Audio Drama Review: Trail of the White Worm

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, with the fifth entry, Trail of the White Worm. Written by Alan Barnes, this adventure guest stars Geoffrey Beevers. Let’s get started!

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

Trail of the White Worm 1

The Doctor and Leela land on a muddy day in England…and immediately step into the slimy mucus trail of a large worm. Moments later, it becomes clear that the creature is fleeing, as hunters with dogs and guns are following.  The hunters cut them off from the TARDIS, forcing them to hide in the high grass.  The hunters, Carswell and John, are searching for someone named Julie, and are momentarily stymied by the TARDIS—but the hunt continues.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela come to the abrupt end of the mucus trail; it ends at an electric fence, and it appears the creature went over.  The Doctor wonders if they are inside or outside the barrier.  Knowing they have the scent of the trail on them, Leela borrows the Doctor’s scarf to cross the fence, planning to distract the dogs and hunters while the Doctor escapes.  She taunts the hunters, before escaping herself.  They consider chasing, but decide against—it’s 9:00 AM, and one Colonel Spindleton is about to arrive…in a tank.  Overhearing this, the Doctor confronts them, seeking answers.

At some distance, Leela meets the elusive Spindleton—or rather, his voice, as he speaks through loudspeakers. He warns her she is trespassing, and is about to wander into a minefield.  He approaches in a Chieftain tank; he directs her attention to himself, on the balcony of a nearby manor house, and demonstrates that he is controlling the tank by remote.  He uses the tank’s machine gun for target practice, narrowly missing Leela, and then orders her to run as he “brings out the big gun”.

The Doctor works his way into the confidence of the hunters, who tell him that the creature took Julie. He offers to help them, but insists on recovering Leela first.  Carswell is suspicious of him, and implies that the creature can do unusual things, but withholds the details.  They are interrupted when the dogs locate something.  Meanwhile, Leela manages to outlast the tank’s fuel; but she takes advantage of its positioning—pointing its guns toward the house—to force Spindleton to help her locate and recover the Doctor.

The dogs have not found Julie. Instead, it’s a man, dead and missing a shoe; the Doctor notes that the man is dead by molecular extraction, essentially dessicated, and that no one on Earth has that capability.  As well, the mucus trail is nowhere nearby, meaning that they are not dealing only with the creature, but with a murderer.  While viewing the body, they are met by a woman, Demesne Furze, who quickly assesses the situation and realizes that the body was killed elsewhere, then transported here.  She reveals that she has Julie in the boot of her car, much to everyone’s surprise, and lets her out.  She admits to kidnapping the girl, but says she did it to bring her home safely, as the girl was attempting to hitchhike on the highway.  Julie tells Carswell—her uncle—that she was trying to run away to London, as she feels there is nothing for her in this town, Dark Peak.  Carswell calls off the search, and they insist on taking her home—but there is still the dead man to consider, and the Doctor thinks it may be beyond the constabulary…and what about Leela?  Demesne offers to take the Doctor to Lambton Hall, Spindleton’s manor house, as it is on her way back to town.

Leela meets Spindleton at the house, and asks to call the “blue guards,” the police. Spindleton shrugs it off, and shows off his collection of hunting conquests, but he is shocked when she asks him to hunt the creature with her.  However, when she calls it a “worm”, he instantly becomes excited, and agrees to help—but insists on telling his manservant first.  He shows her to the caves beneath the house.

Demesne and the Doctor discuss the “Great White Worm” and the legends behind it, as well as Spindleton’s Swahili manservant. The legends don’t match, however, as the “wyrm” in the legends is a dragon, not a worm.  Demesne drops him at the manor house.  In the caves, Leela and Spindleton view his weapon collection; then the manservant, Mwalimu, arrives, and disarms Leela.  She notes that he is hooded and cowled; he comments that although they allow a deception about it, Spindleton is the servant, and Mwalimu is the master.  The alarm sounds as the Doctor reaches the door, and Mwalimu sends Spindleton to deal with him.  On threat of death, he places Leela by a crack in the floor; she recognizes that the weapon he carries is not of Earth, and she notes fresh blood on the floor.  He tells her it is animal blood, from beasts given as food to the worm—and the worm is coming to feast on Leela.

The worm appears—and it speaks. It refuses to serve Mwalimu, and tells Leela to let it swallow her; it insists it will not harm her, and that she has no other chance.  When she mentions the Doctor, it refers to him as its savior.  She climbs on its back instead, letting slip that she is with the Doctor, which startles Mwalimu; she slides down the creature’s back to escape, and Mwalimu orders it after her.  It leaves, but still refuses to obey.  Spindleton returns and insists he sent the Doctor away; Mwalimu is troubled, and insists the Doctor can thwart their plans.  He sends Spindleton for reinforcements.

Julie sneaks out again in the afternoon, but is caught by John near Demesne’s residence. She ignores his pleas to return, and finds a hidden doorkey, then enters the house, prompting John to follow; she gives him the key.  She admits she is there to steal any valuables she can find, intending to finance her next attempt to run away.  John refuses to help her, until she informs him that his fingerprints on the key and his bootprints on the floor are enough to link him to her petty crimes.  They are interrupted by the Doctor.  John assumes he is a policeman, but he demurs; he admits he has been looking for Leela all afternoon, and that he thinks Spindleton was lying about not knowing where she is.  As if summoned, Spindleton’s tank arrives, and hails them, telling the Doctor that they are surrounded.  A helicopter arrives as well—Spindleton’s reinforcements, a group of mercenaries.  In the confusion, Julie runs off; John finds her when she screams, and she tells him she found bodies in the cellar.  Meanwhile, Spindleton says he is after Demesne; he insists she is actually the worm.  The Doctor is incredulous, until John and Julie return, and their story adds weight to Spindleton’s.

