Novel Review: Blood Heat

We’re back! After a bit of a delay, we’ll be taking a look at the next entry in the New Adventures novel series (“VNAs”, hereafter): 1993’s Blood Heat, by Jim Mortimore. This story is number nineteen in the VNAs. We’ve just concluded what I informally called the “holiday tetralogy”, in which the Doctor repeatedly and disastrously tries to take a vacation; now we move into another loosely-connected subseries, a pentalogy occasionally known as the “Alternate Universe” arc. And that’s where we’ll begin, so let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Blood heat

An unexpected and unexplained attack on the TARDIS sends it crashing to Earth. A sudden encounter with living dinosaurs makes it seem as though the Doctor, Ace and Benny (the latter of whom has been lost in the landing) have arrived in the Jurassic period; but slowly it becomes apparent that, to the contrary, they have landed in the present day of 1993! It’s a very different 1993, though, and something has gone very wrong.

Two factions are soon realized: The Silurians have conquered Earth’s surface and bent it to their will; and the remaining humans, rare and in hiding, stage a resistance under the leadership of a craggy and embittered Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. The reception the Doctor receives isn’t what he expects, however; for, as he soon finds, the Doctor is the one responsible for this mad universe–by way of his own death!

It proves to be true. Years ago, in the Doctor’s third incarnation, rather than resolve the matter of the Silurians, he was put to death by them. Since then they have waged a war against the humans, and reclaimed the surface.  Now, the Doctor must find Benny, and gather what allies he can, and broker peace between the Silurians and the remnants of humanity while there is still time. With the help of old friends Jo Grant–here a feral former captive of the Silurians–and Liz Shaw, and the unwilling assistance of the Brigadier, the Doctor and Ace race to set things as right as they can, in a world that will never go back to the way it was.

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I did something with this novel that I don’t often do: I went in blind, or nearly so. Usually I have a good idea of where a novel will go before I read it; I don’t object to spoilers, and between fan discussions and wiki pages, I usually know how it will end. In this case, I’m glad I avoided those spoilers, because this novel leaves its characters in a very tense place at the end.

Far and away the biggest issue–from the perspective of the characters–is that their actions here come to nothing in the end. The Doctor, Ace, Benny, and their allies certainly save the day. But, this is, as I hinted, an alternate universe; the TARDIS enters it through a puncture of sorts in the vortex. It’s worse than that, though; slowly the Doctor becomes aware that this is an artificial universe. Someone managed to spin it off of the real universe, by preventing the Third Doctor from regenerating upon his death (an event which already deviates from the real universe even before the aborted regeneration!). That, in turn, steals energy from the real universe to maintain this one, meaning that the real universe will reach heat death billions of years early. Either the Doctor can allow both to live abbreviated existences, or he can eliminate this created universe to restore the main universe. He chooses the latter, which in turn will cause problems between himself and his companions…after all, it’s a cold decision to condemn an entire universe to death, isn’t it?

There’s another issue, much downplayed in the story, but conspicuous to any longtime fan: The TARDIS. Upon landing on Earth, the TARDIS almost immediately falls into a tar pit, from which the Doctor never retrieves it. Instead, he later takes the TARDIS left behind by his deceased third incarnation. That sounds like no big deal, perhaps, except that that TARDIS is lacking several hundred years of experiences and data–something that has the potential to come up again in many stories down the road. Slight spoiler: I understand from the wiki that he will eventually recover his original TARDIS, many stories down the road–but that creates another problem: The Doctor destroys this universe. Moreover he does it by time ramming his original TARDIS, destroying it, and releasing enough energy to destroy the universe.

It’s quite a busy story, with many moving parts, as it were; you’ll see that the continuity references section is quite full. And yet, despite the fact that the story is full of detail and fast-moving, it took me a long time to finish it. I don’t have a good explanation; it just felt very heavy and deliberate, I suppose. There are the usual VNA tropes; the Doctor is irritable, Benny gets sidelined for much of the story, Ace gets into an ill-advised relationship and gets angry at the Doctor, something bad happens to the TARDIS. Of much more interest are the alternate versions of old familiar characters. The Brigadier is not the man we knew; he’s been crystallized in terms of his worst characteristics, and yet he can still play the part of the old friend–which in turn makes him more dangerous than some villains. Jo Grant meets a bad end here (I won’t spoil how!), as does John Benton. Liz Shaw has survived mostly unscathed, despite a very traumatic life, and proves once again to be an underrated but valuable ally. The Silurians fall into a familiar pattern–military vs. science–but at least it’s handled fairly well. Most of the Silurians we meet here are holdovers from the Third Doctor television serial; but here they are given names, in keeping with the novelisation of The Silurians.

For once, I don’t mind the ending. It sets up well for the next few stories; the Doctor is left determined to get to the bottom of the situation, and find the person who interfered with time itself to trap him. One gets the sense that he’s offended at the meddling because it encroaches on his own territory–or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Likewise, I’m content with the tension between the Doctor and his companions here; after, for once, they have a good point–he did cause the death of a whole universe. It’s a catch-22 of sorts; there was just never going to be a good option. The Doctor did what he felt he must, but the truth isn’t clear; did he really make the right decision? We’ll see, perhaps.

Continuity References: This isn’t the only time we see the TARDIS fall through a puncture in the universal wall; we’ll see that again in Rise of the Cybermen. This story branches off from Doctor Who and the Silurians, picking up an alternate version of where that story left off. It draws several details, especially the names of the Silurians, from the novelisation of that story rather than the televised version. Ace’s friend Manisha–deceased in the real universe, but alive here–was first mentioned in Ghost Light, and elaborated upon in the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks. Time ramming between TARDISes is first mentioned in The Time Monster. In the original-universe TARDIS, the Doctor appears to possibly be using the secondary control room (The Masque of Mandragora). The Doctor recovers his dead third incarnation’s sonic screwdriver, last seen (on television anyway) in The Visitation. The alternate TARDIS’s temporal grace function is operational (The Hand of Fear, et al) as is its chameleon circuit (many stories, notably Logopolis) and HADS (The Krotons). Ace again mentions having left Spacefleet (Deceit, et al). The Doctor mentions the Guardians (The Ribos Operation, et al), Rassilon (The Five Doctors, et al), and the Master (Terror of the Autons, et al). He mentions the Autons and Nestene Consciousness (Spearhead from Space) to Liz Shaw. A prelude to this story was published in Doctor Who Magazine #205; you can read it here. Also, not continuity, but worth mentioning: Jim Mortimore has also published a “Director’s Cut” of the novel, largely divorced from Doctor Who (that is, with distinctive characters and concepts renamed), and greatly expanding most aspects of the book; I have not read it nor have access to it, but interested fans may want to look into it.

