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

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we reach the end of our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we conclude the “Family” portion of the anthology with the fifteenth and final entry: Letters from the Heart, by Anne-Laure Tuduri. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Center, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuduri Title Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M. H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

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

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

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of the post. Today we’re continuing the “Family” portion of the anthology with entry number twelve: The Circles of Drel, by Harry King. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Institute, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Title Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault, by Sophie Isles. See you there!

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M. H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

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

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

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

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norris Title Card 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: When the Stars Come to Man, by William J. Martin

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing on our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of the post. Today—after some delay due to a power outage in my area–we’re concluding the “Investigations” portion of Sarah Jane’s life, with the tenth of fifteen stories in this anthology: When the Stars Come to Man, by William J. Martin. 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)

A star made of metal falls on upstate New York. The ship—for of course it is a ship—is a loss; but four spacesuited figures climb out. Very soon, the site is claimed, and developed.

Far away, and years later, Sarah Jane Smith, former investigative reporter and sometime savior of Earth, sits at lunch with her friends, Joshua Townsend and Natalie Redfern. Joshua, no stranger to Sarah’s investigations—especially into the mysterious White Chapter and Red Chapter—has brought news of a new topic of interest: A strange US Air Force base in upstate New York, that is showing strange signs of activity after five decades of abandonment. Two urban explorers are missing—and this is exactly the kind of thing Sarah and her friends investigate. Soon, they are on their way across the ocean to New York.

The former Baxter Air Force Base is quiet, overgrown with trees that have reclaimed the property—except that several large hangers, and a new gatehouse, show a surprising amount of upkeep. Outside the fence, Sarah dispatches Joshua and Natalie to check various spots. Natalie finds the gatehouse empty of life, but filled with computers with a strange atom logo on the screens. Joshua finds an opening through the fence—and is knocked unconscious, and taken away. Shortly thereafter a strange aircraft lands, and four people—much stranger than the craft itself—climb out. The four are possessed of strange abilities: one, introducing himself as Stephen Sinclair, can manipulate the atoms of his body into any shape and size, allowing him to stretch his body at will; his wife, Debbie Sinclair, can create energy shields and manipulate the density of her atoms. The third, Debbie’s brother Danny, calls himself Starblaze, and has the power to transform himself into photons and energy; and the fourth, the family’s friend Jacob, has phenomenal strength—but at the appearance of having his body transformed to living stone. This unlikely group of superheroes calls themselves the Quintessence Quartet…and Sarah Jane has encountered them before, if not in person. She explains to Natalie that they have been active since the 1960s, but suddenly vanished—or went underground, as Debbie explains.

At the revelation that Joshua is missing, the group allows Sarah and Natalie to join them, and Sinclair produces a life sign detector for finding Joshua. It reveals several lifeforms…all underground, beneath the hangars. The group moves to investigate. They quickly find that all the buildings are flimsy, looking to be not much more than movie sets, but that they each contain a tunnel that leads down, eventually converging into a master tunnel.

Meanwhile, Joshua awakens and finds himself a captive of the Red Chapter, which is bent on the fated destruction of humanity. He is quickly identified as the son of the leader of the White Chapter, which believes much the same as the Red, but seeks to save the world from destruction. Their differences are irrelevant right now, however, as it is revealed that the Red representatives here serve a greater power: the Mandragora Helix. And the Helix has detected intrusion. It quickly sends its minions to stop Sarah and the Quartet, transforming them into powerful warriors in order to meet the threat. Further, it is enraged to find Sarah jane, whom it calls the Herald of the Helix, and it vows to destroy her.