Deeper in the caves, Leela encounters Demesne, who recognizes her from the Doctor’s description. She leads Leela out via an exit to the churchyard.  Outside, Demesne and Leela see the helicopter Demesne determines to help the Doctor.  Leela insists on helping, as the Doctor needs to know about Mwalimu.  Demesne knows about him, and says he is a Time Lord, like the Doctor; she says she can smell the vortex on them, though the comment seems lost on Leela.  Demesne transforms into the white worm.

Spindleton takes the Doctor, Julie, and John in custody, and begins marching them back to the manor house to meet Mwalimu, giving them a lecture about the social situation along the way. He refers to Mwalimu as “the Master”, though the Doctor doesn’t react to it.  The worm overtakes them, and the mercenaries fire on it, to no effect.  The Doctor confronts the worm by name as Demesne; she doesn’t deny it, and swallows the Doctor whole.  He isn’t killed, however, and finds Leela inside it as well, unharmed.  As they confer, he states that the worm is engineered, but to what purpose?  Demesne can hear them, and he questions it, guessing most of the worm’s history.  She admits its original purpose was to dig tunnels—literal “wormholes”—in spacetime.  She knows the Master wants her for that ability, but she does not know why.  She does know that creating the tunnel he desires will consumer her completely—an ouroboros of sorts.  It appeals to him to take it away from here, and says it will digest them if he does not.  He resents the blackmail, but considers it…

Spindleton returns to Mwalimu—or rather, the Master—and reports the Doctor’s death, but the Master is sure he is alive, given that the worm referred to him as its savior. He realizes what the worm must want.  He contacts unknown allies, and assures them the wormhole will be open soon.

Outside, the Worm expels the Doctor and Leela in the churchyard. Leela finds Demesne’s skin; the worm takes it back like clothing, and resumes human form.  She offers to take them back to the TARDIS, but the Doctor insists on dealing with the Master first.  He sends Leela to find the police and summon UNIT, giving her a string of code words.  As she goes, a thunderstorm looms; Demesne seems unusually unnerved by it.  En route to the village, Leela encounters John and Julie, who nearly make her forget the code words; Leela gives them the (now slightly altered) message, and sends them in her place, then returns to help the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Demesne insists to the Doctor that the storm is not natural.  The Master meets them, backed up by Spindleton in his tank, and demands the worm.  Leela arrives, and is shot at by Spindleton, but dodges the shell.  The Master gloats that UNIT will be too late, and reveals a device that summons the storm; he summons lightning to strike Demesne, electrocuting her and triggering her transformation, not just into the worm, but into the wormhole.  As Demesne dies, the wormhole opens.

Trail of the White Worm 2

Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and Michael Cochrane (Spindleton)

 

It’s always interesting when the Master pops up! This story is no exception. The villainous Time Lord has appeared in the audios before—as I write this, I just recently reviewed his first appearance in the Main Range, in Dust Breeding—but this is his first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures; and as such, it takes us back into history a bit. Geoffrey Beevers plays the part, just as he did in Dust Breeding, playing the decayed version that we last saw onscreen in The Keeper of Traken. From the Doctor’s perspective, that hasn’t happened yet, as this story takes place in Leela’s tenure. We know that everything in this season must happen after The Talons of Weng-Chiang, courtesy of some definite references in the season opener; and it’s probably a safe bet that the entire season happens between Talons Horror of Fang Rock, as no mention has yet been made of any of the events of television season fifteen. As well, it seems that the stories in this season flow continuously from one to the next, with only enough gap to account for sleep and travel times.

The Master follows his old habit of using an alias that is a play on the word “master” in some way. In this case, “Mwalimu” is Swahili for “master”, or alternately “teacher”. This time however, he doesn’t bother disguising his appearance (beyond wearing robes), as he wasn’t expecting the Doctor to appear. Leela encounters him first, but as this is her first meeting with him, she doesn’t recognize him. He is a little less decayed than before; he attributes this to the Master’s absorption of energy from the Eye of Harmony during the events of The Deadly Assassin, allowing the Master to heal to some degree. From a meta perspective, this is done to account for the difference in appearance between Peter Pratt’s version of the Master as seen in The Deadly Assassin and Beevers’ version as seen in The Keeper of Traken. He’s working with accomplices here (other than Spindleton, that is), but we won’t find out who until the next entry.

The White Worm is hardly the first shape-changing, sometimes human monster we’ve had—they’re a dime a dozen in Doctor Who, including the likes of Richard Lazarus (The Lazarus Experiment), the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons, et al), various werewolves (Tooth and Claw, Loups-Garoux, et al), and many others. I think it is the first I’ve encountered, however, which is both content with its situation and basically good. The worm’s human alter-ego doesn’t want to cause any trouble; it just wants to be left alone. Of course, the Master won’t allow that. The creature uses a skin suit for concealment, much like the Slitheen (Aliens of London, et al), presumably with some form of compression as well, as the worm is big enough to swallow both the Doctor and Leela. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Worm; it’s misunderstood more than anything else, and though the Doctor tries to save it, it meets a bad end. It’s also the victim of “Unknown Species Syndrome”, that common Doctor Who affliction wherein a creature is of artificial origin, but its original creators are unknown, dead, or otherwise absent; for comparison, see the Fearmonger (The Fearmonger), the Warp Core (Dust Breeding), the clockwork robots (The Girl in the Fireplace, although they were possibly made by humans), and many others. Whether its motives are innocent or not, it does kill to survive; the dessicated, drained bodies it leaves behind are very reminiscent of the similarly-drained bodies in the BBC Fourth Doctor audio series Demon Quest.

