Charity Anthology Review: Regenerations, edited by Kenton Hall, featuring the War Doctor

Nearly seven years ago, I remember sitting in my bedroom with the television on and the lights dimmed. I had put my children—then ages seven and five—to bed early, and locked up the house, and silenced my cell phone, all so that I could watch, uninterrupted, something for which I had waited years: the fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who.

And it was worth it. In the years since, there has been much debate over the episode, much of it over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit (where this post can also be found); but on that night I didn’t care about any of that. I watched and enjoyed the story for everything it represented–fifty years of wonderful stories, of colorful characters, of Doctor after Doctor after Doctor…and something unexpected: a new Doctor! And not even the next one, which we already knew about; but rather, a past Doctor, a hidden Doctor, one the Doctor himself couldn’t bear to bring into the light. Needless to say, I was caught up. (Full disclosure, of course: the actual reveal was in the previous episode—but we knew so little, it may as well have been in the special. I certainly wasn’t disappointed!)

John Hurt’s War Doctor became the glue that held the entire post-Time War continuity together. The Last Great Time War was the event that drove every incarnation of the Doctor, from Eccleston’s Nine to Capaldi’s Twelve; but it took Hurt’s War Doctor to show us just why, and how much, the Doctor loathed himself. So much so that he denied the very name; so much so that he managed to hide the existence of the War Doctor from every instance where he could have been expected to be revealed. But the past doesn’t always stay in the past, even if you’re the Doctor.

Unfortunately, John Hurt was taken too soon. He turned in a few glorious performances as the War Doctor in Big Finish’s audio format; and then he was gone. I one hundred percent respect the BBC’s, and Big Finish’s, decision not to recast him or otherwise continue his legacy. And yet, there’s a part of me, as a fan, that says what everyone was thinking: The War Doctor deserves more.

 

That’s where today’s review comes in. On 03 August 2020, a new War Doctor charity anthology was released; and we’ll be looking at it today. Published by Chinbeard Books, and edited by Kenton Hall, Regenerations is released in support of Invest in ME, a research organization studying treatments for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (the “ME” of the title). I will link to the charity at the end, as well as to the sale page for the anthology. In the meantime, you can view a short trailer for the anthology here!

Regenerations book cover

We’ve had other charity projects concerning the War Doctor before, most notably the Seasons of War anthology (an excellent read, if you can locate a copy; it is currently out of print, and not expected to return). Regenerations is a bit different; where Seasons of War is a compilation of stories that are in rough chronological order—as much as a Time War can ever be chronological!—but mostly unrelated to each other, Regenerations is more tightly woven. But more on that in a moment.

There will be some spoilers ahead! I have given a short and vague overview of the anthology’s entries, but even those clips contain spoilers. Further, afterward, I’ll be summing up the frame story, and will at minimum be spoiling who the major villain is, and a bit of how it is overcome. I am not going to try to spoiler tag such an extensive part of the post; but you can use the line dividers ahead as markers. You can read the next section, beginning with the phrase “Less like an anthology”, safely without significant spoilers. The two line-divided sections thereafter are spoiler-heavy, so if you want to avoid them, skip ahead!

With all that said, let’s dive in!


Less like an anthology, Regenerations reads like a novel, despite being the work of a group of authors. Its stories don’t simply have “the Time War” as their common thread; they mesh together for a purpose. There’s a frame story, penned by editor Kenton Hall, in which the War Doctor begins abruptly to sense that, in this war of changed timelines, someone is playing games with his own past. Suddenly, he’s not quite the man he has been—and he is dangerously close to becoming the man he used to be. That’s unfortunate, and quite possibly disastrous, because the change comes at a critical moment, a time when the universe seems to need the Warrior more than the Doctor. Now, he must work through his past lives and find the divergences, and somehow set them right, before he himself ceases to be. And if, along the way, he can find the parties responsible, it would be a wonderful bonus.

We’re introduced to two new Time Lords, newly minted Academy graduates (and CIA desk jockeys) Jelsillon and Dyliss. Their world is turned on its head when they receive a new mission from the CIA’s Coordinator—and instantly they know something is wrong. The Coordinator is a man they know—but not from the CIA. Rather, it’s a former classmate, Narvin (yes, THAT Narvin), who is suddenly seen to be much older and several regenerations along. Narvin sets them a mission: to disrupt the timeline of the famous (infamous?) Time Lord known as the Doctor. There’s just one problem: They don’t know who that is.

Jelsillon and Dyliss, as it turns out, live in a time long before the War, and even before the rise of the Doctor. This, it seems, makes them prime candidates for the mission; though they familiarize themselves with the Doctor, they have no preconceptions. All they have is a drive for adventure—and who wouldn’t want to save the world, after all?

From here, we launch into a series of tales, one concerning each of the War Doctor’s past lives. Each is an alteration of events familiar to us, the fans; each is a deviation from the timeline we have known. Between these stories, we see in short form the Doctor’s continuing efforts to get to the bottom of the situation.


Let’s take a look at the stories.

  • First Doctor: To get us started and set our course, editor Kenton Hall gives us our first tale, told in five short parts. In An Untrustworthy Child and The World That Was Different, we visit late 1963, where a policeman walks his beat near I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard; but his curiosity will cost him tonight. Elsewhere and elsewhen, on war-torn Gallifrey, the High Council under Rassilon banishes one of its own, and sets a dangerous plan in place. And two young Time Lords, Jelsillon and Dyliss, are sent on a mission to make that plan a reality, though they don’t know what they are getting into. In Exit the Doctor, the First Doctor mulls over his situation, and ultimately decides the time to leave 1963 London is fast approaching; but before he can act, he discovers the alarming presence of another TARDIS in the scrapyard, and goes to investigate. In The TARDISes, the Doctor isn’t the only one investigating; two teachers from his granddaughter Susan’s school are making their way to the scrapyard on a mission of their own. Meanwhile, the occupants of the new TARDIS, Jelsillon and Dyliss, have laid a trap, not for the Doctor, but for his granddaughter, Susan. A split-second decision will return Susan to Gallifrey, and turn everything on its head, as Jelsillon and Dyliss—not Ian and Barbara—join the Doctor on his travels. They have one goal: to ensure he never goes to Skaro, and never meets the Daleks. For, as the High Council believes, it’s the Doctor’s encounters with the Daleks that ultimately lead them to their vendetta against the Time Lords; if that can be averted, will not also the War itself? And in The Pawn of Time, the Doctor—now having traveled for some time with Dyliss and Jelsillon—has just taken on a new companion, one Vicki Pallister. Back on Gallifrey, the banished Cardinal is summoned to a meeting by the War Doctor; and on Earth, a somewhat traumatized policeman decides to put in for his retirement.
  • The Second Doctor: Dan Barratt’s Time of the Cybermen revisits the events of Tomb of the Cybermen, on the distant planet of Telos—until a sweeping wave of timeline changes carries the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria away to Earth, with aching heads and new memories… Here they discover a different tomb, as in the 22nd century they find that the Cybermen, not the Daleks, conquered Earth. Now, the last bastion of humanity, long sleeping in their own frozen crypt, is about to be discovered—and it’s all the Doctor’s fault!
  • The Third Doctor: Andrew Lawston revisits Day of the Daleks in The Paradoxical Affair at Styles. Events happen much the same, with a 22nd century assassin returning to kill Reginald Styles, only to be thwarted—but when the assassin is killed, he is determined to be the Doctor! Naturally, this is most alarming to the Doctor himself. He and Jo Grant find themselves transported into the future—but they miss the mark by twenty years, only to find themselves in the midst of the Dalek occupation of Earth. They receive unexpected aid from an old enemy: The Master—but not as they have known them. This Master claims to be from the future, in a time of universe-consuming war. In the end, his help only serves to perpetuate the loop, with the Doctor returning to the past to assassinate Styles…
  • The Fourth Doctor: Terminus of the Daleks, by Alan Ronald, takes us to the far future of Gallifrey, a time long past the disappearance of the hero known as the Doctor. We meet Ari, an actor, who is playing the role of the Doctor in his greatest adventure: his visit to Skaro at the very beginning of the Dalek menace (Genesis of the Daleks), where he asked the famous question, “Have I the right…?” and then answered with a resounding YES. And yet, here, now, with history solid and reassuring behind him, he must ask himself: How would the Doctor really feel? The question has weight, and so will the answer.
  • The Fifth Doctor: Shockwave, by Simon A. Brett and Lee Rawlings, picks up immediately after the death of Adric—but not the death we remember. After all, there were no Sontarans involved in Adric’s original death. Don’t mind the oddity though; as the Doctor says to Tegan and Nyssa, “as we’ve been dealing with a number of supremely powerful species discharging temporal energy in the same relatively localized area of time and space, normality may be too much to ask.” But there’s no time to worry about that, as the TARDIS has a close call with a VERY displaced Concorde—which leads them to a drastically altered Heathrow airport, an ankylosaurus in the shops, and a kidnapping by a quite unexpected old enemy.
  • Sixth Doctor: Revelation, by Christine Grit, opens with the Sixth Doctor landing on a world called Necros—or is it?—in the midst of an argument with his young companion, Per—no, Adric. Even the Doctor can detect that something isn’t right—just why did he come here, anyway? A funeral? An old friend?—but he can’t force his mind to sort it out. Which quickly becomes irrelevant, as he is captured and placed in a cage in a zoo, right between a dead Sontaran and a depressed-but-artistic Ice Warrior. Adric, meanwhile, escapes, only to fall in with a local band of (literally) shadowy rebels, led by a strange woman with a gravity-defying mermaid tail. Yes, that is a real sentence; just roll with it, it works out alright in the end. Before long, the roles are reversed; it is the Doctor who is free and siding with the young woman, while Adric is a prisoner…of a long-absent Time Lord called the Rani, and her modified Daleks.
  • Seventh Doctor: Enter the Rani by Nick Mellish picks up on the threads left hanging in Revelation. After disposing of Adric, the Rani’s plans have moved ahead, and she has found a suitable world in Lakertya. If only she hadn’t crashed on it! But given time—something she has in abundance—she shapes the rocky continent of her landing into something she can use, enslaving its people, building labs, conducting experiments. It isn’t long before her next targets—the Doctor and his companion, Mel—come along…only to crash as well. Strange. Well, the Rani is nothing if not an opportunist. She captures the Doctor, but is stunned to see that he has just regenerated, which will certainly throw a wrench in the plans. Mel falls in with the remaining natives, and organizes a rescue—and for once it works! The Rani is captured, the Doctor freed. Her plans continue, however—plans to destroy a strange matter comet and collect the chronons it generates, and use them to punch a hole in time and shape history—and evolution—to her own desires. But the mystery still remains: What is it that traps TARDISes on this world? As the moon turns blue, the truth proves to be stranger than fiction—but that won’t stop the end of the world from happening.
  • Eighth Doctor: Steven Horry’s The Edge of the War posits only a small change: What if the Master, in his deathworm morphant form after his execution by the Daleks, didn’t steal the body of Bruce the paramedic, but rather, the body of his wife, Miranda? Such a small change…and yet the consequences snowball, as this new Master kills Chang Lee rather than subverts him, and then steals the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor stranded on Earth—and out of the path of the inevitable Time War.
  • War Doctor–or not?: The Flight of the Doctor, by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, shows us a different view of The Night of the Doctor, one in which Cass and her crew safely escape the gunship’s crash on Karn…and the Doctor walks away from Ohila’s offer. After all, what does a war need more than a medic?

