Charity Zine Review: A Pile of Good Things, and Someone Kidnapped, Something Blue

We’re back, with another charity zine review! Today I’ll be looking at the third entry in Ginger Hoesly’s Eleventh Doctor Zine, A Pile of Good Things. This entry, by Tina Marie DeLucia, is titled Someone Kidnapped, Something Blue, and features a few old favorite friends.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! For my rationale for spoilers, check out the first entry in this series. If you want to skip the spoilers, you can pick up at the next divider, below.

For context, this story takes place near the end of the Eleventh Doctor comic, Hunters of the Burning Stone, after the end of the story’s primary action, but before the wedding scene. And with that, let’s get started!

A Pile of Good Things cover art

The Eleventh Doctor stands on a battlefield, the sounds of combat dying around him. With him stand two old friends—the oldest, or very nearly. Friends he never expected to see again: Ian Chesterton, and Barbara Wright. The unlikely trio have just survived the battle between the Prometheans and the now-uplifted Tribe of Gum—old adversaries and new, now turned on each other—and it is time to make an exit. For a moment, Ian and Barbara think the Doctor has been scarred by this encounter—but it only takes that moment for his boyish enthusiasm and boundless energy to return, and he ushers them aboard the TARDIS with glee.

It’s all been a lot to take in for Ian and Barbara. For them, it’s only been months since they last saw the Doctor—their year is still 1965, the year in which they returned home from their travels with him. For the Time Lord—did he ever even say that phrase to them?—it’s been centuries, and lifetimes. There’s a core of him that is still the same man, though—as Barbara says—changed for the better; but in so many surface ways, he’s a new man. Moreover, the TARDIS is different; Ian even finds himself missing the old bright white walls. But the Doctor doesn’t give them time to process it; he’s already bustling over the controls, and he claims, no, insists, that he knows how to fly the ship properly now! He hits a switch…

…And the TARDIS materializes in deep space. Well, that wasn’t according to plan!

Another attempt takes them to a tube station, in the path of an oncoming train! Another terrified, hurried jump takes them to yet another new location…and none of them are 1965 London. The Doctor is forced to come to a rather unusual conclusion: The TARDIS is playing with them. In fact, it seems—though the thought is bizarre to Ian and Barbara—that the ship…has missed them. After a brief, slightly huffy argument, the two schoolteachers leave the Doctor to work out his differences with the errant time machine.

Some time later—minutes, hours?—the Doctor is sitting on the edge of the doorway of the TARDIS, gazing out over the glowing spectacle of a galaxy. Ian comes to join him, and the Doctor nudges him over his anxiety to return home. At last Ian admits that he has a question to ask Barbara, and he doesn’t want to ask it here, or in the depths of space, or anywhere else in their travels. After all, it’s a very important question–the question, the only one that matters to them: He plans to ask Barbara to marry him.

The Doctor’s reaction is one of boundless excitement—he practically falls out of the ship in his joyful congratulations. He has already moved on to planning the wedding, while Ian is still voicing his concerns! Will Barbara take it seriously, Ian wonders, or will she think this is only a grab at normalcy after the world has moved ahead without them?

But the Doctor can’t accept that. Instantly he reassures Ian that Barbara loves him as well; after all, the two are not exactly subtle about it. Moving on, he announces that his oldest friends need the best possible wedding, certainly one better than his own (a revelation that sets Ian back a step). His enthusiasm is infectious; and in the midst of all the plans of dubious viability (Ian hasn’t even asked her yet!), he finds time to make a spur-of-the-moment request that is, despite it all, perfect: He asks the Doctor to be his best man.

In the morning—TARDIS’s morning, at any rate—the time machine has finally become more agreeable, and the Doctor is able to take his friends home. And as they step out into the London sunlight, and Ian gets down on one knee, the Doctor takes a moment to reflect that stealing them away, all those years ago, was worth it. He may not belong anywhere…but they do, and for a moment, he can enjoy that belonging as well. And, he decides, he will miss them.

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I’m a sucker for a good story involving Ian and Barbara, and I particularly like Hunters of the Burning Stone, the story on which this story builds. I wasn’t expecting to find it complemented here in this collection, but the surprise was certainly pleasant.

In any story like this, that brings the Doctor into contact with old companions, there is naturally going to be a heavy emphasis on referring back to old times. This story is no exception, and there’s a considerable amount of reminiscing that goes on: Ian talks about the changes in the TARDIS, Barbara talks about the changes in the Doctor. As a result, we do get a few continuity references. There are references to The Aztecs, and especially to Cameca, the Doctor’s erstwhile fiancée from that story. There’s a reference to the events of The Chase, most notably the Dalek time machine used to transport Ian and Barbara home. From the other direction, there is a quick overview of the Doctor’s relationship and marriage to River Song (A Good Man Goes to WarThe Wedding of River SongLet’s Kill HitlerThe Impossible Astronaut, and others). There’s even a bit of foreshadowing of much later events; the Doctor mentions the Kerblam! shipping company while talking about plans for Ian and Barbara’s wedding.