This is a much better story for Leela, and she gets to be the badass she was born to be. She faces down a tank, then Spindleton, then the Master, then the Worm, and comports herself well under pressure in every case, even though she really has no clue what she’s up against. It seems the best way for Leela to have a good story is to let her get separated from the Doctor…well, I suppose that didn’t work out so well in Energy of the Daleks, so maybe not. Still, she puts in a good performance here. After several Leela audios, my only issue is that she sounds considerably older than she did in her television appearances. That’s to be expected, I suppose, given Louise Jameson’s age, but then, it doesn’t seem to happen much with other Big Finish actors, who routinely play much younger characters. I can’t help picturing her at her current age, or at least somewhere in between, when I hear her in the audios. Still, she always plays the role well.

We don’t get much in the way of references here, beyond what I’ve already covered. UNIT gets a mention; the Doctor gives Leela a string of code words and sends her to call UNIT for assistance (or rather, call the authorities, and hopefully UNIT’s monitoring systems will catch the code string). Leela refers to some events of this season, most notably that she met the Romans (Wrath of the Iceni; this is another similarity between this season and Demon Quest, in which she met a Roman-era Celtic tribe and a would-be Roman emperor). Beyond that, it’s a relatively reference-free story.

Not a bad story overall; not the best of the season, either (so far, that would be Energy of the Daleks, with Wrath of the Iceni close behind). We’ll reserve final judgment until we get the season finale under our belts. It’s a fun story, and gets bonus points for the Master, even if he is a bit underused.

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Next time: We’ll finish up the series with The Oseidon Adventure! 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.

Trail of the White Worm

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Audio Drama Review: The Renaissance Man

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Today we’re listening to the second installment, The Renaissance Man, written by Justin Richards and directed by Ken Bentley. Let’s get started!

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

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A medieval history scholar is showing a fellow scholar around a castle.  He is struck down suddenly by a severe headache.

The Doctor is talking to Leela about the TARDIS’s gravitic drift compensator when they arrive at the Morovanian Museum on Morovania Minor, for the opening of the Renaissance exhibit—but they land in the wrong place, at a medieval-styled village near the museum.  They meet a dog, and the woman chasing it off—Professor Hilda Lutterthwaite, a renowned lepidopterist.  After mystifying Leela with her intellectual area of interest, she departs abruptly to the nearby museum.

The Doctor and Leela proceed to the museum, where they meet Reginald Harcout, his daughter Lizzie Harcourt, Christopher Manners, the maid, Beryl, and the butler, Jephson.  Reginald invites them to join in for tea, then to view the collection—“a collection of…everything”, as Reginald puts it.  Viewing the collection, Leela thinks something is wrong; she and the Doctor note spaces where things seem to have been removed.  Leela goes to see the armory, while Reginald takes the Doctor to view paintings.  From the paintings, they proceed to the library.

Manners and Lizzie take note of Leela’s proficiency and knowledge of weapons.  They are interrupted by Lutterthwaite, who is talking about her life’s work being gone.  Leela goes to find the Doctor, and Manners and Lizzie go to find Jephson.  The Doctor is in the library, where he is left alone; he notes that none of the books are older than fifty years.  Leela finds him and takes him to help Lutterthwaite; along the way, he is struck with a severe toothache.  He pushes the pain away, but they hear a gunshot from the armory; they find that Lutterthwaite has shot herself.  Christopher and Lizzie arrive, and the Doctor suggests checking the cameras; but Christopher and Lizzie cannot see the camera on the wall.

Paintings which were missing are now present.  Also, in the library, other items have appeared, including text in books which previously wasn’t there.  The Doctor notes that some of the information is incorrect, based on statements he himself made which were misunderstood.  At that time, the police arrive to view the body.

The officer that arrives…is *Inspector* Reginald Harcourt, accompanied by Sergeant Jephson.  The Doctor and Leela are stunned; why are these people now appearing in a different identity than that which they’ve already displayed, and acting as though they don’t recognize the Doctor and Leela?

The officers state that this is the third such incident this week.  However, Leela notices a door that wasn’t there before, and she and the Doctor take it.  Inside is a brand new room, filled with butterfly samples, including the one that Lutterthwaite was following.  Harcourt comes in, and claims ownership of the room; when the Doctor asks him about being a policeman, he calls it a hobby.  After some tense discussion, he calls for Jephson to arrest them; Leela knocks him down, and they escape.  Jephson chases them through the grounds and into the wood, accompanied by Manners, who is now a constable.  The Doctor and Leela elude the officers, who comment that they are heading toward ‘the castle”, but Leela slips away from the Doctor.

