Novel Review: The Bodysnatchers

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! I recently commented that, twice in a row, I’ve allowed months to elapse between entries in this series, and twice overlooked one book while trying to review the next. In the interest of not letting that happen again, here is the next entry, a day after the last! (Frankly, I think I owe it to everyone at this point, after making those mistakes not once, but twice.) Today we’re looking at the third entry in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel line, August 1997’s The Bodysnatchers, by Mark Morris. In this volume, we’ll revisit an old enemy: The Zygons. Let’s get started!

The Bodysnatchers 1

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

In 1894 London, a factory is owned by Nathaniel Seers. Once jovial and kind, he has recently become bitter and angry, toward his wife and daughter as well as his employees. A worker, Tom Donahue, recently discharged and destitute after an industrial accident, tries to meet with Seers after hours to beg for his job back. He finds his former employer cutting up human bodies—and Seers’ eyes are glowing orange. He flees into the night. Meanwhile the Doctor and Sam come to London in search of a replacement copy of a valuable edition of the Strand magazine. Donahue runs into them, then flees again in terror; and though they try to catch him, all they can do is watch as he is devoured by a dinosaur-like creature in the Thames. They try to report it to the police, but with little success; and so the Doctor instead recruits his old friend, professor George Litefoot, to help. (Henry Gordon Jago, Litefoot’s sometime partner, is away at the time, and does not appear here.) Meanwhile, Seers is employing two criminals, Jack Howe and Albert Rudge, to rob graves and bring him bodies each night. Howe intends to track Seers and blackmail him, though Rudge disagrees. As well, Seers’ daughter Emmeline intends to confront him about his change of heart.

Litefoot, with the Doctor and Sam in tow, is called to do a postmortem on the remains of Tom Donahue, which were fished out of the river. They find that half his body has been bitten away. The Doctor goes to visit Seers, Donahue’s former employee, but is roughly rebuffed; after some persuasion, he is allowed to examine the factory cellar, but finds nothing as yet. On his way out, he encounters Emmeline, who is here to confront her father. She, too, is rebuffed; the Doctor tells her where to find him should anything come up. Seers sends his men to investigate the Doctor. That night, the Doctor, Litefoot, and Sam break into the factory. In the cellar, they discover an organic lock on a hidden door; before they can check it out, they are attacked by a large reptilian beast. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to stun it, and the  trio escape. At home, Emmeline finds her mother dead at the hands of her father, who has glowing orange eyes and venomous stings in his palms. She flees the house. She arrives at Litefoot’s home in a terror-stricken daze. When the Doctor wants to return to the factory, she insists on accompanying them. They find the cellar empty, and deactivate the lock with the Doctor’s screwdriver. The door opens onto a rather organic passage composed of living tissue. They follow it into a large—but disturbingly organic—spaceship. When they see the inhabitants, the Doctor identifies them as shapeshifting Zygons. The large beasts—of which there are many—are Skarasen, and they are feeding on human remains. The Zygons, it seems, are invading, planning to remake the Earth in the image of their lost homeworld, Zygor. Their ship, underwater in the Thames, was damaged in space nearby, and cannot leave—even if they wanted to leave.

Emmeline reveals herself as a Zygon duplicate and captures the group; it seems that “Seers” captured the real Emmeline at the house. The trio are placed in body-print cells and duplicated; however, the Doctor resists the process and damages the living machinery. However, the Warlord Balaak—who is the real entity behind Seers—reveals that they were able to glean the existence of the TARDIS from his mind. He hands the Doctor over to the scientist Tuval, who wears Sam’s form now, and sends them to bring the TARDIS to him, planning to use it in his conquest. He warns the Doctor that any treachery will result in a detectable fluctuation in Tuval’s synchronization signal, and the Doctor’s friends will be killed. En route, the Doctor tries to enlist Tuval, and offers to take the Zygons to an uninhabited but accommodating world; she is sympathetic, but declines to disobey her warlord, and assures the Doctor that Balaak will never deviate from his plan, even with the TARDIS in his possession. Inside the TARDIS, he traps Tuval in a temporal loop, ensuring her sync signal will not be disrupted; then he returns to help  the others.

Meanwhile, Howe and Rudge deliver more bodies. This time, Balaak—who is occupied—sends the Zygon in Litefoot’s form to meet them. They then follow him back to the factory and confront him. He drops his disguise and kills Rudge, but Howe stabs him to death before fleeing. With the duplicate dead, Litefoot is freed from the body-print cell, and escapes the ship via the Thames, though he nearly drowns. A constable finds him and takes him to a hospital to recover. Howe flees to a pub and tells his story, and a mob joins him to burn down the factory. This causes Balaak to decide to move the ship to a new location in the river. Unknown to them, the Doctor is swimming to the ship when it moves, and he is nearly crushed; but he gets inside successfully. He finds the Skarasen holding area, where their lactic fluid is extracted and processed for Zygon consumption. He injects an anesthetic into the lactic fluid vats. He then rescues Sam and returns to the TARDIS, where he releases Tuval and explains. He plans to jump ahead a few hours to when the Zygons are all unconscious, and then slave their ship to the TARDIS and transport them to an uninhabited world. Tuval agrees—but when they arrive on the ship, he discovers that his plan has backfired, and the anesthetic is fatal to the Zygons. Only Balaak remains alive, and even he is slowly dying. Balaak stings the Doctor, and then activates the ship’s self-destruct before telepathically sending the Skarasen out to kill as many humans as they can. With Tuval, he steals the TARDIS; however the Doctor has set contingency plans: the TARDIS will only go to its previous spot on the riverbank. When they emerge from the TARDIS, they happen to encounter Litefoot, who has left the hospital in search of the Doctor; and he shoots and kills Balaak. Tuval, however, refuses to attack, and is spared.

The Doctor slowly recovers, as Balaak was too weak for a fatal sting. He denies Sam’s request to go back in time and change his actions, as he cannot do that. Instead, they release all the other prisoners—including Emmeline and her real father—and talk them through the transition, then recruit them to help get the ship as close to shore as possible before it dies catastrophically. Most of the captives survive the escape, as do the Doctor and Sam; however, the ship explodes in the river. Still, though, the Skarasen are loose, and wreaking havoc in the city. The Doctor takes Sam, Emmeline, and Seers to the TARDIS, where they meet Tuval and Litefoot. He and Tuval develop a method to summon the Skarasen back to the TARDIS in peace; and he modifies the ship’s shell to admit them in through the door. Litefoot returns home; and the Doctor and Sam then transport Tuval and the Skarasen to an unoccupied planet as planned, where Tuval—as Zygons can breed asexually—can start a new colony.

Later that night, Litefoot is at home, when the Doctor returns. The Doctor is older now, and alone; for him, as he explains, it has been a long time since their last meeting, and he hints that Sam may have come to a bad end. He thanks Litefoot for his help, and assures him that Tuval’s colony is several generations along now, and safe.

The Bodysnatchers 2

I admit, going into this novel, that it’s going to fare poorly when compared to Vampire Science. I knew when I started reading it that it had big shoes to fill. I’ll be direct: it doesn’t succeed in that regard; however, it’s still a good book on its own. With regard to the character development of the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones, it picks up right where Vampire Science left off; the Doctor is still his romantic, audacious, self-sacrificing self, and Sam is still wrestling with her take on the Doctor’s approval of her. She’s gaining experience quickly, but she’s still a teenager, and still very much in need of approval. In the last book, it was a question of the Doctor trusting her with danger; here, it’s a question of the Doctor trusting her with horror. Sam finds it very hard to accept that the Doctor isn’t just coddling her; but in fact he isn’t. Rather, his universe is one that is sometimes filled with horrors that even an adult wouldn’t handle well. To illustrate that point, we have Professor George Litefoot (of Jago and Litefoot fame), who despite being a pathologist and an acquaintance of the Doctor, is quite overwhelmed by the things he sees here. (He acquits himself well in the end, as does Sam, but it’s touch-and-go for awhile.)

Litefoot’s presence here is welcome, but a bit odd. The story is stated to take place in 1894, five years after the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (I tried to verify this, but was unable to track down a date for that story, short of watching it again, so we’ll assume it’s correct). Henry Gordon Jago is oddly not present at all, having gone to Brighton to recuperate from an illness; he does of course get a mention or two. I say Litefoot’s presence is odd, not because he doesn’t fit here, but because Morris was very careful about how he handled the character—first, separating him from Jago, and second, pointedly NOT revealing the Doctor’s true nature. The Eighth Doctor passes himself off as a colleague of the Fourth, rather than revealing that they are the same man; and given that he doesn’t hide any other oddities from Litefoot, that seems a bit strange. I would argue that he was carefully preserving the character for future use, except that I haven’t seen any indication that there were future plans for Jago or Litefoot. (It would be twelve years before Big Finish incorporated the characters, in The Mahogany Murderers and then, later, in their own series.) It’s worth noting that, to this day, this is the only time Litefoot appears without Jago; and with the death of his actor, Trevor Baxter, it’s unlikely we’ll see any more such appearances.

The Zygons put in an appearance here. I’ve had some difficulty confirming, but I suspect this is their first prose appearance (outside of comics and Target novelizations). There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here; their appearance is consistent with both earlier and later appearances. It is mentioned that orange Zygons are all warriors, having been modified and made sterile; fertile Zygons are smaller, paler, and less devoted to violence. I haven’t seen this statement contradicted anywhere, but it doesn’t seem to have been maintained in later appearances, either. The description given of their technology—notably their body-print cells, which keep their template victims alive—is consistent with descriptions given in The Zygon Who Fell to Earth, and in their NuWho appearances. The Zygon duplicating Sam, Tuval, manages to keep her form after Sam is released from her cell; this would have been an error at the time, but is consistent with what we see with the two Osgoods in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, much later.

