Charity Zine Review: A Pile of Good Things, and The Birds of Sweet Forgetfulness

We’re back, with another charity zine review! Today we continue our look into the Eleventh Doctor charity zine, A Pile of Good Things, edited by Ginger Hoesly. We’re picking up with a contribution by Paul Driscoll, titled The Birds of Sweet Forgetfulness. Here we catch the Doctor at a low point in his life—read on!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! For my rationale regarding spoilers in charity and fan works, check out the first entry in this series. To avoid spoilers, skip ahead to the next divider. And with that, let’s get started!

A Pile of Good Things cover art

The Doctor is alone—but it’s by his choice. In the wake of the exit—he refuses to call it a loss—of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, he has, at last, had enough. Now he parks his TARDIS on a cloud (on Earth, though, in the Victorian era; he can’t bring himself to let go completely even now) and hides from the multitude of distress signals the time machine brings in, and wishes he could forget. But that is the one thing a Time Lord can never do; forgetfulness is for humans and other races. Still, there is a place that may be able to help with that… And so the Doctor makes a short trip to the planet Galfaria, where he poses as a company executive to enter the rehabilitative facility known as Sweet Forgetfulness. There, in a combination of therapy and meditation and the strange mental effects of the large birds called Therapati, criminals can be reformed, and the past can be…well, if not fully forgotten, at least eased.

Of course the Doctor is never one to stay for too long—though he is determined to try it on his cloud! So, he returns to Earth, and parks his TARDIS; but now he has a plan to, at the very least, distract himself.

George Furman was once a burglar and petty thief, but that was long ago. Now, though he still lives in poverty, he is trying to be an honest man. At the least, he has found an outlet for his time and his mind: George trains songbirds. And as it turns out, there’s a new landlord, Mr. Smith, at the King’s Arms pub (now oddly renamed the King’s Giraffe), and the landlord has a thing for songbirds. That thing, specifically, being a competition. George can’t fail to enter his prize goldfinch, Joey; and now he is the finalist, up against the landlord’s oddly named “Murraygold”. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived competition; and George leaves in frustration, sans bird.

Still, he was attached to Joey, and he can’t just leave it at that. He’s no sore loser, but he must know that Joey is alright. That night, he dusts off his old lockpicking skills, and sneaks into Smith’s house and back garden to check on the bird. He is stunned to find Smith, with Joey in hand, walking up into the sky! A quick check reveals a nearly-invisible, but extravagantly bejeweled, spiral staircase. What the hell—George decides to climb up after Smith. At the top, he finds a strange blue box…and the doors open for him, admitting him.

Inside, the larger-than-life room he finds—the console room, had he known as much—has been transformed into an aviary, full of chirping songbirds of all types. Smith is furious to find George here; but stranger yet, he seems to be furious not at George, but at…the box? He insists that the TARDIS, as he calls it, is playing games with him, trying to remind him of his responsibilities. He has countered by filling the space with birds to drown out the distress calls. He closes the doors to keep the birds inside, and George as well, though unintentionally. He explains that the TARDIS wants George to be his companion, so as to shake him out of his funk—but he has no intention of giving in. The TARDIS, however, has other plans; and in a flash, it takes them across the galaxy. Grudgingly, Smith—no, the Doctor—realizes where they’re going, and gives in. After all, what better place for a struggling former criminal than the most perfect reformatory?

The Doctor gives George his psychic paper and sends him out into Sweet Forgetfulness. He’ll appear as a transfer from a prison, but the therapy will be good for him. He claims he has no plans to leave George there—but of course he does.

George, meanwhile, stumbles into a feeding of the Therapati birds. He’s struck by the wonder of it all, and already begins to feel the positive effects of this place. Afterward he is escorted back to the incoming group from which he ostensibly was lost, and goes through the sifting, the process by which those who are ready for rehabilitation are separated from those who are not. He passes the test; but he suddenly learns that the facility has been taken over by a criminal gang, and is being used to release allies and silence enemies. Due to the psychic paper, George has, thankfully, been taken for one of the former. Meanwhile, the Doctor struggles against the TARDIS, which has decided to play havoc with its navigation system, bringing him back to Sweet Forgetfulness every time he tries to leave.