Leela finds a man in distress, who begs her for help.  (His voice identifies him as the afflicted man from the opening teaser.)  He says that if the others catch her, they will “take everything”.  He claims to be the doctor—but not the same Doctor—and is disoriented.  Meanwhile, he Doctor finds the castle, and meets Beryl there.  He doubles back and finds Leela and the other doctor, whom he recognizes as medieval scholar Dr. Henry Carnforth.  As they compare notes, the Doctor realizes that Harcourt and his associates are stealing the knowledge from the minds of those around them, including Lutterthwaite and Carnforth.  Suddenly, Leela realizes she is losing her memory of how to track their location—she too is being affected.  The Doctor realizes that calling this section a “Renaissance” section is a misnomer; “Renaissance” represents a new era of knowledge, and the museum’s systems are creating just that, by taking the knowledge from those on site.  However, where it should be making copies, it is taking the original data from the minds of those affected…and any number of scholars, great minds who can change the course of history, will soon be here.  The man who could control this system would become supremely knowledgeable—a true “Renaissance Man”.  However, he would also be extremely dangerous.  The Doctor assures Carnforth that his own mind is protected, and he leads them to the TARDIS.

At the TARDIS, he plans to tap into the museum systems and reverse the effects.  However, they are ambushed by Harcourt and Jephson.  Jephson assures him that nothing has gone wrong with the systems, however; and Harcourt says they will be arrested for the murder of Carnforth.  Carnforth is still alive…but Harcourt shoots him immediately, and arrests them.

Leela draws a knife, but the Doctor makes her give it up to Jephson.  Harcourt takes them back to his office at a local police station, where Lizzie is typing a report, and Beryl is serving as well.  Harcourt says that here, they collect people; he displays a book full of life stories of thousands of people.  Leela notes that the book seems to go on no matter how many pages you turn.  Jephson insists that the book includes everyone from this period, but the Doctor gives him another name, which is not in the book, causing consternation; the Doctor feeds them a long and colorful story about the unknown man.  Elsewhere, Manning and Lizzie now seem to have morphed into a surgeon and nurse; Manning comments that the Doctor is uncooperative, and orders preparation for surgery.

The Doctor gets a phone call from the dog they encountered upon arrival.  It makes no sense, but the Doctor concludes that this artificial reality is unraveling.  He argues that they should not take the knowledge from the arriving scholars, when they can have a copy instead.  Harcourt insists it doesn’t work as well as anticipated.  He states that they intend to continue accumulating knowledge, for the sake of what he can accomplish with it.  Manning arrives and takes the Doctor for surgery, as his knowledge can’t be removed the normal way.  Leela attacks Manning and frees the Doctor, and they run.

In a new room, they encounter a room full of bottled drinks; outside are a number of Spitfire planes.  Manners and Lizzie arrives, now having morphed into a pilot and a plane deliverywoman.  The Doctor discovers that despite appearances, they do remember their other identities, but they are not supposed to show it.  Harcourt arrives outside as the squadron’s wing commander, and the Doctor and Leela exit, leaving Manners and Lizzie to fret over what is happening to them; but their memories are beginning to clear.

Outside, the Doctor and Leela must run from a group of Messerschmidts; it seems Harcourt would rather kill the Doctor than let him escape.  They escape into another building, where Leela finds herself alone; Beryl—now appearing as a secretary—meets her and identifies the place as Harcourt International.  She refers her to the twelfth floor for a meeting with the Doctor.  On the twelfth floor, Beryl appears again, and this time indicates that the Doctor in question is Harcourt.  Leela grapples with her, and pushes her through a window; she tries to pull Beryl back up, but the woman falls, apparently to her death.  However, Leela goes down and finds that she is alive, though badly damaged.

The Doctor has found himself in a Western saloon.  He is confronted by Manners and Lizzie, now in Western guise; they claim not to know him, but they call him Doctor.  He calls them on it.  He insists they are not real, but are based on archetypes through history.  With his sonic screwdriver, he demonstrates that they are just empty shells.  Harcourt arrives in the guise of a marshal, and orders Manners to arrest him; but Manners won’t, now that he knows the truth.  Harcourt summons Jephson instead, but Leela arrives instead; she has incapacitated Jephson and taken his gun, as well as her knife.

The Doctor says they are heading for the TARDIS, and leaves with Leela.  Outside, he changes course, and they head for the manor house instead.  Harcourt and Jephson are going there themselves, with Lizzie , Manning, and the damaged Beryl.  When the Doctor and Leela arrive, Harcourt tells the Doctor he is already taking the Doctor’s knowledge, bit by bit; but the Doctor assures him he has bitten off more than he can chew. [There is a break in the audio here, with static?] The Doctor assures Harcourt that the human brain cannot absorb the scale of information in question here; a separate storage system is needed—a library.  To prove his point, he quizzes Harcourt on random facts.  Harcourt gets the questions right, but the Doctor uses this to reveal that Harcourt isn’t the real “Renaissance Man”…he is the library.  The Doctor makes the point that love, emotion, experience—these are just as important as knowledge.  He is contradicted, however, by Jephson—who is the Renaissance Man.  The Doctor reveals that he had planted the information for one of his questions, which wasn’t real at all; when Harcourt was able to produce an answer, it was a clue to the truth about him.  Other statements he has made have also been false.  These errors in the data have had a “butterfly effect” in the database—and now the projections around them, the library and the rest of the building, the entire world of the museum—are coming apart.  Harcourt rejects Jephson’s plea for help as the manor begins to collapse.

Leela has recovered her tracking skills; and amid the destruction, she flees with the Doctor back to the TARDIS.  It’s just in time; the academics will be arriving soon.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela discuss the value of knowledge, and how it is not worth more than even one life.  He assures her that the museum’s systems will have fully reset, returning everyone to their original condition—but as the academics arrive, the Renaissance section is empty.  The scholars are not put off; they decide it is a metaphor for learning, which no one can fully grasp.

