Seasons of War Mini-Review 43: Prologue – The Horde of Travesties

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

Here at the end, we return to the beginning. The young War Doctor, strong and energetic and ready for the fight, watches an evacuation. Three hundred and fifty thousand refugees, fleeing on retrofitted WarpSpinner life pods into the stars from an unnamed world. The Daleks may get them; there’s a chance of that. Still, many—most, even—will escape. A job as well done as can be in these troubled times. The Doctor puts it behind him, and returns to his TARDIS.

He muses over his lifetime—this incarnation’s lifetime. Already he isn’t sure how long it has been since his regeneration—his transformation–on Karn, though it has likely only been months. It was a necessary change, even aside from his then-impending death. His incarnation, though strong and capable and resourceful in so many ways, was too weak, too Doctorish, for this war. So, the cruelty of Karn-augmented regeneration burned away the Doctor, with his promise and his healing, and left a Warrior in his place. The Doctor had a thousand years or so, and it was a good life; but something new is needed now.

He’d gone to Earth first. Not only for training in the arts of war, but to shield this planet for which he still felt a sentimental protectiveness. Knowing he could not do it alone, he sought out an ancient Gallifreyan sect from before the days of Rassilon, the Chronosmiths: thirteen men and women in possession of powerful abilities for manipulation of time. Divesting themselves of the future of Gallifrey, they had long ago hidden themselves away here, on Earth, and now dwelt in a crumbling hotel in Barcelona. The once-Doctor barters with them, though he has little to offer. He asks them to hide the Earth, with all its history, future, and timelines, from the combatants of the War. The Chronosmiths decline to choose sides, but in the end, they agree to his request, knowing that they too need a safe place to hide—or a safer place, at least. Still, their assistance comes at a price. Their arts are fueled by temporal energy—minutes, hours, days skimmed from lives. A project of this magnitude will take not days, but years, centuries even. No one has more time to give up than a Time Lord—and none have more life in their time than the Doctor.

He consents. He screams in pain as years are stripped from him—not forward, from his remaining life, but backward, from life already lived. His adventures, his stories, are shuffled. Some are stripped away. Some are retold. His age rolls backwards—a thousand years, nine hundred and thirty-two, seven hundred and fifty, four hundred. It is enough. The Earth is as safe as they can make it. The defense is not perfect—some will stumble in, and there will still be incursions. From the greater path of the War, Earth is shielded and hidden. As the Warrior reflects, it’ll do for now.

Later, a TARDIS tears through space and time. Its Victorian parlor of a console room has been tossed about and torn up. Its young-yet-old pilot sits and thinks as he touches the bandolier across his chest. Later, much later—hundreds of years later, from his perspective—the now-aged Warrior stands in a transformed console room, with roundels on its walls and cables dangling from its ceiling, and he sets course for home. On his lips are two words that have become soberly dear to him only recently, with the death of a friend: “No more.”

His TARDIS slams to a halt, still floating in the time vortex. He is thrown to the floor. As he scrambles to right himself, a voice calls his name: ”Doctor.” He knows this voice, from somewhere long ago. He answers; denies that that is his name. The voice insists that that is the only name by which it has known this Time Lord.

The doors open, and despite the vortex outside, thirteen figures walk in and surround the War Doctor. They are deformed and twisted, predatory and bloody, scarred and wounded; and yet he knows them. They are—or were–the Chronosmiths.

They make room for another figure. A man the Doctor recognizes, wearing a pair of spectacles and a machinery-bedecked uniform (the Doctor may not know the term “steampunk”, but it would be appropriate here). And the Doctor knows him.

“The War Lord!” says the Doctor, staggering back against his console. “But that’s impossible…”

Impossible or not, the War Lord is here. He has been watching for a long time—and now he has come to claim the Doctor. He will have the Doctor’s military mind at his side; for he has done a horrendous thing.

He has unleashed the Horde of Travesties.

The Time War was nearly over, but now, it has only just begun.

The Horde of Travesties sonic

Forty-three entries ago, I noted that this anthology deliberately put something backward: its epilogue came first. Now, here at the end, we at last get the prologue. It’s no mistake, and it’s no misplacement, because this prologue begins at the end. Engines of War, with the death of Cinder, has passed, and the War Doctor has declared “No More”. He flies for Gallifrey to collect the Moment and end the War. As he does, we take a look back at the beginning, when the newly-regenerated War Doctor sought out the thirteen Chronosmiths on Earth and employed their help to protect Earth from the War. Centuries later, as he prepares for the end, that seed reaches terrible fruition, as the War Lord reveals that he has taken the Chronosmiths and transformed them, unleashing the Horde of Travesties.

The obvious cliffhanger at the end of this story was intended to lead directly into Volume 2 of the anthology series. That volume has since been cancelled, but the cliffhanger has not been abandoned; the recently announced novel, The Horde of Travesties and History of the Time War, will pick up where this story leaves off. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, pre-orders for that volume have closed, although I posted regarding them at the time; however, when the novel is released in December 2017, I’ll cover it here. (It’s worth mentioning that other volumes, not necessarily sequential, are also being planned; I hope to cover those as well, and to post their availability as their pre-order dates arrive.) We have covered the entire span of the War Doctor’s life, from Karn to the Moment; therefore I think it’s safe to assume—and in keeping with this story’s status as “prologue”—that we’ll be dipping back into the Time War in the upcoming novel, rather than cramming in a new story at the end.

I am intrigued by the introduction of the War Lord here, and I think he’s a fitting addition to this story. The character only has one in-universe appearance to date, in The War Games, where he was sentenced to dissolution at the end. Presumably, he escaped that fate. (He also has a few alternate-universe appearances, in The Light at the End and Exile.) Let’s not confuse him with his ally the War Chief, who is a Time Lord; I point this out because this appearance wouldn’t be so unusual if we were dealing with the War Chief, but with the War Lord acting (presumably) unaided, it becomes impressive indeed. As well, the Chronosmiths have been interesting characters in all their appearances; we don’t know much about them yet, and I am excited to learn more in the upcoming novel. Presumably they are the core—if not the entirety—of the aforementioned Horde of Travesties, but we have much still to discover. Their names prior to transformation are given as follows: Wigs, Rags, Hynchcliffe, Sheepskin, Plunder, the Baronessa, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, Spinach, Thruber, Myopapa, and the Cigarette Crow. Given that “Hynchcliffe” is a clear reference to former Doctor Whoproducer Philip Hinchcliffe, I imagine there are other references and/or jokes hidden here, but I don’t have enough information to puzzle them out (so feel free to pick at it in the comments!).

In part, this story seems to be designed to address some of the controversy about the Doctor’s age. The popular consensus is that the Doctor doesn’t know how old he is, and makes it up whenever it comes up, as his stated ages conflict with each other quite often. Also, allegedly at some point he started counting from the beginning again. This story tries to reconcile those issues by peeling away centuries—six of them, more or less—from his age, giving him a new age of 400 when he visits the Chronosmiths after Karn. While this does make statements by the revived series Doctors make more sense, it’s not the most satisfying answer, and can be taken or left as one wishes. My thought is that removing those years would remove his actions during those years—but would NOT remove the problems he dealt with, and thus would increase the chaos in the universe substantially. Still, the plot device of using stolen bits of time to power certain endeavours is ingenious (though credit goes to Faction Paradox for doing it first). At any rate, I can accept this matter of the Doctor’s age for now, because—as I’ve pointed out before—the time lock on Gallifrey seems to seal away most of the effects of the war and its altered timelines, meaning that in the post-war universe, things could mostly be restored to the way they were before, with some notable exceptions. He could get those years back, in other words.

Overall: a quick, but excellent story, with the promise of good things to come. I’m looking forward to continuing it in the upcoming novel! In the meantime, we have, for all practical purposes, reached the end of the War Doctor’s story. We have one more story to cover, which is the last of three stories that are new to the final edition of the anthology, and which will pick up immediately after The Day of the Doctor. We’ll then conclude with a look at the short film associated with the anthology; and then we’ll put this project on hiatus until December, when the next volume launches.

Prologue – The Horde of Travesties was written by Declan May. Next time: Rise/Risen: A Coda, also by Declan May. See you there!

War Lord Seasons of War

The War Lord.  Artist unknown.