George makes a break and returns to the TARDIS, and swiftly tells the Doctor what has happened. The Doctor snaps to life at once, and instantly hits on an elegant solution. He grabs the psychic paper and leads George back into the facility, where he claims to be from headquarters, with a new shipment of birds. Then, with George’s help, he whistles for the songbirds…and the TARDIS releases them. This has the effect of startling the large-but-tame Therapati into a frenzy, which creates a similar frenzy among the gang members, setting them on each other. In the end, they are sent running; the Doctor summons the authorities to reassert control; and the songbirds, including Joey, have a new home inside the facility, separate from the Therapati, which will be returned to their natural environment (with no predators).

The Doctor returns George to London, where he commits himself to campaigning for the welfare of songbirds. As he departs, the Doctor settles back onto his cloud, and grudgingly tells the TARDIS that she won this round…but only this round. He refuses to take on a new companion. She, on the other hand, is content; she’ll continue reminding him who he is.

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I’ll credit this story with one fantastic quality: It feels very much like a Christmas special. I suppose that’s in part because of its placement; this story takes place shortly before The Snowmen, in which the Doctor meets the Victorian-era avatar of Clara Oswald. At any rate, it can best be described as “charming”, and I think that’s a fair term here.

We find the Doctor hiding out on a cloud, as in The Snowmen. The TARDIS, meanwhile, is having none of it, and making frequent attempts to pull the Doctor out of his depression and get things back to normal. Enter George Furman, potential (but ultimately declined) companion, a former petty thief and present bird tamer. The Doctor is cajoled into this adventure, with the TARDIS whisking him George off to the Sweet Forgetfulness rehabilitation center—where naturally, things aren’t all as they seem. It’s a quick fix for the Doctor, and a brief flash of his old self, and a happy ending for George. It’s not enough to bring the Doctor back to himself, but it does, perhaps, wear down his walls a bit, and set him up for the events of his meeting with Clara.

What can I say—a dose of whimsy is nice this time of year. If that’s not enough to interest you, there’s also some nice (and fourth-wall-breaking) references here, such as a reference to the Doctor’s own songbird as a “Murraygold”. The Doctor speaks birdish, now; move over, horse and baby! There are some continuity references, but only enough to establish the placement of the story; the Doctor refers to the events of The God Complex, and Amy and Rory’s exit in The Angels Take Manhattan, and the reboot of the universe in The Big Bang/The Pandorica Opens. He also makes a vague reference to other companions left behind, which can refer to any number of stories (maybe the Doctor has commitment issues?).

The thing I appreciate most here, however, is the view of the Doctor. He’s clearly seen to be struggling with his usual self. He’s clinging to his depression, but at the same time, his usual upbeat personality and desire for involvement can’t help leaking out; and he’s snarky and angry because of it. I’m somewhat reminded of his “And then I’ll have to find a new name” bit from The Beast Below in the way he seems frustrated, and the way his mood swings wildly here.

This is the first story we’ve had here with an actual villain and adversarial encounter, and I’m glad to have it. Not that I have any problem with the cozy vignettes we’ve had—the Whoniverse is full of them—but I like having both types of stories in the collection. It wouldn’t feel well-rounded without a few stories like this.

Overall: Quite fun, this one. A nice setup to the Clara Oswald era and the Impossible Girl arc. I’ve voiced my general dislike of Clara before; but I also enjoyed the early days of her time with the Doctor, and this story, though it doesn’t feature her, makes me want to rewatch. That’s not a bad sentiment. Check it out!

Next time: We’re quickly approaching the projected end of the sale period for this collection, so check it out while you can! I’ve been delayed a bit, most recently by a sick child at home, and so I don’t expect to finish before the end of the sale period. However, I do intend to finish the series, so stay tuned. To that end, next time, we’ll be reading The Stars and Their Promises, by Dana E. Reboe. See you there!