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With every audio involving the Fourth Doctor and Leela, I feel a little more conflicted, and this entry is no exception. The Fourth Doctor is excellent, and Leela has the potential to be—I’ve always liked her as a companion. Still, with every additional story, the My Fair Lady vibe becomes a little stronger, and it’s reaching awkward proportions here. I realize that I’m projecting real-world values onto a fictional story, but it’s difficult to stop, apparently. In this story, Leela fawns over the Doctor to a point of near-worship. The Doctor isn’t much better, as he continues to be condescending; he comments on his own “impeccable style”, then says about Leela: “I’m still working on HER style.” I tried to justify it in my mind by reasoning that this story is still very early in their relationship—just four stories after her first appearance in The Face of Evil–but it’s still awkward.

With that out of the way, it’s an otherwise entertaining story. The rapid changes in setting and in the identity of the characters makes it reminiscent of stories such as The Mind Robber, and that’s not a bad thing. The twist—that the victims’ memories and knowledge are being stolen out of their minds—was not well hidden; I picked up on it right away; but that’s not a hindrance, because the real question here is, what are they going to DO about it? The Fourth Doctor always represented a good balance of action and debate, and this story uses both. He and Leela spend a good deal of time running and fighting, but then the story is resolved through debate, as the Doctor uses verbal trickery to confound Harcourt and Jephson and put an end to the scheme. There’s a good amount of humor, as well (Leela: “He has the eyes of a killer!” Doctor: “As well as the gun.”), even if it tends to the absurd, e.g. when the dog makes a phone call. The absurd is perfectly appropriate here, as it represents the failure of the environment the villains have created—when reality breaks down, of COURSE a dog can call you on the telephone, why not? That’s really the beauty of this story: It’s fast-paced, and (like so many equally fast-paced Eighth Doctor stories) sometimes that means letting the details fall apart; but here, it’s okay if the details fall apart. You EXPECT that they will do that, because you establish early that you’re in the realm of the absurd.

This is another short adventure, not in running time, but with regard to in-universe time. The Doctor and Leela are at the museum for perhaps two or three hours, certainly no more. The same was true in the preceding story, Destination: Nerva, and it’s very possible that the Doctor and Leela have been going non-stop since The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I wonder sometimes about the passage of time within the TARDIS, and between adventures—do the characters sleep? Do they take time out for meals? Of course they do—the classic series established very early that the characters at least sleep and eat on board—but sometimes it’s interesting to think about how long they carry on at one time, when adventures run together, as in this case. Being a companion of the Doctor is a hard life in more ways than one.

The voice acting is on point here. It’s difficult enough for one actor to play multiple characters, as happens in a few instances here; it’s so much more difficult when actors also have to play multiple versions of the same character. Ian McNeice (Harcourt), Gareth Armstrong (Jephson), Anthony Howell (Manners), and Daisy Ashford (Lizzie) all do this very successfully here, while Laura Molyneux plays the dual roles of Beryl and Lutterthwaite. I had a little trouble identifying characters early on, but it wasn’t because the acting was inferior, so much as that the dialogue didn’t identify the characters very well at first. Soon, though, that oversight is corrected, and the cast put in fantastic performances.

References here are mostly to other Leela stories. She mentions visiting London in 1889, and firing a revolver at a dragon (both from The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and mentions that Xoanon (The Face of Evil) used cameras to watch the Tesh. She also mentions crushing baby Hordas (Horda? Not sure of the correct plural) with her hands, another Face of Evil reference. She calls policemen “Blue Guards”, as she does in several stories (Talons again, also The Foe from the Future). The Doctor says he has felt the pain of having a tooth pulled, but “not with these teeth”, which is a reference to The Gunfighters, where the first Doctor had a tooth pulled (by Doc Holliday, no less!). He also comments that he needs to “reverse the polarity* on the museum’s knowledge-stealing system, a reference to too many stories to count, but especially in the Third Doctor era.

So: A great story, if a bit awkward at points, and a fantastic way to continue the season! If the series continues in this vein, we’ll be in good hands. As this story is (as of the time of writing) available for free on Spotify, there’s no good reason not to check it out.

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Next time: I have previously reviewed the next entry, The Wrath of the Iceni; but as it was a very early attempt for me–only the second audio drama I reviewed here–I hadn’t yet found a format I like, and so I’m going to cover it again. With quite a few audios behind me now, I expect some changed opinions; but we’ll see. You can read the previous review here if you like. 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.

The Renaissance Man

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Cybermen Vs. Daleks: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two Finale

  

We’re back, continuing our New Doctor Who rewatch! This week, we’re wrapping up Series Two with the final three episodes. We’ll examine the two-part Series Two finale, Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, in which we say goodbye (for now) to Rose Tyler; but first, we’ll examine one of Doctor Who’s most hated episodes, Fear Her. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched these episodes!

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TARDISode 11 sets up the story with a clip from a sensationalist crime-tip show called Crime Crackers. It gives a quick overview about a case of several missing children, and also gives us the name of the street on which the story takes place, Dame Kelly Holmes Close. It closes with a glimpse of the monster in the closet of the main character.

It’s 2012, and London is hosting the summer Olympic games! In less than a day, the Olympic torch will pass through the neighborhood of Dame Kelly Holmes Close on its way to the stadium. The residents are preparing, but all is not well; several children have gone missing, all very suddenly. Rose and the Doctor arrive to see the games, but are distracted by missing-child flyers.