Overall: Mixed feelings again! On one hand, it’s a good story, includes lots of action, and sets up well enough for what lies ahead. On the other hand…it was such a drag to get through. Nevertheless, a lot of things happen here which will be important not only for the rest of the Alternate Universe arc, but also for the VNAs in general, so I can’t recommend skipping this one.

Next time: We’ll continue the Alternate Universe arc in The Dimension Riders, by Daniel Blythe! See you there.

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

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

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of the post. Today we begin the fifth and final portion of the anthology, titled “Family”, with entry number eleven: Gifts for Good, by anthology editor M.H. Norris. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute. Sales of the anthology come to a close TODAY, 2 April 2019, so if you would still like to purchase a copy, act soon! (I will be finishing this series even after the sale period closes—we’re near the end now!)

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norris Title Card 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: The Circles of Drel, by Harry King! See you there.

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeLucia Title Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology, and “Swinging Londons” by Jon Black

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

A quick—and very relevant—apology: I set out to post one review per weekday for the duration of this project; but, and I am sorry, I’ve already got behind on that goal. There’s a very good reason for that, though, which brings us to today’s entry. The story we’re visiting is Jon Black’s Swinging Londons; and this massive entry is the single longest contribution to the anthology. I’m reading the ebook version, and so my page numbers won’t match up to the print edition; so I’ll say that the story comprises more than a fourth of the entire anthology. As you can imagine, with my day job as well, this story took me some time to finish. I think you’ll see, though, that it was worth the time! The editor, in her introduction, compliments the author on his grasp of historical fiction, his primary field; and in this story, that specialty pays off. I agree with her assessment that the story should take all the time it needs, both in the writing and the reading.

As a reminder, this review will include spoilers, including a plot summary—you can see the first post for my reasoning as to why. Also, at the end, I’ll include a link to purchase the anthology, and a link to the charity it supports. With that said, let’s get started!

Black Title Card

1972: Sarah Jane Smith finds herself stranded in a traffic jam on the M4 motorway. When her curiosity gets the better of her, she makes her way to the front, and finds a UNIT roadblock. Ahead, London can be seen—or rather, can’t be seen, as it lies under an enormous dome of energy. Sarah is caught completely off guard by the sight of a dragon flying out of the dome! The dragon is quickly dispatched by UNIT troops, and Sarah—by order of Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart—is whisked away by helicopter to one of UNIT’s bases. There she rejoins the Doctor for a briefing, in which the truth is revealed: London is the center of a large temporal anomaly. The Doctor compares it to a child’s tower of blocks; but in this case, the blocks consist of various alternate realities, other versions of London from throughout the multiverse, each of which is a product of a different chain of historical events. Those realities are continually swapping—or “swinging”, as Sarah will come to think of it—into the place of her own London. If left unchecked, the rate of swinging will increase, until a threshold is reached, and either one reality—not necessarily their own—remains, or all realities collapse into nonexistence.

Naturally, the Doctor has a plan to stop it, or rather, the beginning of one; but it will require entering the disturbance to map the temporal coordinates of eleven different realities, one for each of the eleven dimensions of spacetime. He wants Sarah Jane to join him.

Inside London, the Doctor begins his project, using a dimensional compass to map the coordinates. However, upon the first swing to a new reality, he is separated from Sarah. She finds herself progressing through various Londons, each time only retaining fragments of her memory, each time blending in and yet sure that something is not right here. Several times, a strange, cloaked figure tries to reach her; she only escapes when the next swing happens.

Sarah finds herself trapped for a longer period—days? Weeks? She doesn’t know—in a reality where mammalian life never arose. There she befriends a large, semi-intelligent horseshoe crab, calling it “Arthur”; and there her memories at last reassemble themselves. Ever after, she will experience some disorientation in various Londons, but she will never again lose herself. However, there is a problem: She appears to have stopped swinging to different Londons. She waits until she grows desperate; and suddenly the swings begin again. To her surprise, Arthur is transported along with her, having forged a bond with her. To her further shock, after a few swings, Arthur no longer stands out, and the locals—regardless of the reality—accept him as a native.

Sarah and Arthur at last manage to reconnect with the Doctor, in the company of no less a worthy than Salvador Dali, who is strangely aware—on his own—of their status as time travelers. The Doctor explains that he has discovered that they were separated because he is not a native of London; but he has created a garment that will “trick” the anomaly into treating him as one; therefore the problem of separation is resolved. Dali, meanwhile, helps them get back on track with their mapping, before the next swing pulls them away.

Along the way, Sarah makes friends of a band of Celtic warriors with a bizarre mix of modern and archaic weapons—rifles alongside swords. Later, she and the Doctor are at last intercepted by the hooded, cloaked figure—who reveals herself to be a strangely pallid version of Sarah Jane herself! The Doctor promptly dubs her Two, referring to his own Sarah Jane as One. The woman explains that she believes the anomaly stems from her own version of London. In that world, the sun has grown dim due to an apparently natural disruption in spacetime which is siphoning off its hydrogen. Over the two hundred years since, humanity has adapted to the dark and cold; their bodies have grown pale in the dimness, and their cities have become domed hives, Archologies as they are called, in which humanity tapped first the declining solar power, and then geothermal heat, to survive. But it wasn’t enough; and then, a group of scientists learned to tap the power inherent in the fabric of reality itself. More specifically, they tapped the potential power in the fabric of other, potential realities; all the while, their Director, who leads Archology One (their London), denied that those realities actually exist, or could be inhabited. Frustrated, Linus Venkatagiri, a scientist of Two’s acquaintance, conspired with Two to prove that the realities are inhabited—and thus endangered—in the only way available: By hijacking some of the generating apparatus to send Two into them to bring back proof.