From here to the end of the book, we return to the War Doctor, Jelsillon, and Dyliss. For the War Doctor, this tale began on the world of Makaria Prime, which dealt with the War in a singularly impressive way: By removing themselves from it. Unfortunately, they did so by punching a hole through not only the time vortex, but the very fabric of the universe itself—and that hole became a superhighway for not only the Daleks, but also another, unexpected villain. Long ago, the Doctor encountered an artificial pocket universe called the Land of Fiction, which was ruled by a supercomputer called the Master Brain, using various human proxies. Now, the Master Brain itself has evolved sentience, just in time to find a way through the Makarian rupture and into the universe. And yet, it remains bound to the Land. Now, it seeks the Doctor, not just for revenge, but for a greater purpose: To cede control of the Land to him. This will give the Doctor the power to create what he always wanted: A universe without the Daleks. In turn, it will free the Master Brain to wander the universe and do as it pleases—much as the Rani once sought control over history. It is the Master Brain, using willing pawns in power-hungry Rassilon, Coordinator Narvin, Jelsillon, and Dyliss, who tampered with the Doctor’s past, all to bring him to this point. And to accomplish all this, it has possessed Jelsillon, taking control of his body—a control it plans never to relinquish.

When of course he refuses, the computer tortures him with visions of what may be. He sees his next life save London from overeager Chula nanogenes…by introducing them to regeneration. He sees the Tenth Doctor save Donna Noble from her memories, only to see her become an amalgamation of his own darker sides, calling itself the Valeyard. He sees a world where one Amy Pond didn’t follow her husband into the Weeping Angel’s touch, and mourns his death all the way to a world called Trenzalore. He sees his Twelfth incarnation stand at the top of a miles-long ship with two friends and an old enemy, and watches the villain take a blast for him that leaves a hole through her body. The Master Brain shows him these things not to hurt him (or, well, maybe a little to hurt him), but to show him the wealth of possibilities, if only he will give in.

And ultimately, he does exactly that.

But the Doctor—even as the Warrior—remains the Doctor; and as always, he’s done something clever. For he knows what the computer does not: That as much as anything else, this is a love story. Jelsillon and Dyliss’s story, to be specific—over the years, they’ve developed a bond much greater than classmates or coworkers. And that bond allows Dyliss to find Jelsillon, and with him, the Doctor and the Master Brain. Staser in hand, she offers the computer a way out: The Doctor will take ownership of the Land, and in return the Master Brain can go free—but in its disembodied form, where it can do no harm. At last it agrees.

The Doctor closes the tale with “a bit of a rewrite”. Going one step further than the Master Brain, he seeks out his Thirteenth incarnation, interrupting her battle against the Lone Cyberman at Villa Diodati, and enlists her help to set things right. Slowly he pieces his life back together, visiting points of divergence, preventing changes. Narvin’s call to Jelsillon and Dyliss is intercepted, much to Narvin’s anger. Changes radiate through his timestream as he makes them, a river resuming an old familiar course. Unfortunately, as he does so, the Doctor recedes, and the Warrior resurges. But that’s not such a bad thing—after all, there’s still the matter of the Makarians to deal with. Only a Warrior would help them escape the universe—and after all, the Doctor recently inherited a piece of extra-universal Land…

Back at their old jobs, Jelsillon and Dyliss talk over their experiences, before the timestreams cause them to forget. But some things—like the bond they created—will outlast even the changes of memory.

And in a future still to come, a weary Warrior trudges across a desert toward an old barn, a sack on his back, ready to bring about an end, and so many beginnings.


Most spoilers end here!

One never knows what to expect when beginning a story about the War Doctor. That’s chiefly because it’s impossible to do justice to the Time War, the inevitable backdrop of any War Doctor story. It’s a frequent complaint: Descriptions given by the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors paint a picture that is never fully realized, and understandably so—after all, a true Time War of the scale described would be beyond the comprehension of three-dimensional beings like us. Consequently many stories leave fans feeling a bit short-changed.

I don’t buy into that outlook, though. A bad War Doctor story is better than none at all; and if we can’t properly encompass the incomprehensibility of the Time War, well, neither can its victims. Therein lies the secret: You have to view it through the lens of an individual. When you do that, the smaller stories make sense, because that’s how the incomprehensible would filter down to us.

And if you’re going to do that, then you should run with it.

That’s what we have here in Regenerations. We see the War Doctor not as a force of nature, because forces of nature don’t make good stories (even a disaster movie is about the people it affects). We see him as a person. While we don’t get to see him in full Warrior mode—another frequent complaint—we do get to see him struggle between the two personas of Doctor and Warrior as they’re pitted directly against each other. He himself doesn’t know who he is, and he feels pulled apart by the struggle.

The entire book walks a line between earnest and tongue-in-cheek, sometimes dipping a toe in one direction or the other. There’s a serious story happening here, worthy of any other time-bending story in Whovian continuity; but there’s also plenty of jokes, and a wealth of references to past stories, far more than I could possibly cover here as I usually do. That’s above and beyond the fact that each story is a new take on a classic story—you get inside jokes, such as the War Doctor announcing “Im looking for the Doctor”; Graham declaring “You’ve certainly come to the right place”; and Thirteen leaping in to insist that “No he hasn’t! He’s come to entirely the wrong place and he knows it!”

I admit to being especially impressed at the continuity here. Sometimes I forget just how many threads of continuity one must tie together in order to keep a story in order these days. It’s especially complicated here, where not only do we have to track each Doctor’s timestream, track the changes we’re making, and make sure we’re not contradicting more obscure details; but also we have to bring in any number of sources—for example, Narvin from the Gallifrey audio series, the Doctor’s return to the Land of Fiction in the New Adventures novels, various television seasons, and even a hint about the Eighth Doctor being stranded on Earth with Grace Holloway in the Doctor Who Magazine comics. Somehow, despite spanning an entire stable of authors, it works.