A girl named Chloe Webber lives on the street with her mother; her father is out of the picture, ostensibly long dead. Chloe loves to draw, but she has a secret: When she draws someone, they disappear, transported into her drawing. Rose, meanwhile, is attacked by an odd creature, resembling a large pencil scribble; the Doctor stops the creature, and determines that it isn’t real, but resulted from a strange residual energy. It’s not of Earth—and it leads them to Chloe. They talk with her and her mother, and the Doctor hypnotizes Chloe; he learns that she is being inhabited by an alien creature called an Isolus, which gives her her strange power. The Isolus are a long-lived swarm race; they are empathic, and thrive on their bonds with one another. This one, a juvenile, was separated from the swarm, and crashed its pod ship on Earth; it bonded with Chloe, craving emotional contact. It chose Chloe because they were both very lonely. It’s not evil, only hostile; and even so, it’s simply a defensive mechanism as carried out by a scared child. There’s a problem, however. Chloe’s loneliness is a result of years of abuse at the hands of her now-absent father; and she has drawn him on her closet wall—and the drawing has come to malevolent life.

The Doctor discovers that the pod ship can heal itself with enough heat and empathic connection. He returns to the TARDIS and puts together a device to locate it. However, the Isolus, clinging to Chloe, fears to leave; it makes her draw the Doctor, and he and the TARDIS vanish, breaking the device in the process. Rose is left to solve the crisis alone.

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She deduces that the pod, when it crashed six days earlier, was attracted to the nearest heat source—a patch of fresh pavement. She digs in the spot, and finds the pod. She returns to Chloe, but the Isolus is trying to draw the whole world—six billion people—so it will never be lonely. She sees the drawing of the Doctor, which has changed—he is showing her the Olympic torch, which is passing by at that time. Rose throws the pod into the torch, which is not only representative of heat, but also the emotional attention and connection of everyone watching—and it restores itself. The Isolus leaves Chloe and returns to the pod, releasing everyone in the drawings.

One thread remains unresolved. The malevolent drawing in the closet, no longer restrained, is now coming to kill Chloe. Rose is instrumental in helping Chloe to use the last of her power to banish it.

Still, the Doctor is missing. Rose thinks he is lost forever—until she sees him on television, reclaiming the dropped torch, and lighting the Olympic flame.

Although I wouldn’t call it a favorite episode, I’ve struggled to understand what it is that makes this episode so reviled. It seems very average to me. It’s hampered a little by the fact that it lacks a cohesive villain; Chloe and the Isolus are lonely and damaged children, but they aren’t evil—the harm they cause is more selfish, and more of a defensive mechanism. I suspected that the dislike was due to the absurdity of the episode; but there are far more absurd stories out there (like, for example, Love and Monsters, which I covered last week). The episode does concern child abuse as a secondary theme, which I will admit does not translate well to television entertainment (and rightly so); but it’s downplayed somewhat here. In fact, it could have been omitted entirely without harming the story; the subplot with the drawing in the closet was unnecessary at best, and awkward at worst. (The drawing and its behavior is a bit overdone, but that makes sense in context—it’s not what really happened to Chloe, it’s her childhood perception of it.) But again, this is nothing new—many episodes try to do too much in the allotted time, many of them better received than this.

This is another episode, like Father’s Day, where the Doctor actually loses, and it’s up to the companion to save him. Those stories don’t come often, but they’re always interesting to me; the Doctor’s life, phenomenal as it is, truly hangs by a thread sometimes. Here, Rose wins the battle, but it’s more or less by chance; it hangs on the fact that the torch procession was passing by at that moment, which is a little too much coincidence perhaps. I did have to wonder why Chloe removed the Doctor and the TARDIS, but not Rose; as Rose was the one who invaded her bedroom earlier, I would think she would see Rose as an equal threat.

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In the real world, David Tennant of course did not appear at the Olympics in 2012, or carry the torch; however, Matt Smith (as the Eleventh Doctor) did, giving a bit of poetic finality to this appearance. In universe, the Doctor makes a Star Trek reference to the Vulcan hand sign; when he hypnotizes Chloe, he does it in a way that mimics the Vulcan mind meld. We get a few continuity references: the Doctor refers to the nuns from New Earth, and says he’s not a cat person. He mentions the Shadow Proclamation, as he has done a few times before, notably in Rose. He refers to his lost family, stating that he was a dad once; the last such reference was in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The year 2012 was last visited in Dalek and its sequel, The Long Game; failed companion Adam Mitchell hails from that year.

This episode, I will admit, is logically weak, for reasons that I cited above. It is an engaging story, in my opinion; it’s made all the more emotionally weighty by the realization that our villains are really just scared, lonely children. It could benefit from some tightening, however, and from trimming out the closet-drawing plotline. Otherwise, it’s not too bad—the low point of the series, perhaps, but still acceptable.

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TARDISode 12 is a brief recap of the Torchwood references throughout the series. It is presented as a journalist submitting a story to his editor; at the end, the journalist is taken away by Torchwood agents and committed as insane.

In Army of Ghosts, the Doctor and Rose return to 2007 to visit Jackie Tyler; but they are shocked when Jackie reveals the presence of a visible ghost, ostensibly that of her father. The ghosts are all over the world, and appear at the same times every day, remaining for a few minutes at a time. It’s been going on for months, to the point that people accept the ghosts as normal now.