With battle joined, Sarah and her friends are overrun. Jacob and Danny volunteer to stay behind and handle the enemy, allowing the others to press on. They eventually find their way to a large control room, now vacant except for a groggy Joshua. As Sarah and Natalie help him up and free him, Sinclair and Debbie begin to activate the various computers in the room. They get a shock when they learn that the entire place is being controlled by an old familiar ally: an artificial intelligence named Gordon. Sinclair explains quickly how they got their powers: in the earliest days of the space race, he arranged a mission into space for himself and his three friends, anxious to get there before the Soviet Union; but their ship was exposed to a strange energy, and crashed back to Earth. The team survived, and found they were blessed with new powers. However, the ship was unrecovered, on this very site—and indeed, it appears it still exists, further down in the base. That ship was co-piloted by Gordon, who has somehow survived; and, augmented by the energy that struck the ship, he has begun to develop.

But that isn’t all. The files reveal that the energy isn’t just random; in fact it is an old enemy of Sarah Jane: the Mandragora Helix. The Doctor warned her, many years and some centuries ago, that the Helix would return—and so it has. Now, it seeks to control Gordon, and through him the entire area, right down to its very fabric, its stone and soil, to establish itself and control the world. It must be stopped.

Debbie quickly concludes the obvious: That means that the Quartet’s powers are also the work of the Helix. Sarah Jane concurs, but points out that this is cause for hope: After all, they’ve controlled it for decades, rather than the other way around.

Sinclair chooses to stay and continue trying to disrupt the Helix from here, sending Sarah, Josh, and Debbie on ahead to try to reach the ship and shut everything down. Natalie, quite adept at a computer herself, chooses to stay and help him. Meanwhile, up above, Danny and Jacob are in the fight of their lives—and slowly, they are losing. The enemies are closing in on the rest of the team.

Sarah, Josh, and Debbie make their way down to the deepest point of the base—and there they find the wrecked spaceship. It is guarded by a field of energy—and by two ominous jars containing badly mutated fetuses. Sarah realizes that these are the bodies of the two missing explorers, heavily twisted by the Mandragora Helix in its attempts to give itself a body on Earth. Leaving Debbie outside to stand guard. Sarah and Joshua push on inside, and confront a fully corrupted Gordon, serving as the mouthpiece for the Helix. Once he brought man to the stars…now he brings the stars to man. The Helix, speaking through it, is angry at Sarah, remembering her past involvement in its defeat.

Outside, one of the jars shatters, and Debbie—following a purpose she doesn’t fully understand—sends the mutant into the blackness that borders the ship.

Sarah confronts the Helix. She is no longer the young woman she once was, and she is no longer frightened of this being or its plans. She challenges it, and forces it to name its two victims, the explorers—and forces it to explain its plans. It acknowledges it wants to give itself form and walk the Earth before bringing about destruction. But it is interrupted by the arrival of the mutant child. The Helix screams in terror as its own creation comes to it, looping its own power back onto itself—an act that will be sufficient to force it back on itself, out to the stars where it belongs. Sarah and Josh try to flee, but cannot.

But all is not lost; for Natalie has determined the truth: the entire base, its buildings, even its soil, consists of Helix energy. Gordon has been controlling it, but his control is slipping. However, a human mind can do it, at least briefly. Sinclair knows the kind of control necessary—he’s been living it for years with his own treacherous body—but, as Nat points out, he can’t be the one to carry this burden. He has been sufficient to control the Helix energy in his body; but this amount, added to his own, will overwhelm him. It will take someone without any previous touch of the energy; and Natalie is the only one able to do so. She connects herself to the system.

Sarah and Joshua—along with the others—find themselves in a vast, constructed pit of sand and statues. Sarah sees that the slaves of the Helix are here as well; but the humans, Red Chapter though they may be, are fighting their master for control of themselves. They approach the monolith that represents the Helix. Sarah confronts the creature, and tells it of its ultimate defeat—and then the slaves release their store of Helix energy back into the monolith. This is the final step needed to banish the Helix. Creation explodes around them, and all goes dark.

One by one, Sarah and her friends awaken in the forest. Of the pit, and the base, there is no sign. Only a long trench is visible, at the end of which they can see the ruin of a spaceship. In the absence of the Helix energy, the area has reverted to the state it was in on the night the Helix came to Earth: the night of the crash, more than fifty years ago.