In the final analysis, the book left me both satisfied with the outcome, and wanting more. I’m content with the end of this story; it’s fully resolved, and lingering too long would weaken it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some more stories set in some of these alternate lives. In particular, Jelsillon and Dyliss are interesting characters, and I’d be interested to see more of their adventures with the First Doctor in place of Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Or, I would like to see more of the life of third-regeneration Susan as a Cardinal during the Time War—a different take than her appearance in the audio All Hands on Deck; a life in which she either never left Gallifrey with the Doctor, or was returned there from 1963 London by Jelsillon and Dyliss (her own memories of the event are in flux at this point). I’d like to know what happens to Seven and Mel and the Rani if and when they escape Lakertya. I wouldn’t mind a glimpse into the battle against Donna as the Valeyard.

We’ll leave that to the imagination for now, I suppose.

But, if you’re also into alternate continuities, or the War Doctor, or just the humor to be had in revisiting these adventures, check out the book. You’ll enjoy it, and you’ll give some support to a worthy cause in the process.

Thanks for reading!

You can purchase Regenerations from Chinbeard Books at this link. Please note that the limited print run has sold out, but the ebook is still available.

The trailer for the anthology may be viewed here.

For more information on Invest in ME Research, check out their website here.

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.

line break 1

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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 44: Rise/Risen: A Coda

Concluding 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 is over.

Part One: The man who was of late a warrior–the Warrior—stands at the console. Memories burn and fade in his mind. The taste of tea; an art gallery. He remembers, but he doesn’t. Three men and a woman—no, two; one of them both familiar and not. Three men? Two? Or only one? Old memories flood back, as well—a long-ago moment of theft of a TARDIS. Words at random, Earth words. A rose. A moment—no, a Moment.

Words spill from his tongue, at first in…French? Is he French this time? No, that makes no sense, though it would be quite a change indeed. His accent. Something northern this time.

The biggest change of all: He is young. Very young. After so many years of old age, it’s only right. The change in body, in sensations, is too much. It always is. What’s with these new ears?

Suddenly it all roars back to him. The barn. The Moment. The end of it all. It’s too much to bear, and he collapses as, roaring in, here comes everything.

Part Two: The TARDIS hangs and spins in the time vortex, battered by the winds of time. It tumbles toward a nearby world, on a collision course. Its pilot lies unconscious on the floor, defending himself in the only way possible from the onslaught of horrible memories, the terrible past (now Time Locked away, but the memories stay). As he comes to, he examines it all in his mind: the War, the Daleks, the Time Lords, Gallifrey, the madness…so many names he has worn in his rush to be anything but himself: the Warrior, the Postman, the Foreman, the Man in the Bandolier, the Prisoner…

He remembers it all: the death of his Eighth body on Karn, the end of the Doctor. The Chronosmiths and the Eight Minute War. The return of Rassilon, the lives and deaths of Jenny Shirt and Cinder, the Fall of Arcadia… and under (over?) it all, a fading memory of a man in a bow tie, and one in sand shoes…

He hesitates a moment only, before admitting it to himself. HE pressed the button. He used the Moment, and killed every last one of them—Daleks and Time Lords alike.

He is awake now. He moves to the console, pressing buttons, setting things right, stabilizing his ship.

Part Three: The newborn Doctor wanders the corridors of his ancient TARDIS, probing at the remaining hole in his memories. He cannot remember how he got here. From the Moment to the TARDIS…shouldn’t he have burned with Gallifrey? It was certainly what he intended. He had no wish to survive.

This TARDIS…now it is home for certain. It is the only home he has left. As he strides through its passages, it too shakes off the War. It rebuilds itself, changes, transforms…and as it does, the Doctor does the same. The Warrior falls away, and the Doctor blossoms—“like a rose”, he hears in his mind. He remembers them all—and he remembers ending them.

“Fantastic,” he calls out, new vowels bitter and ironic echo and reverberate. “I wiped them out, watched them burn then popped-off in my TARDIS and had a cuppa!” And with that, he laughs, perhaps for the first time in a long time.

Still, he can’t fill the hole in his memory. Words float back, indicating something might be different from what he recalls, but they are gone again at once. But… the War, the Last Great Time War, is over. “No more,” he says. “I am the Doctor again…”

He visits the wardrobe for the first time in years. He drops his old jacket to the floor, drops the bandolier with it. His sonic screwdriver rolls across the floor to fetch up against a crate. Atop that crate lies a simple, black leather jacket. That will work…keep things simple. He changes quickly, discarding the Warrior’s clothes, not paying much attention to what he chooses, and putting the new jacket over it all. The sonic, he leaves lying on the floor—he’ll soon make a new one, with fewer memories attached.

As he finishes, the Cloister Bell tolls. It may signal danger, but it gives order to his world. He is needed…somewhere. He runs back through his regenerating TARDIS, toward the console room.

He finds that this room, too, is changing—and what worse time? It burns and melts, its roundels falling and disappearing, coral spearing up through its floor to strike the ceiling. “Not now! Just give me this moment!”

The screen is active. It focuses in on Earth, London, 2005. There is a signal there. Nestene? Did the Consciousness survive? Its world burned, too…he’d been unable to help. Perhaps now he could set that right. The Nestene will be wanting the Earth. Perhaps today he can save two races.

His ship is burning. He himself is newly transformed. And yet, he knows two things for sure:

“The Earth’s in danger,” he says. “And I’m the Doctor.”

As he throws the dematerialisation switch, and swoops toward a planet he never expected to see again, he can’t help but be excited. The Doctor has returned. “Fantastic,” he says. “Absolutely fantastic!”

After the Horde of Travesties, beyond the Nightmare Childe,

When a rose caught in a Moment,

Bloomed ferocious genocide.

The Warrior fades and weakens, loosens heavy bandolier,

Forgets his day as the doctor,

Now the Doctor, again, is near.

Rise Risen 1

There are only a few things I regret about The Day of the Doctor. One is that the past-Doctor actors didn’t get to make an appearance, with the exception of Tom Baker as the Curator (The Five-ish Doctors Reboot notwithstanding). The others are tied together: I regret that Christopher Eccleston declined to appear (although, if he had, we might not have had the War Doctor at all, and might not be having this conversation!), and I regret that the War Doctor’s regeneration scene was cut short out of deference to Eccleston. That last is particularly notable; it’s no surprise that numerous fans have recut the video to show a more complete transformation into the Ninth Doctor. This story also sets out to address that gap, by giving us the newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor from the moment immediately after regeneration (as he still has the taste of the tea he drank in the under-gallery in his mouth) to the moment when he heads for Earth to initiate the events of Rose.

Some fans may take issue with the idea that Rose occurs so soon after regeneration. Certainly it’s been debated often—did the Ninth Doctor have adventures prior to meeting Rose Tyler? I think that that was certainly the implication, as there’s the famous scene where he looks in Jackie Tyler’s mirror as though he had never seen his own face before. It is a bit undermined by a scene later in Series One in which the Doctor was seen alone at several historic events, including the JFK assassination and the eruption of Krakatoa. Stories in other media have taken the stance that he spent some time without companions before meeting Rose; but the subject is still open for debate. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that Rose is truly his first adventure in this body, and that the historical scenes are later in his personal timeline (as it’s simple enough to get separated from Rose long enough for a photo to be snapped even if she is present for the adventure). With this story, it’s great to see the connection between The Day of the Doctor and Rose, even if the Doctor himself can’t see it (due to his memory being altered by the out-of-sync timelines among his selves.)

The thing that stands out to me most in this final story is the idea that it’s not over. Oh, the Time War is over, there’s no question of that; but the Doctor’s story is not over. It would have been very easy to look at the Time War and its resolution as the end-all of events in the Doctor’s life—after all, how do you top something like that? Simply put: you don’t try to top it, you just move on. The Doctor does exactly that here: he begins to alternately lose and push away his memories, and he looks toward the future. New body, new clothes, new sonic screwdriver (soon anyway), new TARDIS interior…and it is most definitely time for a change! He’ll have the lingering guilt to deal with, of course, but we know it will work out for him in the end. In the meantime, he gets to go and be fantastic.

We’ve reached the end of the anthology, and for a time, we can let the War Doctor rest. There’s one item left to cover; we’ll be looking at the Seasons of War short film next, and then we’ll put this series on hold until December, when The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War picks up the War Doctor’s story again. I hope everyone has enjoyed this series.