 

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 33: Storage Wars

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

On a November morning, the Doctor goes in search of tea in one of London’s more unexpected establishments: the City Mission Hall. He’s known here in this sandwich-and-sermon refuge for the homeless and disenfranchised; the locals simply call him “Smithy”. He deftly dodges the reverend on duty, and joins a friend—an old war veteran named Bill—for a game of chess. They have an audience, however; a young woman named Ruby, recently arrived at the Mission, who wants to learn the game from them. They are interrupted, however, by something on the television: an episode of Storage Wars.

Two months before the broadcast, Samuel Stockton bid on a storage lot, and won. The lot contained the leavings of an old junkyard in Shoreditch, one “Totter’s Yard”. In the interim, he’s sold most of the merchandise, but took a loss overall. Now, one item remains: a small, decorative box. He’s placed it on the eBid auction site, timed to end just hours after the broadcast of his episode, in the hope of one last stab at turning a profit. The box is odd, though; any mark made on it—anything that firmly touches it, even—disappears.

Smithy is caught up in the episode, and admits that he once stayed in Totter’s Yard in his youth. Bill and Ruby notices that it upsets him; Ruby comments on his behavior, insisting that he is not thinking of the Yard, but of his long-ago home…and oddly, she refers to him as a “wounded healer” who won’t admit it. Smithy doesn’t here; he’s staring at the last item, the small box, and sees that it is listed for auction.

Smithy gets the Reverend to let him use his office computer. To deter any questions, he distracts the Reverend by quickly acquiring a massive new source of funding for the mission, and setting up an automated program that will continually search and apply for new funding as needed. It has the intended effect, and the stunned Reverend leaves him alone. Oddly, he seems inept at more mundane internet functions, and so Ruby helps him set up an eBid account (he rejects the username “TheDocSmith”—something that should have been a red flag, had he not been obsessed—but allows her to call him “CaptainGrumpy”). £6000.02 later, he has won the box…much to Stockton’s delight.

The next day, in the evening, Smithy takes a bus to Stockton’s pickup address, carrying an old rucksack containing the money. In better times, he would have just used the TARDIS to claim the box, but to do so now would alert both the Time Lords and the Daleks—something for which he is not ready, as he is still recovering from his long/short imprisonment and torture in a pocket dimension. So, the bus it is; and as he travels, long-buried and ancient memories surface. He thinks of his granddaughter, Susan, in her childhood. The box was her prized possession, and he thinks of her chasing rabbits and listening to the humming of the Galimites (Callimites, she called them, until he laughed and set her straight), dragonfly-like insects that once roamed the fields of Gallifrey. If only she could see him now—

His musing doesn’t stop him from being knocked unconscious. Bill apologizes to Smithy’s unconscious form before stealing the money. He then joins an accomplice in a stolen car, hauling Smithy into the backseat to be dumped elsewhere. However, his good fortune doesn’t last, as Ruby—driving the car—forces him out at gunpoint, then takes Smithy and the cash to collect the box.

Smithy—no, the Doctor—awakens to find himself bound to a chair in a shadowy room. Before him, on a table, is the box. Ruby appears, reading the Ancient Gallifreyan words on the box (To my dear Susan, may it bring you joy, and nurture curiosity). She tells the Doctor that she doesn’t want anything from the box, she wants to put something in it. The box is a breeding box for Galimites—bigger on the inside, and set up in a perfect environment for the wispy creatures—and long ago, Susan put a breeding pair inside. Ruby admits to being from Gallifrey, although she is too young to remember the now-extinct Galimites; but she has been sent to find the Doctor and bring him back to the War. She shows him her TARDIS, a Battle TARDIS adapted to serve as a front-line hospital. Inside, she has two new, angry creatures. She calls the Dalekmites, and explains that they are modified versions of Galimites. They are effective at taking down Daleks undetected. It seems that the Galimites never died out on their own; the Time Lords went back in time and experimented on them, creating these bioweapons, which attack the “scent” of a Dalek. She wants the breeding box—the last of its kind—because these are the last two Dalekmites, and conditions on Gallifrey no longer allow their breeding. In the box, they can reproduce. The Doctor is appalled—pleasure alone should be enough reason to let the Galimites live—but he has no choice but to open the box.

No one is more shocked than Ruby when Galimites flood out of the box.

For fifty years, they’ve bred inside the box…and now, the Galimites have returned, and their song fills the room. Ruby releases her two Dalekmites, hoping they will join the Galimites and crossbreed, but the Doctor whistles a tune, summoning the Galimites back to the box. Enraged, Ruby grabs the rucksack that had held the money, and swipes at the mites, trying to capture some before they are locked away. She gets a single pair. The Doctor closes the box, and swears he will never open it again for her. Ruby demands the box, and orders the Doctor to come with her; if he will not open it, she will find the one other person who can…

Suddenly her bag starts to rattle. The Doctor chides her, and asks her to consider why her Dalekmites wouldn’t join the others—and why they are the only ones that she managed to catch. She realizes what is happening, and runs into her TARDIS lab—just as the Dalekmites overheat, triggering the two long-forgotten cans of Nitro-9 in the bottom of the bag.

After the explosion, the Doctor pauses over Ruby’s remains, and retrieves the undamaged box. It is a bitter day indeed, when one threatens a man with his dead grandchild.

Later, and elsewhere, Stockton has finally recovered from his bout of depression after the theft of the decorative box. He returns to the auction scene, where a grey-haired man fills in for the regular auctioneer…but his winning bid turns to dismay when he finds that the rubies he hoped to acquire are just painted fakes.

Bill is a broken, haunted man when the Doctor finds him under a bridge…and thanks him. After all, Bill could have killed him, but didn’t; he’s simply an old soldier trying to survive, and the Doctor respects that, needed it. He gives him the money intended for the sale of the box; and when Bill asks his name, he calls himself the Auctioneer.

On a Gallifrey that is no longer beautiful, a planet torn by war, the Doctor stands over an unmarked grave. He remembers Susan as a child, playing in this park-turned-cemetery, and sheds a tear. Then he releases the Galimites back into the wild. Perhaps they will restore some music—and some hope—to the universe. Before he leaves, he places the box on the grave.

Few companions of the Doctor are as controversial as the very first one: his granddaughter Susan. Even her status as his granddaughter has been in doubt; some versions of the story cast her as the granddaughter of the Other, the ancient contemporary of Rassilon and Omega who was responsible for the Looms that preserved the Gallifreyan people from the Pythia’s curse. In that continuity, the Doctor rescued her from probably death, not knowing what he was doing; and she recognized her grandfather in him. It’s a strange dichotomy; there’s no lack of material even concerning her later life, and yet her final fate is still unknown and up for discussion.

Well, discuss no more (at least if you accept this story). This entry places her grave on Gallifrey (it’s not named, but the description of the planet in the last scene makes it definitive). As this differs from other stories about her later life, it becomes a safe assumption that she was called home along with other renegades during the War, and eventually died there. We’ve had hints of this in this anthology; other stories have indicated in passing that the Doctor’s family are all dead. Here, it’s spelled out, and it’s heartbreaking—especially, it seems, for the Doctor. The scenes of his memories of her childhood are especially touching; it’s a version of Susan we don’t often think about. My own three-year-old daughter spent an evening recently chasing fireflies; it’s easy to picture this scene, and it makes it especially sentimental. Still, you don’t have to be a parent to appreciate it; we all have our own nostalgic memories.

There’s another great, albeit brief, companion nod in this story. The rucksack that “Smithy” uses to carry his money isn’t described, and so you wouldn’t know that it is Ace’s; and so, the reveal of the cans of Nitro-9 in the bottom comes as a great surprise. Ace’s fate isn’t addressed at all in this book—it would be a bit of a stretch to include her, and her timeline is fairly muddled already—but it’s a nice touch, if a bit bittersweet.  (There’s also a possible reference to Ian Chesterton; at one point Stockton remarks on selling a clown mask to one of the Governors of Coal Hill School, which may be a reference to Ian, as he was listed on the board of Governors in one episode prior to the release of the spinoff *Class*.)