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

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

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

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

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

A Pile of Good Things cover art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charity Zine Review: A Pile of Good Things, and “Lost Soul”

We’re back, with another review! Today we continue our look at the Eleventh Doctor charity zine, A Pile of Good Things, edited by Ginger Hoesly. You can find the previous entry here. Today we’re reading the second story in the collection, Lost Soul, by Katie and Claire Lambeth. Let’s get started!

A Pile of Good Things cover art

Spoilers ahead from here to the next division line!

A young girl of twelve, Edna Ashcroft, is alone. She was accustomed to being out of place, but this was different: for the first time, she was truly alone. No one could be found anywhere for miles around: no clerks, no pedestrians, no drivers, no shopkeepers—and most of all, no soldiers. That was significant, for Edna lived in a war zone.

Now, she stood outside Dover Castle, and stared in awe as, with a strange wheezing sound, a blue box heaved itself into existence in front of her, and a strange man in a jacket and bow tie stepped out.

The man quickly introduces himself as the Doctor. He cements his strangeness by asking what year it is—as if anyone wouldn’t know the years was 1943! Still, despite his strangeness, it only takes him a minute to detect the problem, and leap into action, pulling young Edna along with him.

The search takes them into the tunnels beneath the castle, shelters for military personnel against the bombings. Edna marvels at the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver—secret wartime technology??—before following him inside. No one is around, and the place has been deserted in the moment—even a cup of tea has grown cold, untouched on a desk. In a medical bay there is blood from recent procedures, but no patients, no doctors, no nurses. Flickering lights lead them back to the surface, this time on the top of the castle—and there they encounter a group of tall, humanoid aliens, clad in arms and armor.

But, once the initial misunderstandings are resolved, the aliens—who decline to name themselves—reveal a shocking notion: That Edna is, in fact, one of them! They assert that she was left behind on a scientific expedition twelve years ago, and simply does not remember; and now they have come to rescue her and return her home. When queried as to why she looks human, they explain that they altered their forms on arrival in order to blend in. The Doctor checks Edna’s DNA against theirs, and indeed, there is a match.

But it’s not so simple as letting a child go with these strangers. The Doctor wants to know: Will she be safe? And for that matter, what does Edna want? His caution is admirable, and he continues to argue for her safety as Edna slowly comes around to the aliens’ view. She explains that she has always felt like an outsider, as though she doesn’t belong…it turns out, now, that she truly doesn’t belong. And moreover, she wants to go with them. The Doctor declares then that he will go along, see her settled in safely.

Before they can leave, however, a crisis presents itself. The aliens have stopped local time briefly—quite powerful indeed—and set a bubble of vacancy around the local area, to allow themselves privacy to find Edna. Now that bubble is collapsing, and if they do not set things right, there will be trouble. They rush through the castle with the Doctor and Edna, setting things back to normal in their wake. They teleport to their ship just in time, as everyone in the castle reverts to their former places and time…

On the bridge of the ship, the Doctor watches the planet Earth below. At Edna’s request, he reassures her that the war on Earth will end soon, and many good people will survive. She sees the emotion in his eyes, and remarks that he really loves the Earth. He confirms that he does, almost as much as his TARDIS…wait, where is the TARDIS?!

And on Earth, a man in uniform reaches for his tea, and finds it cold. So fast! What, he wonders, has he missed?

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We’ll be jumping around a bit in the Eleventh Doctor’s life as we work through this collection. Here, we find ourselves in the post-Amy and Rory period (or at least between their adventures), but pre-Clara. The Doctor is traveling alone, but he still seems to be young and full of life. Now that I think of it, given his high spirits here, it seems likely that this story occurs between adventures with the Ponds rather than afterward; he has not yet sunk into the depression we’ve seen in the wake of their loss, and there is no mention of their departure.

I’ve occasionally tried to sum up each Doctor’s personality in a single word. The First Doctor could be described as “old-fashioned”, the Second as “bumbling”, the Seventh as “calculating”, etc. Usually the exercise breaks down at certain points; for example, I have trouble limiting the Sixth Doctor to one word. The Eleventh, however, could easily be described as “whimsical”, and that’s what we see here in this story. He’s interacting with a child (well, mostly a child—we don’t know her real age), and he’s full of energy and fun even in the face of what seems to be a very serious situation. I don’t think I could subsist on a steady diet of stories like this one—we need the serious Eleventh Doctor as well—but as an interlude or an escapade, it’s quite welcome and enjoyable.