Continuity References: The Doctor’s screwdriver is destroyed by the Zygons; his comments at the time reference the previous destruction by the Terileptils (The Visitation). There are frequent references to the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. In the previous book, Sam’s room in the TARDIS was noted to have belonged to a previous teenage companion; here it is confirmed that it was Nyssa’s room. Skarasens and the Zygons were first seen in Terror of the Zygons; their enemies the Xaranti will first appear a few years later in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Deep Blue (which I may not reach anytime soon). The Doctor mentions and uses the TARDIS’s HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System), which he has modified (The Krotons, et al.) The Doctor mentions, but does not reveal, Jack the Ripper’s identity (The Pit), which will feature into the Seventh Doctor novel Matrix (future publication, but earlier in the Doctor’s timeline). He mentions Leela and her children and husband to Litefoot (Lungbarrow). He mentions Grace Holloway (TV movie). He reuses the Venusian lullaby from The Curse of Peladon to calm some horses. He mentions meeting his fourth incarnation (The Eight Doctors). In the story’s coda, which is later in the Doctor’s timeline (but only hours after this book’s events), he implies that Sam has not fared well; it’s been suggested that this is during an upcoming period when the Doctor loses her temporarily, in conjunction with the novels between Longest Day and Seeing I. The Doctor’s choice of breakfast with Litefoot is a nod to The Two Doctors. He has Delphonian coins with him, a nod to Spearhead from Space. The TARDIS’s “state of grace” circuitry is mentioned again (The Hand of FearArc of Infinity); it seems to be a bit more complex than those episodes stated, disallowing any hostile action, rather than just weapon discharges. The ability to alter the size of the TARDIS doors and/or shell appears again in the fan work The Eight Minute War, from the Seasons of War anthology (and is presumably how the Third Doctor got the console out prior to The Ambassadors of Death). Sam mentions being bitten by a vampire (Vampire Science). Tegan is mentioned at one point. The Doctor hums a Draconian lament (Frontier in Space–the Draconians, not the lament). The Doctor’s chair once belonged to a usurper to the title of Earth Empress (So Vile a Sin). He quotes himself from City of Death and Pyramids of Mars (the famous “I walk in eternity” speech).

Overall: These books are proving to be continuity-heavy, which is to be expected given that they were the face of Doctor Who at the time. With the exception of The Eight Doctors, they seem to be well-written, and they’re all enjoyable (yes, even The Eight Doctors, I grudgingly admit). This one, while not as good as Vampire Science, is a quicker read—I finished it in two (non-consecutive) days. If you’re a Zygon fan, you’ll greatly enjoy it, and you’ll see the seeds of later Zygon stories in which the Doctor really wants to help them rather than fight them. They’re one of Doctor Who’s more sympathetic enemy races, once you get past the whole conquest-and-death thing; orphaned, marooned, and homeless, and dependent on monsters for their survival, they’re really pitiable, I think. I’m glad they got a redemption in NuWho; I don’t know if that would have happened without this book to lay some groundwork. Definitely check it out, if you haven’t.

Next time: We have a fairly short entry, clocking in at just over one hundred pages (at least in the probably-bootleg ebook I’m reading): Genocide, by Paul Leonard! As short as it is, I hope to post about it by the end of this week; this range needs some serious catching up. We’ll see you there!

The Eighth Doctor Adventures are out of print; however they may be purchased at various used-book sellers.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Vampire Science

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! As most of my reviewing efforts have been going toward the audio dramas, I’ve been a bit neglectful toward the novels. While I can’t promise that I’ll be much improved in that regard, I do want to revisit the novel ranges as often as possible; and to that end, today we’re continuing the Eighth Doctor Adventuresnovel line with the second entry, July 1997’s Vampire Science! Written by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, this novel features the Eight Doctor and Samantha “Sam” Jones, and picks up some time after the previous entry, The Eight Doctors. (Sam is seen early on thinking about the time she’s spent with the Doctor, indicating they have had some offscreen adventures.)

Full disclosure: I read this novel some months ago, and honestly, I thought I posted a review for it. I had since finished the next entry, The Bodysnatchers, and was getting ready to post about it, when I discovered I hadn’t posted about Vampire Science. This seems to be a trend for me, as I did the same thing with The Eight Doctors, apparently. I promise to do better on this—and with any luck, I’ll get a review for The Bodysnatchers posted this week as well. In the meantime, with Vampire Science having been a few months back, this review may seem a little mechanical; I’m pulling some of the things I’ll reference from the wiki and from other sites rather than from memory, as it’s a little fuzzy for me by now. With that said, let’s get started!

Vampire Science 1

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

In 1976 San Francisco, med student Carolyn McConnell meets the Doctor and Sam Jones…in the middle of a vampire attack. The vampire, Eva, is killed in the struggle, via a stake to the heart. The Doctor leaves Carolyn a Time Lord hypercube to contact him if she encounters any more vampires. Twenty-one years later, in 1997, Carolyn—now a cancer researcher, and in a relationship with theatre lighting designer James Court—specializes in vampires as a hobby. She takes an interest in a series of murders that seem vampiric, which culminated with the death of a senator outside a Goth bar called The Other Place. Her extensive research puts her in contact with UNIT General Kramer, who takes her on temporarily as an unofficial advisor. Meanwhile James—not taking it seriously—offers to speak with the owner of The Other Place, after which he disappears. Carolyn activates the cube to summon the Doctor. He arrives with Sam in tow—for them it has only been a short time—and meets with Carolyn and Kramer to make plans. Sam, meanwhile, begins researching deaths by blood loss in the area, and meets an inner-city doctor named David Shackle. He tells her that over two hundred homeless people have died in that manner in the last six months, but no one else has noticed. He joins the Doctor, Sam, Kramer, and Carolyn on their trip to The Other Place. While the Doctor futilely tries to question the owner, David does some interviewing of his own, and is mugged; meanwhile Sam is attacked by a vampire on the dancefloor, and is bitten. She ends up in the hospital, where Kramer advises her to leave the Doctor while she still can. This makes her doubt the Doctor’s motives in exposing her to danger.

David talks with his friend Joanna Harris, who—unknown to him—is a vampire herself, and in fact is the leader of the local coven. Her answers leave him despairing that life has no meaning. Meanwhile the Doctor and Carolyn return to the club, where they meet a young and angry vampire named Slake; the Doctor tells Slake that he is a Time Lord, and he demands to see their leader. Slake arranges a meeting with Harris at the vacant Orpheum Theatre, where the vampires live. Kramer puts UNIT troops on standby around the theatre. Harris releases James as an act of good faith. The Doctor, as a Time Lord, is supposed to wipe out all vampires, but he instead seeks a peaceful resolution, and offers to help Harris create an artificial food source to substitute for blood. This fits with Harris’s own research lines, but she is unwilling to trust a Time Lord; therefore they engage in a bloodfasting ritual, which creates a psychic link between them, and also ensures that they each experience the other’s injuries or death. This enrages Kramer, but the Doctor explains that it is necessary, as the Time Lords—if they become aware of the vampires—will likely wipe out the city to exterminate them. Meanwhile, James leaves, unable to handle this new reality; this leaves Carolyn feeling betrayed, and she decides to take the Doctor up on his long-ago offer to travel with him. She uses the TARDIS’s lab to study the vampires’ blood and isolate the factor in it that makes them vampires; she also seeks the aforementioned artificial food source. Harris reveals her true nature to David, and offers to make him a vampire and recruit him to her cause. He goes to the Doctor for advice, but his depression is unrelieved. The Doctor orders Harris not to turn him, but he remains suicidal.

Slake is enraged by Harris’s efforts to end their hunting, believing this goes against their destiny as vampires. He leads the other young vampires to The Other Place to kill all the clubgoers, in an attempt to provoke a war with Harris and wrest control from her. Hearing of this, Harris and the Doctor hurry to the club with undercover UNIT agents, who evacuate the club while the Doctor confronts Slake. In the face of Harris and other elder vampires, Slake flees, though he plans to ambush Harris at her lab. There he finds David, and turns him into a vampire. From David he learns that the Doctor and Harris are now bloodfasted, and he decides that he only needs to kill one of them, as the other will also die. He sets his young vampires to destroying the other elder vampires, so as to leave Harris and the Doctor vulnerable. Meanwhile, Sam doesn’t understand why the Doctor is protecting the vampires; she thinks Harris has deceived him. She trails Harris to a warehouse with a second lab, and there she learns that Harris is keeping childlike, underdeveloped humans in cages. Harris attacks her. At the same time, the Doctor has found James in an eighth-story hotel room, and tries to convince him to return to Carolyn; when he senses Harris’s actions through the bloodfasting, he threatens to leap out the window if she doesn’t stop. Harris puts Sam in a cage instead; and to punish the Doctor, she goes out to kill a homeless man and consume his blood, just so the Doctor will experience it through the bond. This doesn’t dissuade the Doctor; and when Sam hears that he would do anything to save her, her faith in him is restored. Harris reveals that the humans are lab-grown clones, here to serve as an alternate food source, but the Doctor thinks this isn’t good enough, and insists on finding another solution.

One of the elder vampires, while dying, contacts Harris and warns her that Slake’s allies are killing them off. Harris has no choice but to fight back, and the Doctor joins her. Carolyn provides a weapon: a mixture of silver nitrate and taxol, which her research indicates will kill the vampires. As Sam and Harris mix the solution, the Doctor takes Carolyn and Kramer back to Carolyn’s home to plan. There they are attacked by the young vampires, and flee to James’s hotel room. They decide to set a trap at the now-vacant theatre; once there, they find that Slake has vampirized some squirrels as a trap of his own, and they must fight the creatures off. In the process, James saves Carolyn’s life. Meanwhile Slake’s group attacks the lab where Sam and Harris are working. Sam, who says she has never had to fight for her beliefs before, chooses to defend Harris, as Harris’s death would also kill the Doctor. She fights and kills the same vampire that previously bit her, using the silver solution as a weapon. However, she is captured by Slake, who tells the Doctor he has her as a hostage. They agree to meet at the Orpheum Theatre.