The Dalekmites are a clever weapon. The Doctor isn’t opposed to the idea in principle—he’s far beyond shying away from a weapon for its own sake—but he does resent that its creation was responsible for the loss of the Galimites on Gallifrey. At this point in the War, he’s resentful of the Time Lords for everything they do, and this is just another thing he can hold against them. His effort to restore the Galimites at the end is poetic and valiant, but I wonder how long these creatures can survive on a ravaged Gallifrey.

This story picks up after Always Face the Curtain with a Bow (It’s unclear how The Man in the Bandolier fits in, although it’s certainly possible it belongs in between—both this story and that poem take place on Earth, after all). The Doctor is recuperating from his torture, and has retained his limp. Nevertheless, as always seems to happen when he tries to hide from the war (I’m looking at you, Only The Monstrous), the Time Lords find him. Cardinal Ollistra and Ruby would get along quite well, I think. In the meantime, he tries to blend in, and somehow manages to pull it off. The Storage Wars elements of the story are mostly inconsequential, providing a framework; Stockton is a bit of an opportunist, and gets his comeuppance for it, but he’s no villain. Similarly, Bill isn’t a villain; his crime is one of desperation, born of his homeless circumstances. I often work with people in just such a situation, and I appreciate the gentleness of that depiction. He’s not evil, just desperate.

Overall: What a sad ending! And yet, there’s a little hope—something we need, as we approach the end. Rest well, Susan; unfortunately, there’s no rest for your grandfather, and the War is calling.

Susan

Storage Wars was written by Paul Driscoll. Next time: The Postman, by John Davies. See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 4: Everything In Its Right Place

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor arrives—crashes, really—inside a strange space. He meets a strange girl named Alice, who gives every impression of being inhuman—and yet, the longer she stays with him, the more humanlike she becomes. For the Doctor, this situation is wrong; he was passing through the location where Earth would be, had he not displaced it from its place in time—but this place was in that location instead. For Alice, something is wrong as well; for the first time, she is thinking on her own. Usually she hears the thoughts of the person in charge of her—a goddess of sorts, but Alice would not know the word—named Aliaah; now she hears them, but her own thoughts differ from them. Alice goes with the stranger from the crashed blue box, and encounters odd things: a fire-breathing dragon that swallows the TARDIS whole; a knight that stabs the dragon before chasing it off toward the horizon; a group of hostile businessmen; a dandy highwayman; and a bar with some improbable (and maybe impossible) patrons. Along the way, Alice tells him—against Aliaah’s orders—that they are in the Pavilion of Meditation, on the planet TARDIS. As the bar—with its six doors, each a pilot—is invaded by hostile cowboys, the Doctor leads Alice down through a trapdoor into the bowels of the place. By now he is certain that the “planet” is actually a ship, and Alice is a robot—he confirms this when he is obligated to use the Sonic Screwdriver to render her unconscious. As Mickey Mouse (description only, name not used—Disney loves to sue people) chases them deeper into the caverns below the bar, the Doctor explains why he knocked her out: her illusions were feeding the reality around them, giving shape to their pursuers. Taking the message to heart—and just as they are attacked by Santa Claus (no, really)—Alice grabs a rock and knocks the Doctor out with it. He awakens with Alice in an empty void, occupied only by a wardrobe; before entering, he talks with her about the nature of her own reality, and how the entire world is artificial; and she, as a construct, might end if he breaks the illusion. He opens the wardrobe, and they find themselves in a roundeled white room, with the TARDIS at the center. Alice calls it the Field of Manipulation, the home of Aliaah.

Aliaah explains that she is the core of a ship. She detected, in space, a cloud of dreams and imaginations, left behind when the planet Earth disappeared. She fed on the dreams, and then on her own crew, creating the reality inside the ship; but she cannot control the dreams much longer, and for that she needs the Doctor and the TARDIS. She summons more robots, or Artificial Life (A.L.) units—in this case, Ali G and Ali Baba—to capture the Doctor, but he disables them with his screwdriver. Aliaah reasserts control over Alice and uses her to capture the Doctor, and forces him into a machine to which he will be connected. Meanwhile, the other robots revive. The Doctor argues with Aliaah about the free will he introduced to Alice, and says that the entire operation could be stopped by pulling a single plug in the nearby power system. Aliaah is confident of victory—until Alice rebels, electrocutes the other robots, and says her goodbyes to the Doctor. Then—knowing it will kill her as well—she pulls the plug. A short time later, the War Doctor looks around the now-empty and dying ship, and gazes at the random parts that used to be Alice. “If I were still a doctor…” he muses, and then departs for other battles.

While not the longest entry in the anthology, Everything In Its Right Place certainly crams a lot into its eighteen pages (as you can see, I was not able to cover the plot in a single paragraph). It’s a surreal story, a variation on the many stories that have occurred inside the Doctor’s mind or in other malleable worlds; more than anything, it is reminiscent of The Mind Robber, which, if you must be compared to a story, is a good choice. It’s obvious from the first few lines that we’re dealing with that kind of story, but that’s not a problem; the fun here isn’t in figuring out THAT something is off, but in figuring out HOW it’s off. This story also furthers the idea of Earth being displaced for its own protection, and adds a new layer to that plot device; its shield isn’t spatial so much as temporal, much like the temporal shield on the library of Kar-Charrat (The Genocide Machine). The idea of dreams being free-floating, consumable commodities is novel, I think, though it sounds familiar to me for reasons I can’t place. While this story is clever, and for that reason it’s enjoyable, it feels like a diversion from the Time War, and as such feels a little out of place in this anthology; also it feels out of place in the War Doctor’s life, as for some reason I had a very hard time remembering that this is the young version of the War Doctor we are dealing with here. I think, as well, this story must hold the record for “fastest companion arc”; in eighteen pages, Alice goes from literally inhuman to sacrificing her life for the Doctor. No mention is made of the origins of the ship, and that’s probably for the best; additional detail would just bog this story down. None of these, I should say, are serious complaints; I found this story to be a racing good time. It’s worth noting that J.R. Southall also included this story (after the fact) in his own collection, Fanwinked; that collection also includes an earlier draft with a different progression, which is not as enjoyable, but worth a read. I covered that collection here.

Everything In Its Right Place was written by J.R. Southall, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next: Corsair, by Declan May. See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 2: Crowsnest Past

This is the second in my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

After Karn, the young War Doctor makes his way to Earth, and…goes fishing? It’s a momentary reprieve. He has placed a shield around the Earth, separating it from the rest of the Time War and hiding it away—the Northern Lights are a byproduct of the shield’s energy discharge. On a frozen lake near the isolated town of Crowsnest Pass, he takes a moment for ice fishing…until a flaming, once-human monster assaults him. The monster melts through the ice and falls into the lake, and then more creatures burst up through the ice and pull the TARDIS down into the depths. Moments later the northern lights blink out as the shield goes down. The War Doctor heads for town, seeing more creatures. He encounters a man named Owen, who claims to be a radio astronomer; working with the radio telescope near town, Owen claims to have found patterns in extraterrestrial radio signals which, when fed into a computer, simulate all of Earth’s economies. But now something else has happened, and the townspeople are becoming technologically-enhanced monsters. Owen introduces him to Andrea and Phil, who are holed up in a pub. While they talk, they drink; the natives teach the Doctor to shotgun a can of beer. The trio has learned that the monsters will eat books; the Doctor, calling himself “Smith”, deduces that they are actually digesting the information in the books, and uses this to overwhelm them with too much knowledge. With this tactic, they escape to the lake; along the way, Phil is killed. At the lake, they take a boat to the center, where the Doctor has detected a disturbed sonic pattern. While Owen defends them with books, the Doctor sends Andrea diving into the lake, which is now warm; she recovers a strange, electronic canister. The Doctor makes telepathic contact with the TARDIS, which has been taken over by the artificial intelligence inside the canister. The AI is the core of an intergalactic corporation, and has chosen Earth as its base of operations; it denies the risk involved in leaving the Earth unshielded and possessing its inhabitants. At the Doctor’s direction, Andrea uses the sonic screwdriver to “shotgun” the canister; she puts a hole in it, deactivating the AI and releasing the TARDIS to materialize on land. Later, with the threat neutralized, they realize that Andrea and Owen are the only survivors in the town. The Doctor takes them to a base on the moon, where he re-establishes the shield on Earth and leaves them to keep it running—a worthwhile mission.