With the Helix vanished, Sarah and her friends bid the Quintessence Quartet goodbye, and watch them leave, taking the ruined ship with them. Then, they turn to make their own way home, another battle won. The White and Red Chapters may continue their war; but for now, the Helix is gone, and the Earth is safer than it was—and that is reward enough.

Martin Title Card

One of the difficulties of the charity anthology”scene”, if you will, is that we readers must really keep up. Anthology authors, like any other authors, will often want to have some continuity between their own stories, perhaps introducing characters or settings that will continue from one story to another. With licensed works, this usually isn’t an issue. Stories tend to remain available in some form, and there are resources such as the TARDIS wiki which can be consulted. Anthologies, on the other hand, tend to have print runs that are limited in both number and time; once it’s gone, it’s gone, as these books usually don’t get much resale traffic either. Nor are there encyclopedic references for charity works, such as there are for licensed works. So, when an author introduces a unique character, he or she has to either work hard at making each story stand alone, or just hope that the reader can keep up.

We’ve encountered some of this already: for example, our very first entry, The Sparks, included the character of Lola, who it seems has appeared in at least one more of the author’s stories; and also a meteor shower was mentioned, which the author covered elsewhere. Thus far the effect has been minimal, and the stories have been perfectly capable of standing alone. That changes today, with the introduction of the Quintessence Quartet.

I want to go on record immediately as saying that I am not, in any way, complaining about the characters. I found this story to be a rollicking good read, owing much to the comic books from which it takes inspiration. I’m only complaining (if I even want to use that word) that there’s clearly history here that I most likely won’t be able to appreciate, because it comes from a source that I won’t be able to track down.

The Quintessence Quartet are best described as a tribute to Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four. Their powers, appearances, and names are tweaked enough to not be a direct copy; but it’s overwhelmingly obvious what they represent. Even the name of the airbase in the story—Baxter Air Force Base—is a Fantastic Four reference, as the Fantastic Four have long worked out of a skyscraper called the Baxter Building. (I’ll admit I was testing my memory to come up with that fact; it’s been a great many years since I last read any Fantastic Four comics, and, well, we’re still waiting for a good movie treatment, in my opinion.) They’re a good tribute, though—a respectful one, saturated in the wholesomeness of Silver Age comics.

I suppose it didn’t help me, in my grasp of this story, that it takes place during the events of Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smithaudio series. This, too, is an era that I am unfamiliar with, although some research helped. The series, from what I have read, revolves around the battle between the White Chapter and the Red (or sometimes Crimson) Chapter, two offshoots of a single organization, both of which believe the end of the world is imminent. The Red Chapter seeks to hasten the end; the White Chapter seeks to prevent it. The Red Chapter appears here. The author deftly weaves it together with another established villain: the Mandragora Helix, from the Fourth Doctor serial The Masque of Mandragora (one I have seen, at least!). That serial predicted the return of the Helix at or near the end of the twentieth century—a thread that has been tugged in a few licensed stories, but never again on television. (For reference, compare the novels Beautiful Chaos and The Eleventh Tiger, and the comic The Mark of Mandragora.) The connection between the Helix and the Chapters is implied in the audio series, but not so explicitly as describe here (or so my sources indicate—I really should listen to the audio series).

But, enough complaining! Now for the good. For any fan of either the audio series or Marvel comics, this story is going to be pure fun. It’s long, one of the longer entries in the anthology, though much shorter than Swinging Londons; and yet it moves quickly, never lingering, much as the comics to which it pays tribute. Moreover, it’s upbeat—the characters, including Sarah Jane, are confident, peppy, and strong, without being annoying. More than any story I’ve read so far, this is a feel-good story, with none of the darkness and tragedy that usually accompanies a story in the Doctor Who universe. It makes me want to read more. (If anyone has experience with the author’s previous work involving the Quintessence Quartet, feel free to join in the comments!)