The Doctor and Sarah’s completed mapping project confirms her words. Using the TARDIS, the Doctor takes Sarah Jane, Two, and Arthur back to Archology One, where they connect with Linus. The group lays plans to stop the energy-harvesting project before the realities collapse; but they are captured by the Director’s Security forces, led by a general…one General Alicia Lethbridge-Stewart, that is. Sarah Jane is shocked to see that the Brigadier’s counterpart is a woman, but keeps it to herself.

Confronted at last by the Director, the group tries to persuade him to stop the project, but the request is denied; the Director is willing to save Archology One at any cost, even that of millions of other Londons. He orders them executed; but with the help of General Lethbridge-Stewart, who has not trusted the Director for months, they escape.

The Doctor and Linus concoct a plan. If they can realign the harvesting system to draw power from one world only, they can create a stable tunnel to that world, allowing time for society to relocate and resettle. There is even a likely candidate world: Arthur’s world, uninhabited by humans. However, the Director will never allow it to happen; and so they plan to defend themselves. Gathering allies—a ragtag group of loyal Security forces, a group of janitors with criminal pasts, and Sarah Jane’s Celtic friends, plucked from their own London—they fall back to the control facility for the harvesting system, located in an old, well-defended manor.

The attack comes soon after, and Sarah Jane finds herself in the unexpected position of directing part of the battle. After all, this is a world that has been at peace for a very long time, and its people have a weak grasp of tactics. Ultimately, the defenders are pushed by sheer weight of numbers back into the corridors outside the control room, and at last into the control room itself. Hand-to-hand combat ensues, with even the Doctor and Arthur getting into the fight; but defeat seems imminent—until Linus throws the final switch…

Much later, the Doctor sits in conference with the Brigadier and other members of unit. Reality has been restored; the bridge between Archology One and Arthur’s world has been opened. The Director has been deposed, and plans are underway to transplant the population of Archology One’s dying Earth to their new home. But all is not well; Sarah Jane and Arthur remain missing. As the Doctor relates, the completion of the bridge occurred after the “event horizon” of the breakdown of realities. While it successfully restored things to normal, there was a momentary burst of reality-swinging at the moment of activation, in which anyone native to London—but not Archology One—would be hurled out at random into the mass of realities. The Doctor had already shed his native-illusion garment, in order to remain in place to ensure the completed transition; but Sarah Jane, Arthur, and the surviving Celtic warriors, all were lost in that moment. He has been searching for nearly a month for her, but has yet to find her.

He has just mentioned his plans to memorialize her, when the door of the conference room opens, and Sarah Jane enters, with Arthur at her heels, and with a story to tell.

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If I may draw an analogy which will be familiar to fans of Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who audio dramas, I would consider this story to be the UNIT: Dominion of this anthology. The parallels are obvious: UNIT involvement, parallel realities, strange creatures, alternate versions of familiar characters…and of course, this is the longest entry, while UNIT: Dominion is Big Finish’s longest Doctor Who audio to date. I mean this comparison in the most complimentary way; I found this story to be very enjoyable. My summary above, constrained by time, would give the impression that this story is cramped and tumultuous, but it is neither. I think it’s fair to say that the length of the story is exactly what is needed to tell this story properly.

I’m a fan of the UNIT stories, and especially the classic stories involving the Brigadier, Benton, and the rest. I admit that when I started this project, I was not expecting any such stories; I expected anything directly involving the Doctor to be at a minimum, as the anthology focuses on Sarah Jane. This entry came as a pleasant surprise. In it I saw parallels with other stories: there’s a bit of Inferno from television, a bit of Genocide from the Eight Doctor Adventures novel line, a bit of Time Tunnel from the Short Trips audio range… At the same time, the story never copies from any of those sources. That’s the beauty of writing in this universe: there’s a wealth of material, and there will always be pleasant echoes, while at the same time having no need to imitate.

I will admit to having some trouble with the portrayal of the Doctor here—and, in conjunction with that, with placing the story in relation to the television series. Very late in the story, we for the first time get a description of the Doctor that can be positively identified; with a description of his white hair and clothing, it’s clearly indicated to be the Third Doctor. However, his behavior throughout the story, as well as his speech, is much more like the Fourth Doctor. For reference, I rewatched a few Fourth Doctor episodes (mostly Season 17) while reading, and found I could almost not picture anyone else in this story. Further complicating this is that Harry Sullivan is present at the briefing near the beginning of the story, which is also attended by Sarah Jane and the Doctor; Harry, of course, didn’t join the cast until Robot, the Fourth Doctor’s first story, and I am reasonably certain that the Doctor was unfamiliar with him prior to that story. Also, the chameleon circuit on the TARDIS works, albeit in limited fashion; it was the Fourth Doctor who would much later attempt to repair it, not the Third. I can only imagine that these are just mistakes on the author’s part, and they don’t greatly impact the story—I have no desire to split hairs over this—but they did make it harder to picture the Third Doctor in the role.

Still, as problems go, that one is minimal; and it’s the only issue I had. The story was a slow starter for me, but picked up quickly, and once truly begun, I found it hard to put it down.

There are a few bits of humor and meta-humor worth mentioning here. I mentioned that the story is set in 1972; but the society of Archology One is ahead of its time, complete with smartphones (under a different name) and even a form of the internet…that apparently includes a version of Reddit (!), as Two uses the term “TL;DR” at one point (with Sarah Jane laboring over what it means). (Full disclosure: I’m aware that the term, meaning “Too Long; Didn’t Read”, predates Reddit; but these days it’s almost ubiquitously associated with Reddit, and I can only assume the author had Reddit in mind when he included it.) Elsewhere, when Sarah Jane and her doppelganger suggest that the Doctor refer to them as “One” and “Two”, he snarkily comments about it:

“That’s not a little demeaning and dehumanizing?” the Doctor asked, “Referring to different incarnations of the same individual only by number?”

Point well taken, Three. Point well taken.

Overall: This story alone will make the anthology worth a look (though not to discredit the other stories, of course). It’s a fun, fast-moving, fast-shifting, self-aware story that features a great cast, sometimes in unexpected roles and places. Occasionally it may move a bit too fast, but those moments are rare; just enough to suggest that it would be just as good if lengthened into a novel. I’m not familiar with Jon Black’s other work, but I would be pleased to see him carry on producing material here in the Whoniverse.