The villains here are quite nondescript, and that’s okay; they aren’t here for their villainy. In fact, they’re not truly villains at all; I’m only calling them that because they fill that niche in the story, with a brief sense of menace at their introduction. We never even get their species name; but it doesn’t matter, because what is important is what they mean to Edna Ashcroft. That child is reminiscent of Nancy from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances; but perhaps that’s just the wartime backdrop of the story. She accomplishes much here with little elaboration; but then, that’s often the case with children in Doctor Who stories. Their presence, and the reaction they inspire in the Doctor, is usually enough.

Overall, a quick and cozy story. Little happens, but that’s not the point; it’s the emotion that matters here. We’ll find action elsewhere; this one simply makes you feel good.

Next time: We’ll look at Someone Kidnapped, Something Blue, by Tina Marie DeLucia, with a cameo from some very old friends. See you there!

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

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Charity Zine Review: A Pile of Good Things, and “Displaced Persons”

It’s review time again! Today we’re covering something new and different.

Some of you may recall a review several months ago for the wonderful Moon Man charity zine featuring Peter Capaldi in all his various roles. Recently I was approached by the editor of that zine, Ginger Hoesly, about another upcoming zine, which I’m happy to cover. This project is titled A Pile of Good Things, and features the Eleventh Doctor in a collection of short stories and artwork. This project is a little different, in that it’s more of a small anthology, focusing on the Eleventh Doctor specifically as opposed to the actor; and so it will take me a few posts to cover it. In the meantime, you can find it for purchase at this link, where it will be available until 25 November (along with some of Ginger’s other projects, including Moon Man). Check it out!

A Pile of Good Things cover art

Cover art (edited for size)

There are nine stories in this collection, and twenty-five art pieces. My goal is to review each story individually, and to wrap up with a post featuring a selection of artwork. As I mention in every case of a charity or fan project, my usual procedure is to include a plot summary. “Spoilers!” I hear you say. Well, yes, but there’s a reason for it! These projects as a rule don’t get the kind of documentation that licensed works get. There’s no TARDIS wiki for fan projects (to my knowledge anyway, and if I’m wrong, someone please hook me up!) [EDIT: Thanks to Aristide Twain for pointing out the Whoniverse wiki in the comments below, which covers works of this type.] Star Trek has Memory Alpha for canon works and Memory Beta for…well, less canon works, but we Whovians don’t have anything like that. The thought that such a broad swath of the Doctor Who universe should be unknown and undocumented is downright criminal. In addition, fan projects are usually available only for a limited time, and thereafter become very hard to obtain. Therefore, I add a level of detail here that definitely falls into the category of “spoilers”, so that there will be a record of these stories (for the record, I put these posts on Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit as well as here on the blog). But, if spoilers aren’t your thing—or if you simply plan to buy the zine and see for yourself—you’re still in luck! I clearly mark the spoiler section, and tell you where to pick up if you want to skip it.

With that said, today we’re reading Displaced Persons, by Michael O’Brien, featuring the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead from here to the next division line!

Amy Pond didn’t ask for a quick lesson in TARDIS mechanics, but she gets it anyway, as the Doctor holds up a smoking bit of electronics. The device is—or was–a vortex transducer, which enables the TARDIS to materialize as it exits the time vortex. Unfortunately, the main collection of transducers has burned out…as have the backups…and the emergency units. The TARDIS is, as it were, on its last legs. The good news: It can synthesize more! The bad news: To do so requires a supply of a temporally active material called tetratimoline vizorimide (“tetraviz”, for short), and that substance is rather rare. Still, as usual, the Doctor knows a guy, and so he takes the TARDIS in for a bumpy landing.