It is James’s lighting skills that set the trap here. With UNIT’s help, he sets up a lighting system which will imitate sunlight inside the theatre. It is not enough to kill the vampires, but it is enough to stall them. The Doctor gives himself up to the vampires, who feed on him—but they begin to die. The Doctor appears also to be dying, and asks Harris to turn him; but she realizes as she drinks his blood that he had drunk a vial of the vampire repellant, which is what killed the others. The traces left in his blood are enough to kill her as well; but the Doctor administers CPR and revives her. She learns that the repellant has destroyed the vampire factor in her blood, but the bloodfasting saved her life, rendering her human—and mortal.

Kramer offers Harris a consultant post with UNIT, as her biology skills and thousand years of life experience would be very useful. Carolyn abandons her plan to join the Doctor, and returns to James to renew their relationship. The Doctor and Sam depart in the TARDIS; but, unknown to anyone, David did not join the attack, and survived, alone in the theatre, pondering his future.

Vampire Science 2

At last, some real action! While The Eight Doctors was by no means boring, it was also the equivalent of a “clip show” television episode, with the Doctor revisiting events of his past lives to restore his memory. Here, we get the first real action that is solely the province of the Eight Doctor (post-regeneration, of course). With Sam Jones in tow, the Doctor confronts a vampire coven in San Francisco. We see some early indication of the Eight Doctor’s tendency to throw himself into every situation even at great risk to himself; all Doctors do this, but it’s almost pathological with Eight, risking his own being in various ways. Here, we get to see him forge a psychic (and more!) link with a thousand-year-old vampire; and we get to see him allow several vampires to feed on him. That’s personal and intimate in a way that his other incarnations probably wouldn’t condone; for the Eight Doctor, it’s just Tuesday.

A common theme for Sam in these early stories—and possibly throughout her run, though it’s too early to say—is her internal conflict over the Doctor’s faith in her. We see this in regard to his willingness and/or unwillingness to put her in danger; and we’ll see it again in The Bodysnatchers, the next entry in the series. I’ve said before that I find Sam to be very similar to Lucie Miller, who will come later in both the Doctor’s timeline and in publication history; as a result, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Sam is just a high school student. She’s very young, and her struggles are very much a magnification of the confidence issues that most teenagers experience. In that sense, she’s very well written. Her issues aren’t resolve here, but she does temporarily get her faith in the Doctor restored. It’s worth pointing out that this is not her first outing with the Doctor; they’ve been traveling for at least a short while, with offscreen adventures. The Doctor isn’t fresh out of the gate anymore, either; Sam mentions at one point that he dropped her off at a Greenpeace rally for the day, and forgot about her for three years of his own timeline. (While not all has been confirmed, it’s been suggested that several of his adventures, including The Dying Days and his Radio Times comic adventures, occurred during that three-year period. For Sam, of course, it was only the afternoon.)

I have a love-hate relationship with supernatural stories in Doctor Who. Ordinarily I don’t think they work well, with the Doctor’s universe being highly slanted toward the scientific. I try to overlook it with most (but not all!) vampire stories, because A) they usually try hard to maintain a scientific footing, and B) they’re just so damned good! Mostly anyway; I’m looking at you, Vampires of Venice. This story would fit right in with the likes of Project: Twilight, had that story been written early enough. Despite having a fairly large cast of important characters, they’re all well-developed, all the way down to the elderly vampires who only appear for the sake of dying. It’s easy to pity the vampires here for the hell in which they live; and it’s easy to fear for the lives of the human characters, who always feel one step away from disaster. That level of tension often gets lost in the shuffle, and it’s good to see it executed so well here.

On the downside: This story feels very much like “TV Movie 2.0”. We return to the same San Francisco setting, just two years earlier; and Carolyn McConnell is very much a copy of Grace Holloway, from the personality and on-again-off-again live-in relationship, to the highly successful medical career. That’s not coincidental; the role was written with Grace in mind, but rights could not be sorted out in time (and in fact, the wiki states that “the first chapter of an early draft with Grace was published in the charity anthology Perfect Timing). Apparently, once again, there’s only room for one doctor in the TARDIS, as she eventually declines the Doctor’s offer to travel and chooses to stay behind. Meanwhile, inner-city doctor David Shackle stands in for Chang Lee; while he’s not a street kid like Chang, he has the same inner-city background and the same perspective on life and crime, with a side order of crippling depression. He, too, ends up allying with the enemies, but survives at the end, although perhaps not as hopefully as Chang. I’d love to see his character appear again, and certainly his survival was left as a thread to be pulled in later stories, but it appears that he never does.

As good as the story is, I found it difficult to get through it. That’s mostly due to my circumstances outside of the book; lately I’ve been finding it hard to complete any books at all. Still, the book itself is a dense read; it moves quickly, but there’s simply a lot happening here, with a lot of events to cover. It was a bit of a slog especially near the end, where I felt it should have been moving much faster than it did. Don’t let that discourage you, though; it’s a good read, and if you want to understand the character of Sam and her relationship with the Doctor, it’s required reading.

Continuity: While it isn’t as egregious as in The Eight Doctors, there’s still a lot of continuity here. The Doctor references his past as President of Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin, et al.). UNIT appears, though in its American branch; it local leader, Brigadier-General Adrienne Kramer, claims to have met the Seventh Doctor in an off-screen adventure in Washington, D.C. (Technically not off-screen, I should explain; it originates with a fan film called Time Rift, in which Jonathan Blum appeared as the Seventh Doctor.) The Doctor still carries Jelly Babies. While bloodfasted to the Doctor, the vampire leader catches glimpses of his memories of Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Androzani (The Caves of Androzani), and Yemaya (SleepyWalking to Babylon). The TARDIS’s resident fledershrews (bats), Jasper and Stewart, are glimpsed (Doctor Who TV movie). The Great Vampires (State of DecayThe Pit, et al.) get a mention, of course. Carolyn’s hypercube is of the same type as the one seen in The War Games, and later in The Doctor’s Wife. The Eighth Doctor works with UNIT in The Dying Days, which also takes place in 1997 (and apparently, in the three-year gap I mentioned earlier); however, that novel features the UK branch, which is why Kramer has not yet met the Eighth Doctor. The Doctor describes himself with titles taken from Remembrance of the Daleks and Love and War. There’s a mention of his family, when a birthday card addressed to “Grandfather” is seen (An Unearthly Child, et al.; the card was previously seen in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible). Kramer mentions the Doctor’s occasional use of the phrase “Sleep is for tortoises” (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, et al.). The Doctor mentions a pharmacist on Lacaille 8760 (The Room with No Doors). A model train set in the TARDIS reappears the next year in a print Short Trips anthology, in a story titled Model Train Set, also by Jonathan Blum (I usually avoid references to future media, but this one is pretty obscure, and I may never get to that story). The Doctor refers to the planet Atraxi 3; it’s up for debate whether this is the origin of the Atraxi race seen in The Eleventh Hour. As well, it’s worth mentioning that this book is absolutely loaded with real-life pop culture references from the late 1990s, including nearly every other piece of vampire-related media on the market at that time.

Okay, maybe it IS as egregious as The Eight Doctors.

Overall: Finally, a proper beginning to the series! I understand fully the reasons behind The Eight Doctors; as the novel line was going to carry the torch of published Doctor Who, it needed to firmly root itself into the series continuity. I said in my review of that novel that it was fun read despite its problems; and for that, as well as the continuity bridge, I am grateful. Still, this is where things really get going, and what a ride it is. Bear with it if it seems hard to get through; you’ll appreciate it when it’s over, and it will set you up well for the books that lie ahead. (They do get quicker, I assure you.) Longtime fans can skip The Eight Doctors entirely if they like, and begin here; you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Next time, and hopefully very soon: The Bodysnatchers! Unfortunately not connected to the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers film, but hey, we can’t have it all. See you there!

The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print, but may be purchased from various used booksellers.

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Sepulchre

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re looking at Demon Quest part five, Sepulchre, starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, Susan Jameson as Mrs. Wibbsey, and Nigel Anthony as the Demon. It’s the conclusion of the Demon story arc…let’s get started!

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

sepulchre-1

At Nest Cottage, the Doctor continues to search for a way to recover the missing Mrs. Wibbsey, who was taken by the Demon at the end of Starfall.  Mike Yates makes dinner, oblivious to the two messages on the Doctor’s modified (and temporal) answering machine.  One of the messages is Mrs. Wibbsey; she claims she is in an old mansion with obscured windows, and she asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to home in on her.  She has a confession to make; there was a fifth trinket in the bag from the church sale, which she never told the Doctor.  The trinket is a golden half-heart pendant, the mate to the one found inside the meteor (Starfall), and it is in her room.  It’s stamped with “CHRE”, the mate to the other’s “SEPUL”.  Joining the two activates it as a device; it displays time-space coordinates.

The coordinates take them in the TARDIS (which is now fully repaired) to the drawing room of a large, old mansion: Sepulchre.  It’s located somewhere other than England; the paintings on the wall are of another dimension.  Mrs. Wibbsey finds them, and is annoyed; she’s been there three weeks, due to time slippage (or so the Doctor says).  She points out that the TARDIS is gone, which it is.  Oddly, she seems to be working in the house, just as she does for the Doctor at Nest Cottage.  The Doctor expresses some regret for removing her from her original life (Hornet’s Nest).  She returns and says that she will show them to their rooms; the Doctor offers her the completed pendant back, and subtly hypnotizes her with it.  She admits that she doesn’t know why she hid the pendant, or what is going on; but she shakes off the trance, and leads them through the house.  She says they will meet the owner, but not tonight.