Overall: I was a little dismayed at first. Who are these people? What’s going on? There’s some explanation for each story in the editor’s introduction to the anthology, but even that wasn’t enough to prepare me for the way this story jumps right in. As well, I was concerned about the introduction of superheroes into the Doctor Who universe…until I was reminded that the television series already covered this ground, in The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Nevertheless, I’m glad I stuck with it. It made the teenage comic book reader inside me quite happy, and brought back good memories. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

Next time: We start the final section of the anthology, “Family”, with a contribution by the editor, M.H. Norris: Gifts for Good. 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.

The Sarah Jane Smith audio drama series may be purchased here.

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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 Sarah Jane: Superstar! By Joshua Wanisko and Lillian Wanisko

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 seventh entry of the anthology: Sarah Jane, Superstar! by Joshua and Lillian Wanisko. 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. Let’s get started!

Defending Earth (Cover)

Aliens on Earth don’t have many places to congregate—the world isn’t ready for that—but a few exist. One such is the Black Light Tavern, described by its starfishlike bartender, Gleep-Glop, as the armpit of the universe (and a starfish should know about armpits, being possessed of five of them). The decrepitude of the place is deliberate—it keeps the humans away. Mostly, that is. A few still find their way in; but eventually the pub comes to a sort of equilibrium with them. Sarah Jane Smith finds her way to the Black Light (so named because all of its advertising is written in ultraviolet ink, visible to many aliens natively, but to humans only with the help of a black light) for an unusual reason. It seems the pub is putting on a show, and—strange as it seems—the show is all about her! Yes, it’s all about Sarah in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Croydon: The Sarah Jane Story (no, really). She can’t resist investigating, and so it is that she finds herself playing herself…as an understudy. Uh…can’t win ‘em all?

No one believes her when she says she is really Sarah Jane Smith; but that hardly matters. As the play—no, the musical–nears readiness, Sarah meets many colorful individuals in addition to Gleep-Glop (whose real name is a bit beyond the average human): the haughty and stereotypical Director, who learned his fashion sense from a collection of clichés; his assistant and stage manager, Elisabeth, who is the Director’s polar opposite in every way (and is one of the few humans around); a 6’3”, wiry, foxlike alien named Linx (playing a Sontaran and singing about potatoes, no less); a blonde bombshell (not quite human, but close), serving as the main actress for the part of Sarah Jane; and the mysterious Author, who wrote the script. However, Sarah—real Sarah, not stage Sarah—can’t shake the fear that someone knows too much for comfort about her life, as the musical seems to cover all her adventures with the Doctor in startling—but inaccurate—detail.

At last it’s too much suspense, and so she breaks into the Director’s office to find the Author’s notes. She gets more than she bargained for; the Author is there—and he knows who she really is. After a brief negotiation, he refuses to tell her where he got his information; but he takes her on as a consultant, checking the accuracy of the play.

With his help, the others accept her for who she really is, and the days race by. However, there are disagreements with the Author about the details that Sarah wants to correct; and finally, it comes to a head, and she quits the play and returns home. All seems well for a few days, until she receives an unexpected visitor: Elisabeth, the stage manager. The two have a long talk, in which Sarah reminisces about the Doctor, and muses about coming home from that life. Elisabeth confides that she wants to be an actress, not just the stage manager; but the Director considers her indispensable. Sarah advises her to make herself dispensable, if she wants to move up to the stage; and the best way to do that is by letting something in her job fail. In return, Lis gives Sarah what she wanted: the Author’s notes. And, reading them, Sarah realizes where he got his information!

She storms back into the Black Light, and demands to know how the Author got his hands on a copy of the Doctor’s diary. Chagrined, he admits that he found the pages, forgotten, in a copier in a copy shop (along with a receipt for scarf detangler and a barrel of jelly babies—it seems the Doctor is quite a character, as Sarah well knows!). Still, he insists, as fantastic as these stories are, sometimes real life needs a little…massaging in order to make a good story. Sarah doesn’t like it, but she is obliged to agree. The Author—perhaps not wanting his reputation besmirched—agrees to have Sarah back on the production, and agrees to her changes to the script; and in exchange, Sarah allows most of his artistic licenses to remain in place, insisting on only a few (goodbye, Brain of Morbius jello mold!).

