time to be picked up by the Marines. Meanwhile, General Etienne is killed by Carrefour.

The Doctor has learned of an upcoming ceremony in a nearby cemetery, to be conducted at midnight, and enlists the Marines to prevent it. He reconnects with Ace, Benny, and Petion—but he will need additional help. He meets and recruits another houngan, Dubois, who is also an Empereur of the Bizango, the island’s de facto council of houngans, who serve as a sort of unofficial law enforcement and court. With Dubois and the others, he visits Lemaitre’s villa, and destroys his vodoun workshop; he also finds a device that is used for amplifying telepathic signals. The device is Mait’s instrument for controlling his new breed of zombis. The Doctor doesn’t destroy it, but alters it to trap Mait’s mind and concentration—but unknowingly, he leaves an echo of his own memory in the device. He also realizes what is happening behind the scenes: Lemaitre serves the Old Ones, beings from before the dawn of the universe, who are disembodied—but who are using Mait and his upcoming ceremony to restore themselves to physical form. As well, the German plan will create an army of slaves for the Old Ones. The battle to end the ceremony just became much more urgent.

Hearing of the explosion of his workshop, Mait and Henri hurry back to the villa, where Mait is quickly trapped by the device. However, Henri frees him, and Mait gains a glimpse of the Doctor’s nature and plans. He sends Richmann to stop them at the cemetery, but the Doctor manages to convince Richmann he and the Germans are being betrayed by Mait. Richmann takes the Doctor to the base, but Mait intercepts him and interrogates him, unsuccessfully. When he leaves, the Doctor escapes, and plants explosives around the base and on a loaded transport ship, planning to destroy the chemicals. Meanwhile Ace, Petion, and Benny return to the cemetery with the Marines and their leader, Mortimer; but Mortimer holds out too long before attacking, allowing Mait to store sufficient telepathic energy in his device to complete the ritual on his own. He, Henri, Carrefour, and Richmann escape and retreat to the base, with Ace and the others in pursuit. Ace demolishes the door of the base, and the Marines invade it, joining battle with the Germans. Meanwhile, Richmann lashes out and kills Henri.

The Doctor chases Mait toward the lowest chamber, where the Old One’s body is buried, sending Benny to keep the Germans busy. She is captured by Richmann and Carrefour; but Carrefour has a crisis of memory, and takes out his long-delayed anger on Richmann. Richmann prevails and kills Carrefour, chasing the now-escaping Benny. En route he encounters Ace and Petion; and when he shoots Petion, Ace kills him with great prejudice. Mortimer is also killed in the fighting.

The Doctor manages to reach the chamber ahead of Mait, where he finds—and sabotages—a scaled-up version of the mind device. He also plants explosives with motion sensors behind him as he leaves, to bring down the tunnels. He encounters Lemaitre, and tries to talk him down; but Mait pushes past him, triggering the sensors and destroying the tunnels, killing himself. The Doctor heads back to the docking cavern and starts an evacuation—and just in time, as the hidden explosives detonate, bringing the project to an end.

In the end, the Doctor recovers the TARDIS, and the group moves on. The Marines, as history shows, will take control of the island, leading to the next chapter in its history. Petion will survive, though he will lose an arm. But the biggest shock is for Ace, who is confronted with the fact that in her last three years she has become a killer—perhaps not so different from Richmann. That is a fate she abhors, but can she still escape it?

White Darkness back cover

I’ve come to informally think of this book as the first in the “holiday tetralogy” (not an official designation, of course). After several difficult adventures, the Doctor makes attempts, over this and the next three books (ShadowmindBirthright, and Iceberg) to take his companions on a restful holiday…with predictably terrible results. Some people just can’t catch a break. At any rate, this book represents one of Doctor Who’s occasional takes on the classic zombie story—and literally, as these are traditional Haitian “zombis”, as it should properly be spelled.

Speaking of those who can’t catch a break, this is another entry in the now-well established tradition of doing terrible things to Bernice “Benny” Summerfield. Here, Benny gets a taste of what it’s like to become a zombi, though she thankfully recovers and escapes before it can be made permanent. She gives as good as she gets, several times fighting off various attackers and captors; but still, no one else seems to get into these situations in the first place. Maybe in the next book… (hint hint, Ace). Benny has had a tougher time since Ace returned; for one, the two women do not always get along; and for another, it’s hard to make anyone look tough beside hard-as-steel Spacefleet-era Ace. It will take a few more books to begin to balance things between them.