In his room, Yates notes that there is complete darkness outside, with not even stars visible.  He finds himself locked in.  The Doctor comes in, using his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, and breaks the window; they are in space, but with some type of protective layer of nothingness.  He concludes that no one would be able to see in from outside, either—something is being concealed.  They explore the house, and find a door with green light coming from beneath.  The Doctor goes in alone for a time; when he comes out, he has a collection of components in his pockets.  The room is the dematerialization chamber as seen in previous installments; and for the Doctor, it has deepened the mystery.  They return to the parlor, and the Doctor says they are right on the edge of the universe.

The Doctor has his messaging machine with him; he remembers the second message and checks it.  It’s from a former dancer named Ernestina Stott [note: a prominent character from the preceding arc, Hornet’s Nest], and she has done some research for him.  She says the Cromer Palace of Curios—Mrs. Wibbsey’s former place of employment in the 1930s—suddenly burned down at 2:00 AM on April 14, 1940.  Mike leaves him brooding in the parlor, and goes to find the TARDIS.  He encounters Mrs. Wibbsey, who is quite despairing; she suddenly changes her demeanour, and declares that the Demon is with the Doctor.  Mike rushes her back to the parlor, where he finds the Demon facing the Doctor.

It seems it’s not a dangerous situation, however, and the Doctor is enthusiastic, calling the Demon their host.  They discuss their previous encounters; the Demon calls it a long game to get the Doctor there.  He admits that he is serving someone else.  The Doctor gives the TARDIS key to Mike before returning to the Demon.  The Demon says the Doctor will soon transcend and become a new order of being.

The Demon transforms the room into a flaming pit, and tells the Doctor he is headed for his own tomb.  Mike objects; he is aware of future regenerations, and says the Doctor can’t die here, but the Doctor says that those things haven’t happened for him.  The Demon says the Doctor will give up the secrets of time and space before he dies.  He beckons the Doctor into the flames; and to Mike’s shock, the Doctor steps in, and vanishes, with the Demon.

Mrs. Wibbsey acts strangely, trying to get the TARDIS key from Mike; she claims to know where the TARDIS is, and has to get away.  She nearly overpowers him, until green flames burst from her; she denies it’s her doing it, but the flames engulf them both, and carry them away.  They find themselves in a cavern of green stone, with the flames on the ceiling.  Ahead, they can see the Doctor, high on a ledge, entombed in an open, coffinlike structure, and covered with electronic connections.  Mike climbs up, but is beset by a fear of heights.  They are interrupted by the buzz of hornets approaching.

Mrs. Wibbsey is possessed, and has been for some time.  She is under the control of the powerful Hornets that the Doctor, Mike Yates, and Mrs. Wibbsey fought a year prior at Nest Cottage (Hornet’s Nest), and whose queen was banished in their last encounter.  They have used Mrs. Wibbsey and the Demon to bring the Doctor here.  They intend to turn him into the Atlas of All Time and Space, drawing out the Doctor’s mind—with all its knowledge and secrets—and turning it to their own ends, destroying his body in the process.  Time Lords have an innate ability to see all of time and space at once; they require this ability to recover their lost queen, and then nothing will stop them.  They begin the process, causing the Doctor to suffer.

sepulchre-2

Mike tries to get through to Mrs. Wibbsey and get her to fight the Hornets.  She recalls the moment when they gained access to her after the Doctor’s last battle with them.  The Demon transforms the chamber into a backdrop for the Atlas, which begins to form around them.  While the Hornets and the Demon are distracted by the Atlas, Mike climbs the rest of the way to the Doctor, and yanks the Doctor out of the machine.  Mrs. Wibbsey, still under Hornet control, climbs up to stop him.  Mike, with the Doctor’s help, tries again to talk her back to sanity, but unsuccessfully.  Desperate, Mike grabs her and pushes her into the sarcophagus.  As it seizes on her instead, the Atlas blinks out.  The Doctor announces that while the machine had started to copy his mind, it hadn’t started to erase the original yet. One screen shows Mrs. Wibbsey’s perception of time and space—small, but vibrant for her, with all the places she has been.

Soon the Hornets will overcome the sarcophagus’s influence.  The Doctor confronts the Demon, and tries to persuade him to betray the Hornets.  He admits the value in it, but denies that escape is possible.  The Doctor promises him liberty if he helps, despite the Demon’s past havoc at the behest of the Hornets.  Finally he agrees; and the two of them dismantle and adapt the sarcophagus’s control console, using the components the Doctor pocketed earlier.  Meanwhile, the Hornets are starting to emerge from Mrs. Wibbsey.  Finally, the two of them are ready to begin; and vefore the Hornets can escape, they switch on the console.

The modified machine is a sort of transmat; it can send the occupants of the sarcophagus to any point in the Atlas.  However, the current Atlas is small; it’s only Mrs. Wibbsey’s perception, and limited to Earth.  The Doctor sends the Hornets—and the Sarcophagus—to a specific date and time:  April 14, 1940, 2:00 AM, in the Cromer Palace of Curios.

Mrs. Wibbsey, however, was not transported.  The Doctor rigged the machine to transport everything except sources of human DNA; therefore, she was left behind, free of the hornets.  She only remembers the recent events as a terrible dream.  They can return home; but first, the Doctor has a promise to keep: he must free the Demon.  However, the Demon is gone, with the components from the demat chamber.  The room collapses; but the trio vanishes and appears in a blank room.  With them are the demat chamber, and the TARDIS.  The Demon intends to escape, although he requires life energy to persist in this dimension.  As the chamber dematerializes, the Doctor admits that he miscalculated; they hurry into the TARDIS and head home, as the asteroid crumbles around them.

the-demon-of-paris-4

For the most part, this conclusion to the Demon Quest arc was satisfying. My biggest complaint isn’t really a complaint; it’s more a reflection of my own listening, as I haven’t had opportunity to listen to the preceding arc, Hornet’s Nest. The reveal at the midpoint of this entry—that the hornets are the true villains—depends heavily upon that story arc. The story explains its own backstory well enough to get a basic grasp on events, but it would definitely help to have listened to Hornet’s Nest first. Likewise, I imagine the third series, Serpent Crest, follows up on the Demon’s escape and minor betrayal at the end of this story, though I haven’t listened to that arc to confirm.

This story plants us firmly back in customary Doctor Who territory. Mike Yates is the narrator this time, and he is a much better choice than the previous entry’s Buddy Hudson; Mike as a character is familiar enough with the events of the Doctor’s life to give us a decent framework. As well, we’ve had any number of stories about the Doctor being cannibalized in some way for his powers/regenerations/knowledge/etc., and this one fits right in. Once again he eludes death through the efforts of his companion(s), and once again he saves the day at the last minute with technological wizardry. It’s great stuff, if not exactly revolutionary. But then, as I’ve said many times, it’s hard to be brand-new in a series with a fifty-year history. Sometimes old favorites are a good thing.

demon-quest

While it’s not exactly suspenseful, the story does have some surprises. Having read the cover blurb, I very much expected the Demon to turn out to be a reasonable character, under the control of the Hornets. Instead, he betrays the Doctor’s trust at the end, and sets himself up to be a future villain (we know he will have to kill again, at least). In that regard, he’s much like the Master, circa the Third Doctor era. I was caught off guard by Mrs. Wibbsey’s turn at mind control under the hornets; I expected she was under the minor control of the Demon, but her role turned out to be much larger. I still pity her, though; she’s at the forefront of the Doctor’s tendency to cause suffering for those around him.

Once again, we are lacking in references to stories outside this arc. It’s a very different take when compared to Big Finish’s audios, which tend to be laden with links to television episodes, novels, other audios, and even the comics. This is doubly surprising to me, as Paul Magrs has written for Doctor Who in other media and ranges, and is no stranger to such references. Still, perhaps his writing here was constrained by the publisher. There is no shortage of references within this series, however, including several references back to Hornet’s Nest. I listened and wrote the first draft of this review several weeks ago, and since then I have had opportunity to work through some of the Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures; there are some definite parallels between this series and a few of those, most notably Trail of the White Worm, and we’ll look into that when we get there (I don’t want it to be a spoiler at this point).

As for the series as a whole: I enjoyed it. It’s a take on the Doctor that we don’t often get to see, one in which he’s almost domestic. He keeps a house, and looks on Mrs. Wibbsey as a family member of sorts. As much as it’s possible to be so, this series is cozy and informal; one feels that Nest Cottage is a nice place to live (if only things wouldn’t keep going haywire). The Doctor is informal and relaxed, but he can’t really stop himself from working anyway; he’s reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes in that regard, impulsive and not quite entirely sane, but still brilliant. I don’t know if I’ll have opportunity to review the first and third arcs in this series; I seized on an opportunity to get it for free in this case; but if so, I look forward to it. If these reviews have lacked a bit of context, well, maybe I can make up for that in the future.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays, as I’ve been reserving that day for unusual items like this series. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

the-demon-of-paris-3

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

Sepulchre

Previous

Audio Drama Review: Starfall

I had some unexpected appointments today, so I’m running a little behind with the next Main Range entry. Therefore, for today’s post, I’m covering the next installment of the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures, Starfall. We pick up after last week’s A Shard of Ice. On Wednesday, I’ll return to the Main Range with Dust Breeding.

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review!  Today we’re continuing the Fourth Doctor Demon Quest arc, listening to part four, Starfall.   Written by Paul Magrs, this story features the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Mrs. Wibbsey (Susan Jameson), and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin).  Let’s get started!