The Chasisto: a fine military cruiser in the Planetary Alliance Star Navy. Humanity is mostly (if briefly) at peace, but still, vigilance and weaponry are constants of history… at any rate, the Doctor quickly introduces Amy to Captain (formerly Commander) Ben Criette, an old friend. Criette’s ship and crew can produce the tetraviz, but with a mind-bending twist: the process must be initiated about forty-eight hours after it is completed. Amy waves this off with characteristic grace, because there is another issue at hand.

Isn’t there always?

The Chasisto has recently taken on a rather odd, sarcophagus-like object. [Note: I’m going to interject here and say that I was absolutely certain this was going to be another Genesis Ark and thus a Dalek story. I was pleasantly surprised! Read on.] The device has been analyzed, and revealed to be a Multi-Dimensional Memory (MDM) unit. Such a unit could hold a galaxy’s worth of information! But there’s a catch—the technology is notoriously risky, and humanity abandoned the idea. But what if this unit is functional–! Stranger still, the device is transmitting, but no translation has yet been possible. And more: It is exhibiting odd temporal phenomena, winking in and out of existence—so, does it come from the past, or the future? The Doctor quickly sorts out the translation, and finds that the device—or at least its message—stems from an old familiar race: the Vardans.

The message is a distress call. It states that the Vardans are refugees from the Last Great Time War. They are escapees of a prison set up by the Doctor long ago, in which the Vardans—in their pure-energy forms—were trapped in a temporal loop on a distant world. They claim to be non-combatants, held in slowly failing storage. The Doctor deftly avoids any discussion of the Time War, and puts it to Criette and his senior officers (and one Admiral Drayth, who is along for the ride) to decide: Help the Vardans, or not? The decision is aided by the surroundings: the room in which the unit is being analyzed is a sort of tactile imaging chamber, able to produce solid holograms. While the ship can’t hold thousands of refugees, it can allow some representatives to manifest in a physical form, and make negotiations. The plan seems sound; and via some quick maneuvering around Drayth’s objections, the Doctor ensures that he and Amy will be present when the Vardans are unbottled, as it were.

Five Vardans are manifested, led by one Kamark. But—perhaps predictably—it quickly proves to be a trap! The Vardans seize control of the chamber and its holographic projectors; however, their forms instantly melt away and resolve into something more monstrous. The Doctor recognizes these insectile forms…

Wirrn.

Even the humans recognize this parasitic race as a threat, and open fire, but to no avail. They begin to grapple with the Wirrn. The Doctor demands to know how many Vardans were infected by the Wirrn; the lead Wirrn claims that they have infested the entire data unit. Further, they’ve learned a trick from the Vardans: With the ability to become solid via hologram, they are able to infest living beings again—and they plan to do so to the crew of the Chasisto.

With the situation deteriorating, the Doctor looks around for something that will get them out. Most of the items in the room are useless; but he spies Amy wielding a bottle of a heavy fluid to beat down a Wirrn. Wait…where did that come from? With a sudden flash of intuition, he tells her to throw it at the databank. She catches it as it fades out of existence; the bottle is caught and goes with it, leaving only the fluid—the tetraviz—to splash on the unit as it fades in again. The Wirrn vanish, along with the unit, and the ship’s computers begin to reboot themselves.

In the aftermath, the Doctor explains that he noticed the container, and realized it hadn’t been there before—meaning, it came from the future. That guaranteed that it was filled with the requested tetraviz. Meanwhile the databank was already temporally unstable, due to its passage through the Time War and the effort of holding corrupt Wirrn bio-data (the Wirrn not being naturally suited to energy forms). Combine the two, and… well. The results were catastrophic, for the databank at least. Oh, it will require that another batch of tetraviz will have been started for the Doctor…but that’s the future. Isn’t it? It’s enough to give anyone—especially Amy—a headache.

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Well, that was fun! This story, I have to say—and if you read the spoiler section, you’ll have seen my note to this effect—did not go the way I expected it to go; but it was a refreshing change. The Vardans are a bit of a one-note villain, as are the Wirrn; but one note is really all that’s needed here. Remember, this is a short story, and that’s by design.