Next time: Back to the shorter entries, we’ll check out Flow, by Niki Haringsma. See you there!

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

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Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today—finally—we have reached the fiftieth entry in the main range, which also serves as Doctor Who’s fortieth anniversary story: Zagreus, written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell. The story was released in November 2003, fifteen years ago as I write this review, and was directed by Gary Russell. It featured every Doctor and companion actor to have performed in Big Finish’s productions to date, although nearly all appeared in new roles here. The story is famously bizarre and trippy; and, well, I will say up front that the rumors are both correct and unable to do it justice. I can’t promise that anything I say here will do it justice, either; it’s hard to even wrap your head around a story like this, let alone sum it up. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a try. Let’s dig in!

Zagreus 1

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

Due to the extreme length and detail of this story, I’m going to break my own pattern today and leave out the usual plot summary. Several good summaries already exist; therefore I will point you to the summary that can be found at the TARDIS wiki, or the summary at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Zagreus 2

Yep, it’s exactly this weird. Credit to Roger Langridge, DWM 340.

Despite having discussed it many times on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, and despite having listened to the audio dramas that lead up to it, I still didn’t truly know what I was getting into with Zagreus. For one thing, the story is very long; it’s the longest entry to date in the main range, at three hours and fifty-six minutes, and the second longest in all of BF’s Doctor Who audio dramas. (Only UNIT: Dominion–which is excellent, and which I hope to cover eventually—is longer, by a measly two minutes.) If the average main range audio is a serial, and the average Eighth Doctor Adventures story is a NuWho episode, then Zagreus is a feature film, or possibly a trilogy of films. For another thing, the story takes many familiar actors and scrambles them like eggs (via new roles); the resulting omelette is…well, it is definitely different.

Zagreus picks up where Neverland–which feels like a very long time ago to me; I covered it more than a year and a half ago)–left off, just after the TARDIS and the Doctor absorb the explosion of the anti-time casket. This transforms the Doctor’s mind into a strange, raging beast that takes the name and identity of the mythical Zagreus. Most of the story then proceeds inside the TARDIS, and also on a place called the Foundry of Rassilon, which is at least nominally located on Gallifrey. The Doctor, Zagreus, and the TARDIS all battle their respective foes and selves to establish their identities. At the end, it is discovered that there is another hand at work in these events; and in the end, the characters are—for the most part—saved from destruction. However, the Doctor still is not rid of the anti-time infection; and he cannot be allowed out into the universe any longer. If he makes contact with the normal universe, the infection will escape, and bring all of time to an end (or worse: a state of never having been). Instead, he chooses exile in the anti-time universe, called hereafter the Divergent Universe after the name of its dominant species, the Divergence. Unknown to him, Charley Pollard chooses to go with him.

Most actors appear in different roles, as I have mentioned; but a few appear as their usual characters. Lalla Ward appears as President Romana; Louise Jameson appears as Leela; John Leeson, as K9 (Romana’s K9, in this instance; Leela and Sarah Jane, of course, have their own, who do not appear here). Miles Richardson appears very briefly as Cardinal Braxiatel, and Don Warrington appears as Rassilon. Charley Pollard is the true central character of the story, and as such, India Fisher appears in her usual role; and Nicholas Courtney, while not appearing as the actual Brigadier, appears as a simulation thereof. As well, posthumous voice clips of Jon Pertwee (taken from the Devious fan production) were used to reproduce the voice of the Third Doctor, though he does not appear corporeally in this story. The entire cast, with roles, can be found on the story pages for Zagreus at the TARDIS wiki and at Big Finish’s site. Of special interest is that Big Finish’s site does not credit Paul McGann as the Doctor, but only as Zagreus, though he fills both roles. This is the first appearance in audio of both Leela and K9, though both will go on to figure prominently in the Gallifrey series and other places. Likewise, Braxiatel appears for the first—and only—time in the main range here, though he too will appear in Gallifrey. The story is a three-parter, and only four actors—Peter Davison, Nicholas Courtney, India Fisher, and Paul McGann—appear in all three parts. More sadly, it is Elizabeth Sladen’s only appearance in the main range, and her only work with any of the Doctor actors in Big Finish, due to her untimely death.

I’ve described this story as trippy, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s hard to follow. It flows very directly, with two parallel plot threads (one for the Doctor/Zagreus, one for Charley). However, the story is filled with mindscapes and illusions and visitations by past Doctors; in that sense, it can be thought of as a sort of bookend for The Eight Doctors. Both the Doctor and Charley are subject to these visions; and, given that they provide the viewpoints for the story, it becomes a little difficult to know what is real and what isn’t. (Here’s the cheater’s version: almost everything in parts one and two is illusory—though valid and important; there are few red herrings here—while part three is reality.) At first the story feels as though it’s wandering; it tells several narratives that don’t seem to be related to anything. I didn’t have any trouble maintaining interest, though, as each narrative is well-told and interesting enough on its own. Soon enough, they all come together, as Zagreus—the monster, not the story—reaches its endgame.

The problems, I think, are twofold. First and foremost: this story is not what we were promised. Not that I’m saying that we, the audience, were literally promised anything; but the lead-up in the various preceding stories would have suggested something much different than what we ultimately got. Zagreus is supposed to be a universe-ending monster that consumes the unsuspecting and undoes time itself; but when you consider that the entire story occurs within the confines of the TARDIS (or the second location, which is also confined), with no one in danger but the Doctor himself, it quickly becomes apparent that Zagreus is sort of a joke. Were he to be unleashed on the universe, he might become the promised monster; as it is, he’s a Schrodinger’s Cat of unrealized potential. Indeed, the story itself uses the same metaphor in part one, and it’s very apt. It subverts the usual Doctor Who trope of the universe-ending catastrophe, but it doesn’t feel clever for subverting it; it just feels like we were a bit cheated. The second problem is related: this is, for better or worse, an anniversary story; and we’ve come to expect something exceptional from an anniversary story. (Well, perhaps not as much as we expect it after The Day of the Doctor, but still…) As the Discontinuity Guide puts it: “Oh dear. An eighteen-month wait – for this!” I’m not sure what I would have done differently; but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.