Strange things are happening elsewhere in the city, as well. At the Canary Wharf skyscraper—called “Torchwood Tower” by its insiders—a strange sphere resides in a sealed lab, under analysis by scientist Rajesh Singh. It has no mass, no radiation, and all scans fail to detect it—it’s as if it doesn’t exist. It does display some kind of barrier that prevents touch. Elsewhere in the tower, it is revealed that Torchwood is responsible for the presence of the ghosts; under leader Yvonne Hartman’s direction, a large machine with two levers is used to make them appear and disappear in an event called a “ghost shift”. Two of her workers, Gareth and Adeola, are clandestinely seeing each other; on one of their rendezvous, they go to a plastic-sheeted area under construction. Adeola vanishes, confronted by a Cyberman. Later, she and Gareth return to their desks, now wearing Bluetooth devices on both ears.

Jackie confronts Rose about her potential future, and they argue. The Doctor assembles a device; and at the next ghost shift, he traps one of the ghosts briefly for analysis. He traces the disturbance to Torchwood; but Torchwood has also located him, and recognized the TARDIS. The Doctor and Rose—with Jackie unwittingly still aboard—take the TARDIS to Torchwood tower, where the Doctor is promptly taken prisoner. He passes Jackie off as Rose, leaving Rose on the TARDIS, which is moved to a basement. Hartman claims the Doctor and the TARDIS as property of Torchwood; their motto is, “if it’s alien, it’s ours.” She also claims credit for destroying the Sycorax, using alien technology.

Adeola leads another worker to be taken by the Cybermen. Meanwhile, Hartman explains about Torchwood’s existence, and takes the Doctor and Jackie to view the sphere. Several times, beginning here, the Doctor wears 3D glasses, though he doesn’t explain it yet. He explains that the sphere is a voidship, which travels through the void outside the universes; the Elementals once called the void the Howling, and others have called it Hell. He recommends sending it back where it came from, but how? Hartman explains that it came through at a point now housed in the building’s upper floors, behind the mechanism seen earlier; she shows him. She says the ghosts came after it, and they have been experimenting since. The Doctor cautions them to stop the ghost shifts, as it may destroy the universe with a little more strain; finally Hartman breaks and cancels the next shift. However, Adeola and the other converted workers restart the countdown.

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Rose—the real Rose, that is—sneaks into the sphere lab, but is caught. However, she gets a shock: Singh’s lab assistant on hand is Mickey Smith! He explains that the Cybermen were nearly defeated in his world, but that they suddenly vanished, only to be detected here. With the sphere having opened the breach, not only can the Cybermen pass through, but also, his world’s version of Torchwood developed a technology to pass through—and Mickey is here on reconnaissance. He believes the sphere is occupied by Cybermen, and prepares to blast them—just as the sphere starts to open.

Upstairs, the ghost shift starts. The Doctor realizes what has happened, and stops the earpods on the workers; they collapse, already dead. But the shift is already under way, at higher power than ever before. The ghosts appear fully, all over the world, and are revealed to be Cybermen. They begin to attack.

Downstairs, the sphere opens, revealing a terrible sight: a strange machine, and four Daleks. Their leader gives the command to exterminate the humans.

TARDISode 13, the final entry for the series, shows a new broadcast about the Cybermen incursion. It is interrupted…by Daleks.

As Doomsday opens, the Daleks are about to kill Singh, Mickey, and Rose, when Rose reveals her knowledge of the Daleks and the Time War, causing them to stop. The Dalek leader decides to keep her alive, but kills Singh after extracting information from him. It refers to the machine as the Genesis Ark.

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The Cybermen have likewise captured Jackie, Hartman, and the Doctor. They broadcast a message demanding surrender, stating they will upgrade everyone on Earth; but a battle is breaking out between the British Army and the Cybermen in London. The Cyberleader notices the presence of the Daleks, and sends a few Cybermen to investigate. The Doctor watches the confrontation—which represents the height of attitude on the part of both Cybermen and Daleks, incidentally—and realizes the stakes have just risen. Declining an alliance, the Daleks determine to destroy the Cybermen as well as the humans; they kill the advance Cybermen. Seeing Rose’s reactions, they press her for information, and she identifies the Doctor, which scares the Daleks (as much as they ever feel fear, anyway).

Jackie and Hartman are taken for conversion. Hartman is converted, but before Jackie can be upgraded, a group of soldiers appear and take out the Cybermen in the breach room. The group is led by Jake, formerly of the Preachers, from the alternate universe. Jackie gets free and escapes. Jake fills the Doctor in on the transport devices they use, and recent history. Pete Tyler arrives, and takes the Doctor back across to his world’s Torchwood Tower, where he explains further: though Britain is enjoying a golden age, temperatures are rising catastrophically, which they have determined is due to the breach. He enlists the Doctor’s help in defeating the Cybermen (and the Daleks too, though Pete doesn’t know them) and closing the breach. He explains that in his world, it’s been three years, where here it was only about one year. They then return.

The Daleks reveal that the Genesis Ark is of Gallifreyan origin, and that it contains “the future”. They try to get Rose to touch it—thus providing time energy to open it—but are unsuccessful. The Doctor arrives, and banters with them, identifying them as the Cult of Skaro, a Dalek “think-tank” of sorts that disappeared from the Time War. Now he knows how they escaped, in the voidship.When they threaten him, he uses his Sonic Screwdriver to destroy the doors of the lab and let the team from Pete’s world in to fight the Daleks. Mickey is bumped into the Ark; as he has also been a time-traveler, this is enough to open it. It levitates into the sky, and it is revealed that it is bigger on the inside; it disgorges millions of Daleks who were imprisoned inside. The Daleks and Cybermen begin to battle each other.