Some time ago, someone asked what materials are new to the final edition of the anthology. As per the editor, the stories titled Life During Wartime, Reflections, and today’s entry, Rise/Risen: A Coda, are all new. Additionally, all incidental art by Simon Brett, the opening endorsement by Steven Moffat (“Seasons Of War. At last: the John Hurt era continues. Those sixteen years off the air are fixed now!” – Steven Moffat, January 2017. Located on page 11 of the final edition.), and the illustrations by Raine Stryminski (pages 6 and 8, for anyone who has the final edition) of the young and old War Doctors, are all new.

Rise/Risen: A Coda was written by Declan May, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: the Seasons of War short film, written and directed by Andy Robinson, with additional information from The Director’s Tale, also by Andy Robinson.

risen proof

If you would like to get started with Seasons of War, there is a limited-time opportunity open right now to obtain the ebook version of the anthology, for a few more days only I checked just prior to posting, and saw that the ebook orders closed yesterday. My apologies. However there is currently an auction open for two signed copies (first and second editions in one prize package) along with some other special items. Also, pre-orders have been re-opened for The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War for one more day only! I will include links to both at the end of this post. As these are unofficial, charity projects, sales are limited, and no volumes are guaranteed to be released again. I am not affiliated with either project; I’m simply promoting them because I found the first one to be excellent, and expect the others to continue as such.

To pre-order The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War, please visit this link for information and payment options. This opportunity has been re-opened ONLY until Saturday, 07/15/17.

Another volume in the series, War Crimes: Dispatches and Testimonies from the Dark Side of the Time War, is also available for pre-order at this link.

Other volumes (Corsair, Gallifrey, and Regenerations) have been announced, and pre-order dates will be forthcoming.

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Prose Review: Fanwinked

We’re back, with another Doctor Who prose review! I say “prose” instead of the usual “novel”, because what I’m reviewing today isn’t strictly a novel; it’s a collection. I’m a bit behind on the New Adventures—didn’t make it through Transit in time to post about it this week—and so we’ll cover something different that I finished recently. Today we’re covering J.R. Southall’s Fanwinked, an unauthorized collection of Doctor Who short stories. It’s off the beaten path, but bear with me; it may interest you, and it’s currently in print (unlike most of the New Adventures). Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

Fanwinked

I have to say up front, I was a little confused when I discovered this book (via a post on the Facebook page for the War Doctor charity anthology, Seasons of War, which with any luck should be arriving in the mail this week). It’s billed as unauthorized—the author doesn’t shy away from descriptions of “fanfiction”—and yet it’s still for sale. I’ve been working toward publication for some time, and I still have no idea how that can be legal, but apparently it is. At any rate, allegedly all royalties are being donated to charity, so perhaps that has something to do with it.

The key descriptor I have for the book is “irreverent”. It’s not a serious take on the Whoniverse at all, although there are a few serious stories in it. Most of its selections are parodies of one sort or another. Don’t let that discourage you; they’re mostly good parodies, if not quite Curse of Fatal Death good. When I say irreverent, I also mean that there is material here that—while not particularly lurid—would be a bit too racy for the television series, though not by much. (He may allow it to be called fanfiction, but it’s not THAT kind of fanfiction. Mostly.)

It is worth it to take a moment and copy over the book’s back-cover blurb before we go on:

Somewhere in space and time, Peter Cushing really is the first Doctor Who, Hugh Grant’s TARDIS turn lasted longer than a few Fatal Death minutes, and Adric is the King of the Neanderthals.

In this same alternative reality, the United States produced their own domestic remake of the series, Clara met the eighth Doctor over a cow, and the eleventh Doctor had an insatiable desire to terminate Amy and Rory with as much extreme prejudice as he could muster.

None of these things are real. But don’t let that stop you.

The blurb is a bit misleading. There is a Cushing Doctor story, but it’s strictly within the universe of the Cushing Dr. Who films; and as far as I could tell, there is no story that includes Hugh Grant’s Doctor (or if there is, he’s vague enough not to make it obvious; maybe it was a planned story that was cut?). Adric definitely is king of the Neanderthals, however; we’ll get to that. The other stories it references are as it says.

Let’s take a glance at each story. I’m listing them out of order; I want to look at the parodies first, and then finish with the more serious works. Many of the stories are set up like an Unbound audio: “What if…?”

The book opens with “The Silent Space”. This Eleventh-Doctor story asks the question, “What if you open the TARDIS doors while it’s in flight?” The answer really has nothing to do with the question, but that’s beside the point. The story’s real purpose is to provide a send-up of the show’s habit of killing Rory Williams at every opportunity—in fact, he dies a few times in this story—and to that end, it brings in River Song at various ages, and not one, but two Amys—who end up kissing each other. Hey, I did say it was mostly not that kind of fanfiction. It’s a funny story, but it’s a little disorganized; there are certainly better. The book also includes an earlier draft of this story, which is in the form of a script rather than a short story, but hits all the same notes. The story was first published in a fanzine called Fanwnak (and no, that isn’t a misspelling, it’s actually titled that way).

“River Song’s Bedtime Story”, also written for Fanwnak, is a good followup to the “The Silent Space”. It uses the framework of River—the adult River, mind you—visiting her parents, Amy and Rory, overnight for the first time; and she insists on something she never got as a child: A bedtime story. Okay, silly, perhaps, but simple enough. The story they tell her reads as a parody, but actually is fairly serious with regard to its events. In the story, the Doctor takes Amy and Rory (post-The Big Bang) back to Totter’s Yard, 23 November 1963, to show them where his travels had their beginning (yes, I know, not literally the beginning, but shut up, this is fanwank at its best). Their plans take an abrupt turn, however, when they end up rerouted to Dallas a day early, and meet none other than Lee Harvey Oswald. The Doctor’s usual take on such events is to leave them untouched, but there’s just one problem: Oswald is a Time Agent from the future, and he’s here to save the president! Insert chaos, watch things degrade from there. I won’t spoil the ending.

“Companion Peace” rounds out this early trilogy of Fanwnak submissions, all of which feature the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River. This is the only story that I truly didn’t like, and for one simple reason: It’s creepy as hell. In its presentation, it feels very much like Curse of Fatal Death; it features the Doctor divesting himself of past responsibilities—mostly in the form of his companions, whom he repeatedly tries to drop off in dangerous situations—and obtaining a new love interest. That’s fine; it’s funny. Then you reach the last page; and for once, I don’t mind giving a spoiler. On the last page, you find out that the new love interest…is a memory-wiped Susan. You find this out just before the Doctor goes to bed with her. This is completely out of character for this author, and honestly I have no idea what the hell he was thinking, or how he got even an independent fanzine to publish it. I promise you the other stories are not like that.

“Dance of Light” brings us to a section of stories that feel parodic, but really aren’t; the author is writing a serious story, but cloaking it in humor. It’s well done in most cases, and is similar to the way that the Christmas specials tend to run; in fact, one story that we’ll get to could be a sort of Christmas special. More of that later. This story—written under the pseudonym “Terrance Dick”, without the final –s–actually doesn’t involve the Doctor at all. It’s a UNIT story, set shortly before the Third Doctor’s regeneration in Planet of the Spiders, and it gives us the story of Harry Sullivan’s arrival at UNIT. Sergeant Benton, the Brigadier, Mike Yates, and Jo Grant find themselves obligated to thwart an alien invasion while attending a celebration of UNIT’s tenth anniversary. It’s a neatly written story, and gives Jo and Mike a chance to take center stage, however briefly. Harry—the real Harry, if that’s not revealing too much—does appear near the end. The Doctor gets a brief mention, but does not appear. Anything else I could say would be a spoiler; but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and was sorry to see it be so short. (Big Finish, take note: Perhaps a set of UNIT Short Trips wouldn’t be out of order…?)

“Maid of Eight” is another faux-parodic story. It’s narrated by Clara Oswald, although that isn’t revealed until later, and involves one of her many “echoes” from The Name of the Doctor. This one meets the Eighth Doctor; it’s not particularly clear from the story itself that that is the incarnation appearing here, but between the descriptions given and the title of the story, it’s obvious. Eight is traveling alone at this point. I’m not fond of Clara in her later seasons, but I’ve always admitted to liking the “impossible girl” storyline, and this story falls under that umbrella, so it’s not bad. It also includes a cow with green milk. What’s not to love?