Still, it’s not entirely out of step with Big Finish’s other stories; and we did just come off of a run of experimental stories. Perhaps Zagreus is best thought of as the last of those stories, rather than as an anniversary story; in that regard it fits right in. For me, the worst part is that I greatly suspect that Zagreus–the monster, not the story–will turn out to be forgotten and never mentioned again. You can’t just create a universe-ending threat and then pretend it didn’t happen–but it won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. So much wasted potential!

Continuity: There are a great many continuity references here, and I can’t be sure I’ve found or compiled them all. Charley has met the Brigadier before, in Minuet in Hell; Romana also has done so, in Heart of TARDIS. This story proposes that Romana and Leela are meeting for the first time; but this contradicts the events of Lungbarrow, which takes place at the end of the Seventh Doctor’s life, and which makes it clear that they have known each other on Gallifrey for some time. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS briefly as Bessie (last seen in Battlefield). The Doctor finds a copy of Through the Looking-Glass; Ace previously read it in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible. There are hints that Project Dionysus (seen in one of the simulations) was under the auspices of the Forge (Project: Twilight, et al). The Brigadier paraphrases the Doctor from The Five Doctors regarding being the sum of one’s memories—a quote he shouldn’t know, but…spoilers! The Yssgaroth get a couple of mentions (State of DecayThe Pit). The Doctor sees a vision of the planet Oblivion (Oblivion), the Oracle on KS-159 (Tears of the Oracle), the removal of one of his hearts (The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) and a crystal Time Station (Sometime Never, and possibly Timeless). The effect of all of these latter visions is to place the novel series—from which all of them are drawn—in a separate continuity from the audios, which allows for various noted contradictions going forward. Likewise, another vision shows the Time Lords with great mental powers (Death Comes to Time).

The Sisterhood of Karn appears, though not by name (The Brain of Morbius, et al). The TARDIS has a history of generating sentient avatars (A Life of Matter and DeathThe Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe). Gallifrey has a watchtower (The Final Chapter). The statue from Sivler Nemesis is mentioned, as well as Rassilon’s various accoutrements and the De-Mat Gun (The Invasion of Time). The Oubliette of Eternity is mentioned (Sisterhood of the Flame). Cardington appears in a vision (Storm Warning). The Doctor mentions meeting Rasputin (The WandererThe Wages of Sin). Charley mentions the Doctor escaping from Colditz Castle (Colditz), which she did not witness, but the Doctor has mentioned. The Doctor refers to John Polidori (Mary’s Story). Charley and Leela have met before, but do not remember (The Light at the End). The Fifth Doctor paraphrases the Fourth Doctor from Logopolis: “I very much fear that the moment’s not been prepared for.” The Tower of Rassilon appears, along with the Death Zone (The Five Doctors). Fifth Doctor lines from Warriors of the Deep and The Caves of Androzani are also quoted, as well the Seventh Doctor from Survival: “If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!” Gallfrey will in the future be empty (Dead RomanceHell Bent). The Doctor suggest that power will corrupt Romana; this comes true in The Shadows of Avalon. The Doctor mentions a beryllium clock (TV movie). Vortisaurs are mentioned (Storm Warning, et al). Transduction inducers are first mentioned in The Deadly Assassin. The Rassilon Imprimature—mentioned here, but not by name—is first mentioned in The Two Doctors. The TARDIS has a back door (LogopolisGenocide). Various monsters are mentioned in quick succession—Mandrells, Hypnotrons, Drashigs, Daleks, Yeti, Quarks.

Overall: Not a bad story. I enjoyed it quite well. On the other hand, it’s definitely not what I expected—if I expected anything. Certainly it feels more appropriate as an experimental story than as an anniversary story, as I mentioned. Most importantly, it serves to get the Doctor and Charley into the Divergent Universe, where they will spend the next several adventures. It’s a story I am glad to have heard once, but I probably won’t come back to it. Still, it’s unique, and I can’t say I regret it. Moving on!

Next time: Well, that was a lot to take in. We’ll take a break with the Sixth Doctor (and introduce another popular character, Iris Wildthyme!) in The Wormery. See you there!

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

Zagreus

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Audio Drama Review: Time Tunnel

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Time Tunnel, the third entry into the fifth season of the Short Trips range. This Third Doctor story was written by Nigel Fairs and directed by Lisa Bowerman, and is read by Katy Manning. The story was published on 5 March, 2015. Let’s get started!

Time Tunnel 1

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

UNIT receives word of a problem at a railway tunnel in Sussex. Trains are entering the tunnel as normal, but emerging with the drivers and passengers dead—and not just dead, but long dead, as though they had aged immensely before death. This word reaches the Doctor and Jo Grant as the Doctor is making adjustments to Jo’s transistor radio, which is picking up some very odd signals. Nevertheless, they head to the tunnel to investigate. The tunnel already has an odd reputation; a legend has it that the devil himself is trapped beneath it, and that he is responsible for the huge rocks that loom over its entrance.

The Doctor, over the Brigadier’s objections, takes a train engine alone through the tunnel. He arrives at the other side a bit more aged, and very hungry, but with some interesting results: He believes he has been in the tunnel for a very long time. He claims that the only reason he survived was that, as a Time Lord, he was able to induce a sort of coma that let him survive. Now the Brigadier wants to destroy the tunnel, but the Doctor pleads for a chance to deal with the situation first; clearly there is more going on here than dynamite can address. The Brigadier has already received his orders, and set the demolition in motion; the Doctor has only a short time to work with. He prepares to enter the tunnel again—this time on foot.  He believes that the time dilation effect is only triggered when entering at speed; he expects no problems when walking. Unknown to him, however, Jo follows him in.

Her disobedience saves his life. She finds him suspended in a sort of energy barrier, in pain; and when he is able to back out of it, she catches him. Back outside, as the detonation is carried out, the Doctor explains what he learned. It seems that, centuries ago, something was buried under the mountain—but it wasn’t the devil; it was an alien ship. The alien aboard seems to live in a different sort of timestream than humans, one that moves at a much slower pace. With its ship damaged, it has sent out a distress signal—one that, as the Doctor demonstrates, Jo’s radio was picking up. The signal, when sped up, is a call for help, aimed at the alien’s own species. However, the problem in the tunnel is a result of leakage from the damaged engines—leakage of time energies. With the tunnel destroyed, it should no longer be a problem.