Jackie reconnects with them, and sees Pete for the first time, instantly upsetting his determination not to connect with her. Pete wants to escape back to his world, considering the situation lost; but the Doctor reveals that his glasses show a sort of trace of the void on everyone who has traveled into it. He can use the machine to suck those traces—and everyone who carries them—back into the void, eliminating both Daleks and Cybermen; but the humans must get clear first. He sends Jackie and Rose with the others, against Rose’s will—she knows that when the breach closes, she will never see the Doctor again. He himself may be pulled in, too. She instantly teleports back, and begins to help him with the machine. Meanwhile, the converted Hartman guards the door, her sense of duty overpowering her conversion. (It’s not shown what happens to her afterward, but presumably she is pulled through—she never traveled through the void, but her cyber body would have been brought through with the advance guard.)

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The Doctor puts magnetic clamps on the walls to cling to; then he and Rose activate the levers. Daleks and Cybermen are pulled in. Rose’s lever breaks free, however, and she is forced to grab it and lock it in place. She loses her grip and is pulled in; but Pete teleports across at the last second, grabs her, and teleports back out. She is left trapped in the alternate universe as the breach seals.

Months later, in Pete’s world, Rose sees the Doctor in a dream. She follows his directions to a beach in Norway called Darlig Ulv Stranden, which translates to “Bad Wolf Bay”. She sees the image of the Doctor there; he is using a rapidly-closing crack in the universal wall to contact her, burning up a supernova to do so. He tells her goodbye, and she admits to loving him; he is about to say the same, but vanishes before he can get the words out.

In the TARDIS, he takes a moment to mourn the end of their time together; but he is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a woman in a wedding dress. “What?!” is all he can say.

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This series finale rivals The Parting of the Ways in many ways. While we don’t see the Doctor regenerate, we do so a total change in supporting characters. Rose departs (quite against her will, I might say), taking with her Jackie, Mickey, and Pete, all of whom had reached semi-regular status. We’ll see some of them again in cameo form, but their traveling days are over, so to speak. Interestingly, both of the Tenth Doctor’s future regular companions appear here, in one form or another; Freema Agyeman, who will play Martha Jones, plays Torchwood staffer Adeola Oshodi, who will later be retconned as Martha’s cousin. Catherine Tate makes her first appearance as Donna Noble, though her name is not yet revealed. This story also provides the resolution of the season-long Torchwood arc, ending with the downfall of Torchwood One. That destruction, later called the Battle of Canary Wharf, leads to the rise of Torchwood Three in Cardiff, which features in the spinoff Torchwood, and features the return of Captain Jack Harkness. (In related news, keep an eye out for Big Finish’s upcoming “Torchwood: Before the Fall” audio set, which is set at Torchwood One prior to this story. Personally, I’d love to see Yvonne Hartman square off against Kate Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT—Big Finish, get on this!)

I find it interesting to observe how series finales go in Doctor Who. The classic series, with its more episodic/serialized format, rarely used season-long story arcs, and when it did it was often not well received (Trial of a Time Lord, anyone?). The revived series does use such arcs, but I can’t help feeling that it lives with the memory of cancellation; therefore every series arc neatly wraps up all of its threads. It doesn’t always end happily, as is evident here; and sometimes some of those threads are picked back out by later specials (I’m looking at you, Time of the Doctor, with your crack in the wall); but every series finale constitutes a point where, were the series as a whole to end, we could be mostly satisfied. This one is no exception; again, as far as we know, the Daleks and Cybermen have all been wiped out, and the Doctor is alone, with Torchwood visibly destroyed, and with no companions with whom he has unresolved business. The appearance of Donna at the end doesn’t negate that resolution; it just gives us a tag on which to hang the next series, should the next series come.

I won’t go into references to this series’ episodes, as we’ve discussed them as they came up. However, there are some references to previous episodes. The cutting-through-plastic by the Cybermen is a nod to The Tomb of the Cybermen. The Time War gets a significant reference, and the Fall of Arcadia is first mentioned here; it will be expanded upon in The Day of the Doctor. The Void, under one name or another, will be mentioned in several future episodes (Daleks in Manhattan, The Next Doctor, The Big Band) and several audios. The Elementals were last referenced in Enlightenment; they call the Void “the Howling”, which may be a reference to the “Howling Halls” mentioned in Love and Monsters. Rose mentions the Gelth, last seen in The Unquiet Dead. We get a flashback glimpse of a planet we haven’t seen before, as Rose is talking to Jackie—that adventure was never recorded. Harriet Jones is mentioned, having maintained her rise to power in Pete’s world. The Doctor mentions being at Pete and Jackie’s wedding; but if this is a reference to Father’s Day, it’s incorrect, as that was someone else’s wedding. We get the first appearance of the Doctor’s “Allons-y!” catchphrase, which appears many times in the future. While the rift at Torchwood Tower is not the same as the one at Cardiff, the idea of opening and closing it at will is carried over into the Torchwood series.

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There’s little to complain about here. This episode will have echoes through several upcoming series of Doctor Who, and through Torchwood as well. Overall, it’s a strong, emotional exit for Rose and company, and it adds depth to the Doctor, as he deals with the loss of Rose through the next few companions. Otherwise, at this point, the future is unknown, and the sky is the limit—and we have a wedding to catch.

Next time: The 2007 Christmas Special, The Runaway Bride! See you there.

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

TARDISode 11

Fear Her

TARDISode 12

Army of Ghosts

TARDISode 13

Doomsday

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