“Time-Shock” is the promised Adric story, and takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the popular complaint that the Fifth Doctor could have saved Adric. The Doctor wants to go back and save Adric; Nyssa and Tegan, not so much. There are some suggestive moments—okay, some very blatant suggestive moments—between Nyssa and Tegan, and some innuendo involving the Doctor; this is not a family story, but it’s not creepy like “Companion Peace”, either. The story begins at the end of Earthshock, and ends with Adric becoming the expected King of the Neanderthals (and the Australopithecus, and…). How he gets there is something you just have to see for yourself. Suffice it to say, he didn’t die after all, despite the best efforts of his female companions.

“Let’s Regenerate!” is written in script form. I have to say, I’ve read it once, gone over it a few more times, and I still have no idea what’s going on. That in no way makes it any less funny. It involves the various Doctors meeting and progressing through their regenerations, finally culminating in a new, Thirteenth Doctor (gloriously portrayed as John Cleese). The Valeyard makes an appearance; we get not one, but TWO Capaldi Twelfth Doctors; and the first through third Doctors are portrayed by Kenneth Colley, Sam Troughton, and Sean Pertwee. Every Doctor delivers a ton of one-line non sequiturs, but always perfectly in character. I’m still laughing, even if I can’t quite figure out why.

“WHO” asks the question: “What if Doctor Who was remade in America?” You may have seen the list that went around a few years ago of who might play the various Doctors, had the show been made in America (it was quite good, except for Nicholas Cage). This, I assure you, is as far from that as you can get. We’re so deep in parody territory here that we may never get out. The author uses multiple pseudonyms within this story; his favorite is “Stephen Muppet”, poking fun at Steven Moffat. This story is the most egregious example of that. It’s another Eleventh Doctor story, though only incredibly loosely so; it takes the characters of the Amy Pond (or rather, Aimee Bond—yes, it’s that kind of parody) era and loosely retells the story of Genesis of the Daleks, and I do mean loosely. Rory still manages to die, or almost anyway. There’s a lot of innuendo here, but nothing particularly gratuitous, unless you count renaming the TARDIS as “Travels In Time And Space Shuttle”—you figure out the acronym. Yes, they make exactly that joke. It’s a funny story, but I felt like it tries too hard; it’s humor on the same level as the old Mad Magazine or Cracked Magazine comics, but without the experience those magazines had after years of writing such things.

“The Happy Man” is parody by merit of its subject matter, though it tries to be a serious story. It’s a sequel to The Happiness Patrol, and brings back the Kandy Man—excuse me, the Happy Man, as he’s calling himself here. It’s hard to write a story about that character without unintentionally becoming a parody; Southall doesn’t really manage the trick. It’s not a bad story, though. It begins with a drug epidemic, and ends as a human-interest story, and somehow the transition doesn’t seem contrived. It does give us a made-up companion character, Punk, rather than using Ace; I think that was a good decision, as Ace would have taken over this story, and it’s not about the companion. It has one of the better speeches about the Doctor’s (and the companion’s) purpose, and it’s worth the read just for that scene. I enjoyed it anyway, but if you just can’t stomach a Kandy Man story, it’s probably skippable.

“Pieces of Eight” is by far the strangest story in the collection. I was sure at first that it was going to be some kind of parody. It’s written in script form, and an animated version exists on YouTube, although I haven’t looked it up as yet. It’s an Eighth Doctor story, and at first glance it’s another take on the popular trope of having the Doctor meet his past selves inside his own mind. It lampshades this trope by having the Doctor recognize that that is what’s happening; but still, nothing works out quite like he expects. The various version of the Doctor have alternate names here, like “Stream” and “Flavour” and “Choke”; that’s one of the reasons I assumed it was a parody, and laughed appropriately. By the end of the story, you’re not laughing anymore, as the story very suddenly pulls the curtain back, and you realize that it’s a commentary on the Time War, before the War even begins. I was completely caught off guard by this turn of events, and I like to think I’m good at spotting a twist coming. It’s a very good story, though it can only really spring its twist on you once, and probably wouldn’t hold up to rereading (or as I call this, “Shyamalan Syndrome”). It does seem to have been written before the War Doctor was introduced, as it skips over him and ends with a cameo of the Ninth Doctor. (In context, that’s not much of a spoiler—read the story!)

Now we reach the truly serious stories, of which there are three. These occur in the middle of the book, but I delayed them to the end of the post, because they’re worth the extra consideration. “Time’s Past is a short piece, only requiring two or three minutes to read, but it is hands down the most emotional piece in the book. It’s a very brief encounter between an aging Ian Chesterton and the Eleventh Doctor, in which they reminisce without ever quite revealing their identities to each other. It doesn’t matter; they know. (It doesn’t take into account Ian’s previous meeting with the Eleventh Doctor in Hunters of the Burning Stone, but then, stories in other media often overlook the comics, so that’s forgiveable, perhaps.) This story made me cry, which is something that almost never happens with regard to a story. It also takes into account the real-world death of Jacqueline Hill, giving a corresponding death to Barbara at some point in the past, and handling the entire matter very respectfully, but also very emotionally. It’s my favorite entry in the collection, and I highly recommend it. I’ve often imagined such a scene between the Twelfth Doctor and Ian, and I had hoped that he would make a cameo in Class as one of Coal Hill’s board of governors, so that we would have such a scene; but it didn’t happen, of course. This story is very much what I would have imagined, though with a different Doctor.

“The Short and the Tall of It” is the aforementioned Cushing/Dr. Who story. It’s narrated in first person by that universe’s version of Ian, who is still dating Dr. Who’s granddaughter, Barbara, placing it between the two films. It implies that there have been other adventures in Tardis (again, not a misspelling—see any post about the movies for more details) since the first, with Ian a semi-unwilling participant. It’s this universe’s answer to Planet of Giants, and makes clever use of both time-travel (Tardis-free, this time) and changes in size. I’m fond of the films, and I like stories with the Cushing Doctor, rare as they may be; and I really had no problems with this story. It’s pure fun, but that’s exactly what it aims to be, and it succeeds.

Finally, there’s “Everything In Its Right Place”. This story centers on the War Doctor, and constitutes Southall’s contribution to the Seasons of War charity anthology. It seems to hinge on other events covered in that anthology, though I won’t be sure until I receive my copy; it implies that the War Doctor previously relocated Earth into another dimension. In Earth’s place, something else has arisen, riding on the dreams of the displaced planet. It’s told from the point of view of Alice, a peculiar girl who seems to be not entirely human…but she’s becoming human, or so the Doctor thinks. It plays out similarly to such classic stories as The Mind Robber, with changing environments and adversaries; it ends with a poignant loss, before the Doctor returns to his war. It’s the older War Doctor in view here, although I understand that the charity anthology includes stories of his younger self as well. There are two versions of this story as well; the version that was submitted for the anthology appears first, and an earlier draft rounds out the book. Both are good; the changes don’t seem to improve so much as change focus.

As a whole, the collection is better than I expected when I bought it. At a price of just five dollars for the Kindle edition, I wasn’t expecting much; I just thought it would be a few hours’ idle entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised. There’s really only one low point (“Companion Peace”), and several of the other stories give insight into corners of the Doctor Who universe that often slip through the cracks and get forgotten. It’s an emotional roller coaster, running the gamut from humor to sobriety to nobility to “Why would you WRITE that?!” It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition; the link is below. If you’re the kind of fan for whom “canon” is less a structure and more a friendly suggestion, you’ll love this collection; and even if that’s not you, you’ll still find something to enjoy. Check it out!

Next week: Hopefully I’ll be back on track with the VNAs, reviewing Transit. See you there.

Fanwinked, by J.R. Southall, may be purchased from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.  Link is below.

Fanwinked

Audio Drama Review: The Time Machine

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we finish up the fiftieth anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, with the Eleventh Doctor’s contribution, The Time Machine. Written by Matt Fitton, this story is read by Jenna Coleman, Michael Cochrane, and Nicholas Briggs. Let’s get started!

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

time-machine-1

November 23, 2013: Alice Watson is late for an appointment at Oxford. In her rush, she bumps into a young man in a bowtie, who is texting someone. In a nearby lab, Professor Cedric Chivers is at work on his device while he waits for Alice; on his desk sits a smoky, glassy cube—a Time Lord hypercube, though he doesn’t know it. The cube has given him, and continues to give, instructions for the construction of the machine—and the voice it uses is Chivers’ own. As Alice arrives, she meets the man in the bowtie again, who introduces himself as the (Eleventh, though he doesn’t specify) Doctor. She thinks he is from Cambridge (or possibly Yale or Osaka), and he plays along, claiming to be from St. Cedd’s, class of 1980. She accompanies him to meet Chivers, and see his machine…his time machine.