The night of the premiere arrives, and Sarah sits in the audience, musing over all that has happened. Certainly this play represents another point of change in her own life, and maybe even in her attitudes…but what did the Doctor always say? Change is a part of life. She determines to face any change with laughter.

…Which is just as well, because the play is a massive flop. (I did say you can’t win ‘em all!) It flops so hard that the careers of everyone involved—except Sarah, of course—are massively diverted in new directions. Sarah thinks, much later, on the lives the participants are leading now; most of them sought new homes and new work, whether alien or human. None stayed with the stage—except, curiously enough, Elisabeth (what is her last name, anyway?), who goes on to become quite the star. Sarah, meanwhile, remains herself, and continues on, having learned and grown and, of course, laughed. And the Doctor, who—quite inadvertently—started this entire episode? He goes on, as well. Change is always a part of his life, but in the important ways, he remains the same. And, as always, he loves the Earth and its people. Sometimes they disappoint him—but when those times come, “he thinks of Sarah Jane Smith and he goes on.”

Wanisko Title Card

Every anthology needs at least one good meta-story! Preferably full of inside jokes and puns—the sillier, the better. Here, halfway through, Defending Earth delivers!

I was familiar—as many Big Finish fans will be—with co-author Joshua Wanisko for his audio Short Trip, Forever Fallen, the winner of Big Finish’s inaugural Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity in 2016. That story is an earnest, serious, thoughtful Seventh Doctor adventure, one that will stay with its listeners for some time. This story—co-written by Joshua’s daughter Lillian Wanisko, for whom this is a first writing credit—is none of that; and that is exactly as it should be! Where that story is full of emotion, this one is full of humor, and utterly lighthearted. How could it not be? It’s Sarah Jane Smith: The Musical!

We’re still firmly in the K9 and Company era here, as confirmed by some of the background details; Brendan gets a mention, though he’s not present, and Sarah Jane still lives in her aunt Lavinia’s house. K9 himself puts in a momentary appearance, though again he is not named as such. Thus, this Sarah Jane is young and energetic, and still—perhaps a little bit—somewhat directionless in life. I’ve commented in other entries that these stories seem to chronicle formative experiences in Sarah Jane’s life; this story makes it explicit, pointing out that this is another moment of change and refinement for her—if not as drastic a change as some.

Not many of these stories have had continuity references (something I usually include in my reviews), other than a general reference to the Doctor or UNIT or—obliquely—K9. This one is different; as it contains an in-universe chronicle of Sarah’s adventures, it mentions several of them directly, often even by name! Notably, we see references to Planet of the SpeedosSpiders (not my error! And, uh…we need Wardrobe over here, please!), RobotThe Monster of PeladonThe Brain of MorbiusThe Hand of FearGenesis of the DaleksThe Sontaran ExperimentThe Ark in SpaceDeath to the DaleksThe Time WarriorRevenge of the CybermenTerror of the Zygons, and Pyramids of Mars. In fact, it’s every story of Sarah Jane’s original (televised) travels with the Doctor, except The Android InvasionThe Seeds of Doom, and The Masque of Mandragora (and to be honest, I may have simply overlooked those). There are also a few meta-references: notably, Sarah declines to talk about the dates of the various UNIT stories; and the character of “Elisabeth” bears a very strong resemblance to a certain Elisabeth from our world, with a very close tie to Sarah Jane Smith…what is her last name?! I’ll get it eventually.

Overall: Nothing but pure fun, here—but that’s exactly what it sets out to accomplish. Did this “really” happen (as much as anything in Sarah Jane’s story really happened)? Does it matter? What matters is that, whether you’re a lifelong fan, or this anthology is your first exposure to Sarah Jane, you’ll get a good laugh—and a little life lesson—out of this story. And that, my friends, is plenty.

Next time: We’re halfway there! We’ll be checking out story number eight of fifteen, with Little Girl Lost, by Tina Marie DeLucia. 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 Sarah Jane in an Exciting Adventure with the Fauxes, by Anna Maloney

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.