Still, one question remains unanswered. Why now? If the ship has been there for centuries, why is it only now intersecting with human reality? The Doctor admits that they may never know for sure…until “help” arrives, that is. But—and here the Doctor glances longingly at the TARDIS in the corner of his lab—he doesn’t expect any of them will be around to see it by then.

Time Tunnel 2

I’m fond of Third Doctor stories—although I grew up watching reruns of Tom Baker’s serials, I feel more affection for Jon Pertwee’s era, having watched it all in the years since. As well, as I’ve mentioned before, Katy Manning does a surprisingly good impression of the Third Doctor (cross-gender impersonations are always a roll of the dice, but she consistently delivers perhaps the best one I’ve ever heard). Therefore, I started this story with a few points already in its favor; and I’m glad I did, because it needed them in the end.

It’s an interesting premise: Trains go into a tunnel as usual, but emerge with everyone aboard not only dead, but horribly aged. It even proceeds well; the Doctor, being somewhat resistant to time-based effects, decides to take a train into the tunnel and, well, see what happens. Where it falls down is at the end; the Doctor doesn’t really do anything. And while that makes for realism—there will always be the occasional problem that can’t actually be solved—it doesn’t make for interesting storytelling.

I’m willing to overlook it, though, on one condition: That someone writes a sequel. There’s a good hook at the end—not quite a cliffhanger, because the eventual resolution is expected to be a long time in the future, but a hook. There’s promise for a better resolution later. I won’t spoil exactly what that hook is, but I’d like to see it delivered upon.

One thing is definitely consistent with the Pertwee/UNIT era: The difference between the Doctor’s approach and the Brigadier’s. The Doctor wants to research and negotiate; the Brigadier wants to blow things up. It’s not as dramatic as it is in, say, Doctor Who and the Silurians; our monster of the week—which we never actually see, incidentally—is heavily implied to be unharmed at the end. Still, we continue a fine tradition of the Brigadier destroying things over the Doctor’s objections (and blaming it on Geneva). It’s good to see some things never change.

There are—surprisingly for a Short Trip—a fair few continuity references, which incidentally help to place this story by way of the things we know have already taken place. Jo makes a comparison between the folly at the mouth of the tunnel and the castle on Peladon (The Curse of Peladon). Devil’s End and Azal get a mention, also by Jo (The Daemons). Mike Yates refers to “tentacled monsters” (The Claws of Axos). The Brigadier makes reference to having met three versions of the Doctor (The Three Doctors). Yates also mentions having served in the regular Army (The Rings of Ikiria). I should note that I discovered that last reference via the wiki, but hesitated to include it, because I am not sure of the chronological placement of that story (which I have not yet heard). Its entry mentions the Brigadier turning on Yates, but I am not sure if this is a temporary action as part of the story, or if it occurs during Mike’s downfall on the television series (From The Green Death to Planet of the Spiders). Therefore I don’t know yet if it is in Mike’s future at the time of this story. Perhaps someone reading this will know more.

Overall: A fairly weak Third Doctor story, which is a pity. I did enjoy it at first, but when I saw how it was progressing, it didn’t really hold my interest. On to the Fourth Doctor!

Next time: We’ll meet up with the Fourth Doctor and Leela in The Ghost Trap. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions. This story’s purchase page is linked below.

Time Tunnel

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Novel Review: The Eight Doctors

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! It’s been awhile since we looked into the world of Doctor Who novels, but here we go again. I set out to review Vampire Science, the second of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, but then discovered to my embarrassment that I never covered the first. It’s been several months since I read it, so my observations may be less thorough than usual; but, without further ado, let’s get started on The Eight Doctors (1997), by Terrance Dicks!

Eight Doctors 1

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

Immediately after the events of Doctor Who (the 1996 television movie, which gave us the regeneration of the Seventh Doctor into the Eighth), the Doctor returns to his TARDIS. He finishes reading The Time Machine (begun during the movie), then checks the Eye of Harmony—where he falls victim to the Master’s final trip. It erases his memory, leaving him in possession of his name—“the Doctor”—and orders to trust the TARDIS…but nothing else.

The TARDIS lands on its own at 76 Totter’s Lane in London in 1997. He intercepts a teenager named Samantha “Sam” Jones, who is running from some drug dealers led by one Baz Bailey; Baz correctly thinks that Sam told the police about his activities. Baz intends to force Sam to take cocaine, causing an addiction that will both punish her and ensure her silence. The Doctor rescues her, but is then caught himself by the police, who believe he is the one dealing the cocaine (as he had it in hand when they arrived). Meanwhile, Sam escapes to school, but tells two of her teachers the story while explaining her tardiness; she takes them to the junkyard to prove her story. At the same time, Bailey and his gang attack the police station to attempt to recover the drugs (as their own suppliers will not be pleased with the loss). The Doctor escapes during the attack, and takes the cocaine back to the TARDIS for disposal…but as the ship dematerializes, Sam is left on her own to deal with Bailey.

Flying more or less on its own, the TARDIS lands on Earth in 100,000 BC. The Eighth Doctor meets the First, just as the First Doctor is about to kill a caveman. He stops his past self from this heinous act, and the two psychically link, restoring the Eighth Doctor’s memories up to this point in the First Doctor’s life. These events have occurred in a time bubble, which allows them to converse without being noticed by anyone; but the First Doctor tells the Eighth to go before the bubble bursts and damages the timeline. The Eighth Doctor takes off again in his TARDIS.

His next stop takes him to the events of The War Games. Here he lands in the vicinity of the survivors of the Roman Legions, and is captured and sent to the headquarters location at the center of the war zones. He meets the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, and Zoe Heriot. Another time bubble forms, allowing him to make psychic contact with his past self, and restores the next segment of his memories; then he advises the Second Doctor to contact the Time Lords for intervention in the War Lords’ plans. He departs again.