The Doctor asserts that the machine should not exist. He notes the hypercube, which Alice describes as a communication device. He warns her that the machine is impossible, and should scare her. Chivers joins them; the Doctor says he is here to dismantle the time machine. The Doctor confronts Chivers about his lack of real understanding of how the machine works; Chivers claims he trusts the instructions because they are coming from himself in the future. The Doctor inquires about the hypercube, calling it by name; Chivers says it arrived with the first parts of the machine. Chivers admits the cube represents a time loop [which actually is true—I’ll get back to this later], and says he intends to dismantle it himself—once he uses it to send the instructions and parts back to himself. Alice insists it can be duplicated repeatedly as long as every user does the same as Chivers. The Doctor takes the cube, and in response, something begins to materialize. A large, insectoid creature appears by the machine; Alice sees it, but Chivers cannot, because he is inside the causal loop. The creature and its people are the Creevix; the Doctor does not know them, but the creature claims the Doctor cannot stop them, because they are “already here”. Five more join the first. Suddenly the creatures vanish.

The Doctor says he sensed something wrong, which drew him here. He invites Alice to come with him. The Creevix reappear behind Chivers, who still can’t see them; the Doctor tells Alice to run. Outside, they see more Creevix mixed among the humans in the area. In a nearby library, they descend to the basement, where the creatures continue to hunt them. Back in the lab, Chivers unwraps the final component of the machine—the Time Core—and its schematics. He starts to install it.

In the Library, the Doctor leads Alice to the TARDIS; despite her lack of knowledge of fiction, she has a suitably impressed reaction to the ship’s larger interior. He tells her it is a real time machine, more so than the one in the lab. He begins trying to track the source of the hypercube’s messages—but the cube vanishes. He takes the TARDIS to track it. Chivers finishes installing the Time Core. He prepares to enter the machine—but one of the Creevix manifests itself to him, forcing him to admit the Doctor and Alice were right. The Creevix tells him one word: “Wait.”

The TARDIS gets stuck in the vortex, somehow—something is choking off passage, allowing them to travel only twenty years forward or backward of their starting point. They materialize back in Oxford, in the future, as the cloister bell sounds. In this future, the Creevix have overrun everything, and are visible everywhere. Copies of the time machine are all over the place, and more appear as they watch—the many copies are what has jammed the vortex. Each machine discharges another Creevix. They say they will consume the universe, as it is fractured, which is what allowed them to enter from their own universe. In that universe, they claim to be the masters of Time, and they are aware of the Time Lords. One Creevix takes a strand of Alice’s hair; the Doctor says that it is absorbing her potential time, her future. It says that if it did the same to the Doctor, and killed him, the future becomes unclear. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to disorient the creatures, inflaming their sense of time. The Creevix block access to the TARDIS, but the Doctor and Alice take one of the other time machines.

Elsewhere—and elsewhen—a man named Guy Taylor is in a time machine of his own. He works for the Time Agency, and is about to embark on his first mission, to resolve an anomaly in the 20th century. He takes a moment to reflect on his parents, who were early explorers.

In the glove box of Doctor and Alice’s machine, they find a photo of a couple, whom the Doctor finds familiar. Alice discusses her own past and her obsession with science and facts, and her father’s disappointment in her. The Doctor finds Guy Taylor’s Time Agency ID card, and concludes the couple are Taylor’s parents. [Presumably the items, like the machine, are copies.] The machine represents a paradox, but the paradox had to start somewhere—in Taylor’s time. Also in the glovebox is a copy of the hypercube. The Doctor and Alice send the machine back to its point of origin—Guy’s future.

In Guy’s machine, something is wrong. He sees Alice’s reflection in the canopy, with Creevix outside—and then he ceases to exist. In the other machine, Alice sees Guy, and sees him vanish. A Creevix pulls them from the machine, where they witness a devastated world covered in Creevix. It tells them it is the end of their universe. The Creevix demonstrates that it can anticipate their every thought and word. It tells them that they come from another universe, and that they were able to come through because the Doctor’s TARDIS struck Guy’s capsule in the vortex, creating a crack in the universe. This pushed Guy’s capsule into the Creevix universe, allowing them to force their way back through—and formulate this plan. Now they have devoured all life in the universe; and they have manipulated the Doctor to that moment in order to retroactively set the plan into motion.

They entrap the Doctor, rendering him immobile to witness the death of his universe. They also seal off the TARDIS. They give Alice the hypercube and send her back to deliver it to Chivers, just a few minutes or hours into his future, where he will start the loop by sending it back in time with the capsule and instructions. She is forced to go.

Once she arrives, she gives the cube to Chivers, and three Creevix are present as well. However, they are interrupted by the Doctor! He gives a lengthy-but-rapid rundown of his plan and how he has outwitted the Creevix [note—I’ll elaborate shortly; his explanation includes an explanation of all the parts of the plan that occurred in the preceding ten stories]. In the middle of it, the TARDIS is heard; the Doctor says it was breaking free of the Creevix’s trap in the future, materializing around his frozen form, and transporting him to just minutes before this confrontation. Hidden in the room are a psychokinetic manipulator, and the chunk of therocite [from Vengeance of the Stones]; the Doctor uses the manipulator to hurl the therocite at a structural weak point in the capsule, destroying it. This breaks the temporal loop, creating a void which sucks in all the wreckage of the capsule, the Creevix, and—finally—the hypercube, blasting them back to the Creevix’s home universe. In the future, the hordes of Creevix will never exist, as that timeline now ceases to exist.

At the last moment, another capsule materializes—and Guy Taylor steps out. For him, it’s only been a moment since he left his own time; he is quite surprised to find a welcoming party. He witnesses as the Doctor reintroduces himself to Professor Chivers, or Cedric, as Susan once knew him—and reflects on how Chivers’ life has changed. In the end, Alice is offered a chance to travel with the Doctor; but she declines. She asks, instead, to travel with Taylor, who grants her request.

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For a story that happens over the course of a matter of hours, this entry is quite complex, and a bit difficult to follow. I enjoyed it; for all its complexity, it’s a satisfying resolution to the series arc. Doctor Who has long been known for stories that involve paradoxes and quirks of time travel, and this story is one of the best in that regard.

There’s a good explanation of the Doctor’s plan on the TARDIS wiki, but I’ll try to summarize it here; it’s essential for understanding how the story works out. So, with each Doctor working at the direction of the Eleventh:

  • The first Doctor introduces the young Cedric Chivers to the music of Bob Dylan in Hunters of Earth. This changes Cedric’s life, and through attending concerts he eventually meets his wife and has children. Having a family makes the elderly Cedric hesitate to cooperate with the Creevix, allowing the Eleventh Doctor time to stop them. The Doctor also uses Dylan lyrics to identify himself to the elderly Cedric.
  • The Seventh Doctor and Ace saved the life of OhOne in Shockwave. OhOne would go on to become the father of Guy Taylor.
  • The Tenth Doctor and Donna saved the life of Lyric Erskine in Death’s Deal. Lyric would go on to become the mother of Guy Taylor. The pair’s adventures would inspire Guy to join the Time Agency.
  • The Ninth Doctor saved the life of James Joseph McNeil, who went on to become the mayor of New Vegas, in Night of the Whisper. As mayor, he created the Memorial Hotel, which is where OhOne and Lyric had their second honeymoon, on which they conceived Guy Taylor.
  • The Third Doctor, in Vengeance of the Stones, ensured that the super-dense therocite was present in Chivers’ office, which previously belonged to Dr. Raynard, UNIT’s geology expert. The rock was too heavy to be moved by Chivers, therefore it stayed put for decades; and it was sufficiently dense to destroy the capsule. However, it was too heavy to be moved by the Doctor, as well, so…
  • The Fifth Doctor returned the sphere to the Ovids in Smoke and Mirrors. This generous act impressed them enough that they eventually, some centuries hence, share their knowledge of psychokinesis with humanity. Humanity uses this to develop a technological counterpart. The Doctor is able to—at some point—acquire a psychokinetic manipulator device based on that technology. He uses it to throw the therocite at the capsule.
  • The Eleventh Doctor was already caught in the causality loop. Therefore he was obligated to ensure that the entire loop took place. To that end, he sent a message to the Creevix while they were still trapped in their universe, which led them to Chivers when they crossed over. He sent that message using sub-pulsar communication technology learned from the Quiet Ones in  Shadow of Death. He also sent the messages to his past self by implanting them in the hypercube while in the Creevix-infested future, and then keying it to activate when placed in the TARDIS by the Seventh Doctor in Shockwave. However…
  • …those messages were blocked in the vortex by the interference placed by the invading aliens in Enemy Aliens. Therefore one of the messages (received in a non-linear way) led the Eighth Doctor and Charley to eliminate the interference.
  • The sub-pulsar message was transmitted by the copy of the Fourth Doctor that existed inside the Babblesphere when it was copied at the end of Babblesphere. That copy was placed in a museum that would later have the technology to build a sub-pulsar transmitter.
  • And finally, the TARDIS escaped from the Creevix trap—and from the timeline that was ceasing to exist—using the power of the omniparadox hidden aboard by the Sixth Doctor and Peri in Trouble in Paradise.
  • The only true paradox in the entire ordeal is the existence of the hypercube. The cube was placed on Tarsus by the Doctor’s TARDIS—or rather, sent there by the TARDIS—and then collected by the Seventh Doctor, who gave it to OhOne, who gave it to Guy, who had it in his capsule. The Eleventh Doctor and Alice got it from there, or rather, from one of the copy capsules. Alice returned it to Chivers. The Doctor then tossed it into the void, sending it to the Creevix, who ultimately gave it to Chivers, thus allowing the Doctor to collect it at the beginning of the story and place it on the TARDIs, which then sent it to TARSUS. As such, it’s an ontological paradox—the origin of the cube is unaccounted for. But we can guess that the Eleventh Doctor created it, though we don’t know when.