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

starfall-1

This entry is narrated by a New Yorker named Buddy.  New York, July 11, 1976: Buddy is working a street pretzel stand, as his girlfriend, Alice Trefusis, watches from her office window.  Alice’s supervisor, the elderly and awful Mimsy Loyne, employs her as a literary secretary, helping with Loyne’s memoirs; Alice hates the job, but needs the money.  Nearby, a cult meets to perform bizarre rites.  That night, a meteor crashes into Central Park; Buddy and Alice search for it, but fail to find it.  The next day, the Doctor, Mike Yates, and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive in the TARDIS; the Doctor is almost immediately struck with an ill feeling, which he attributes to something in the atmosphere.  He notes the now-empty pretzel stand, and then they go into the park.

Buddy, meanwhile, has abandoned his post to take Alice on a walk in the park while Alice vents over her boss.  They stumble upon the meteor; Alice says it is singing to her.  She touches it and is knocked back; Buddy sees her glowing with strange golden light.  The Doctor and his companions come upon Buddy and Alice, and offer to help; but Alice fears him, and tries to get rid of him.  Suddenly, energy bolts shoot from her eyes, and she can’t control them.  Wibbsey points out that this is all in the comic, which says Alice will become a loved superhero called Ms. Starfall—indeed, Alice seems to embrace the idea, before passing out.

The Doctor carefully collects the meteor (wrapped in a coat), and Wibbsey helps Buddy take Alice back to Loyne’s apartment, with Wibbsey recognizing Loyne’s name as a once-famous actress.  Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor feels better; while analyzing the meteor, it splits open, revealing half a golden heart, which is stamped “SEPUL”—short for “Sepulchre”, presumably.  He realizes that Mrs. Wibbsey is in danger, and takes Mike to find her.  Along the way, they find the brutally-murdered body of a young man, who has been desiccated like previous victims.  At that moment the police arrive, finally alerted to the strange happenings, and—jumping to entirely the wrong conclusion—arrest them both.

At Loyne’s apartment, Buddy at last meets Loyne, and takes Alice to her own room.  Alice awakens, and says that she feels amazing.  Loyne sees the police entering the park, and demands to talk to Buddy; Wibbsey goes to talk to her instead.  She accidentally leaves behind the comic, which is dated for today, and includes all of them, as previously described.  Alice likes the idea—and suddenly discovers she can fly.  She takes an old Hollywood Valkyrie costume from Loyne’s collection, and notes it is the same as in the comic; she puts it on, and starts exultantly using her powers, flying over the city.  Buddy looks again at the comic, and sees that the writer’s name is the same as his.  In the window, Wibbsey sees the Doctor and Mike escorted out of the park by the police.  As she prepares to go after them, Loyne orders Buddy to bring back her secretary, then leave.

Alice is using her powers to stop petty crimes and avert minor disasters.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mike are in a squad car; the Doctor continues to feel worse now that he is away from the TARDIS.  They discuss the Demon; the Doctor says it is “a potpourri of physiognomy and DNA”, and could be anyone around them.  They witness Alice flying around, and then watch as she lands in front of them and demands their release from the police.  When the police refuse, she disarms them, and removes the Doctor and Mike from the car.  At the apartment, Loyne gloats over the progress of the situation, shocking Mrs. Wibbsey; Loyne puts her out, with Buddy.  While exiting, they see glimpses of the Doctor, and return to the apartment in search of him—but the glimpses begin to pile up, as if there are multiples of him.  Buddy and Wibbsey hide on the stairs to watch as the figures go past, but none of them are the actual Doctor.  The figures go into the door at the top of the stairs.

Alice brings the Doctor and Mike back to the apartment through a window, landing in Loyne’s bedroom.  The Doctor feels his worst so far, and thinks he is near the epicenter of the effect.  Upstairs at the attic level, Buddy and Wibbsey listen at the door where the figures entered, hearing what sounds like ritual chanting; they peek in, and see a weird, dancelike ritual in progress.  The Doctor-like figures are dancing around the final piece of the spatial geometer, which is glowing.  The figures discover they are being watched, but they continue the chant.

The Doctor confronts Loyne, and says that he knew her in 1922, on Sunset Boulevard, when he had a different form.  Alice demands to know where Buddy is, and says she will find him; the Doctor asks her to bring back Mrs. Wibbsey as well.  When Alice leaves, Loyne changes demeanour and tries to paint Alice as her captor, and possibly the Demon, as well; she also admits to remembering the Doctor.  He does not believe her claims, though.  She claims to have heard Alice consorting with demons.  The Doctor expounds his own thoughts briefly, and then sends Mike to make tea.  While Mike is out, the Doctor admits that he never had a past acquaintance with Loyne, and therefore she is lying about remembering it—and is the Demon.  She admits it, but says that he is too weak to resist—and she needs him.

Mike returns and finds the Doctor weakened on the floor, and Loyne absent.  The Doctor insists that they must find the true epicenter of the debilitating effect.  The cultists in the attic admit to working for a mysterious boss, presumably the Demon; they say that she has ordered them to complete this ritual as the Doctor dies.  Alice arrives and breaks in to rescue Wibbsey and Buddy.  She easily overcomes the cultists, knocking them out; Wibbsey takes the opportunity to go after the spatial geometer component.  The cult leader intercepts her.  Loyne arrives and claims leadership over the cult.  The Doctor and Mike also arrive, and confront Loyne; the Doctor suddenly appears recovered, which he attributes to the interruption of the ritual.  Loyne is not dismayed; she changes to the form of the Demon, announcing that her preparations are already complete anyway.  She admits to having been all the villains of the preceding stories; she also claims to have been responsible for the meteor which gave Alice her powers.  She intends to dispose of the others as irrelevant now that she has the Doctor; the Doctor points out that they are never irrelevant, as Mike has just reclaimed the geometer component while she was distracted.  In retaliation, the Demon grabs Mrs. Wibbsey and drags her into the dematerialization chamber.  The chamber dematerializes, but not before the Demon announces that the Sepulchre is prepared for the Doctor.

The group returns to the TARDIS; the Doctor says they must go after Mrs. Wibbsey.  The Doctor tells Buddy and Alice they must stay in New York; but unfortunately, now that the Demon is gone, Alice’s powers will fade in a few hours.  Buddy is not dismayed; he plans to write a comic series about Alice, or rather, Ms. Starfall.

the-demon-of-paris-4

This entry is timely, as it shares some similarity with the 2016 Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio.  [Full disclosure: it may not be timely by the time I get it posted; I’m writing this in mid-January 2017.]  Both concern unintentional, New York-based, Superman-like superheroes whose powers originate from mysterious stones.  Both stories exploit—and in my opinion, pay tribute to—Silver Age comic book tropes.  That’s where the similarities end, however; the two stories’ plots proceed very differently.  Personally, I like this type of story; I grew up reading old Silver Age comics, and watching the Christopher Reeves version of Superman, and I think those things are great.  This story does a great job of paying tribute to those sources, although it devolves into occasional caricature in doing so.  Buddy, for example, is a stereotypical New Yorker (though his accent is more New Jersey, I think) who would have been right at home in any parody of the early twentieth century.  (Now that I think of it, Daleks in Manhattan comes to mind…)  That would be no big deal, except that this story is set in 1976.  Mimsy Loyne is a caricature of a rich, vain, villainous former starlet; it’s perhaps understandable if she’s over the top, given that she’s actually the Demon in disguise, but it’s still very obvious.  And Alice—the titular “Ms. Starfall”, in her superhero persona—while taking quickly to her superhero role, sounds more like the traditional damsel in distress.

There are no large roles in this story, which takes place over just a span of an hour or so (excluding the meteor crash on the previous night).  Perhaps that makes it a bit more excusable that neither Mike Yates nor Mrs. Wibbsey actually does much here, but it still seems awkward in hindsight.  They do have some action at the end; Mrs. Wibbsey stands up to the cult leader, while Mike recovers the last geometer component.  Otherwise, it’s a bit dull on the action side for everyone, which is a waste in a superhero story.

The Demon’s plan here doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I understand that she needed Alice to have superpowers, because it inspired Buddy to write the comics which were then adapted to feature our main characters.  But, the book that led them here can’t be one of Buddy’s actual comics; the date of publication is the same date as the story, and that’s just not possible.  It does seem that the Demon is somehow incapable of leaving clues for the Doctor without existence; it requires humans to do this on its behalf:  Metafix the mosaic-maker in The Relics of Time, Lautrec the painter in The Demon of Paris, and Tiermann the storyteller-turned-author in A Shard of Ice.  But—getting back to Alice—it seems like a colossal oversight to give a superhero to the Doctor as an ally, when the plan is to trap the Doctor.  As well, though the Demon caused the meteor to hit the park, it could not have guaranteed that Alice—the one person close enough to the situation to suit her needs—would be the one to find and touch it.  I also was curious why the cultists were required to dress like the Doctor; if it’s for the purpose of establishing a connection to him, shouldn’t the spatial geometer be enough to accomplish that?  In general, the Demon’s plans seem to be quite convoluted, if all it wants to do is get the Doctor to Sepulchre; but I’ll reserve judgment until the end of the final chapter.

I can’t help wondering just how much of an investment the Demon makes in these trap scenarios.  In the previous installment, it was stated that the mountain lodge was actually the Demon’s dematerialization chamber in disguised form, and that it had been there for about forty years; likewise, the Demon had been in Ice Queen form that long, for most of Tiermann’s life.  Here, Mimsy Loyne had a real Hollywood career going back about fifty years at least, as corroborated by Mrs. Wibbsey.  Already that places us at about a hundred years of involvement, if we assume that the Demon was Loyne all along.