Overall: This is a much-appreciated vignette giving us a glimpse of a very important moment in the Chestertons’ lives. We’ve seen their wedding; we’ve seen their future and their son; here we get the proposal that started it all. It’s yet another good moment in the Doctor’s very long life, and it’s a pleasure to see it with him.

Next time: I’ve gotten a bit behind, so I may rush a bit to get through the remaining stories in the collection. Next we’ll be looking at a very low moment in the Eleventh Doctor’s life with Paul Driscoll in The Birds of Sweet Forgetfulness. See you there!

A Pile of Good Things is available here until 25 November 2019, in both physical and digital form.

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities: Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, and The Peculiar Package

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with two entries in Chapter III, the post-Doctor era: Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, by Dana Reboe; and Logan Fairchild’s The Peculiar Package.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! I do this when reviewing charity projects, because these projects are generally only available for a limited time or in limited quantities, and because they get little in the way of documentation. Although I would not give the text away for free, I believe these stories deserve to be remembered, and also to be catalogued and accessible in some way. Therefore, I include plot summaries, which are naturally heavy in spoilers. (But don’t let that stop you from buying the anthology and appreciating the work firsthand! Purchase link is at the end!)

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel

After two years of trying—give or take; with time travel, who can tell?—Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have made it home. The problem is: What to do now? Sometime shortly after their return, the duo sit in Barbara’s flat, just taking it all in. It’s been a stressful transition—of course it has—but here they are, at long last, sipping drinks and enjoying the peace and quiet. After all, those are things they rarely experienced with the Doctor; adventure, action, and even outright terror were more the order of the day. This is so much better.

Therefore, it comes as a bit of a surprise when Ian asks Barbara if she is happy.

She is taken aback; of course she’s happy, right? This is what they wanted. She turns the question back to Ian; and as always, his answer is a bit layered. Of course they’re happy; but, what about the Doctor? It was quite a blow to him when Susan left, and now they’ve followed suit. Will he be okay? To put it another way, though they wanted this for years, was their leaving a bit premature?

Barbara spends a moment musing about her time in the TARDIS—specifically, an early moment, in which she sat in the open doorway of the ship and looked out at the stars, with nothing beneath her feet but the vastness of space. What a view! It brings back all the longing, the curiosity, the sense of wonder she has felt—and yes, she is forced to admit, she too will miss the Doctor. So will Ian, obviously. After all, who will challenge the Doctor’s technobabble? Who will argue right and wrong with the old man?

It all begs the question: Will they see him again?

They don’t know. There’s no way to know.

But—and here Ian joins Barbara at the window, looking out over a bustling London morning—the world is still turning, and the two of them still carry on. There’s something satisfying about that. Despite what they’ve given up, they have each other; and if they are now on the slow path through life, rather than the highlights, well…Ian doesn’t mind. Barbara, either.

The Peculiar Package

It’s been some time since Ian and Barbara found their way back to 1965 London, and they’ve begun to settle in. More to the point, they’ve finally found time to make their relationship something more than just friends or traveling companions; and so, while Ian is away for the weekend with family, Barbara finds herself unexpectedly at loose ends.

She doesn’t have long to think about it, though; for a mysterious package has arrived in the post. Inside, she finds a strange, handheld device, made up of a screen like those on the TARDIS, surrounded by a large number of switches and buttons. Intrigued—and a bit worried at the obviously alien nature of the machine—she spends the rest of the weekend tinkering with the device, but to no response. When Ian returns (with romance on his mind, but unfortunately he’ll be redirected in a moment), she enlists his help with it. He spends the evening working with the device, but also gets no response; in the end he falls asleep on her sofa.

During the night Barbara awakens—and spots a strange light from the room where Ian is asleep. She knows at once it’s the device, and with a sinking feeling she moves to check it out. When she picks it up, however, she is shocked to see the Doctor and Vicki on its screen!

It quickly becomes apparent that she can’t only see them; they can see her, and speak with her. They tell her that the device is a telepathic communicator—just in case Ian and Barbara ever need the Doctor for anything. However, he congratulates her on their engagement, confusing Barbara; they’ve never discussed marriage yet. Vicki realizes what has happened, and chides the Doctor for calling too soon. The Doctor retorts that perhaps he isn’t early; perhaps Ian is late (conveniently ignoring the fact that it’s the preoccupation with his own gift that has distracted both Ian and Barbara!). Just before he cuts contact, he warns Barbara not to check Ian’s jacket pockets.

In the morning, Barbara tells Ian about the call from the Doctor. Feeling emboldened, she includes his congratulations on their engagement. Ian, quickly chagrined, produces a ring box from his jacket pocket, and apologizes, saying that he intended to propose on their now-canceled date last night.

And of course, Barbara’s answer is “yes”.

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I’ve placed these two stories together in part for a reason of my own—that is, that I’m falling further behind in this series, and need to catch up. However, I also observed that the two stories go very well together, almost as chapters in the same story. Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel (hereafter abbreviated as Comfort for convenience’s sake) takes place very shortly after our heroes’ arrival back on Earth; it’s broadly hinted that it takes place on the night of the same day in which they arrived, but I have left that open to interpretation, chiefly because of the insinuation in our last story that their flats may no longer be available to them. Here we see Barbara’s, so I’ve chosen to allow for the possibility of a little more time. The Peculiar Package takes place some time later, possibly months, but still not too long thereafter. Ian and Barbara have moved forward with their relationship, and here we see one account of their engagement (there may be others in existence, I’m not sure). I’m stating that I think this story is only a few months after their return, because that is in keeping with Hunters of the Burning Stone, which recounts their wedding; that story has them encountering the Eleventh Doctor after being kidnapped from 1965, indicating that not too much time can possibly have passed before their wedding.