I’ve picked at this complex plan for some time, and I can’t find any other flaws. Still, like any story, it’s open to analysis.

References in this story are mostly to other stories in the same arc—it’s not as though there is time for anything else. However, the Doctor does refer to Ian Chesterton, stating that Cedric had Ian as a science teacher, and a good one at that. St. Cedd’s college is a reference to the audio (Eighth Doctor) version of Shada. There’s a brief UNIT reference when discussing the therocite. When Chivers mentions Susan, the Doctor’s comments are an oblique reference to the loss of his family in the Time War.

Jenna Coleman does a great job with the voice acting here. While her usual character of Clara Oswald doesn’t appear here, it’s been suggested that Alice Watson may be one of Clara’s echoes (The Name of the Doctor); I personally like this bit of head canon, although I’ll admit it has some flaws. In Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, the Doctor lists only the echoes he has encountered onscreen, and Alice’s stated lack of imagination is out of character for Clara. Still, we don’t know that every echo is just like the original, so it’s possible.

In keeping with my discussion last week of how these entries fit their respective eras: The Eleventh Doctor’s era is known for stories that focus on causality and manipulation of time, much more than previous incarnations. This story’s use of paradox and time travel is in a similar vein to The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and its discussion of parallel universes fits in with The Doctor’s Wife. As well, it’s fast-moving and sometimes hard to follow, but it resolves itself suddenly at the end with the Doctor’s victory.

So, that’s that! The series as a whole is very good, in my opinion; and in scope, it proves itself worthy to be linked with Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary festivities. It does have its weak moments, but those weak moments serve as a sort of meta-commentary on the very history of the show itself. It would have been better to have the original Doctor actors as much as possible; however, barring that possibility, it was completely appropriate to rely on companion actors instead. (It’s unfortunate that it became a bit inconsistent near the end, though.) It’s an excellent series, and I wish I had encountered it in 2013, when it came out.

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Next time: Having wrapped up Destiny of the Doctor, we’ll start something new. Stay tuned as we listen to the War Doctor, volume one: Only the Monstrous! And, prior to the audios, on Tuesday we’ll take a brief break from the VNA novels to look at the first non-televised War Doctor story, George Mann’s novel, Engines of War. See you there!

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

The Time Machine

Destiny of the Doctor

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Audio Drama Review: Death’s Deal

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Death’s Deal, the tenth entry in the Destiny of the Doctor fiftieth anniversary series. The story features the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; written by Darren Jones, it is read by Catherine Tate and Duncan Wisbey. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t listened to this audio drama!

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The Doctor gets a distress signal from a merchant ship called the Caliban–and then hundreds of others [693, the Doctor will soon point out], from a planet called Death’s Deal. Some of the signals are old, as the Doctor points out. Donna insists on helping anyone they can, and they head for the planet.

On the surface, they are at first isolated; but they are soon joined by a newly-landed ship…full of tourists (some human, some not). The group is led by an amphibian tour guide named Hickery Frimms, in the company of an imperious woman named Mistress Qwelleen. It’s the 49th century, and the planet is called Death’s Deal, as the distress signals said, and it’s reputed to be the most dangerous planet in the universe, where you show up, crash, and no one rescues you. Thrill seekers pay small fortunes to come here. While they talk, a huge creature bursts up through the ground—and swallows the TARDIS! The tourists flee in their ship, leaving a few behind, including Frimms—but the creature attacks and destroys it, before returning underground. Donna and the Doctor are nearly pulled under in its wake, but are pulled back by one of the tourists, an alien that Donna thinks of as a humanoid, walking barnacle, with many tentacles. It gives its name as Krux, a Nimosite from Ceratesh; he is an anthropologist. Qwelleen takes out her anger on Frimms, who can’t get them out of this, and takes charge of the group. It consists of Qwelleen, Frimms, Krux, the Doctor, Donna, a human girl named Lyric, and a human space pirate named Tad Groogan. Qwelleen is almost instantly grabbed by a different creature and eaten while Groogan watches.

Frimms tells them they are stranded because it is illegal to be here. He tells the Doctor that one ship, belonging to a rival company, will arrive, but not close by; but between them and the landing site are any number of dangers. As well, Groogan is looking for a lost ship, the Howling Jupiter, which crashed here years ago, and may be the reason the planet is off limits. He’s tracking a signal that is, oddly, in Morse Code; when Donna translates it, it spells out “Allons-y”. The Doctor realizes at once that the message is for him, and joins Groogan in searching.

The Howling Jupiter is at the edge of a massive coral field, in an arc on which the coral won’t encroach. The group finds it easily enough, and Groogan goes to investigate, Frimms with him, leaving Lyric to watch the others; but the Doctor, Donna, and Lyric also go in, on their own, leaving Krux on guard outside. The morse signal leads them to a video message…from the Eleventh Doctor [he doesn’t number himself, but at this point it should be obvious to the Doctor at least]. The Eleventh Doctor talks about something under the surface, called slaughter crystals. The Wraith Mining Cartel is coming for the crystals, and must be stopped. To that end, the Eleventh Doctor wants the Tenth to locate a man named Professor Merritt Erskine, who has proof of the crystals; the Doctor must save Erskine and transmit proof of the crystals’ existence to the Galactic authorities. The Doctor is familiar with the crystals; he knows they are used for incredibly powerful bombs and weapons, and nearly every planet has banned their extraction. Lyric is confused by how the man can also be the Doctor, but he waves away her questions.

On the way out, they meet Groogan and Frimms. The Doctor intends to go into the coral field, despite the danger; he sends Groogan to get everyone to safety, but Donna and Lyric both insist on staying with the Doctor, prompting everyone else to follow as well. As soon as they go outside, Frimms is killed by another creature. More creatures are approaching, driving them toward the coral field.

Donna and Krux fall into a deep hole, somehow surviving. They find a network of tunnels, and flee into them; the Doctor has no time to get them out, as the creatures are approaching. He gives her a flashlight and the TARDIS key, and sends her to find the TARDIS if she can.

The Doctor, Lyric, and Groogan continue on, dodging traps as much as possible. They encounter a wild man, who surprises them and pushes them into a crevice. The Doctor realizes that it is Professor Erskine; and Lyric, overwhelmed, reveals that she is Erskine’s daughter. He has lost his mind, and imagines himself the master of the entire world; and he doesn’t seem to recognize Lyric. He leads them deeper into the crevice.

Donna and Krux are still navigating the cavern. Krux realizes they are not natural, but excavated; but by the monstrous creatures, not any intelligent species. They stumble upon a half-rotten, partially-eaten body. They hear a creature approaching through the ground, and run down a random tunnel.

Erskine takes his group through a canyon. Lyric reveals that Erskine was a planetary surveyor; as such, he used to fall on the side of ecologists and protesters in battles with mining and other such interests. He disappeared six years prior. Lyric, after much time, found that Wraith was responsible; they tricked him into surveying Death’s Deal, then shot him down—but she never thought he was dead. She admits she used Groogan to get here. They reach a cave, guarded by beasts that Erskine has tamed, and go inside; they find it is the wreck of Erskine’s ship, now serving as his home. There are no records to be found—but the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver agitates Erskine’s tame creatures and coral garden. He concludes that it’s the technology from all the crashed ships—specifically the distress signals—that are making the planet deadly; everything on the planet is agitated by the electronics. Erskine threatens the Doctor with his staff, which is tipped with a slaughter crystal.