Buddy isn’t the greatest narrator.  While his accounts seem accurate enough, he wanders quite a bit, with a number of false starts and redirections.  He freely admits that he wasn’t there for most of the story, getting it instead from the other participants; at some points he has to be embellishing, given that no one in his group could have seen the things he reports.  I won’t say he breaks the immersion; but he’s definitely frustrating to follow.

With all of this, it may sound as though I disliked the story; but in the end, that’s not the case.  It’s certainly not the high point of the arc, but neither is it the low point; I would give that dubious honor to part two, The Demon of Paris (pending the last chapter, of course).  While the story has some flaws, those flaws are consistent with the Silver Age comics it seeks to emulate; those stories haven’t always aged well, and they are guilty of similar failings.  Still, there’s something nostalgic about a story in that vein, and I enjoy them, even with their flaws.  It requires a bit more suspension of belief to enjoy this story, as it doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny, but it’s worth the effort.  And as well, it’s of course necessary to get us to the final chapter.

the-demon-of-paris-3

Next time:  We’ll wrap up Demon Quest with part five, Sepulchre!  See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

Starfall

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: A Shard of Ice

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing with the BBC’s Demon Quest arc, featuring the Fourth Doctor, Mrs. Wibbsey, and Mike Yates. We’re listening to A Shard of Ice, the third installment in the five-part series. Let’s get started!

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

a-shard-of-ice-1

This story is narrated by an incidental character, Albert Tiermann, who is the author (or editor?) of the book of fairy tales which the Doctor received in the church sale bag two episodes ago. He also is the official storyteller for the local king. We open with his narration regarding his starting circumstances, in which he is snowed in at Germany’s Murgin Pass in the year 1847; and he is afraid for his life. He has been interrupted in his rushed journey to the palace, where he fears retribution from the king that he has failed [he had been ordered by the king, who is too blind to read, to bring a new story]. He is interrupted by the arrival of the TARDIS, bearing the Doctor and Mike Yates. The Doctor shows him the book, which he is unwilling to believe, and offers to help him by telling him new stories for the king. They turn back and find lodging for the night.

They take up temporary residence at a mountain lodge owned and operated by one Frau Herz, and Tiermann goes to bed early. The Doctor and Mike reminisce and bring each other up to speed on the current situation, until the Doctor sees a strange batlike creature out the window; unknown to them, Tiermann eavesdrops on them, and believes the Doctor insane. Plagued with nightmares, he prays for a visit from a woman who visited him in his youth, whom he calls an angel and credits with the seeds of all his stories—and he gets what he asks, when the mysterious Ice Queen visits him. She is aware of the Doctor, but not the book of fairy tales. She claims a debt on Albert, and claims to have worked hard to bring the book into his life…she orders him to keep the Doctor from leaving and pursuing his search. She then vanishes.

At breakfast the next morning, the travelers are still snowed in. Tiermann’s footman bursts in and finds that the coachman has been attacked, and is lying in the snow, nearly frozen to death. As they try to save him, the footman says that the coachman had run out of the stable during the night, claiming to see a woman in the snow. Mike suggests it may be the same thing the Doctor saw, but the Doctor is skeptical. Yates and the Doctor believe Tiermann knows more than he is letting on. Tiermann goes to the Doctor’s room and searches his coat pockets for the book; he finds a note that says “look behind you”, and turns around.

The Doctor and Mike confront Albert, having anticipated this move. Albert becomes frantic, and insists he needs the book; the Doctor sends Mike to check on Frau Herz. The Doctor challenges Albert regarding his actions and thoughts; Albert admits that he considers the book, and the legacy it represents, more important than the lives in danger around him. The Doctor hypnotizes Albert, and pushes for answers. They argue over the book, and the Doctor insists he will not give it up.

Mike returns, and says that Frau Herz is missing. The kitchen door is wrenched off its hinges; but Herz, outside, is okay. She says that a creature tried to take her, but instead got the footman, Hans, and took him to the mountain. The Doctor orders Mike to fortify the house, and takes Albert with him to follow the creature. A trail of blood leads the way; the Doctor comments that Hans is probably dead, and grows angry at Albert’s lack of care. The Doctor chides him for consorting with monsters, commenting that sometimes they appear as angels. They hear something go past, possibly the creature. They come upon a cave with a strange green glow inside; the Doctor compares the whole ordeal to a fairy tale.

Inside the cave, they find the Ice Queen, unconscious on a throne. She awakens and is shocked to see them there; but she admits a connection with Albert. He explains his past with her; the Doctor calls her a goblin, and asks what she demanded of Albert in exchange. He explains that she placed a shard of ice in him, preventing him from feeling any love or sympathy for anyone—he only loves his stories. The Doctor calls him her slave, and derides her magic as cheap tricks; he tells Albert that she is the Demon, the monster that killed the others. She accuses Albert of failing in his final task. The Doctor shows him the book, with an illustration of the Ice Queen becoming the Demon, and says that she has manipulated him all his life so as to produce the book, which lured the Doctor here. The Ice Queen confirms it. The Doctor explains that she has had to recharge her energies to maintain her human form; the form he saw outside last night was her true form. She flees the cavern and flies toward the lodge; the Doctor and Albert follow, finding a cache of desiccated bodies along the way. The Doctor tells Albert that the book is a fake—the Demon wrote it, not Albert—and he gives him the book.

They find the lodge in shambles. The Queen dominates the kitchen, transforming into its true form; she has a battered Mike Yates in her arms. Frau Herz is out of commission with the coachman, possibly dead. Albert feels the ice inside him break as the Queen releases him from her control; he is outraged at her actions. The Doctor concludes she wants to take him somewhere; and the room transforms into the dematerialization chamber with the mosaic floor. Having acquired the Doctor, she releases Mike; the Doctor sends him out. Albert flees the building, taking Frau Herz with him, then looks back and finds it to be a plain box with one door; he slips back and watches as the chamber builds up to dematerialization. The creature claims that she originates from a place called Sepulchre, which the Doctor denies knowing anything about; she wants him to go there with her. The Doctor darts out the door just as the box dematerializes, leaving the creature howling in fury.

The Doctor and Mike drop off Albert and Frau Herz near the palace. Yates reveals that he picked up a strange item in the lodge, which the Doctor is happy to note is another piece of the spatial geometer. They then receive a message from Mrs. Wibbsey, who calls them home, and tells them that the final item in the bag, a 1970s-era comic book, features all three of them—and the message cuts off mid-word. It seems they will be making a side trip to New York.

Albert’s narration winds up as he explains that the Doctor asked him never to write down their story—but he had no problem speaking it aloud to the king.

the-demon-of-paris-4

I was more impressed with this story than with its predecessor. It’s almost a gothic horror story, which is something I think that Doctor Who has always done well (no matter how improbable that may be!). This entry is not much of a mystery; the Demon is for once not masquerading as one of the humans in the story, though it does take a mostly-human form. Still, it’s a fair trade—we trade mystery for atmosphere, and I’m fine with that. The setting—a mountain lodge in a snowed-in pass—naturally limits the cast; there are none of the crowds we saw in Montmartre last time. There are still enough characters for the requisite blood and death, however; this is, after all, still Doctor Who (and unnamed characters, like the coachman here, are the Doctor Who equivalent of Star Trek’s redshirts).

I appreciate the addition of Mike Yates, who only had cameos in the first two entries. I’ve always liked all of the classic UNIT characters, and Yates is no exception, despite having failed and been quietly removed from UNIT some time ago. It’s unfortunate that Mrs. Wibbsey is relegated to cameo status here; but then, she’ll be back in the next entry, according to the teaser at the end.

This story is a bit of a subversion of the fairy tale genre; it’s deliberately set up in that form by the villain, and everyone is well aware of it. Doctor Who doesn’t often do fairy tales, at least not onscreen; when it goes gothic, it tends to stick to classical monsters such as vampires (State of Decay, The Vampires of Venice), mummies (Pyramids of Mars, Mummy on the Orient Express), werewolves (Tooth and Claw), and zombies (New Earth), and gives them a technological twist. It could have been much worse; I could see this story being heavy-handed with the fairy-tale motif, but it really isn’t. Nor is it a historical, despite its setting; the isolation of the characters and location negates everything that could have made it stand out as a historical. Even the science-fiction is downplayed; other than the TARDIS, the dematerialization chamber at the end, and a tiny bit of dialogue, there’s little sci-fi here. This story is a thing of its own, and that’s fantastic.

For all that we’ve seen, we still know very little about this demon. The Doctor seems sure that it’s not from Earth; that seems to be verified when it comments about taking him across the universe to Sepulchre. However, we don’t know its species, or anything about its technology; its dematerialization chamber seems similar to a TARDIS, but the Doctor makes it clear that it is not a TARDIS. There is still much to be learned (and as the final installment is titled Sepulchre, I think we’ll get there).

The TARDIS can now make some limited trips through space as well as time; each succeeding piece of the spatial geometer makes it easier (what a strange device! If you only have one piece of a car, you’re not going anywhere).

Again, references are few here, and mostly come from the Doctor’s dialogue. He plies Albert with stories of his own adventures early on; the scene is abridged, but we can pin down four of them. He talks about The Keys of Marinus, Colony in Space (making a meta-reference by calling it The Doomsday Weapon; the novelization was titled Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon), Genesis of the Daleks, and Pyramids of Mars (though he is cut off before actually telling that last story). He also refers to the Yeti, which he encountered in both The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear; with those stories, we have references to stories in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Doctor eras. Mike Yates also refers to the Brigadier, Liz Shaw, and Jo Grant, to whom he told the story of his adventures in the preceding series, Hornet’s Nest. As well, Albert mentions his father, Ernest Tiermann, who is a character in a Tenth Doctor novel, also by Paul Magrs, titled Sick Building.

the-demon-of-paris-3

Overall, not a bad story—in fact, the best in the arc so far, in my opinion. Next time: We’ll continue with the fourth installment, Starfall! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

A Shard of Ice (Out of Stock at time of writing; check back later)

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: The Demon of Paris

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Continuing our side trip into the BBC audio range (as opposed to Big Finish), we’re listening to Demon Quest part two, The Demon of Paris, written by Paul Magrs and directed by Kate Thomas. Let’s get started!