These stories are more of the slice-of-life variety. There are no villains, no adventures; only good feelings here—after all, the first story’s title begins with Comfort. That’s fair enough for now; after all, they’ve only just come off of two years of adventures. I will be happy to see more adventures later if possible, but for now, this is all we—and they—need. Put another way, all they need is each other and time—and that’s time in linear order, as we must clarify.

I know this is quite fan-service-y, for lack of a better word; but I love the suggestion that The Chase was not the end of their encounters with the Doctor. They don’t need to come back for constant adventures; but just to know that they weren’t abandoned to their own devices forever is nice. We got a hint of that in The Wreck of the San Juan de Pasajes, with the Seventh Doctor; and there will be other stories down the road. It’s comforting to know that in a pinch, they still have access to their old friend, as we see here.

Overall: Two short stories that accomplish exactly what they set out to do: They set our heroes on course for a happy, if Earthbound, life. I’m content with that. In our upcoming entries, we’ll see if it lasts.

Next time: We’ll wrap up this chapter with Riviera Refuge by Stephen Hatcher! See you there.

Mild Curiosities is published in support of Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity and research organization. You can learn more about them here. The anthology can be purchased in digital form here for a limited time.

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities, and Homecoming

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the first entry in Chapter III, the post-Doctor era: Adam Christopher’s Homecoming. You’ll notice that I’ve placed a link in that title; that link will take you to an older version of this story, first released in the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club’s Timestreams 5 collection, waaaaay back in 1995. If you haven’t yet purchased Mild Curiosities, and you’d like a taste of what you can find here, you can check out that link—but remember that the version in our anthology has been revised and updated, and is the “author’s preferred text”, as Adam Christopher puts it.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! I do this when reviewing charity projects, because these projects are generally only available for a limited time or in limited quantities, and because they get little in the way of documentation. Although I would not give the text away for free, I believe these stories deserve to be remembered, and also to be catalogued and accessible in some way. Therefore, I include plot summaries, which are naturally heavy in spoilers. (But don’t let that stop you from buying the anthology and appreciating the work firsthand! Purchase link is at the end!)

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

It’s 1965, and Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have been in London for two hours. Reality is beginning to set in, and they find themselves in a pub, enjoying a drink on the last of Ian’s pocket change. They’ll be walking home from here–if, that is, they have homes to which to go. After all, it’s been two years (give or take—it’s two years on Earth, but how does one even begin to calculate their own elapsed time when traveling in time and space?), and surely their landlords have cleared out their flats by now. Barbara muses that she can go to her mother’s house, and that her mother will gladly put Ian up as well—but of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How do you go back to normal life, after all that they’ve experienced? And it’s not just the psychological adjustment, though that is certainly enough. No, it’s the practical matters. What will they do for work? What about money in the meantime? And fashions! Fashions have changed drastically in this short time, and the two time-stranded teachers feel very out of place.

All of that, though, fades into the background as Ian notices a stranger watching them. Clad in a steel-grey suit and holding a silver pocketwatch, the man acknowledges Ian’s notice, before leaving the pub. As it turns out, it’s closing time anyway, and so Ian takes the opportunity to escort Barbara out, keeping an eye out for the strange man.

Still, somehow, it’s the stranger who finds them, as they turn into an alley. He is now accompanied by an equally strange woman in a sapphire-blue dress. Strangest of all, the duo call Ian and Barbara by name—in fact, by their full names: Ian Francis Chesterton and Barbara Eileen Wright. Ian and Barbara are caught off guard as when the strangers question them further. “On November 23rd, 1963, your time traces disappeared from this continuum,” the strangers say. “Where did you go?*”

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Our story today crosses the world of Doctor Who over with another time-travel series of the era: Sapphire and Steel. This is a series that I only know by reputation and by reading; I haven’t seen it, though it’s on my “eventually” list. Fortunately, this story hints more than tells; it stops just as our heroes meet the titular Sapphire and Steel, and so it doesn’t stray far into territory which I wouldn’t be able to properly discuss. I understand that there’s a fair bit of overlap in the fandoms of Sapphire and Steel and classic Doctor Who, and justifiably so, given the relation in the subject matter; therefore I think this is a great connection, and am glad to have read it.

What I appreciate most about this story, however, is the immediacy of it. When we last saw Ian and Barbara (chronologically, that is), they had just used the Dalek time machine to return home. In most instances of companion exits, we don’t get to see what happens thereafter. We carry on with the Doctor (and not always immediately, even in that context), and often we get to revisit companions at a later time, but we rarely see what happens to them when they return home. How does one adapt to the mundane life of an earthbound human, after traveling with the Doctor? How does one even get started? Here we get a glimpse, if not a long one. It’s a bit reminiscent of Rose, the first episode of the revived series, in which we get to see Rose Tyler’s first morning after meeting the Doctor—a situation that, while not quite a companion exit, is similar enough, as her encounter with the Doctor destroys a significant part of her old life.