Crowsnest Past, by Warren Frey, with art by Paul Hanley, is one of the longer entries in the book at nearly twenty pages, and I can’t really do it justice in a single-paragraph summary. It’s well-written, and one becomes fond of the characters in just a few pages. I don’t know what I expected the War Doctor to do after Karn, but I didn’t expect him to vacation on Earth; and yet, going to protect the Earth is a very Doctor-ish thing to do. Other stories will make it clearer than this one, but I’ll go ahead and spell it out here for clarity: The shield technology was acquired from a group of thirteen ancient, rogue, pre-Rassilon Gallifreyans hiding on Earth, called the Chronosmiths, who are artists at temporal technology. (How that could be so when they predate Rassilon is never addressed.) It displaces the Earth—maybe the whole solar system—not so much in time as in timeline; Earth’s future history of space exploration remains intact, somehow, despite the war. Including the Northern Lights as an indicator of its function is a nice touch, implying that we in the real world are inside this protected timeline. Later stories will tell us about other early actions—training in the arts of war with various historical figures, for example—but for now, it seems this is quite literally his first action after Karn. With that said, it’s immediately clear that there was some coordination among the various authors of this anthology, rather than just a call for stories; I’ve said before that there is a loose arc to be followed, and here he mentions the events of the previous entry, with the destruction of the Sisterhood of Karn. While it’s not a particularly bloody or tragic story—the scale of destruction is quite typical for a Doctor Who story—it is a necessary one; we need it to address the fact that Earth seems universally unaware of the Time War, even though later humans in space know about it to one degree or another. We’ll revisit these concepts in passing several times. And don’t worry—this is the calm before the storm. We’ll get plenty of bloodshed and tragedy soon enough.

War Doctor Paul Hanley sketch 1

The young War Doctor.  Art by Paul Hanley.  Taken from the artist’s Tumblr page, linked below.  Used without permission.  This artwork as published in Seasons of War was printed in black and white.

 

Next time: The Eight-Minute War, by Lee Rawlings. See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Blog-only bonus (not found on the Reddit version of this post): The talented Paul Hanley, the artist responsible for the piece featured above, has an extensive line of Doctor Who-related works.  Check out his portfolio at these links on DeviantArt and Tumblr.

Audio Review: Bloodtide

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Main Range #22, Bloodtide. Written by Jonathan Morris, this drama features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, with a cameo by historical figure Charles Darwin. Let’s get started!

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

bloodtide-1

A Silurian named Tulok stands accused of creating monsters.  He is found guilty, and is sentenced to death, but his past achievements merit banishment to Earth’s surface, where nothing can survive—no sunlight has reached the surface in ten years.  A friend, Sh’vak, urges him to confess and repent, and be allowed into stasis with all the others; but he refuses.  Sh’vak escorts him to the surface.  The Silurians then go into hibernation.

Millions of years later, the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe land in the Galapagos Islands, on 19 September 1835.  He insists their purpose here is a surprise, and leads her on a walk of a few miles, dodging a giant tortoise along the way, leading Evelyn to realize their location. They divert to follow the tortoise.  They encounter a young man, collecting animal specimens; and to Evelyn’s shock and delight, she learns that it is Charles Darwin.  The Doctor gives him a manufactured story and an assumed name (“Doctor Albert Einstein”), and arranges to join Darwin on the ship that brought him here, Captain Fitzroy’s The Beagle.  Over the next few days, Darwin will formulate his theory of evolution.  In a nearby courtroom, a prisoner, Emilio Rodriguez, is on trial for conspiracy; but the trial is interrupted by his sister, Greta.  Greta pleads for mercy based on Emilio’s possible mental illness, but is denied; Rodriguez is sentenced to hang tomorrow at dawn, and returned to the gaol.  The entire time, he raves about having seen “them”.  Governor Lawson, the judge in the trial, contacts his own mysterious masters and tells them they have a new subject available, one who previously disturbed them at a local lake.  As Emilio grows more mad, the masters—unknown creatures—arrive to take him away.

Darwin leads them instead to the town of Baquerizo Moreno, with its enormous jailhouse, and explains to Evelyn that the town is a penal colony.  As Darwin discusses his observations, the Doctor prevents Evelyn from helping him along, for the sake of the timeline.  Darwin introduces them to Lawson and Fitzroy, and the group gathers for a meal (consisting of tortoise dishes, to Evelyn’s dismay).  Greta serves at the table, until Lawson taunts her and drives her away; furious, the Doctor follows to talk with her, leaving Evelyn behind.  Evelyn listens to the others discussing the fossil record and how it relates to the accepted, biblical view of history; and then, with the Doctor not yet returned, she agrees to go with Darwin to the Beagle for the night.  On the water as they approach the ship, she sees lights under the water.  Meanwhile, the Doctor is intrigued by Greta’s story; she says that Emilio saw demonic creatures in the water a few days earlier, and has been made since.  She also has observed that people rarely leave the gaolhouse, and may be vanishing.  After her curfew, she leads the Doctor to the gaol, and finds that there are no guards, and Emilio is missing.  They find themselves locked in Emilio’s empty cell; elsewhere, Lawson reports two new captives to his master.  Soon they are accosted by a three-eyed Silurian, which stuns them both.

bloodtide-2

The Doctor and Greta find themselves in a new cell, far below the surface of the Earth.  Emilio, still insane, is also present; the Doctor hypnotizes him and allows him to sleep.  The Doctor explains to Greta about the Silurians, and reflects that one of their clans has apparently awoken after millions of years.  However the Silurian Primary Scientist Sh’vak has monitored their conversation, and is intrigued that a captive knows of them.  Tulok is present, and wants to kill the Doctor, but Sh’vak holds off to allow him to be questioned; Tulok thinks they are the only clan to survive, but Sh’vak is not sure.  The Doctor works with Emilio again, and ultimately is able to push back the man’s fear, which stems from instincts passed down from ancient ancestors.  Sh’vak arrives and takes the Doctor to her lab, where he notes that she has been working with bacteria.  She interrogates him, and the Doctor is dismayed to learn she is trying to assess humanity’s threat potential; he tries to push her toward peace, but unsuccessfully.  Tulok arrives and joins the interrogation, inquiring about human technology.  His questions lead the Doctor to realize that Lawson is informing the Silurians; angered by this, Tulok tortures him, causing him to admit the primitive level of human technology.  Tulok trades places with Sh’vak so that he can contact Lawson; Sh’vak ends the torture, but asks the Doctor about other Silurian clans.  The Doctor discovers that Tulok has told her that no other clans surprised.  However, Tulok orders an attack on the Beagle, and the Doctor is returned to his cell; Sh’vak refuses to intervene.  Meanwhile, another Silurian has removed Emilio from the cell.

At night, Evelyn sees Darwin writing in his journal, and talks with him about the conflict between his observations and his beliefs.  In the morning, they return to the island to find the Doctor.  Along the way, Darwin discusses his burgeoning theory of natural selection; Evelyn slips and refers to it as “survival of the fittest”, catching his attention.  Lawson reports that his guards have not seen the Doctor; but Evelyn realizes that Lawson left before the Doctor disappeared, so how did he know to send his guards?  A search of the gaol (secretly monitored by Lawson) leads them to a hidden tunnel, and they pursue it…they pass through a large hibernation chamber, in which the various Silurians are long dead and rotted.  This further contributes to Darwin’s theory.