I mentioned in an early review that this anthology breaks Sarah Jane’s life into five periods. We’ve covered three so far: Childhood; her service with UNIT and the Third Doctor; and her travels with the Fourth Doctor. Two remain, and they comprise the bulk of the anthology; not coincidentally, they also cover periods not as well documented in licensed sources. The fourth has been designated Investigation, and covers Sarah’s life from her appearance in the pilot for K9 and Company, through Downtime, and into her Big Finish audio adventures. I will say up front that I am not well versed in any of those materials, and so, while I’ll put in the necessary research for these reviews, some of you may well know much more than I do. Nevertheless, let’s keep going!

Today’s story, the sixth in the anthology, is Sarah Jane in an Exciting Adventure with the Fauxes, by Anna Maloney. 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. Let’s get started!

Defending Earth (Cover)

Someone is killing rock stars—and Sarah Jane Smith has the case.

Sent by her editor to report on the recent rash of high-profile murders, Sarah notices a few things almost immediately. The victims all played at a certain club in Liverpool—the Cavern Club—on the nights of their murders. Perhaps more pertinent, all the victims were men, middle-aged, initially successful in the sixties, and now on tour again, with resurging popularity. It’s an odd combination; but it’s enough to point Sarah in the right direction. And it just so happens that another band—the Fauxes—fits the bill…and is en route to Liverpool to play at the Cavern Club. She gathers her troops—her robotic sidekick, and her aunt Lavinia’s young ward Brendan—and heads for Liverpool.

With a little help from her editor, Sarah arranges to replace the limo driver for the Fauxes, and gets reservations in the hotel. She strategically places a newspaper in the backseat of the limousine, one that contains the latest on the murders. Naturally, the Fauxes glance over it, and immediately realize that they may be next, which is just the opening Sarah wants. After some token persuasion, she reveals that she is investigating the murders, and agrees to double as a guide for the Fauxes around the city to keep them out of trouble while they wait for their concert date.

The next morning, she leaves her robot in her hotel room. She and Brendan split up the Fauxes between them, and go to the various clubs in town where the previous victims played—several of them having played other clubs in addition to the Cavern—to ask questions of the staff and managers. Although she gathers some tantalizing clues, it’s nothing conclusive…yet. The group gathers for lunch, and then Brenda takes three of the four musicians back to the hotel, while Sarah and the fourth, Tony, go to another club, The System.

The manager of the System reports much the same as all the other clubs—that the various performers were nervous beforehand, most likely about the murders—though this includes the first to die, who should have had no idea. However, the System is uniquely involved here; one musician, John Dunsmore, was killed here, while navigating the press gauntlet on the dance floor after his show. The manager’s assistant, Peter, reports that he saw a dart in the man’s neck. Further, some windows in the club were broken, though no one can account for when it happened. During this excursion, Tony subtly flirts with Sarah Jane, though she doesn’t seem to notice. She takes Tony back to the hotel, and then turns in for the night, mulling over what she has learned.

In the morning, Sarah is awakened early by a terrified Tony. She follows him to the Fauxes’ room, where they are all packing hurriedly. Tony insists that someone has been in their room during the night, and shows her a playing card with a strange symbol, ostensibly left by the intruder. Sarah Jane concocts a plan; she will check them out, and they will ask the concierge for a recommendation for another hotel, but then they will sneak back in and take up residence in her room instead. Then they will wait to see what happens—after all, the intruder had to have help in locating them. Meanwhile, the symbol on the card seems familiar, but she can’t place it. As she carries out the plan, she has Brendan pack her robot away out of sight.

Sarah leaves the musicians with the room to rest up—their concert is tomorrow. As they won’t allow her to leave them behind, she sends Brendan out for food, and urges the Fauxes to sleep, while she mulls over her notes and the card. She also receives a call from her editor, and gives him an update; crowing over her work, he comments that they are outdoing rival paper The Echo, which heretofore has always seemed to get a photographer right in front of the victims as they died.