So, check it out. Take this opportunity to get a glimpse of what Ian and Barbara are feeling as reality—the reality that they are home, and don’t know what to do–sets in. After all, what would you or I do in that situation?

Next time: We’ll carry on with Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, by Dana Reboe. See you there!

Mild Curiosities is published in support of Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity and research organization. You can learn more about them here. The anthology can be purchased in digital form here for a limited time.

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Audio Drama Review: Colditz

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Colditz, the twenty-fifth entry in the Main Range, which introduces recurring character Elizabeth Klein. Written by Steve Lyons, this story features the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred), and also includes an early appearance from future Tenth Doctor actor David Tennant. Let’s get started!

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

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An anomaly in the Time Vortex forces the TARDIS to land on twentieth-century Earth, but it’s unclear where exactly.  The Seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves in an oddly familiar castle courtyard.  The Doctor realizes where they are, but too late; they are apprehended by German soldiers, led by one Feldewebel Kurtz, and the Doctor is shot in the shoulder.  They have arrived at the Nazi prison camp known as Oflag 4-C—Colditz Castle.  Now they are prisoners, and the TARDIS is in the hands of the third Reich.

The camp brings out the other prisoners to watch Ace and the Doctor being taken in, under the watchful eyes of an officer, Hauptmann Julius Schafer, and his prisoner friend Bill Gower.  Ace gives Kurtz her real name, but refuses to show him any respect; the prisoners are impressed by Ace.  Kurtz finds the explosives and supplies in her backpack, and takes it as further evidence that they are there to rescue prisoners; he is confounded by her CD player, but he takes it and her other possessions for study for the war effort.  He sends Ace for delousing.  Elsewhere, Schafer takes the Doctor into his custody, and warns him that he won’t be able to get proper medical care until morning.  He also warns the Doctor that the camp commandant has taken an interest in the TARDIS after watching it materialize.  The Doctor accepts the warning, but gets Schafer to promise to care for Ace.  Kurtz arrives to report on Ace’s “amazing technology”, but is displeased to see Schafer caring for the Doctor.  Schafer exposes Kurtz’s real issue: the lack of respect from the newcomers.  He refuses to let Kurtz force Ace to strip naked for delousing.  In retaliation, Kurtz keeps the “technology” secret, and returns to question Ace.  Ace tries unsuccessfully to escape; he takes it as an attack, but opts not to shoot her, instead informing her that she owes him a favor now.

In the morning, as the prisoners report for roll call, the Doctor presents Schafer with the bullet, which worked its way out of his wound.  Schafer sends him to the camp physician anyway, and warns him that the German High Command already knows about the TARDIS, and is sending a Gestapo soldier to torture its secrets out of the Doctor.  The Doctor makes Schafer feel his double heartbeat, shocking the man badly; but Schafer insists on waiting for orders.  Meanwhile, Ace joins the other prisoners for roll call, meals, and recreation, and meets Bill Gower, who assumes she is a valuable prisoner on a secret mission; he introduces her to another prominenter, or valuable prisoner, Tim Wilkins.  Ace mentions her escape attempt, and Gower explains that this prison exists specifically to hold prisoners who have already escaped elsewhere.  No one has escaped for over a year.  Kurtz goes to question the Doctor, but what becomes obvious is that he is being kept in the dark by his fellow officers.  This feeds the man’s paranoia that he is unimportant.  The Doctor plays on this fear and calls him a coward to provoke him, and Kurtz beats him.  He is interrupted by the arrival of a woman named Klein, who takes charge of the Doctor and sends Kurtz to bring Ace.  She knows the police box is a TARDIS, and demands the Doctor’s key, threatening to shoot Ace if he doesn’t surrender it.

Tim Wilkins meets with Ace.  He believes that Gower is withholding the truth—that escape plans are being made, but they only include those they favor.  He intends to escape before the Nazis, who are being pushed back by the Allies, begin using the prominenter as bargaining chips.  She is picked up by Kurtz, who takes her to the Doctor’s cell; the Doctor is trying to probe at Klein and find out how she knows what the TARDIS is.  She knows there is no record of their existence in this year, therefore she ignores his questions, and orders Kurtz to shoot Ace.  The Doctor surrenders the TARDIS key.  Klein takes him to meet Schafer at the TARDIS; she orders Kurtz to kill Ace if the Doctor doesn’t cooperate.  The Doctor tells Ace to work on Kurtz’s paranoia.  At the TARDIS, he opens it for Klein and Schafer; overwhelmed, Schafer refuses to do any more, and leaves to make a report.  Klein admits that she isn’t here for the TARDIS, but for the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Ace starts to mock Kurtz, who has dismantled the CD player; she says that Klein will take credit for his work.  He finds it hard to restrain himself, but manages it, and takes her to mealtime, where she sits with Wilkins.  Gower joins them, and talks with Ace, who lets slip that the war will be over by next year.  This persuades him to take her into his confidence.  Tim cautiously agrees to create a distraction, allowing Gower to take Ace to view the prison’s weaknesses.  Kurtz catches them in the kitchens, and strikes Ace, threatening to take out the favor she owes him.  Ace shoves him, and he takes this as an assault, and drags her to solitary confinement.