The Doctor’s cell unexpectedly opens, and he and Greta escape.  Unknown to them, Tulok ordered fellow Silurian Lokan to allow the escape, which confuses Sh’vak.  Tulok discovers Evelyn and Darwin’s presence in the tunnels, and sends troops to capture them; he determines to eliminate Lawson, who is now unreliable.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Greta escape to the surface, and make their way to the Beagle to warn the crew; but it is too late, as something in the water attacks the ship.

bloodtide-3

The Doctor recognizes the creature in the water as a Myrka, a creature genetically modified by the Silurians as a weapon.  As Myrka prefer the cold and darkness of the deep waters, the Doctor gets Fitzroy to pour lamp oil on the water and light it to drive the creature away; but they are unsuccessful, and it continues to attack.  Its persistence indicates there is a homing beacon on the ship.  As the ship is damaged, the Doctor discovers the beacon is in Greta, implanted while she was unconscious in the cell.  She sacrifices herself in the creature’s maw, to save the ship and the others.  The Myrka then retreats.  Elsewhere, Sh’vak is appalled at this turn of events, as the Silurians long ago outlawed implant use in Myrka hunts.  Tulok is undeterred, however; and he intends to wipe out humanity.  To this end, Sh’vak has developed a bacterial weapon which will kill all humans except the newborn; and Tulok intends to test it on Darwin and Evelyn, who are now locked in the cells.  Darwin, meanwhile, is coming to grips with the religious implications of his theories, now supplemented by the reality of the Silurians and their parallel development.  He is having mood swings which worry Evelyn; but most of all, he has realized the Silurians are superior to humanity—which doesn’t bode well for humans…

The Doctor and Fitzroy go in search of Evelyn and Darwin.  They confront Lawson, and the Doctor hypnotizes him; he confesses to turning many people over to the Silurians, including Evelyn and Darwin.  The Doctor destroys the prison control console and Lawson’s video link to the Silurians; but Lawson refuses to be freed from his compulsion, as he can’t face his actions.  Unknown to anyone, prior to the destruction of the link, Tulok and Sh’vak overheard the interrogation; therefore Tulok intends to use the bacterial weapon on Lawson instead of Evelyn and Darwin.  The Doctor and Fitzroy infiltrate the ruined hibernation chamber, where the Doctor learns that the chamber was sabotaged in the past, which is why the Silurians never revived until now.  They notice Silurians heading for the surface, and then find a meat locker of sorts, containing the slaughtered corpses of the missing prisoners—the Doctor concludes that the Silurians eat people, much to Fitzroy’s horror.  Sh’vak captures them there, and stuns Fitzroy, then places them in the cell.  Meanwhile, Tulok and a team of Silurians arrive at Lawson’s quarters, and test the weapon on him, killing him and stripping his flesh in minutes.

Sh’vak puts the Doctor and Fitzroy in the cell with Evelyn and Darwin, then returns to her lab, where she monitors their conversation.  She learns little, and reflects on allowing Tulok to survive and return from his banishment in the past.  She recalls that his crime was not in genetically improving the Silurians’ prey animals, but in giving them intelligence…and though he survived, his work was destroyed, which led him to swear revenge.  Meanwhile, Tulok returns; the bacteria has spread throughout the entire town, killing all humans except the infants.  He plans to cultivate and release an atmospheric batch which will kill everyone on the planet; the surviving infants will be raised to be a source of food and slave labor.  He goes to the cells, where Darwin is raving about evolution and the idea that God did not create humanity.  Tulok claims that humanity WAS created…by him.

bloodtide-5

Tulok mesmerizes Darwin and Fitzroy, and takes them to load the bacterial warheads onto a submersible for delivery.  Left behind, the Doctor speaks for the benefit of the listening Sh’vak, and tells Evelyn about the sabotaged hibernation chamber.  Sh’vak confirms it, and confronts them, but concludes that Tulok sabotaged the chamber, out of a drive for revenge against the ruling Triad which condemned his work.  Therefore she is indirectly responsible for the deaths of the Silurians.  She finally admits that Earth, for better or worse, belongs to the humans now, and she commits to stopping Tulok—but she refuses to let the Doctor help.  When Darwin and Fitzroy return, the Doctor frees them from compulsion.  Darwin is disturbed by Tulok’s words, and nearly abandons his theory of natural selection, as there are no Silurian fossils; the Doctor reassures him, and explains that intelligent species rarely leave fossils.  Tulok finds Sh’vak to accompany him on the submersible, but she confronts him on his betrayal; he confesses his grandiose desire to reshape the world in his own image.  She battles him with her third eye, but he is stronger, and strikes her down.  As he leaves, he overhears the Doctor, Fitzroy, and Darwin discussing their situation; Fitzroy posits that modern humans are more advanced than those which Tulok once created, and therefore are less susceptible to Silurian control, which may be what causes Tulok to fear them.  Tulok is enraged at the suggestion, has Lokan send a guard to kill the humans.  He contacts them over the communication system, and tells them that Sh’vak is dead, and they will soon die.  However, Sh’vak is not dead; she intercepts the guard, and frees the prisoners, then escorts them to the control room.  The Doctor contacts Tulok and repeats Fitzroy’s claim about resistance; he says he has set the facility’s reactors to explode in fifteen minutes.  Lokan confirms the power surge in  the reactors, and Tulok leaves to deal with the Doctor.

The Doctor prepares the humans and Sh’vak to battle Tulok.  He tells Darwin and Fitzroy to find something they believe in and concentrate on it, so that they can resist Tulok’s mind control; and he sends Evelyn to plant a device on the submersible.  When Tulok arrives, he is unable to use his third eye as an energy resonator against the Doctor, for fear of destroying the control panel; therefore he tries to take control of Fitzroy and Darwin, and orders them to kill the Doctor.  Fitzroy resists through the power of his religious faith; Darwin is unable to do so with his current doubts, but he finds strength in his belief in his theory, insisting that it holds true even if Tulok is correct about humanity’s origins—after all, humanity has developed on its own.  Tulok fails to control them; and when the timer reaches two minutes, he flees back to the submersible.  Sh’vak, meanwhile, worked from hiding, using her own mind to bolster those of the humans; but the strain has overwhelmed her, and she dies.  She asks the Doctor to tell the other clans what happened.  Meanwhile, Evelyn bluffs her way past Lokan and plants the device, then escapes back to the control chamber.  The Doctor activates the device, and flees with the others just ahead of the explosion.  Tulok boards the submersible; but seconds later, a Myrka attacks, and he realizes the Doctor planted a homing beacon on the submersible.  The Myrka destroys the sub.

With the settlement now depopulated, the bacteria has run its course.  Fitzroy and Darwin return to the Beagle, and the Doctor begs them never to mention himself, Evelyn, or the Silurians.  He advises Darwin to watch out for rival naturalist Alfred Wallace, and then departs with Evelyn in the TARDIS.

bloodtide-4

I like a good Silurian story, and this one pits the Sixth Doctor against them for what I suspect (but couldn’t confirm) is the first time. These Silurians are the classic variant, as evidenced by the cover art as well as by their prominent and psychoactive third eye; the new series variant (of which Madame Vastra is a representative) lacks the third eye, and has a more humanoid face and voice pattern. Unfortunately—and this is my biggest complaint about this story—the Silurians are once again destroyed at the end, with no known survivors. (We don’t know how many are present in the underground bunker, but regardless, the villain Tulok’s guards are killed with him when the genetically-engineered Myrka attacks Tulok’s submersible, and any other survivors die when the bunker is destroyed. However, as the Doctor doesn’t mention any others or try to save them, I suspect there are none.) The Silurian clans present get wiped out in every classic Silurian story that I’ve discovered to date; I hope sometime to see one where they survive. (Yes, we get such a story in the new series with The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, but what a lengthy time it took to get there!)

This story adds the disturbing implication that the Silurians—specifically, Tulok—created humanity. Altered origin stories aren’t unusual in Doctor Who–for reference, look at The Runaway Bride for its account of the formation of Earth—but this one is not very pleasant. I don’t object to it for its bearing on the real world, though I do hold to Christian beliefs myself; I have no problem with a fictional story’s take on the situation. However, it seems to contradict internally with other parts of DW continuity. In addition to the general lofty view of humanity and its potential that the series presents, there are also materials which suggest that the Time Lords “seeded” the cosmos with races that generally mimic the Gallifreyan form, including humans. (I admit, it’s not well stated, and I may be overstating the case when I put it in those terms. I can’t remember where I first read it; research led me to a quote about morphic fields found in Lucifer Rising, but it’s a bit vague. Perhaps someone knows more. I concede that it’s not as clear a connection as, say, the Preserver race in Star Trek lore.) Still, if we accept this story’s statements, the Silurians join other species that have shaped human evolution, such as the Jagaroth (via Scaroth, City of Death), the Fendahl, Image of the Fendahl), the Silence (or Silents, if you prefer; The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon), and the Daemons (The Daemons). Their stated habit of eating humans here is consistent with Madame Vastra’s culinary habits in the new series (The Name of the Doctor, et al.), though I don’t recall any such emphasis in the classic series.