In the morning, Sarah takes the Fauxes to the Cavern Club for their rehearsal and sound check. The show will begin at Six P.M. She returns to the hotel and gives her editor another update, then returns to her notes. When Brendan wakes up, she talks it over with him…and then begins to see a connection. She sends him out for copies of the Echo from the dates of the murders. When he returns, she discovers that all the photos were taken by one Rafel Bert, who in each case is right in front of the victim, taking a photo right as the murder occurs, but never catching the perpetrator. She confirms the presence of darts in each victim’s neck. She realizes that the symbol on the card is a symbol for camera film—and that Bert is the killer.

She reports this to her editor, but asks him to wait before acting so that she can be sure. She and Brendan head to the club, but she is forced by traffic to walk, leaving Brendan with the car. In the crowd, she searches for Bert. She catches him just as the press rush begins, and pulls him away as he tries to resist. The Fauxes, led by Tony, dive in to help her, getting Bert in a headlock and restraining him as the police are called. As Bert is taken into custody, the police examine his camera, and find a custom accessory…with a poisoned dart still inside. Sarah whisks the Fauxes back into the car and off to the hotel. Over their thanks, she explains how she figured it out. She downplays her part, but is secretly pleased.

Later, Sarah interviews Bert in jail, and asks why he did it. His answer? Because front page news sells. He did it simply to get his photos on the front cover—and of course, for the money. After the interview, she reports this to her editor, who can only shrug; some people are just that crazy for money, he says. Ironically, though, that Bert mentions the front cover—because today’s front cover has Sarah Jane Smith on it.

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I mentioned above that I am not particularly familiar with K9 and Company; but I like to think that this story is a good representation of what may have been presented had the series gone ahead. It’s mundane as Doctor Who-related stories go; there’s nothing supernatural, nothing alien, only a run-of-the-mill, Earthly mystery. That’s not to say it’s not a goodmystery, however, and it lets us see Sarah Jane’s investigative skills in full swing.

I should note, here, that although this story is clearly set in the K9 and Company era, and uses at least one character from that series, K9 himself is pointedly not included as such. The anthology project was unable to secure the rights to the use of the character, and so another, unnamed robot is substituted. It’s of course totally coincidental that the robot fits in a large suitcase, can be tripped over, and calls her “Mistress”…

Sarah Jane is fully on her own here. No Doctor, no UNIT—this is her show, and she gets things done. The sometimes whiny, fretful Sarah Jane of her television appearances is nowhere to be seen anymore; this Sarah is capable, strong, clever, and utterly unrattled by anything that happens around her. She’s gone from companion to leader, and it’s a good look for her. Granted, the threats are more mundane…but that doesn’t make them any less threatening. If, when I first watched The Ark in Space, you told me that the woman who gets stuck in a crawlspace and has to be goaded out by the Doctor, would one day wrestle a murderer to the ground in the middle of a crowded dancefloor, I would never have believed it. She’s certainly come a long way.

On the downside: The story loses focus here and there, with a few “rabbit trail” plot elements. There are hints that Tony, one of the Fauxes, is trying to flirt with Sarah, but she is oblivious to it, and nothing ever comes of it. K9—excuse me, other robot–is completely extraneous here (and understandably so, given that the author had to tread lightly due to the rights issue; but it would have perhaps been better to leave him out completely). Brendan, aunt Lavinia’s teenage ward, is mostly extraneous; he serves as a sounding board for Sarah, which is useful enough, but then the story really has no place for him in the second half, and shuffles him off into a metaphorical corner. There’s only room for one hero (heroine?) here.

Overall, though, it’s a sunny future at hand for Sarah Jane Smith. She’s doing what she loves, and she’s good at it. It’s nice to see a more earthly adventure for her, no Slitheen or Sontarans required. The story is of moderate length, perhaps three times the length of the previous entry; it’s not a quick read, but it’s not too complex, either.

Next time: We’ll continue the Investigation era with Sarah Jane, Superstar! by Joshua and Lillian Wanisko. 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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