Klein returns the Doctor to his cell under the pretense of waiting for his transfer papers; but he has picked her pocket, and obtained the real transfer papers, so he knows she is lying.  He also obtained her identity papers, and knows they are forged; she is impersonating the Reich’s representative, who has yet to arrive.  He destroys the papers, horrifying her, until her reveals that they were blank; he still has the real papers.  He gives her the real papers, and orders her to hurry up, thus subtly establishing his power over the situation.  She gets the Commandant to release the Doctor to her, in exchange for the TARDIS; on the way out of the castle, they pass Ace en route to solitary, and the Doctor assures Ace that he will be back.  Ace’s situation, meanwhile, angers the captive British officers, who—via Gower—ask Schafer for help.  He can’t directly countermand Kurtz, but he is able to get Ace released from solitary, though she is placed on a punishment detail.  Ace learns that there is no official record of the Doctor or Klein existing.  Fearing what the Doctor may give up for her sake, she goes to Wilkins and agrees to help him escape…if they go tonight instead of waiting.  Meanwhile, Klein takes the Doctor into the forest, where she has another form of transport waiting…but an indentation in the ground reveals the truth.  Her transportation is the Doctor’s TARDIS—coming from some point in the future—and it is missing.

Klein now intends to take the version of the TARDIS that is in the castle.  As the Doctor and Klein return to Colditz, he pieces the truth together.  The TARDIS is lost to the Germans in this year, 1944, and retained by the Nazis until 1965, the year from which Klein hails.  In that year, she finds its flight logs and figures out how to get it back to its last landing point, at which she uses it to travel here.  She intended to capture the Doctor and force him to explain the workings of the machine.  He insists that she has actually created a causal loop—that is, by taking his key, she caused the TARDIS to be lost to the Germans in the first place—and now she will make the paradox worse if she takes the earlier version of the TARDIS, preventing it from ever being in 1965.  She doesn’t care; she insists she can correct it later, and that her companions in the Reich in 1965 can interrogate him for the necessary secrets.

With Tim Wilkins, Ace gets into the castle’s medical bay, where he has nearly sawed through the bars on the window.  It’s the beginning of a plan, but needs more work to escape the guarded courtyard beyond.  Gower catches them, and explains that this is why he won’t incorporate Wilkins into any plans; the man didn’t even set a lookout on the sickbay, indicating he doesn’t have what it takes to properly escape.  Still, Ace insists she only needs to escape temporarily, to take away Klein’s leverage over the Doctor and allow him to outwit Klein.  Gower agrees to help, even if it means taking Wilkins; Wilkins and Ace must fake food poisoning after the evening meal, so that they will be sent to the sickbay.  However, before she can brief Wilkins on the plan, Kurtz arrives and sends Wilkins out so that he can deal with Ace.  She is forced to claim food poisoning early; Kurtz allows her a small victory in seeing another officer regarding the poisoning, but assures her he will have his chance eventually.

Klein’s admission about the Reich in 1965 has cued the Doctor in to a problem.  Klein, it seems, is from an alternate future, in which the Reich won the war, a future precipitated by his arrival here at Colditz.  She isn’t actually German, just of German descent; she was born in Britain, but welcomed the Nazis, and was fortunate enough to have Aryan features and hair and a Germanic surname.  She argues with him about the validity of her timeline, and about his own refusal to change certain aspects of history.  She refuses to give him anything to work with, but does tell him that history records that Ace dies tonight in a botched escape attempt, betrayed by a co-conspirator.  Having heard enough, he slips his cuffs and captures Klein, shackling her to a tree, and leaving the handcuff key in sight but out of reach.  He returns to Colditz.

Gower threatens Schafer to get him to remove the guard from the sickbay that night.  However, it’s for nothing, as Wilkins betrays the group to Kurtz, in exchange for being removed from the list of prominenter prisoners.  Kurtz questions Schafer about removing the guard, but is unsatisfied by Schafer’s excuses, and watches the sickbay himself.  Meanwhile, Gower puts on a fake German uniform, and insists on knocking out the sentry outside the window, but Ace insists on taking the risk instead, as Gower has more to lose.  Tim is set to watch the second sentry, out of view of the window, and take him out when it’s clear.  Later, Schafer meets Klein returning alone, and tells her that the Doctor was arrested in Leipzig while trying to steal a car, and will be returned in the morning.  At the same time, the ill-fated escape is beginning.  Tim back out, and Kurtz arrives and intercepts Gower and Ace at the fence.  He sends Gower to solitary, but prepares to shoot Ace.