I also love a good Six and Evelyn story, and this one is not bad; but I have to admit that it’s a bit weak where Evelyn is concerned. She gets in some good verbal jabs at the beginning (for once, it’s the companion telling the Doctor not to wander off!), and she goes with Darwin to find the Doctor when he goes missing; but she really does very little throughout the story. Mostly she serves as a sounding board for Darwin, as the story’s subtext hinges on a discussion of Darwin’s theories as they develop. I suppose I should concede, too, that she does have a role in defeating Tulok, when she places a Myrka-attracting beacon on Tulok’s submersible. Still, it’s very little involvement from what is usually a very active character. One would expect that this adventure would be right up her alley as a historian, and indeed, that’s how it’s set up—the Doctor takes her to see Darwin as a surprise, once that required considerable setup offscreen—but it doesn’t really deliver. Still, a bad Evelyn story is better than a good story from some other characters, so it’s tolerable.

The difficulty with historicals like this—where major historical figures are concerned—is that they are by nature bound to an agenda. I mean that word in both senses: in the scheduling sense, we can’t deviate far from the established events of history (and if we do, we end up obligated to reset the timeline at the end, somehow, which only works occasionally). In the sense of motivation, we find ourselves bound to defending certain points of history, or in the case of a story like this, defending certain ideas of the characters. This story spends a lot of time on elaborating on the theories of natural selection and evolution, and—as the Discontinuity Guide puts it—filling in gaps, such as the lack of transitional fossils (spoiler alert: there aren’t any because humans sprang from lesser stock fully formed under Tulok’s work). The Discontinuity Guide goes on to make the tongue-in-cheek observation that they never actually use the word “evolution”, which is apparently enough to merit overlooking the problem. In my case, I don’t think this captivity to the history and the theory is enough to sink the story, but it certainly weakens it. Writing under constraints is never easy, and you can see the difficulty clearly in this story. Perhaps it’s no wonder that historicals—whether true or pseudo—have fallen out of fashion.

References are mostly to other Silurian stories. They first appeared in the appropriately titled Doctor Who and the Silurians. The Myrka appeared in Warriors of the Deep, as well as the VNA novel The Scales of Injustice, which we should hopefully cover in about mid-June if I can continue as planned. The Doctor met Darwin once before; we don’t have the story, but the Third Doctor mentioned it in Past Doctor Adventures novel Island of Death. The Seventh Doctor would refer back to this incident in the audio drama A Death in the Family, where he is speaking with Evelyn. The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard would also later discuss this incident in The Creed of the Kromon.

Overall, not the best Evelyn story, but not a bad one, and a good solid mid-ranked story for the Main Range. I’m considering adding a numeric ranking for these entries, but I haven’t decided whether to do so yet, or how to set it up; but had I been ranking these on a scale of 1-10, I would rank this one a solid Six (no pun intended).

bloodtide-6

Next time: We rejoin the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn for Project Twilight! Also, in our Thursday entries, we’ll continue the War Doctor series one, Only the Monstrous, with The Thousand Worlds. See you there.

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

Bloodtide

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Cat’s Cradle: Warhead

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re continuing the Virgin New Adventures series (VNAs) with the second entry in the Cat’s Cradle trilogy:  Cat’s Cradle: Warhead.  Written by former script editor Andrew Cartmel, this entry was published in April 1992. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

warhead-1

I’m going to find it difficult to give this story in the order in which the book presents it and still be reasonably brief, so I may skip around.

In the mid-21st century, Earth’s environmental concerns have grown drastically more severe. Soon, they will reach the point of no return. Already, simply breathing the air in a major city can be deadly, and the countryside is not much safer. Everyone has their part in it, but the mega-corporations are most at fault; and only they have the ability to act on a scale large enough to halt the devastation. But one group, the Butler Institute, has other, more sinister plans.

Outside a Butler-owned construction site in the mountains near New York, a young boy tries to destroy a camera on the fringe of the site so that he can play in the woods again. The Doctor makes a slingshot for him to destroy the camera—a symbolic gesture, but a sign of things to come.

Ace’s childhood friend, Shreela, is dying, her body poisoned by the foul air. She has spent her life as a journalist, specializing in scientific topics. The Doctor comes to her with one last article to publish, and it is a very strange one…but she owes him her life, and she is willing to help him one last time.

In New York City, a policeman named McIlveen is shot and killed by Butler Institute operatives. His body is collected and taken to the Institute’s headquarters at the King Building, leaving his partner, Mancuso, to pick up the pieces. The Doctor is also at the King Building, where he befriends a sick and dying housekeeper named Maria, and gets her to commit one last act of rebellion against the company that both employed and poisoned her: she opens the computers for him to access, allowing him to break into the mainframes and gather information.

An old predator named Bobby Prescott once fought and failed to save a library in a riot. Jaded by his experiences, he now targets and kills the child gang members whom he blames for the riots. But, months ago, something terrifying happened to him in the drugstore across the street from the ruined library. The Doctor forces him to reveal his secrets, which concern something vital in a drum in Turkey…and summons the gangs that have hunted Bobby even as he hunted them.

O’Hara, the founder of the Butler Institute, is spearheading its secret project, and looking for people he can trust to help him. He secretly pits two employees, Stephanie and Mulwray, from his Biostock division—which kidnaps people to harvest their organs for the rich and powerful—against each other; when they prove their loyalty, he promotes them to his team. His plan is to go live with a process he has developed, which transfers living minds into computers—making them functionally immortal, but killing the body in the process. He plans to submit his own son, eight-year-old Patrick, to the process while it is in the testing phase. The construction site is a massive bunker which will house the computerized minds of thousands, rendering the dying environment irrelevant. Stephanie throws herself in wholeheartedly, but Mulwray is disgusted—but he can’t back out now. Seemingly unrelated, O’Hara has also noted and read the article planted by Shreela, which led him to institute a new protocol for acquisitions in the Biostock division.

Ace is in Turkey, doing something she never imagined: hiring mercenaries. With the help of an old friend of the Doctor, she succeeds, though not without embarrassing the group’s leader, Massoud. The night before their operation begins, he tries and fails to kill her, and she is forced to drive him away. With the rest of the group, they attack a small outpost, which is manned by four teenage boys with weapons. They are guarding the drum to which Bobby Prescott referred; Ace has it shipped back to the England. Leaving, she is attacked again by Massoud, and is forced to kill him. She connects with the Doctor at the airport, and they return to his house in Kent, where the TARDIS is sleeping in the basement.

Inside the drum is a teenage boy, Vincent Wheaton, in suspended animation. His story—as revealed in flashback as he awakens—is dramatic. He has the frightening ability to unlock the emotions of anyone he touches; if they are negative, they are converted into a wild power that can manifest in many ways. As a child, he attacked his abusive father with a mirror without touching it; as a teenager, he was accosted by Bobby Prescott and a few others in a drugstore back lot, where he transformed a bicycle into a monstrosity that killed all the adults except Bobby, who escaped. One of the boys who had been guarding the drum, Calvin, was present and witnessed the incident; it was he and his three friends who decided Vincent was a monster, and captured him. They sealed him in the drum, relocated him to the beach in Turkey, and buried him there, then guarded him for several months.

While he recovers, the Doctor and Ace meet another new arrival: a girl of similar age to Vincent, named Justine, who breaks into the house. The Doctor arranged this as well, having planted magazine articles that led her here. She is a spiritist of sorts, believing in witchcraft, other planes, and the like. As well, she was traumatized as a child when her best friend was struck by a car and killed; the incident twisted her thinking to a radical form of eco-awareness, in which she blames vehicles and industrialization for all the world’s problems. But this makes her just the kind of person the Doctor needs… In the house, she finds and touches Vincent, and unwittingly unleashes his power, causing two of the cars in the Doctor’s garage to explode. Together, they constitute a weapon of considerable power—but the Doctor doesn’t anticipate that she will rapidly fall in love with Vincent.

