Audio Drama Review: Project: Lazarus

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with the forty-fifth entry, Project: Lazarus. This story was written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, and features the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables), as well as the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). It resumes the story of Nimrod, Cassandra “Cassie” Schofield, and the Forge, as begun in Project: Twilight. It was released in June 2003. Let’s get started!

Project Lazarus 1

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

Part One:

The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn are searching for missing vampire Cassie Schofield, last seen in the wake of the Forge’s Project: Twilight. A bit belatedly, the Doctor has found a cure for her condition, the Twilight virus. They locate her in Norway in July 2004, just as she is also found by a hunter called Professor Harket; but as it turns out, Harket isn’t seeking Cassie at all. Instead, he is seeking a rather unusual alien, which he dubs the Huldra, after a local legend. He knows he is on the trail when he finds a body covered in a venomous blue slime, produced by the Huldra. He goes to try to make a call to his university. Meanwhile, the Forge is not dead; and its central computer, Oracle, receives notice that an agent named “Artemis” has at last made contact with “Lazarus”. The head of security, Sergeant Frith, and the head researcher, Dr. Crumpton, exult over this message, and send extraction teams to bring them in. Back in Norway, the Doctor and Evelyn are shocked to learn that Cassie is quite bitter toward them, as it has been some time since they left her behind. Moreover, she is now working for Nimrod and the Forge! She considers them her family now, which doesn’t sit well with Evelyn. They are interrupted by Harket’s return; he has located a Huldra. Cassie overpowers the creature and stuns it, just as the extraction team arrives. When Harket protests, Cassie takes some of the creature’s slime and forces it into his mouth, killing him almost instantly. Nimrod arrives and refers to Cassie as Artemis, and takes the Doctor, Evelyn, and the Huldra captive.

Part Two:

Nimrod’s team takes the TARDIS as well as the captive, and flies them by helicopter to Dartmoor. The Forge’s headquarters awaits, situated below ground under an abandoned asylum. Nimrod, now the Deputy Director of the Forge, sets Crumpton to studying the alien, while Nimrod gives the Doctor and Evelyn a tour. Frith, meanwhile, is repulsed by working with the alien, but he has no choice; no one leaves the Forge voluntarily. Crumpton uses Oracle to research the figure called Lazarus. Meanwhile Nimrod assures the Doctor that he only intends to analyze the alien venom for development as a stun weapon, and that he ultimately intends to help the creature get home; he has the wreckage of its ship here in the labs. He also claims that Cassie’s service is voluntary. Evelyn sits with Cassie and talks about what has happened to her; Cassie blames the Doctor for abandoning her, though Evelyn insists it was unintentional. Oddly, she does not remember her son, Tommy, at all, and denies that the child exists; the Forge is her only family, she insists. She changes the subject; she can hear Evelyn’s heartbeat, and knows there is something wrong with her. Evelyn admits to a heart attack before meeting the Doctor, and begs Cassie not to tell him, as she knows he will take her home if he finds out. Meanwhile Nimrod shows the Doctor the main archive, full of dead aliens and stolen technology; the Doctor is appalled, but Nimrod assures him that a function called the Hades Protocol will destroy it all if it ever becomes dangerous. Frith arrives, and the two cease being polite, and force the Doctor into confinement in a lab; they plan to study the Time Lord regenerative ability—even if it means killing the Doctor. Project Lazarus—named for another man who evaded death—has begun. As they torture the Doctor, Evelyn pushes Cassie to remember Tommy; and suddenly the block on Cassie’s memory breaks, and she remembers. Shrugging off the pain, she takes Evelyn to the lab and rescues the Doctor from his torture, and leads them to the storage room where the TARDIS has been placed. Nimrod closes the emergency bulkheads along the way, forcing Cassie to rip open the control panels; this slows them down, and lets Nimrod get there first. Cassie delays him while the Doctor and Evelyn get into the TARDIS; but before she can join them, Nimrod puts a crossbow bolt through her heart. She dies in a burst of flame. The TARDIS escapes; but Evelyn is grief-stricken, and the Doctor knows this pain will last for a long time.

Part Three:

Many years later, the Seventh Doctor is traveling alone when his TARDIS is hit with temporal energy. He traces it to a place he never expected to see again: The Forge’s Dartmoor headquarters. The Forge is under attack by the Huldra; Crumpton manages to deter the attack, but in the course of it, the TARDIS’s arrival is detected. This Doctor hasn’t been here before, but his image matches file footage from elsewhere. It seems Lazarus has returned. Nimrod brings the Doctor inside, where he makes a bad first impression on Frith. The Doctor is still angry at Nimrod, but agrees to help him solve the time disruptions that led to the burst of energy. He is shocked to see his own sixth incarnation working as scientific advisor to the Forge! Nimrod insists the Sixth Doctor is voluntarily serving, but the Seventh Doctor cannot remember it, and doesn’t believe it. [Note: For convenience, I will refer to the Doctors simply as “Six” and “Seven” for the remainder of this summary.] He accompanies Six to Crumpton’s lab, and examines the data from the attack—the latest in a series of attacks, all centered on the captured Huldran ship, which has been cannibalized by the Forge. The captive Huldran has long since been killed. The Doctors speak privately; Six explains that the Earth is under attack by Huldrans, apparently for revenge. Six claims to have offered his services to combat the Huldrans; in order to prevent Nimrod and Crumpton from analyzing his TARDIS, he removed a component, leaving only the outer shell accessible. However, he wants to escape now in Seven’s TARDIS—which is puzzling, as the Huldran problem is still unresolved. He offers to help—but with diplomacy rather than violence. Nimrod and Crumpton explain that the Huldran ships actually travel by means of a self-contained portal; the temporal discharge was the result of the Huldrans attempting to breach the portal from the captured wreckage. Nimrod refuses to shut it down while it could be useful, but says that with a sample of the TARDIS’s exo-shell, they could make the portal impervious to attack. Seven reluctantly agrees to help, though Six—in a passable imitation of Nimrod’s voice—mocks him at first. Nimrod confers with Six about disposing of Seven once they have the TARDIS. Seven interrupts them and asks why, if they have Six’s TARDIS shell, they don’t just take a sample from it? When Six cannot answer, Seven realizes he is an imposter; and he darts away to talk with Crumpton. He demands to know what is really going on, and urges Crumpton to be a scientist and question authority. When the Huldrans attack again, he urges her to shut off the defences and let them in; and to Frith’s shock, she does so. A troop of Huldrans, bearing swords, pours into the facility. Nimrod sends Six to greet them, and they cut him down.