Ace name-drops Klein to stop Kurtz from shooting; killing her in direct defiance of Klein’s orders would destroy his career.  He is angry, but returns Ace to solitary confinement.  In the morning, when the Doctor arrives and learns of Ace’s survival, he knows that Klein’s future is changing; it may already have changed enough to eliminate her timeline.  Klein decides to correct it by killing Ace, and orders Kurtz to do so as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, Gower is in solitary, but Kurtz is overruled regarding Ace, and she is returned to her regular cell.  She is confined there except for mealtimes.  At mealtime she meets Wilkins, who is bragging about having backed out in a timely manner; she is not convinced, and accuses him of betraying her and Gower.  Schafer stops the resulting disturbance and returns her to her cell, but Tim is left to the mercies of the angry prisoners.  The Doctor is put in the cell beside Gower; when he learns that Gower’s window overlooks the courtyard, he passes a message via Gower to Ace.  It contains information that Ace can pass to Kurtz at their next encounter, which exposes Klein as a traitor.

Kurtz checks Klein’s identity papers, which the Doctor has changed to more obviously expose their forged nature.  Kurtz returns them without comment, but the Doctor knows he will verify them later, and act accordingly.  Klein now has a deadline, and fears returning without the Doctor, as she took the TARDIS without permission from her superiors, and with the help of her assistant, Schmidt.  The Doctor reminds her of the paradox she’s creating if she takes the earlier TARDIS, but she dismisses it; history already records that the Doctor escapes Colditz, only to return to Germany in 1954, and be subsequently shot and left for dead; she can use the TARDIS to locate her own version, then return the earlier version to the castle in 1954, and paradox will be averted.  She takes the Doctor to the command center, but is intercepted by Kurtz, who tries to arrest her.  Meanwhile the Commandant wants to question Ace and Gower, and sends Schafer for them.  En route, Ace hears Tim in pain in his cell, and gloats over him, saying he got what he deserved for his betrayal; this prompts an outburst from Schafer, who is now cold toward Gower. They hear gunshots in the command center between Klein and Kurtz, and the Doctor intercepts them as he escapes from Klein.  He reveals that he has discovered it isn’t the TARDIS that changed history, but Ace’s CD player, which contains lasers that could be studied by the Reich.  This led to early uranium refining, allowing the Reich to win the atomic race.  Now they must recover the player before they can leave.  Schafer tries to stop them, but gives up when the Doctor reminds him of what he saw inside the TARDIS.  They search the command center and recover the CD player.  Ace suggests that Klein may not be all she seems, and her admission of the truth may not have been an accident; the Doctor concurs, and reveals that she has an assistant named Schmidt who helped her figure out the TARDIS enough to come here.  If her claims are true, the Doctor left Ace’s body and the CD player here, then realized his mistake and returned in 1954, as he couldn’t change his own timeline; he allowed them to kill him and capture the TARDIS, but then regenerated, and became the “Schmidt” who would work with Klein.  He would then have set the TARDIS to dematerialize after Klein arrived, breaking the chain of events which led to her timeline in the first place.

With the CD player in hand, the Doctor and Ace prepare to leave.  She uses her recovered Nitro-9 to cause a distraction, and head for the TARDIS, but Kurtz is waiting there.  He says that Klein escaped in a car, but he knew they would come here.  The Doctor assures Kurtz that the TARDIS is safe in the hands of the Allies, but it isn’t really Kurtz he’s talking to; it’s Schafer, who is listening.  Schafer orders Kurtz to stand down, but Kurtz shoots him in the shoulder.  Gower takes the opportunity to attack Kurtz, allowing the Doctor and Ace to enter the TARDIS; Kurtz breaks free and follows, but is caught in the closing inner doors.  He shoots the console, which causes the ship to dematerialize, killing him gruesomely.  Shaken, Gower promises to testify that Schafer did his duty, should it become necessary.  After all, after a fashion, they are both prisoners here.

Meanwhile, aboard the TARDIS, Ace is also rattled by her experiences, and by Kurtz’s death.  While she may not be responsible for that, she has some guilt toward Wilkins, who was beaten.  Although the timeline is restored, Klein is still at large, with dangerous knowledge.  Ace decides she needs to grow up, and she’ll start with her name…Ace is young and childish, but Dorothy McShane will be more mature.

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Colditz Castle, World War II

 

I have been looking forward to this story for some time. It bears some similarity in setting to the New Adventures novel Timewyrm: Exodus; and also I had recently listened to the audio drama UNIT: Dominion, which involves an alternate version of Elizabeth Klein, who debuts in this story. (I say listened, but not reviewed; that story, at four hours, is the longest audio I’ve yet encountered, and I didn’t have the background or the time to do it justice, but someday I hope to revisit it—it’s quite good.) The story delivered; it’s very good, and has a lot going for it.

Elizabeth Klein is the real prize here, although it’s not obvious yet, as this is the only piece of her story available at this point. She has since appeared in several more stories, in both her original form and in the alternate-history form that I mentioned regarding UNIT: Dominion. (This makes the Doctor Who Reference Guide’s entry out of date, as it states that she has yet to reappear.) While she is sometimes counted as a companion of the Doctor—I myself tend to include her in such lists—she spends more time as an adversary, or sometimes an ally by obligation. She has an acerbic wit which is heavier on the acerbic and lighter on the wit; and she backs it up with a clever brain that very nearly gives the Doctor a run for his money. It’s worth noting that her alternate version—with a similar educational background—becomes UNIT’s scientific advisor in the Doctor’s absence; she’s that good. Here, however, she’s clearly not a companion, but a villain, being absolutely devoted to the Third Reich.