The four of them travel to New York. Justine drugs Vincent, and ensures that the Butler Institute’s Biostock department will find him and collect him—but, once inside, due to O’Hara’s new collection protocol, Vincent’s bio-markers trip an alert, and he is sent to O’Hara’s home at the construction site. The Doctor takes Ace and Justine to a drugstore which is being robbed—possibly at the Doctor’s design. He has arranged for Mancuso and her new partner to respond; and Mancuso is testing a new weapon from R&D, which has been secretly fed to the police by the Institute. She finds that the thieves have a hovercraft for removing their stolen goods; she crashes it, blocking their escape, before she and Breen—her partner—finish off the criminals. She finds that the gun has a life of its own, literally, when it saves her life. While this is happening, Justine takes a capsule that appears to kill her, alarming the Doctor—not because she is dead, but because it’s too soon. She had another role to play, and now Ace must do it, by letting herself be arrested.

The Institute has made a double deal with the corrupt police department. The Biostock department gets the pick of the holding cells; as well, they obtain any bodies from crime scenes. Justine is taken in the latter manner, and Ace in the former; but before Stephanie and Mulwray can remove Ace, Breen intervenes and stops them, and sends Ace to Mancuso. Mancuso is at the R&D department, getting a sympathetic researcher, Peterson, to look at her new gun. The Doctor arrives shortly before Ace, and demonstrates that the gun really is alive in a sense; its control chip contains the mind of Mancuso’s dead partner, McIlveen. Convinced, she agrees to help the Doctor stop the Institute.

Justine was supposed to infiltrate the King Building and let the others in; her pill only simulates death for a time. However, because she took it too early, the team needs a new plan; and Mancuso provides it. She drives the crashed hovercraft from the crime scene through the gates and the front doors. They quickly rescue Justine, then—with the McIlveen chip as a pilot—they steal a helicopter and head to the construction site. O’Hara has just killed his wife, who could not accept what he had done to Patrick. Mancuso goes into the house to get Vincent, but is waylaid and shot three times by Stephanie, O’Hara, and—unwillingly—Mulwray, as O’Hara had anticipated the plot. They get the drop on the Doctor’s group. Mulwray snaps and lashes out at O’Hara, but is killed; but this allows Vincent to make contact with Justine. However, she is overwhelmed to have him back, and all her pent-up rage evaporates, leaving him with no ammunition, as it were. O’Hara tackles the boy—and finds out the hard way that it’s not only Justine who can trigger his power, as years of coldness and hatred and disgust pour out of him and through Vincent in a wave of destruction that obliterates the entire construction site. O’Hara is killed in the blast, as is Stephanie.

The mega-corporations that were previously backing the Butler Institute now find themselves scrambling to salvage something. They are forced to turn to efforts at a global cleanup, which will take years, but can ultimately prove profitable. Mancuso is still alive, and the Doctor hooks her to a life support system—and when the control unit says her injuries are too severe, he wires in McIlveen’s chip, which is more determined to save her life. Justine and Vincent are free to be together, but his power is gone; but as the weapon they constituted has served his purpose, all’s well that ends well.

warhead-3

This book is grim in so many ways. It’s enjoyable, certainly, but it’s dark in a way that we rarely get to see onscreen even in the modern era. People die all the time in Doctor Who stories, but here, it’s on a personal and invasive level that few stories seem to match. There’s a lot of violence even beyond the deaths; Ace gets beaten up at least three times, possibly more, for example. In addition, humanity doesn’t look so good here, at least not at more privileged levels—the destruction of the environment here can’t be played up enough. It’s a timely story in the real world, as the climate change debate continues to grow; and it’s timely for me in terms of these reviews as well. Yesterday I reviewed the audio drama Loups-Garoux, which is set a few decades after this story in the year 2080; in that story, the Amazon basin has become a vast desert, and temperatures are unpredictable. It’s serendipitous to see these otherwise-unrelated stories dovetail in this way, but it’s a bit disturbing when compared to the real world.

It’s very unclear at this point how this story fits in with the previous story. They constitute the first two parts of the Cat’s Cradle trilogy, and this one seems to follow shortly after Time’s Crucible; but it bears very little connection otherwise. It’s implied here that the TARDIS is still recovering from the damage it took in that book, and indeed, the Doctor doesn’t push the machine too hard; he uses it occasionally, but he also travels by car, taxi, plane, and foot. There are no interior scenes of the TARDIS here. I am interested to see how the final volume of the trilogy ties things together, because I’m not seeing it right now. Interestingly, this book—while being part two of the Cat’s Cradle trilogy—starts a trilogy of its own, the “War Trilogy”, consisting of Warhead, Warlock, and Warchild. Those books are not consecutive in the overall VNA series, however, and we’ll discuss them as we get to them.

The Doctor’s house on Allen Road in Kent is not original to this story—it originated in the comic story Fellow Travellers, and will appear again in the novel Transit. Purchased with his UNIT pay during his third incarnation, it’s not the only house he ever owns; his fourth incarnation also owns Nest Cottage (Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest, Serpent’s Crest). He owns several vehicles, but Bessie doesn’t seem to be one of them; that’s appropriate, since Battlefield makes it clear that he left it in UNIT’s possession, and it may not even still exist this far in the future. UNIT certainly gets no mention here, and also may not still exist.

One plot point in particular stuck out to me as especially unbelievable, and I have to mention it. There’s no real explanation for the teenage boys who capture Vincent and put him in the barrel and transport him to Turkey. Their stated reason for doing it is that they consider Vincent a monster; so, why not just dispose of him in some way? (Perhaps they wouldn’t kill him, but I can see them ambushing him and beating him, or trying to get him arrested, etc.) Why go to the trouble of putting him in suspended animation? Why Turkey? How did they get there (with a drummed kid in tow)? Did no one notice them missing? What was their end game—were they just going to guard him forever? This plan seems insane for four teenagers, or even four adults.

When I discovered O’Hara’s plan, I was convinced this would become a Cybermen story, and honestly, I’m a little disappointed that it didn’t. O’Hara’s motivations are very much in line with those of John Lumic (Cybus Industries); both men want to transcend death and the limitations of the flesh, and evolve the mind. There’s even an old and disabled man who wants the procedure to save himself; here, it’s one of O’Hara’s investors. Still, it’s not a bad ending; and I suppose I can’t complain about an original plot that doesn’t rely on the standard enemies.

It’s often been said that the Seventh Doctor is a manipulator; but his manipulations in previous stories are child’s play compared to what he does here. He masterminds the entire situation from start to finish, and his mistakes are only missteps in the long run. While he doesn’t really manipulate Ace here, he does put her in harm’s way; she doesn’t seem to care anymore, and it’s clear she’s growing stronger on her own. He does allow a number of people to die, and directly engineers the deaths of many of them; there’s none of the Tenth Doctor’s mercy on his enemies here. It’s a frightening and very nearly cruel version of the Doctor, and makes you wonder where he will go from here.

I think that, often, we get into a rut with Doctor Who stories. Certain patterns show up over and over again. You have evil regimes being overthrown, higher-level beings to thwart, crashed spaceships, natural disasters, and of course the Daleks, Cybermen, etc. There’s nothing wrong with all of that—it IS a science fiction show—but even within those confines, there are many types of stories that can be told, and it’s a delight when a story breaks out of the usual mold. This novel is an example of that, because, at its core, it’s a heist story. It’s true that the end goal is not to steal something, but to destroy something—but everything else about the story matches the heist model. The Doctor puts together a team of specialists to break into a secured facility and get access to something he otherwise couldn’t reach…it’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Doctor Who. In that vein, it’s similar to Time Heist; however, Time Heist relied on the plot device of lost memory to conceal the truth from the audience. This story relies instead on the fact that the parts of its plot occur in far-flung, disconnected locations, with individuals who at first appear to have no connection to each other. I couldn’t come up with any other television story that fits this mold, although A Good Man Goes To War is close, as is The Wedding of River Song. For once, as far as television is concerned, we may have seen something new—but the VNAs, as seems to often be the case, did it first, and maybe better.