Donna and Krux are menaced by a massive, wormlike creature, which is chewing through the rock like a tunneling machine. It traps them at a dead end. Krux, whose species is like a large mollusk, opens his exoskeleton, and takes Donna inside, then hurls himself into the creature. Its simplified digestive system passes them through quickly as Donna holds her breath; and they make it out the other end. But, more worms are coming, and Krux cannot endure another passage. They hurry on, searching for the TARDIS.

Groogan tries to take the valuable crystal from Erskine, but Erskine scratches him with the crystal. Groogan quickly begins to decay as if poisoned, and dies in seconds. The crystals, it seems, possess a kind of radiation that transmits in lethal doses upon contact with bare skin. Erskine forces Lyric and the Doctor outside.

Donna and Krux come upon a deposit of crystals, which is guarded by a maze of deadly coral creatures. The TARDIS is right at the center of the mass. With the worms behind and the coral ahead, they are trapped.

Erskine leads the Doctor and Lyric to a huge crater, which is filled with a gigantic coral creature. He intends to kill them here; bloodstains indicate he has killed many others. Lyric tries to get him to open the locket he wears, which has pictures of herself and her mother, but he will not; and he sends his pets to drive them off the cliff.

Donna and Krux run for the TARDIS. Krux is attacked by the coral, and injured badly. She uses the flashlight to lure the polyps away; the coral’s tentacles accidentally touch the crystal deposit, and begin to die. Donna gets Krux inside the TARDIS, and locks the door. He is amazed by the TARDIS, but assures Donna that he will live if he doesn’t move. Donna tries to signal the Doctor from the control console.

The Doctor receives the signal on his screwdriver, but he drops it as Erskine lunges. Lyric attacks her father, and he drops the staff, but they both go over the edge, landing on a lip of the slope. The Doctor nearly falls, but recovers the screwdriver, and sends a signal back to the TARDIS with it—although using it agitates every creature around them, and causes Erskine’s pets to fall to their deaths. Erskine has a moment of clarity, and looks at his locket; he falls to the coral below, but throws the locket to Lyric before he does. The Doctor latches onto Lyric, but they both begin to slip.

The TARDIS carries Donna and Krux to the lip of the crater. The Doctor sends her to get a long cable from the console room, and uses it to get himself and Lyric back to the top.

Lyric opens the locket. Inside, she finds a microdrive memory device, and gives it to the Doctor. On it are the survey results for the planet’s crystals, which he sends to the galactic authorities as asked—but the TARDIS sensors reveal there are three automated mining ships approaching. As they are unoccupied, he sends a signal to cause the ships to self-destruct. Immediately afterward, the authorities respond, and initiate security procedures for the planet.

The Doctor takes them back to the planet briefly, where things have changed. He reveals that he has stopped all the distress signals, and now the planet is calm. Having patched up Krux, he prepares to leave; and Lyric and Krux stay behind to meet the rescue team that is coming, and explain everything. Krux intends to return later with an expedition to study the planet’s biology. Lyric thinks the Doctor failed in his mission, but the Doctor says that the message said to save Erskine—it didn’t specify WHICH Erskine. He gives back the microdrive, and its data.

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One thing that has impressed me about the Destiny of the Doctor series is how each entry has been so well fitted to the era of its Doctor. Some of that is inevitable; you write about these characters, and you have to mold your story to what we know of them. But that’s not all; the stories fit from the audience’s perspective, as well. We don’t learn anything in each one that we would not have known in that era (with the exception of the occasional sentence from the Eleventh Doctor, which are just non sequiturs when taken out of context), and the background and even writing style fits very well. If I may be permitted to ramble a bit, here’s a rundown:

  • In Hunters of Earth, we are shown practically nothing that we couldn’t have learned in An Unearthly Child, and the First Doctor is firmly in the camp of “Don’t meddle with time”.
  • In Shadow of Death, the Doctor is very mysterious even to his companions, and they are left with only the most minimal understanding at the end (as are we), which was very common in the Second Doctor’s era.
  • In Vengeance of the Stones, we’re tied to Earth, and the Third Doctor is both cooperating and at odds with UNIT, and the setting is a mostly-rural area with a lot of otherworldly secrets—all very common Third Doctor-era tropes.
  • In Babblesphere, there’s the very familiar pattern of “Land on a planet, immediately get in trouble, companion must rescue the Doctor, the Doctor must risk his own identity to solve the mystery”, plus a generous helping of Fourth Doctor-era nonsense and gibberish.
  • In Smoke and Mirrors, there’s a revival of the historical/pseudohistorical format, which was very common in the early Fifth Doctor era; and the Master shows up, as he did every season. Also, though it’s not as obvious, the story doesn’t sit comfortably for three companions, and would probably have been better with just two—another common Fifth Doctor issue.
  • In Trouble in Paradise, there’s the very common (for season 22, anyway) trope of Peri being at odds with the Doctor and rushing off into trouble in response. There’s probably less here to tie this story to its seasons than in the other entries, but that’s mainly because the Sixth Doctor’s seasons weren’t very good, and didn’t give us much to work with. It IS, however, more consistent with his other audio appearances.
  • In Shockwave, we have the familiar pattern of Ace and the Seventh Doctor showing up in the middle of a calamity that’s already in progress, the Doctor ranting about being unable to save the situation (or do what Ace wants him to), and then proceeding to spend a lot of time sputtering and growling while he does, in fact, save the day.
  • In Enemy Aliens, there’s a fast-moving, disjointed story which leaves a lot unexplained at the end—it could only be more typical of the Eighth Doctor if he got amnesia.
  • In Night of the Whisper, we have a great mystery in a futuristic setting that employs modern-day (or even past) tropes, like the noir setting and superhero references (compare stories like The Long Game, which give us then-current television tropes in a future setting). It couples all this with a very Ninth Doctor resolution, and a great appearance by the relevant companions.

This entry, Death’s Deal, is no different. Here we have—as we so often did on television—the Tenth Doctor and his companion landing on a far-flung planet with a terrible and deadly secret, and racing the clock to find a solution. We have the Tenth Doctor wanting to save everyone, and grieving over his failure to do so. We have Donna being, well, Donna—wildly opinionated, passionate, but WAY out of her league, and yet rising to the challenge. We have a split in the story that sends Donna off on one thread, while the Doctor follows another—it compares very favorably to, say, The Doctor’s Daughter, where Martha gets separated from the Doctor in the company of a very odd alien. It’s a bizarre and improbable environment, with humans (or one, anyway) who is different in a crucial way. These are all very common occurrences in the Tenth Doctor era, and I’m thrilled to see this story follow suit.

We’re getting close to the end, but still, the story has played out in such a way that it’s impossible to grasp what all of this is leading up to. While the Eleventh Doctor continues to give clues and orders, they don’t seem to relate much to each other, and it will be interesting to see how it works out. The Tenth Doctor’s reaction to the Eleventh is interestingly vague; since he must know at this point that he only has one life left to live, one would think he wouldn’t want any indication of that future, but if that’s the case, he keeps it to himself.

References are thin here, once again. The Tenth Doctor makes a reference to Frobisher, of all people, when he refers to an old friend who was a shape-shifter (The Shape Shifter, The Holy Terror, probably other comics that I am not familiar with). He refers to the Master as well, calling him his arch-enemy and noting that he was a master of disguise (Castrovalva, The King’s Demons, others). The Eleventh Doctor, meanwhile, refers to his desire to be ginger (The End of Time, also The Christmas Invasion).

If I have any complaint about this episode, it has to be the voice acting. I have a lot of respect for Catherine Tate, but in comparison to some of the earlier voice actors in this series, it’s clear that she’s just reading. Her portrayal of Donna, of course, is animated; but she doesn’t do well with the other characters, most notably the Doctor, and relies heavily on the fact that the dialogue is well-written. The secondary actor, Duncan Wisbey, does well as Krux (though of course a bit of voice-changing is involved, as he’s not human), but not so well as the mad Professor Erskine.

It’s worth mentioning that this was the final entry under the auspices of AudioGo, as that company went bankrupt. Therefore the next (and final) release in the series, The Time Machine, was in some jeopardy for awhile, but was ultimately released by Big Finish without AudioGo. That release was made on time (November 1, 2013) in download format, but was released late on CD.

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Next time: We’ll finish this series with the Eleventh Doctor’s contribution, The Time Machine! See you there.

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

Death’s Deal

Destiny of the Doctor

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