I like the reference to the Time War. It’s always interesting, to me, to see how the Time War relates to the universe as it exists after the War ended. While humans may not have much memory of the War, other races weren’t so lucky, and it’s interesting to get a look at how they’ve changed in the wake of events. The Vardans were last seen on television in The Invasion of Time, before the War; this story serves as a followup of sorts. The Vardans here are a remnant of those trapped by the Doctor in that story, now having survived the Time War, only to fall to the Wirrn. A terrible ending for them, no doubt—they were always second-string villains in terms of power and capability (Bernice Summerfield once stated that they were “the only race in history to be outwitted by the intellectual might of the Sontarans”, a reference to The Invasion of Time, mentioned in No Future), but they still don’t deserve the Wirrn. But I have a bit of a soft spot for the Vardans; shortly prior to this story, I had finished reading the New Adventures novel No Future, which gives the canon explanation for the Vardans’ escape from the Doctor’s trap. They, uh…they come off looking pretty bad there as well. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all, I guess (and if you’re a Vardan, can’t win any).

All joking aside, though, the best thing about this story is seeing the Doctor and Amy together again. There are few hints as to when this story takes place, but given that Rory isn’t mentioned, I’d place it in early Series Five. No cracks in time are mentioned, but as this is indeed a very short story, that’s no major issue. I took great pleasure in casting the lines in my head in the voices of the Doctor and Amy; my compliments to Michael O’Brien for absolutely capturing their mannerisms, their banter, their wit. In addition, we get a nice setting for this story in the Chasisto. I’m reminded of the ship in Into the Dalek, though this is not (apparently at least) the same military, and definitely not the time of the Dalek wars. Supporting characters are briefly described, and not deeply developed (again, short story), but we get some nice hints of backstory between the Doctor and Captain Criette, which are really all we need to bring that character (and by extension, the others) to life.

All in all, well done, and a nice beginning. If we can proceed in this vein, we’ll do well. It’s worth the purchase just for this story—and we have eight more to go, plus a wealth of artwork.

Next time: Lost Soul, by Katie and Claire Lambeth! See you there.

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

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

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

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

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peculiar Package

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities, and Homecoming

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

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

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities: The Stowaways, and Trip of a Lifetime

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we’ll be looking at two entries, and you’ll see why when we get there. We’re continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the end of chapter II, and the fifth and sixth entries: Peter Cumiskey’s The Stowaways, and Beth Axford’s Trip of a Lifetime.

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

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

The Stowaways: The Doctor and his companions have just left Vortis, the world of the insectile Zarbi and Menoptera. Ian and Barbara have come away from this adventure lightheartedly enough—and so, it seems, has Vicki. The girl comes crashing into the TARDIS’s living areas with the Doctor in pursuit—and it instantly becomes clear why. Accompanying her is a squat, odd-looking, snub-snouted creature that the others immediately recognize: A venom grub, one of the living weapons of the Zarbi. Vicki begs Barbara to let her keep it (playing, perhaps, on Barbara’s feelings, as Barbara was once responsible for the death of Vicki’s original pet, the sand beast Sandy); but Barbara directs her to the real decision-maker here: the Doctor, who chooses that moment to make his entrance. He arrives wearing a long-suffering but parental expression; and so Ian and Barbara give them the room.

In the console room, Ian and Barbara take a moment to talk about their experiences on Vortis. It was, Barbara thinks, the first truly alien place they’ve visited, and it has made its mark on her. Ian, meanwhile, admits to having felt that way often, even traveling into Earth’s past; history, after all, is not his field. It truly has been a voyage of discovery—even if the thing they have discovered most is themselves.

Vicki is despondent at the thought that the Doctor won’t let the creature stay. He comforts her a bit, in his usual gruff manner; but still, the creature must be addressed. He is surprised to discover that the creature snuck aboard, rather than being brought aboard by Vicki. They are interrupted by a loud crash before they can speak further.

The Doctor and Vicki race to the console room, where they find the hat-stand lying on the floor. And tangled in the coats, they find…a second venom grub?! The first joins it eagerly. It seems the TARDIS has an infestation! But it’s not that simple; it seems the second creature has punctured holes in the tubing of the astral computer. Perhaps it was scavenging for food, as Vicki theorizes. But for what, exactly? It is Ian and Barbara who piece it together: Based on the beams of energy the creatures emit, perhaps what they eat is connected to electricity, somehow? The Doctor is intrigued by the idea; quickly, with Vicki’s help, he assembles a trail of wires from the computer, to which the grubs quickly apply themselves, feeding on the power.