Returning to Earth in 1972, the TARDIS lands at UNIT HQ. The Third Doctor and Jo Grant, meanwhile, having just defeated the Sea-Devils, have tracked the Master back to his previous haunt of Devil’s End, where his TARDIS awaits. After a brief standoff with white witch Olive Hawthorne, the Master escapes in his TARDIS. The Third Doctor and Jo return to UNIT HQ, where they discover the Eighth Doctor. The Third Doctor shares a psychic link with his Eighth self, but not willingly; he blames his previous encounter with the Eighth Doctor, during his second incarnation, for the circumstances that led to his exile. The Eighth Doctor—whose memories are starting fill in the gaps as more segments are added—assures the Third Doctor that he will be released from exile, and will even end his life with a noble sacrifice one day. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Master, who attempts to kill the Third Doctor; but the two of them are able to overpower him and drive him off. In the process, the Third Doctor captures the Master’s tissue compression eliminator, and threatens his other self with it, stating he could demand the Eighth Doctor’s working TARDIS…but he relents and gives his other self the weapon, choosing to stay.

The TARDIS next takes the Eighth Doctor back to a time prior to the destruction of the Logopolitan CVEs, and into E-Space, where he meets his Fourth self on the planet of the Three Who Rule. The Doctor has just killed the great vampire, but a few lesser vampires remain…notably one Lord Zarn. He captures Romana and uses her to lure in the Fourth Doctor, intending to transform them into a new king and queen of the vampires. The Fourth Doctor rescues her, but is caught himself, and nearly drained of blood before the Eighth Doctor can find him. He provides an emergency blood transfusion as the local peasants arrive and finish off the vampires. With more memories intact, he departs.

Interlude: On Gallifrey, the Doctor’s timeline-crossing has not gone unnoticed. Flavia, who is currently president after the Sixth Doctor’s sham trial some years ago, refuses to execute the Doctor for this crime, but keeps him under observation. A political rival, Ryoth, grows angry at this decision, and surreptitiously contacts the Celestial Intervention Agency. They refuse to get involved, but offer to secretly support him; they give him access to the Time Scoop. He uses it to send the Raston Warrior Robot (still in the Death Zone after The Five Doctors) to the Eye of Orion, where the Fifth Doctor is trying to take a vacation with Tegan Jovanka and Vislor Turlough. However, the Eighth Doctor arrives, and the presence of identical brain patterns in two places confuses the robot, leaving it immobile. Ryoth then sends a Sontaran patrol to the planet. The patrol apprehends the Doctors, but they convince the leader, Vrag, to reactivate the robot. It immediately begins slaughtering the Sontarans. Quickly the Doctors put together a device to generate temporal feedback; Ryoth’s next target, a Drashig, is redirected into the Time Scoop chamber. It promptly eats both Ryoth and the Time Scoop, before being destroyed by the guards.

The Eighth Doctor then lands on the space station where the Sixth Doctor’s trial is just ending…in his execution. The resultant time bubble allows both Eight and Six to escape, but they realize something is wrong. This timeline, in which the Sixth Doctor was found guilty, is not the real one; it has been forced into existence by the Valeyard. Somewhere, the actual trial goes on. As that false timeline has been interrupted, this version of the Sixth Doctor will soon also vanish. They rush to Gallifrey, and speak with then-president Niroc. [I have to step out of character for a second here. Gallifreyan presidency rarely makes sense. Flavia became president at the end of Trial of a Time Lord, and then was forced to step down for political reasons; she was replaced by Niroc, and then later re-elected, bringing us to the point at which we met her earlier while monitoring the Doctor’s progress. Whew!] They force an inquiry into the legitimacy of the trial, and enlist former president Flavia to help. In so doing, they step into a brewing rebellion among the Shobogans in and around the capital. The Sixth Doctor finally vanishes during the inquiry. The inquiry exposes a conspiracy among the Valeyard, Niroc, and the Celestial Intervention Agency—with the Master thrown in just for chaos’ sake. As the rebellion erupts, the Sixth Doctor’s real timeline reasserts itself, and it is seen that he has defeated the Valeyard inside the Matrix. The Eighth Doctor visits Rassilon’s tomb and persuades Rassilon’s ghost to release Borusa from his imprisonment; he takes Borusa, who is now very much absolved of his previous crimes, to the Panopticon, where he quickly asserts control of the situation and leads the Time Lords and Shobogans to a peaceful solution.

With Gallifrey sorted for the moment, the Eighth Doctor heads off to locate his Seventh self. The Seventh Doctor has become depressed in the knowledge that his life will soon end (thanks to his experiences in Lungbarrow), and has retreated to Metebelis 3 for contemplation. There he is captured by one of the giant spiders, who remembers the Third Doctor’s destruction of the spider colony. He is rescued by the Eighth Doctor, and a final psychic link fully restores the Eighth Doctor’s memories. The Eighth Doctor’s sympathy overrides his good sense, and he warns his past self not to answer a call that will soon come from an old enemy (that is, the Master, who wants the Doctor to carry his remains home—failing to do so would change the Eighth Doctor’s timeline). However, the Seventh Doctor, having become encouraged, decides to go anyway.

Meanwhile, the Master, ever one to lay a trap, visits a tribe called the Morgs. He obtains from them a deathworm, which allows them to survive death, but at the cost of their bodies and forms. He uses the deathworm on himself, then travels to Skaro, where he will be executed.

The Eighth Doctor returns to Rassilon’s tomb, and implies that Rassilon guided his journey. Rassilon congratulates him, and confirms it; this adventure allowed some loose ends to be tied up, most notably the infamous Ravolox incident (as Ravolox, aka Earth, has now been put back in place). But one loose end remains…

The Doctor returns to the scrapyard in 1997, and quickly rescues Sam from Baz Bailey, handing both Bax and the cocaine over to the police. Just as he prepares to leave, Sam leaps into the TARDIS. He doesn’t want to take her at first, but she insists on at least one trip to see the Universe. He tells her his name is Doctor John Smith; she points out that with names like Smith and Jones, they are perfect pair.