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

the-demon-of-paris-1

Unlike the Big Finish audios, these begin with a brief recap of the preceding part(s) (and you can find my review of part one here if you would also like a recap).

Based on another clue from the bag left at the church sale in The Relics of Time, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey travel to Montmartre, Paris, 1894 (being obligated to travel via train from Surrey, as the TARDIS still can’t travel in space). The clue is a Tolouse-Lautrec poster of Aristide Bruant (who, in a bit of meta-reference, is considered to be an inspiration for the Fourth Doctor’s costume), which has been “doctored” (pun DEFINITELY intended) to feature the Fourth Doctor’s face—and portrays him holding a piece of the spatial geometer. He immediately meets a girl calling herself La Charlotte, and buys her dinner while seeking information. The crowd thinks the Doctor is Bruant, who is missing and presumed dead; they want him to sing. They have arrived in the middle of a mystery, much to Mrs. Wibbsey’s dismay.

While the Doctor is occupied, Wibbsey meets a drunken man who insists that Lautrec, the artist, is responsible for not only Bruant’s death, but also many other murders—dozens, as La Charlotte mentions—many of which are young women of ill repute. Lautrec is not unaware of the suspicions, and has isolated himself. La Charlotte leads the Doctor and Wibbsey to Lautrec’s home, then leaves them.

The concierge grudgingly lets them in, and they check Lautrec’s studio—but it is empty, Lautrec missing, with the skylight smashed and sketches everywhere. Alarmingly, many of his paintings—many of which are famous in the future—have been defaced, slashed at the wrists and necks of the subjects, and with red paint splashed on like blood.

They leave and return to Montmartre, seeking out the worst part of town, and find the Moulin Rouge dance hall. Inside, the Doctor sees Lautrec enter. The Doctor quizzes Lautrec about the poster, but Lautrec denies having painted it, claiming it was vandalized by someone else. He is unhelpful, but comments that La Charlotte and the other girls should look out for themselves; but he denies being the killer, and claims the public wants him as a scapegoat. Lautrec rids himself of the Doctor by telling the crowd that the Doctor is Bruant, forcing him to sing (badly, but hilariously). Lautrec leaves, and Wibbsey follows him.

Lautrec detects her, and confronts her. She is captivated by him, and frightened; while she is dazed, he asks her to model for him. Again, he denies hurting anyone, and mentions wrestling with his demons. Reluctantly she goes with him, leaving the Doctor searching for her. The Doctor is intercepted by a drunken La Charlotte, who is bleeding from several stab wounds; she hints that Lautrec caused them, in the nearby cemetery. She is disbelieving that Lautrec could do it, but is certain it was him, though she never saw his face, due to the smell of the absinthe that he had been drinking. She takes the Doctor to the cemetery to show him the scene of the attack; he thinks that Lautrec and Wibbsey are there, but is wrong; they have returned to his studio. Lautrec is shocked at the destruction of his art.

Lautrec denies that he destroyed his work, and denies that he hurt La Charlotte earlier in the night. When the concierge exits, he admits that he has blackouts. At the cemetery, the Doctor and La Charlotte meet the concierge coming down the hill, and the Doctor notices an odd green glow as she approaches; the woman insults La Charlotte and drives her away. The Doctor is angry, but the concierge mentions that Wibbsey is with Lautrec at the house; she tries to divert the Doctor, but he insists on returning there.

At the house, Lautrec busies himself preparing to paint Mrs. Wibbsey—but suddenly they both notice a piece of the spatial geometer on his desk. She accuses him, but the Doctor arrives at that moment with the concierge. [editorial note here: Lautrec insists that there hasn’t been any time for him to attack La Charlotte, but there actually is: between the time she runs off outside the house the first time, and the time Lautrec comes to the Moulin Rouge, he could have done it.] Lautrec insists again that he did not hurt La Charlotte; but the concierge breaks down and says she has covered for him. She takes them to the attic, where he says he has never been; a dozen or more desiccated bodies of young women are there. The concierge and Lautrec leave, locking the Doctor and Wibbsey in.

Trapped, they take a moment and look at another item from the sale bag: a book of fairy tales. One of the illustrations, of an ice monster, contains the images of the Doctor and Mike Yates; it seems that Yates is part of this mystery as well.

La Charlotte rescues them, and says she saw Lautrec and the concierge leaving. Lautrec left in a carriage, but the concierge is at the cemetery; it seems she is more involved than the Doctor thought. The trio rush to the cemetery. Arriving there, the Doctor suddenly realizes that La Charlotte’s wounds don’t seem to be troubling her anymore; he confides to Wibbsey that the girl may have been faking. The green glow can also be seen again, near a small mausoleum. They find the concierge on the ground, and she claims that Lautrec came back to attack her, but pulled back at the last second. She claims Lautrec is inside the tomb.

the-demon-of-paris-2

When Lautrec calls out for help, Wibbsey darts inside…and finds herself in the mosaic-lined chamber from Claudius’s hut in the preceding story. Lautrec is tied in the floor, but the Doctor frees him. The concierge drives them back inside, and activates the chamber; the Doctor and Wibbsey try to stop the door from sealing, and La Charlotte joins them. The concierge kills La Charlotte by sapping her life force.

The Doctor explains to Lautrec that the concierge is a shapeshifter and an alien, who has framed him while carrying out the killings. She admits it, and says that they can now depart. Lautrec attacks the concierge, giving the Doctor and Wibbsey enough room to lever the door open, allowing the three of them to escape. As they do so, the mausoleum vanishes, as it did from the tribal hut before.

The Doctor thinks La Charlotte was killed some time ago, and kept alive just as a slave. The bodies in the attic will disintegrate, and Lautrec will be free of suspicion; he can also try to find the real Bruant. The Doctor urges him to forget it all, and to plead ignorance.

Back at the TARDIS, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive back at Nest Cottage on the same day they left, December 23, 2010. They have just enough time to prepare a bit for Christmas, when Yates (and his hound, Captain) arrive. The Doctor admits they have enough time for dinner…and then they must get back on the case.

the-demon-of-paris-4

I was not as impressed with this story as with its predecessor. I found it difficult to pin down why, exactly; it’s certainly not a bad story, just not as interesting to me. Certainly it’s not the terrible entry that the Discontinuity Guide would suggest:

“Hm. Perhaps best filed next to The Stuff of Nightmares under ‘story ideas designed to appeal to the star’ — in this case, setting the Doctor’s adventure in Bohemian Paris, allowing Tom Baker to indulge his inner Francophile.”

Still, in some ways it is better than The Relics of Time; while that story was quite predictable, this one is anything but, as it gives us several likely candidates for the identity of the titular Demon, and manages to withhold final revelation until the last few minutes. Fortunately, we are spared the ordeal of listening to the Doctor sing in the cabaret; there’s that for which we can be thankful!

This is a period of history with which I am not very familiar, nor am I an art scholar; therefore most of the real-world references were lost on me. It’s not so deep as to present an obstacle to enjoying the story; but it probably has more depth for someone who does know their art history (or their French history, for that matter). I was not aware of the influence of Aristide Bruant on the Fourth Doctor’s costume until I started to read up on this story; it’s impossible to miss here, however, as the Doctor spells it out in the dialogue. In researching, I learned that the “vandalized” poster of the Doctor is based on an actual poster of that type, which was produced as convention merchandise in the 1980s and 1990s; I haven’t seen those posters myself, but I think that’s a clever bit of meta-reference.

Again, we get few if any references to stories outside this series. Mike Yates appears in the flesh this time, though only momentarily; he will have a larger role in the remaining entries. He makes no mention of UNIT, however. I should have mentioned it last time, but it’s worth mentioning that this is not the only house on Earth that the Doctor will ever own; he also owns Smithwood Manor on Allen Road in Kent, which he purchased in his third incarnation while working for UNIT. That house was used most often by his seventh incarnation, appearing for the first time in the comic story Fellow Travellers and subsequently in many other comic and prose stories. We do get some of the history of Mrs. Wibbsey’s family, but that does not refer back to any other stories.

All in all, there’s little to report about this story. It’s a decent entry, but I hope for more exciting things to come; it does give us some satisfaction, at least, in that it identifies Claudius/the concierge as an alien of some sort (although it doesn’t name the creature’s race or origin, and the Doctor still calls it a demon). It’s narrated by Mrs. Wibbsey, giving us some variety (the Doctor narrated The Relics of Time, in first person, no less). Otherwise, it’s a decent but unremarkable period piece.

the-demon-of-paris-3

Next time: We’ll check out Demon Quest, part three, A Shard of Ice! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

The Demon of Paris

Audio Drama Review: The Relics of Time

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! I don’t usually post on Wednesdays, but I’ve decided to take on something different for a few weeks. As I have a series of Big Finish audio reviews fairly well established on Mondays and Thursdays, I didn’t want to interrupt that project; so, for the next few Wednesdays, I’ll be taking advantage of some temporarily-available audios and looking at a series of audios published by BBC, rather than Big Finish Productions. It’s a different take on the audio drama format, but just as entertaining; BBC has published far less Doctor Who audio, but their quality doesn’t suffer for that. We join the Fourth Doctor and a BBC Audio-exclusive companion, Mrs. Wibbsey, in Demon Crest:  The Relics of Time, written by Paul Magrs. Let’s get started!