This leaves the question even more urgent, however: What to do with the grubs? They can’t feed on the equipment indefinitely; therefore they can’t stay; and the Doctor can’t navigate back to Vortis. However, he assures them, he can find them a suitable world elsewhere.

It takes three days, but at last they find it: A world that is technologically advanced enough to feed the grubs, but with peaceful and welcoming lifeforms. The world in question is in the Isop Galaxy, distant enough from home, but still the same galaxy as Vortis. Barbara watches with a bit of odd jealousy as Vicki says her goodbyes; these creatures have found a home, but they have yet to find theirs. As the TARDIS slips away, Vicki asks the name of the planet. The Doctor can’t get it quite right; but the future would remember the name of Raxicoricofallapatorius.

Later, as the Doctor pilots his ship and Vicki dozes, Ian and Barbara talk over the events of the week. It’s a bit hard for the venom grubs, perhaps; they’ll never see their home again. Ian, though, thinks that it’s not so different from himself and Barbara—perhaps the grubs, like them, knew what they were doing when they entered the TARDIS, even if they didn’t know where it would take them. But one thing is true: Like the grubs, Ian and Barbara are light years from home, but they have found a place they can call home.

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One of the beautiful things about the Doctor Who universe is the sheer depth of its lore. One can spend hours digging into the minutiae of the various eras of the series, its stories and its locations and its people. This story works a bit of magic in that regarding, pulling together two very obscure coincidences and building a story around them that—to my pleased surprise—works.

In the classic First Doctor serial The Web Planet, the antlike Zarbi use smaller creatures as weapons. Those creatures are called “larvae guns”; but in the novelization by Bill Strutton, they are referred to as “venom grubs”. (Notably, this is NOT a Target novelization; it predates that range, and is only the second Doctor Who novelization to be published.) Meanwhile, in the NuWho episode Boom Town, Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen makes reference to venom grubs on her homeworld of Raxicoricofallapatorius (where they are admittedly more carnivorous). Also coincidentally, Vortis—the Zarbi world—was first noted to be located in the Isop galaxy, which is also the location of Raxicoricofallapatorius. Combining these two coincidences, Peter Cumiskey gives us an origin story for the Slitheen-affiliated venom grubs: Basically, the Doctor did it! It’s a clever bit of correlation, and I like it.

This is more a Vicki story than an Ian and Barbara story, although Ian and Barbara are the viewpoint characters. In tone, it feels very similar to the Fifth Doctor/Erimem audio No Place Like Home, which also features the TARDIS experiencing an unwelcome infestation. (You can get that audio for free from Big Finish, so I won’t spoil it.) Most of all, this story serves to show how life in the TARDIS had begun to grow on Ian and Barbara, and how they had come to consider it, if not home, at least a home away from home. (I find that ironic, as it was during the filming of The Web Planet that William Russell, Ian’s actor, decided to depart the series.)

The next entry is a short poem by Beth Axford, titled Trip of a Lifetime. This isn’t a story, per se, and therefore I can’t summarize it in the usual way; to do so would be to retell the poem. It recaps the beginning of Ian and Barbara’s journey with the Doctor, and muses on how they had no idea what they were getting into—but they would come to appreciate it and enjoy it just the same. Anything else I could say would ruin it for you—check it out!

Next time: We’re on to chapter three, “Down to Earth”, with perhaps the oldest entry in the anthology: Adam Christopher’s 1995-penned story titled Homecoming. (If anyone would like to read this one first, and get a taste of what this anthology has to offer, you should note that it was originally published in Timestreams 5, which you can download here, courtesy of the New Zealand Doctor Who fan club. You should note that the version I’ll be covering, from Mild Curiosities, has been revised and updated, so it won’t be exactly the same—hence I feel justified in linking to the original.) See you there!

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

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