For all that can be said about it, I highly enjoyed this book. It’s a strong story on its own, moving neither too fast nor too slow, and it doesn’t lean on any crutches from other stories. As a result it can be read and enjoyed even without the surrounding books of the trilogies, and I highly recommend it.

warhead-2

Next week: I’m going to take a one-week break from the VNAs, for a reason that I’ll discuss at that time. As a result, I’m not ready to say just yet what we’ll be covering. In the meantime, on the audio front, we’ll go from Kent to Nest Cottage tomorrow with Demon Quest, part three; and we’ll finish up Destiny of the Doctor on Thursday! See you there.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re looking at the fifth entry in the Virgin New Adventures line of novels, Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, by Marc Platt. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

times-crucible-1

Having briefly returned to Ace’s hometown of Perivale, a few years (in local time) after Ace’s abrupt departure to Iceworld, the Seventh Doctor and Ace are disturbed by strange phenomena. Reality becomes temporarily distorted round them, and they receive illusions; a silver cat appears and gets them to follow it back to the TARDIS. Once there, they discover they can’t enter; the door is always on the next panel around, no matter which way they go. With difficulty, they manage to misdirect it and get inside. Once inside, the Doctor leaves Ace in the console room and goes deeper into the ship, seeking the source of the trouble. Something has gotten inside, or is about to, and is corrupting the TARDIS, causing it to begin to fall apart. Ace receives a silver scroll from the console, just before the doors explode inward. As the TARDIS dissolves around her, she sees the crew of an incoming ship crashing into the TARDIS.

In Gallifrey’s ancient past, the world was ruled by seeresses called the Pythia, before Rassilon came and took power and initiated the age of reason. All Gallifreyans are possessed of strong telepathic powers, so that no one is ever alone in his or her own mind, with the exception of the Individuals—rare men and women who can wall off their own thoughts. At the end of that dark era, the early experiments in time travel are taking place. The first time ship, the Time Scaphe, is on an early voyage, carrying a crew that consists of a child Pilot named Shonnzi, and five Chronauts: Reogus, Vael, Chesperl, Amnoni, and the Captain, Pekkary. Unknown to the others, Vael is an Individual whose ability to block his thoughts has mysteriously weakened; secretly, he was planted on the crew by the reigning Pythia. Following a legend in a book of future history, she intends to make him her successor, the first male Pythia, though not even he knows this; and thus she wants him on the crew to ensure that future. Meanwhile, Rassilon plots the Pythia’s downfall. Things are upended, however, when the Time Scaphe fails to return—for in the vortex, it has crashed into the Doctor’s TARDIS, forcing him to break the laws of time in spectacular fashion.

Ace awakens in a strange world, a bizarrely empty city. Over time, she meets the Chronauts, who are also here; but things have changed for them. They are now the Phazels, slaves to the city’s ruler, the Process. Vael serves the Process voluntarily, acting as a slave driver to the Phazels; and Shonnzi has disappeared. Ace learns that the city is divided into three Phases, each representing a different time, but all three existing side-by-side, with each slowly becoming the next. On this planet time is scattered, and one can walk from the future to the past and vice versa. In the beginning, the Process—a monstrous, mollusk-like creature—made itself and the world, and seeks to control the future; but the future was stolen by the Doctor. And now, the Process has killed the Doctor.

Ace meets the Phazels, Vael, and Shonnzi in all three periods, sometimes together; she finds that in the final phase, they all become the Process’s guards, which enforce its will in all three phases. Worse, she as well will be one of those guards. As well, she finds that the Doctor is not dead after all; but his memories are stripped out, and he has grown weak. A future version of the Process returns from the third Phase to challenge its young self, as the homeostatic world it has built begins to change. She learns that the city is, in fact, the TARDIS, shattered and turned inside out. The scroll she carries are the TARDIS’s greyprints—multidimensional blueprints—and the cat, as well as an apparition of the Doctor, are the TARDIS’s imprint, its ghost, of sorts. Together, those entities and the greyprints restore the Doctor’s mind, and he is able to regain some control over the dying TARDIS. At the end—and the beginning—as time is about to cycle again, he challenges the Process, which is now in three forms: old, young, and about-to-be-born. He is able to destroy it, and at the same time, challenge the ancient malice of the last Pythia as she tries to seize control of Vael and claim the TARDIS—and the future—for herself. As the TARDIS reconstructs itself on the Doctor’s will, the last Pythia passes without a successor, but not before she curses Gallifrey. She condemns the planet and its people to have no living offspring from the moment of her death forward. Her curse is effective, as even infants in the womb are immediately stillborn.

As the TARDIS is reconstructed, so is the Time Scaphe, and the remaining Chronauts—the youngest version, including the child version of Shonnzi—are able to return to Gallifrey, albeit more than a year late. Their older versions, deprived of existence by a changed past, vanish. The Doctor and Ace are free to travel again—but there will be consequences as yet. And in ancient Gallifrey, the great works of history still lie ahead for Rassilon, the stellar engineer Omega…and one Other.

If my summary is less detailed than usual, it’s because this is a very non-linear story. It follows Ace’s perspective very strictly, because if it did not, it would be utter chaos. From the point of view of nearly every other character, time becomes cyclical inside the city, and cycle connects with cycle in strange ways, so that laying out a stable timeline for those characters would be impossible. For Ace, who has as normal an experience here as possible, it’s a fairly short time; for the Phazels and the Process, it’s years upon years; and for the Doctor…who knows?

None of that is to say it’s badly done. It’s an excellent story, with an excellent presentation, and keeps a firm grasp on the intricacies of a version of time that is utterly different than what we, the readers, are familiar with. It’s made more complex by the frame story of ancient Gallifrey, which does occur in linear time.

We often refer to the alternate history that involves the somewhat-infamous Looms as the “Cartmel masterplan”, for Andrew Cartmel who initiated it in the classic series; but perhaps even more credit should go to Marc Platt, who spelled it all out for us. I personally do not know if any earlier materials did so, but I suspect that this book is the first place where it is described in detail. Here we get a decent, if brief, explanation of the Looms; the Houses of Gallifrey (and notably, Lungbarrow) with their many Cousins, their Housekeepers, and their Kithriarchs; and the Pythia’s curse on the children of Gallifrey. We expand a bit upon the characters of Rassilon and Omega, and introduce the Other (without the capital letter as yet). We also establish an origin for the Sisterhood of Karn; the dying Pythia tells her fellow priestesses to flee to Karn. (How the all-female Sisterhood, with no Looms available, are to avoid dying out is never stated; The Brain of Morbius makes it clear that they do in fact die, despite possessing the Elixir of Life.) Much of this is explained in far greater detail in the penultimate VNA, Lungbarrow, also by Marc Platt; I do not know what other sources may delve into it as yet.

Given that this is the first of a trilogy, it should not surprise me that we never really get an explanation for the Process. Where did it come from? It’s discussed as though it invaded the TARDIS somehow, but we also see its birth inside the City. I hope that this will be further explored in the remaining two books of the trilogy. It’s a bizarre villain, far from human, but not stupid by any means; even the Doctor admits that it is very intelligent, though it’s a bit narrow-minded, perhaps. I can’t help thinking that it was created strictly for the sake of a pun, however; in view of the Process’s having broken the proper organization of time within the City, we get this line:

“I know Processes take Time,” [the Doctor] called, “And that makes you a thief.”

Some references (beyond those already mentioned): The Doctor thinks of Lady Peinforte (Silver Nemesis). There’s a suggestion that the TARDIS—like the Time Scaphe—is meant to have six crewmembers, which will be confirmed much later in Journey’s End (interestingly, both earlier models (Shada TV version) and later models (The Keeper of Traken, Arc of Infinity) of TARDIS do not require six pilots). The TARDIS’s courtyard (Logopolis) and cricket-equipment room (Castrovalva) are mentioned by Ace. Ace also briefly mentions Timewyrms (the Timewyrn tetralogy). In thinking of Rassilon, the Doctor specifically thinks of the events of The Five Doctors; and in researching the Pythia, he uses a card-reader system that is probably the same as the one used for the Record of Rassilon (State of Decay). The Doctor mentions Adric crashing into Mexico (Earthshock).

Not a bad book; in fact, I’ve enjoyed everything by Platt that I’ve encountered so far (with the exception of Ghost Light; I couldn’t get into that episode very well). As it’s the beginning of a story, I’m curious to see where it goes.

times-crucible-2

Next time: We’ll continue the trilogy with Cat’s Cradle: Warhead by Andrew Cartmel! See you there.

 

Previous

Next