We also get an early appearance from David Tennant, who would land the role of the Tenth Doctor in 2005. Here he plays Nazi officer Feldwebel Kurtz, who meets a particularly grisly end. (He’s an equivalent to Hemmings in Timewyrm: Exodus, and ends just about as badly.) This was his first Doctor Who role, a few years prior to his often-noted walk-on role in Scream of the Shalka. Tennant’s command of various accents is highlighted here; it’s well-known that his accent in his television appearances is different from his natural Scottish accent, but here he uses a German accent to great effect. I can’t comment on how authentic it is, but my point is that you can’t tell it’s him; I would not have guessed, had I not known from research prior to listening.

This story marks a turning point for Ace. Until now, she’s been the younger, more impulsive, less rational version that we see for the most part in her television appearances. Now, she realizes what that lifestyle sometimes costs, and she makes a conscious choice to change; she marks it by giving up the nickname of Ace, and choosing to be called Dorothy McShane instead. This is consistent with events in some of the later New Adventures novels, although I don’t think it correlates exactly; we’ll see when we get there. While placing all of Ace’s stories in order is something of a challenge, we know that she has gone by Ace in every audio until now, and that this story explicitly takes place sometime after The Fearmonger, as she mentions the events of that story. It’s also worth mentioning that although I mentioned Timewyrm: Exodus, Klein’s Reich-dominated future is not the same as the similar timeline seen in that novel. The two timelines originated from different points. Therefore it doesn’t matter as much if this story follows that one (though for what it’s worth, she’s still going by Ace in the novel).

I can’t elaborate on it much, due to serious spoilers, but this story demonstrates that even in situations that seem totally unpredictable, the Seventh Doctor usually has a plan in place. In this case it’s interesting, because he actually hasn’t put it in motion as yet; within his personal timeline, this appearance is the earliest point of said plan. However, the Doctor here accurately deduces what his future self will do, even given that the timeline is being altered. It’s impressive to watch, and makes him a bit scarier, in my opinion.

I always feel a little odd about stories set in World War II (or World War I, for that matter). The wars, being as bloody and violent as they were, with so many abuses perpetrated, are certainly nothing to be taken lightly. Colditz Castle is a real location, and was genuinely used as a POW camp—making this a pseudohistorical story, incidentally—and it still stands to this day. However, I have to say that this story treats the events with respect. While it makes no excuses for Nazi Germany, it doesn’t cast all the German soldiers as villains individually, and makes them seem quite human. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just caught in a bad situation. It does the same for the POWs, who aren’t all saints by any means—there’s a betrayer in their ranks, and an entire group savagely beats the man at one point. This story wisely leaves Klein’s altered future unseen; it would have been harder, I think, to be so evenhanded about a world where the war was already lost (for comparison, see Timewyrm: Exodus).

Continuity References: Ace mentions Paul Tanner (The Fearmonger), who gave her the CD player to replace her lost stereo. She uses it to listen to Danny Pain, who was also mentioned in No Future and Happy Endings. The Doctor mentions an alias (again, spoilers!) which also appears in Timewyrm: Exodus and Storm Warning. Ace will mention Kurtz’s death again in The Rapture, in which she also reverts to going by “Ace”. She hates Nazis, which she first mentioned in Silver Nemesis. The story of the Doctor’s escape here will be repeated in Zagreus. Klein will have numerous future appearances, mostly audio, which we will cover when we get there; she also briefly encounters First Doctor companion Polly Wright in a Short Trips: Past Tense short story, That Time I Nearly Destroyed the World Whilst Looking for a Dress, which gets the awkward title award, and which I mention because I may not be able to obtain a copy for review.

Overall: A grim story, but for once not a particularly bloody one, and a nice introduction to a fascinating recurring character. Not a bad outing for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and I’m curious to see where we go from here.

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Next time: We join the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in Primeval! See you there.

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

Colditz

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Interlude: Dr. Who and the Daleks

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And now for something completely different! Or at least, a little different.  I’m taking a brief break from my Classic Doctor Who rewatch today, and talking about something related:  the 1965 theatrical release, Dr. Who and the Daleks!

Dr. Who and the Daleks

Wanting to expand the Doctor Who brand (and of course make more money, though that’s understandable), in 1965 the BBC and Terry Nation, the creator of the Daleks, struck a deal with Amicus Productions (by way of AARU) to bring the Doctor and the Daleks to the big screen. It seems hokey now, but at that time it was a big deal:  The already-popular series would get an adaptation with wider reach, and—revolutionary!—in color! Technicolor, to be exact.  The film, titled Dr. Who and the Daleks, was released in June 1965 in the UK (1966 in the US), and starred Peter Cushing as the Doctor.  Loosely based on the Daleks’ first appearance in the TV series (1963-64’s The Daleks), it was the first of two such films, followed by Daleks: Invasion Earth—2150 AD (based on The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Rumors have persisted for years that a third film was to be produced, possibly based on The Chase, the serial that saw the departure of Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.  Famously they’re known as a sort of alternate continuity of the Doctor.