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

relics-of-time-1

Before I get started, I should explain that I’m arriving at this series in the middle. Three story arcs have been released for the Fourth Doctor in this series; the first, Hornet’s Nest, I have not yet had opportunity to hear. Demon Quest is the second of the three arcs, consisting of five two-hour stories, each divided into two parts. Should I have the opportunity, I will back up and pick up Hornet’s Nest as well, and possibly continue the final series, Serpent Crest.

The Fourth Doctor returns to Nest Cottage, his “vacation home” of sorts in West Surrey, just before Christmas 2010. He spends some time buttering up his housekeeper, Mrs. Wibbsey, who is from Cromer, 1932 (having been rescued and brought here by the Doctor in Hornet’s Nest). He is here to relax, and to complete some repairs on the TARDIS; as a result, he disassembles much of the console in the parlor. He gets into trouble, however, when she sells some things from the cottage at a church charity sale—and suspects that she may have put some TARDIS components in the sale. In fact, a stranger has bought some components—specifically, the spatial geometer—but he left a bag of odds and ends in exchange.

The bag contains, among other things, a bit of mosaic tile, and a photo of the Roman-era mosaic of which it is a part. More shocking is the mosaic itself: it is the image of the Fourth Doctor! Also, a cartoon is there, which also includes the image of the Doctor. Mrs. Wibbsey is upset at herself; but the Doctor is intrigued by the objects.

He patches the TARDIS back together as best he can, and has its navigational system analyze the tile. The tile was unearthed in West Sussex in 1964, along with the rest of the mosaic, an apparent anachronism for the local Celts of its time period. He finds a reference to a local goddess named, oddly, “Wibbsentia”…

Without the missing components, the TARDIS cannot travel in space, only in time. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, he takes Mrs. Wibbsey with him—bullies her, really—back in time. He admits that he has not been to that time period “in this body”, confusing her, but she goes along; he tells her that the reference to “Wibbsentia” implicates her in the mystery as much as him.

In the Roman era, they make their way overland to the nearest settlement, and are intercepted by a group of Celts. The Celts take them in and lodge and feed them overnight; the Elders meet to discuss the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey. The Elders hope that the Doctor is a Druid, of the “lost tribe”. He at first denies it, but—as that hope is the only thing keeping them alive—he quickly introduces Mrs. Wibbsey as a prophetess and priestess skilled in reading goat entrails. They dub her “Wibbsentia”, and promptly sacrifice a goat for her to use in divination. She plays the part well, describing a rival group, a tribe from the hills that is raiding the Celts, and getting help from a powerful wizard with a monstrous pet…it begins to become clear that she’s not faking, but actually getting a message from somewhere. And the message prophesies destruction for the Celts.

The Doctor confers with her about her message, but is interrupted by the Elders, who offer them freedom in exchange for helping them; they want the Doctor and “Wibbsentia” to go to the other tribe…and kill the wizard. On threat of death, and with no options, they accept the mission.

The next morning, the tribe sends them off, unaccompanied; Mrs. Wibbsey comments on this, but the Doctor thinks they fear the other side too much to go along. They come upon a number of dead bodies, dessicated, but with clothes that indicate the deaths were recent. The bodies seem to come from the rival tribe. The Doctor reflects that nothing in this time can kill in this way.

They reach the other settlement, which is a little better off than the Celtic village. The Doctor marches straight in and asks to see the wizard; the woman who first meets him raises an alarm and draws a crowd. With some comical misunderstanding, they meet the alleged Wizard, who admits to being a foreigner himself. He’s a nervous and stuttering man, but he invites him to his dwelling…and also, casually, he has an elephant, affectionately named “Nelly”.

The man appears to be from Rome; his hut is decorated in Roman items, and he has trained a local Briton, Metafix, in mosaic-work. (Metafix is making a mosaic of the wizard.) Mrs. Wibbsey warns the man about the Celtic tribe, which will be attacking later today. However, he seems partly unconcerned. The Doctor outs him, however; putting together several clues, he realizes that the man is actually the Emperor Claudius, who should NOT be here in any circumstance! History makes no mention of him being here. It turns out that he bolted, abandoning his duties when the opportunity presented itself, during a journey; he just wanted to get away, and he’s done it. The Doctor assures him that he is, in fact, defying history, but can’t stay there; at a minimum, the Celts are about to attack, and will overwhelm Claudius’s tribe. The Doctor urges him to go home (making a great pun in the process: “Now, don’t get all…imperious!”) as his presence will change history drastically. He is stubborn, and won’t go; the Doctor tries to prove he is from the future so as to convince him. Most of the Doctor’s odds and ends don’t impress him, but the Doctor plays an answering machine message of Mike Yates talking about travel plans. Claudius lets slip a reference to “it all [being] on microchip someday”, and then shrugs them off.

The attack begins, and the Celts besiege the town. Mrs. Wibbsey finds a piece of the spatial geometer in the hut; Claudius sneaks off and gives them the slip. The Doctor can’t deal with him now; he goes to confront the two tribes and end the hostilities. The Celts want to kill him; but he uses the recorded message from Mike Yates (presenting it as a message from the gods) to scare them into submission. This time, it works, and they cease fighting, and eventually collaborate to prepare for their midwinter festival.

Mrs. Wibbsey has cornered Claudius in his antechamber. It’s an elaborate room, with additional mosaics; but there’s a strange light inside, and something isn’t right. Mrs. Wibbsey suspects it might be a TARDIS, but Claudius says it isn’t; the Doctor gets them out just before the room—and Claudius—disappears. His attempt at kidnapping them failed.

The Doctor drops a suggestion that Metafix may want to change the subject of his mosaic; but Metafix tears up the mosaic. Apparently the picture of the mosaic with the Doctor was a fake…but why? And who did it come from? They have a brief confrontation with the tribesmen over the elephant—the tribesmen want to eat it—and, after rescuing it, they take it with them. Along the way back to the TARDIS, they review the other items from the bag…and deduce a connection with Paris in the 1800s. That will be their next stop—the Moulin Rouge!

relics-of-time-3

I really enjoyed this story, even though, truth be told, it’s not much of a story. By the Doctor’s standards, next to nothing happens; really it serves better as a prologue to the rest of the arc. Still, it’s very entertaining, and reminds me just why I’ve always liked the Fourth Doctor. He’s as cryptic and witty as ever, if a little slow on the uptake sometimes; but then, he WAS on vacation, so we can cut him some slack. He gets a few great lines; there’s the “Imperious” line I mentioned above, and in regard to his image in the mosaic, “I don’t usually take a good mosaic…” and later, this exchange in regard to Nelly the elephant: “She’s been a good companion to me.” ~The Wizard. “Oh, perhaps I’ll try it myself one day!” ~The Doctor. (Admittedly, an elephant would be a better companion than the talking cabbage that Tom Baker is reputed to have wanted at one point; but maybe a smaller animal would be better—a penguin, maybe?) He’s a bit confounded by Mrs. Wibbsey, who seems to get under his skin in a way that most of his other companions never manage (Romana, perhaps, or maybe K9). Their dynamic is very reminiscent of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Mrs. Wibbsey herself is a somewhat sad character. She’s out of her time and out of her depth in more than one sense; I don’t know much about her background, other than that she originates in Cromer in 1932, as I mentioned before, and that the Doctor assures her there is nothing there for her now. She does her best to keep up with the Doctor, but it’s a struggle for her; she would really be happier just going home, at least at this point. Still, it’s hard not to like her; she has a very grandmotherly, “church lady” demeanor, and her actress, Susan Jameson, nails the role.

There aren’t any real surprises to be had here. While Claudius’s real identity isn’t revealed here—presumably we’ll see him again—it’s obvious from his first appearance that he’s more than meets the eye. The Doctor doesn’t really pick up on the “microchip” reference, but it’s an obvious bread crumb for the audience. In that regard, it’s not much of a mystery; but it sets up some intriguing clues for the next entries in the series.

For once, there are next to no references to other stories (or at least, outside this series—there are some minor bits of review of Hornet’s Nest). The Doctor makes no references to other companions or past adventures outside this series, and even says precious little about the TARDIS; even the spatial geometer which figures so prominently here, doesn’t appear in any other stories of which I am aware. He does offer Mrs. Wibbsey some jelly babies, and uses the sonic screwdriver at one point. Mike Yates of past UNIT fame does make a brief appearance in the form of an answering-machine message, and will appear in future entries; courtesy of actor Richard Franklin’s appearance, he does figure in Hornet’s Nest as well. As this is a Fourth Doctor story, I would assume that from Yate’s point of view, this is after his betrayal and subsequent restoration as discussed in Planet of the Spiders and other places. The Doctor has never before been to Roman-era Britain, at least not onscreen; however, while traveling with Leela, he will visit the Iceni tribe in the later Roman period (Wrath of the Iceni; the Doctor Who Reference Guide places this story between The Invasion of Time, Leela’s last serial, and The Ribos Operation, Romana’s first; if true, this would mean he has already visited the Roman period in Wrath of the Iceni), and will return to the Roman period as the Eleventh Doctor with Amy and River (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang). The Celts speak of Julius Caesar as still being alive, and the Romans have not invaded in force yet.

Overall: It’s alright. It’s certainly not the most exciting story, but it’s entertaining enough. One gets the impression that Tom Baker, at least, had fun recording this one; and the Fourth Doctor is as good as ever. If the subsequent stories step things up a bit, this one will be worth the time.

relics-of-time-2

Next time: Tomorrow we’ll be back to Big Finish with Night of the Whisper, and Monday it’s the Main Range with Minuet in Hell. On Wednesday, we’ll be listening to Demon Quest, part two: The Demon of Paris! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

The Relics of Time

Next