At the same time, this is Ace’s story too. When we last saw her, she was in full vengeful Spacefleet mode, taking out her long-delayed wrath on the Doctor and everyone else. Now that she’s got that out of her system, we’re slowly going to see her new persona get deconstructed; and it begins here, as she has to face the killer she’s become. The character of American assassin Richmann is otherwise extraneous to the story; but he’s here to show Ace what she’ll become if she doesn’t get a grip on herself and her future. I find that interesting, because Ace’s arc throughout the television series and early VNA novels was always about getting a grip on her past; now she’s shifted to look ahead. Meanwhile, Benny is the one focused on the past—specifically the matter of her father, though it will be a very long time before that thread comes to fruition.

Although this book itself is sunny enough, it must be pointed out that it occurs at a dark moment in history. The war in Europe—that would one day be called World War I—rages on; and Haiti is in a period of upheaval. It is, unfortunately, also a very racist time in the Western Hemisphere. The book doesn’t shy away from accurately describing the situation; characters sometimes use the word “nigger” and other insulting terms (not our heroes, thankfully), and the whole phenomenon of the racist relations between groups is on display. I was surprised that things were as explicit as they were; books today would tend, I think, to acknowledge the situation in info-dumps, but gloss over it in dialogue. There’s none of that here, and I can’t help wondering if the book would be rejected today. Certainly a story like this wouldn’t make it onto the television series, with family viewing at stake. Essentially it’s a gritty story set in a beautiful environment, and the contrast is jarring but satisfying.

Continuity references: The Doctor mentions having learned hypnotism from the Master—not by name, but by description, and not from any specific story. He wears the brooch given to him by Cameca in The Aztecs, and comments on the situation as a possible turning point in his character. In the same passage, he mentions Ian and Barbara’s return home (The Chase). It’s worth noting—though not mentioned here—that the First Doctor sold it for clothing in The Suffering, published sometime later; he seems to have recovered it. It will materialize again later in Relative Dimensions, as the Eighth Doctor gives it to Susan. The Doctor mentions his time as President of Gallifrey (The Invasion of Time, et al). He is reminded of his experience at the Dark Tower in The Five Doctors. He mentions hearing telepathic whispers (The Pirate Planet). He mentions wishing he had built another K9 (various stories). The HADS is mentioned (The Krotons, et al). The TARDIS translation feature works only erratically here (various stories). Ace mentions injuries from big cats, probably the Cheetah People (survival). Several figures, too common to name particular stories, are mentioned: Davros, the Brigadier, Bessie, Draconians, Centaurans, the Daleks. Drug use for mind control, seen here, is very similar to that used by the Usurians as mentioned in *The Sun Makers. The later novel All-Consuming Fire will indicate that the Old One featured here is Cthulhu, from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos series. Slightly unrelated, but I should point out as well that “Lemaitre” is French for “the Master”, though this is only an inside joke; the character is not the Time Lord by that name.

There is also a prelude to the story, available here. In it, Paul Richmann returns to his childhood home to kill an old man, presumably his grandfather, in the wake of his mother’s death (possibly at the old man’s hands). He takes a pocketwatch from the man, which is later lost in Haiti. Many years later, the Third Doctor—joining the Brigadier on an excursion for the American government—finds the pocketwatch, and feels something from it, before burying it again. I admit that I didn’t read the prelude before the novel; I didn’t discover its existence until afterward. However, you can read it at the above link.

Overall: I first stated this book more than a year ago, but couldn’t get into it, and put it aside. On a second reading, it was much better; a bit of a slow starter, as there are many pieces to be placed on the board here. However, once it picked up, I had to finish it. While I don’t know that I would call many of the VNAs essential yet, I will say that this book represents the start of a turning point in the relationships among the Doctor, Benny, and Ace. It’s a fresh start, of sorts, and I’m curious to see where it leads.

Next time: Shadowmind, the first Doctor Who novel by prolific author Christopher Bulis! 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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