Eight Doctors 2

There’s a distinct difference between a good novel and an entertaining one, and few Doctor Who stories illustrate that as well as this one. The novel is almost one hundred percent fan service (and not in the sexual sense; in the sense of things that fans routinely want, such as past-doctor appearances). I love that kind of thing as much as the next person (and probably considerably more); but even I have to admit that this story serves as a cautionary tale about why such things are only good in moderation. I’ll say ahead of time that the book was a lot of fun to read; it has that going for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that—if you’re not reading for enjoyment, why are you reading? Now, with that said, let’s tear it apart.

Since this book is almost completely composed of continuity references, I won’t be able to list them all in a neat paragraph as I usually do. We’ll look at them from the perspective of the problems they cause, and other references will be scattered throughout. The book tries to serve as a bridge between the television movie (which left the Doctor with a blank slate and no companions) and the rest of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels—which, let’s not forget, were the only major Eighth Doctor stories for a long time. (I know there have been comics, but I’m not sure how they fit into the publication timeline.)

The book plays havoc with Gallifreyan presidential succession. It tries to salvage the notable character of Flavia from the end of The Five Doctors; that’s admirable enough, as Flavia is an interesting character with potential. However, it casts her as president, then promptly throws the succession into confusion with President Niroc, who is stated to be president during Trial of a Time Lord. It explains the proper succession, but the explanation is elaborate enough for its own bout of confusion. None of this, of course, deals with the fact that Lungbarrow–to which this book clearly refers—establishes that Romana should be president at this point in the Eighth Doctor’s life. (There’s a very short time between the end of Lungbarrow and the television movie, and this novel proceeds immediately thereafter; it’s unlikely that Romana was deposed and Flavia elected during that time. The events of Flavia’s term seen here could take place before the Eighth Doctor’s timeline; but then why, when monitoring him, does Flavia treat his Eighth incarnation as the current one? It’s never addressed.) This also contradicts a previous novel, Blood Harvest, which was also written by Terrance Dicks. It’s partially explained away by Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum in Unnatural History, where they explain that Rassilon has made improvements to the patterns of history…but it’s Lungbarrow that gets undone, not The Eight Doctors. (And what a pity! Lungbarrow is a much better novel.) Yet more layers of contradiction take place in The Shadows of Avalon and The Ancestor Cell (which I haven’t read yet, so bear with me).

There are lesser contradictions to other stories as well. Sam Jones mentions “silver monsters” having been seen once in Foreman’s Yard; this is a reference to Remembrance of the Daleks, but the Cybermen didn’t actually appear there in that story. The Eighth Doctor, when meeting the Brigadier with the Third Doctor, doesn’t realize he’s been promoted up from Colonel (post-The Web of Fear). However, even the Second Doctor should have known that, as he met him at the rank of Brigadier in The Invasion; therefore the Eighth Doctor should know, having already acquired the Second’s memories. The VNA Blood Harvest states that Borusa was still imprisoned in the Seventh Doctor’s time; to be fair, it also implies he may return to imprisonment voluntarily after a short freedom. The method of “vampirization” (for lack of a better word) seen during the Fourth Doctor’s scenes here contradicts other versions, including Blood Harvest, Goth Opera, and the soon-to-arrive Vampire Science; however, most of those stories are careful to observe that different versions of vampires may reproduce in different ways.

The largest issue I have with this story is that it is the novel equivalent of a clip show. A clip show (and I don’t know if the term is common in the UK as it is in America) is a late-series episode composed mostly of flashbacks and clips from past stories. It’s meant to provide a cheap, easy, filler episode, while bringing later viewers up to date. I understand why the EDA line would begin with such a story; Doctor Who was at a fragile point, having just finished up the VNA line, and just coming off a failed television movie. I imagine there was a perception of not having much to work with, and therefore any effort to tie this new series to the Classic Series in its heyday would have seemed like a no-brainer. One must establish that yes, this is the Doctor, and we will be going forward with him in this incarnation; but he is the same Doctor he’s always been. The problem is, clip shows don’t make good stories; and this one meanders from place to place. It dabbles in the First Doctor’s story, while diving deep into the Sixth; this kind of variation is everywhere throughout the book, and so it feels very uneven and unpredictable. It may have been the only way to begin the novel line, but it was not a good way.

With far too many continuity references to list, I’ll stop there, and just refer you to the TARDIS wiki for more information. Instead, let’s take a glance at our newest companion: Samantha “Sam” Jones. I am aware that there’s far more to Sam than meets the eye, with some interference in her history and timeline yet to be revealed; but none of that is apparent yet. She’s very much a television version of a 1990s teenager: bright, almost manic, witty, high-energy, and highly involved. I was reminded instantly of Lucie Miller from the Eighth Doctor Adventures audios, and having already read the next book, I’m convinced that Lucie’s character is directly inspired by Sam’s; the two could practically be twins. Sam is very much a character, though; she’s not very realistic, but she’s very well written. She’s exactly how I imagine an older adult writing the character of a teenager in the 1990s—and of course, that’s exactly what she is. Terrance Dicks is a fine author, but he’s no teenager, and there’s a little bit of “uncanny valley” when looking at Sam…she’s almost, but not quite, normal. Add in the scenes with the cocaine and drug dealers, and the sense of being a little disconnected with the 90s—but still familiar with its pop culture—deepens.

As for the Doctor, we don’t yet know what kind of man he will be. He’s certainly high-energy, but beyond that, he’s still a blank slate. He spends most of this book playing off of the characterization of his other incarnations, which is something that Terrance Dicks nails (and he should, by now, with the stacks of books he’s written). It’s been mentioned that you have to ask which Eighth Doctor you’re dealing with in any given story; the answer here is, “we don’t know”. I’ll report back as I finish more of the series.

None of this makes the book a bad read, and it’s worthwhile at least for introducing Sam’s character, although one should keep in mind that Sam’s involvement is only the frame to the rest of the story. When we meet her again, she will have been traveling with the Doctor for an undisclosed time, and he will also have had some independent travel in the middle of her time with him. While I can’t completely recommend the book, the completionist in me says that you should read it; but feel free to skip it if your tolerance for weak storytelling is low.

Next time: We’ll continue our Short Trips audios, and we’ll look at the next book in the Eighth Doctor Adventures: Vampire Science! See you there.

The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print; however you may find them at various used booksellers.

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