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Inside Tardis, and hello, Ian!

I had wanted to see this film for years, and (courtesy of a great Christmas gift from my amazing girlfriend) last night I had the chance. It was a surreal experience; it’s just similar enough to The Daleks to feel familiar, but just different enough to catch you off guard on occasion.  Some obvious differences:  This “Dr. Who” is no alien, but rather a human, a mad scientist type whose last name is literally “Who”.  His Tardis—small letters—is a ship called “Tardis”, and it is no acronym.  The ship itself is vastly different inside from that depicted on the small screen, though it is still dimensionally transcendental (if described somewhat differently).  Barbara, here, is not a schoolteacher, but rather is one of Dr. Who’s granddaughters along with Susan, who is some years younger than the version played by Carol Anne Ford.  Ian is Barbara’s boyfriend (perhaps presaging the relationship that had visibly begun to develop in their later appearances on the series, and that has since been more heavily developed in spinoff media).

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From left:  Susan, Barbara, Dr. Who, Ian

This film wouldn’t be out of place among the Disney family films of the era. You almost expect to see Mary Poppins arrive and start up a musical number at any moment.  The Doctor is the somewhat-bumbling-but-grandfatherly paternal figure, and Susan fills out the precocious-child role.  It’s the Daleks who save the film from Disney territory; they’re still frightening, and somehow more bloodthirsty than their early-series counterparts.  I really had no complaints about them, except one:  I commented that they were too easily pushed around by the humans, manhandled even.  You would think that powerful death machines would be able to put on the brakes when shoved.  Then again, even as I type this, I’m watching season ten’s Planet of the Daleks, and just saw a couple of Daleks get pushed into frozen pools.  I guess some things never change.

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Daleks…

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…and Thals

The Daleks’ enemies, the Thals, are overblown compared to their television counterparts: angelic faces, copper hair, gold eye shadow—it has the feel of a terrible drag show.  If I was expecting Mary Poppins earlier, I’m expecting the Village People now.  Still, I realize it was a different time, and the things that constituted innuendo would have been different then, so I’ll overlook it.  It was harder to overlook Ian Chesterton, however; that character’s portrayal was the one truly disappointing thing here for me, as I like Ian as portrayed in the series.  On television he’s the sixties’ ideal of a man’s man—confident, capable, strong, good in a fight, handsome.  In this film, he’s a wuss.  He alternates between whining, stumbling, and getting knocked out; and I couldn’t help wondering what Barbara sees in him.  It’s not often I’ve rooted for a companion to die, but this was one of those times…alas, he survives.

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Peter Cushing is Dr. Who

But I digress. I don’t want to give the impression that I hated the movie; on the contrary, it was a fun watch.  In some ways, it even exceeds its television counterpart: you get more Daleks onscreen, and a pretty good destruction scene near the end.  The moment when the Daleks ambush the Thals at the cliff outside the city is very impressive indeed, and is played out very differently from the series version.  The addition of color to the film is a dubious benefit, given that the colors used are roughly equivalent to an Austin Powers film, but it was at least gratifying to see the Daleks in full color (in the series, you completely miss the notion that color signifies rank among the Daleks, at least for the first six years).  You get a few laughs that are absent from the more serious television version—Ian having trouble with doors in the Dalek city makes for a decent sight gag.  And of course, there is Peter Cushing’s great performance.  Although his early lines are lackluster, that’s hardly his fault; and by the end of the film, he is the Doctor, as much as William Hartnell ever was.  I was chiefly familiar with his career from his turn as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, which, while fantastic, is a completely different kind of role.  He pulls off the eccentric, benevolent-but-mad scientist just as well (as anyone familiar with his history of Frankenstein films could probably have told me!).  Of course this film isn’t canon; but you can see how it could have been.

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This awesome image courtesy of Luke-the-F0x on DeviantArt.  Used without permission, but credit where it’s due–check  out his work! (See link below*)

Thinking about this film, I can’t help thinking about the question of canon in general. It’s famously been said that Doctor Who is a show without canon; and if you poll any group of fans, you’ll get widely differing opinions on what constitutes canon in Doctor Who.  Do we limit ourselves to the television series?  Or do we allow other material?  The novels, and if so, which ones?  What about the comics?  The Big Finish audio dramas?  That controversial 1996 movie?  Or—one of my personal favorites—the parodic Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death?  Where do you draw the line?  I’m not in any way suggesting that this movie or its sequel should be canon.  I am saying, as a fan, that they can be.  There’s room for all the Doctors here.  It’s not unusual for these things to become an argument, because if there’s one thing we science fiction fans can do, it’s argue.  (And, let’s be clear, I’m all for debate—that’s half the fun!)  But there’s no reason to let those arguments divide us.  After all, when you boil it down, we’re all in this for the fun of it.

Dr. Who and the Daleks, if nothing else, is a lot of fun.

So, Whovians, what are you waiting for? Find a copy**, and check it out!  You won’t be sorry.

*The image above can be found at the creator’s DeviantArt page, here.

**I am not endorsing Amazon.com as the only source for this material; it is simply the first vendor I found.  Please feel free to do business with any vendor you prefer.

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