Part Four:

Seven intervenes, and somehow calms the Huldrans. Crumpton closes the portal, and Frith takes the Huldrans captive, placing them in holding cells. Nimrod sends Six to the sickbay; but among his injuries, his arm has been severed. This confirms for Seven that this is not the real Sixth Doctor. He tries to reason with Frith, who doesn’t really want to be here at all; when Frith tries to lock him up, he knocks Frith out and goes to speak with Six. Meanwhile Nimrod reactivates Project: Lazarus and tells Crumpton to dissect the Huldrans; Crumpton is not willing, but has no choice to obey. She is interrupted by Oracle, which has detected an energy spike, but not from the portal. Seven awakens Six, and asks why the trauma did not spark a regeneration. He forces mental contact with Six, and learns that Six is a clone, created from a blood sample taken during the real Sixth Doctor’s torture last time. Six claims to be the last survivor of three clones, which demonstrated enough of the real Doctor’s traits that Nimrod took him on for scientific assistance. However, the clones were never truly stable; and with this trauma, his genetic deterioration is accelerating. However, the contact between them brought out more memories; and Six takes Seven to investigate. Meanwhile Crumpton reads the data, and determines that there is a telepath in the Forge—it can only be Seven, and Nimrod expects he will have communed with Six. The Huldrans are also reacting to the telepathy; they are a telepathic gestalt, sharing one mind. The death of their missing member, then, would have driven them into a frenzy. Crumpton refuses to kill them at Nimrod’s orders, and so he kills her. Meanwhile, Six leads Seven to a room—the same one where Cassie died, actually—where they find dozens of mutated Sixth Doctor clones, all begging to be killed. Seven finds notes indicating that Six is not three years old as he believed, but only several days—there have been many like him, as the process burns through clones at an incredible rate. The process is cumulative, and the degeneration is indeed increasing. Six is driven into a frenzy; and he imitates Nimrod’s voice and activates the Hades protocol, which will destroy the facility and everything in it.  He gives Seven six minutes to rescue the Huldrans and escape. Seven flees, and finds Frith organizing an evacuation. He talks Frith into helping him with the Huldrans; if they die, the rest of their kind might consider it an act of war. Nimrod, furious, confronts them and orders Frith to kill the Doctor and save the items in the archive instead; he then departs. Frith knows he has been left to die, and joins the Doctor. Nimrod goes down to find Six, who is nearly mad with pain now thanks to the telepathic cries of  the other clones; Nimrod tells him that he is worthless, only one of an unknown number of failed experiments. However, Six will have his revenge; he is destroying the facility. Nimrod shoots him, then leaves. Seven and Frith find Crumpton dead in the lab; Seven sends Frith to open the portal while he sends the Huldrans through. They then race for the exit, but find Six dying; Six refuses to let Seven save him. As the minutes tick away, they race for the lift; and at the last second, Firth pushes him into it. The Doctor escapes, but Frith does not. Sadly, he departs for the TARDIS, content at least that the forge has been destroyed. But elsewhere, Oracle awakens in a new system, and the Forge’s beta facility is activated.

Project Lazarus 2

A multi-Doctor story! …Or not. I won’t spoil it, but let’s say that all is not what it seems, in this story that features both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors. I will suggest that those who have listened to Jubilee will figure out the twist to this story in short order; the stories aren’t similar overall, but there is one plot element that serves as a giveaway here, after having previously been used in that story. Regardless, it’s always interesting to see the Sixth and Seventh Doctors onscreen (or, well, the audio equivalent) together; I find that the two aren’t so different, and work well together. If we theorize that each regeneration is a reaction to the previous incarnation, then this makes sense; the Sixth Doctor is quite pleased with himself most of the time, and wouldn’t want to change much about himself (much as, later, the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor would be very similar). I do think it’s worth noting, as well, that the Seventh Doctor doesn’t seem to have any of the memory issues that ordinarily accompany an encounter with his past self…

I’ve been given to understand that Big Finish was going through an experimental phase around the time of this story’s release; in just the last few stories, we’ve seen a story inspired by the New Adventures novels (The Dark Flame), a musical (Doctor Who and the Pirates), and a non-linear story (Creatures of Beauty). The trend continues here; this story is broken in half, with the first half featuring the Sixth Doctor, and the second half featuring primarily the Seventh. I understand it will continue, as well, in the next entry, Flip-Flop, in which the two halves of the story can be played in any order. As far as placement goes, the first half picks up the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn’s adventures where we recently left off, and sometime after Real Time, which I have not yet experienced (as indicated by a reference to the Doctor’s new suit). The Seventh Doctor’s story occurs late in his life, possibly near his death in the television movie, as he is traveling alone and considers “going home” to Gallifrey at the end of this story. Of particular note: Project Destiny, which wraps up the Forge trilogy (and which I haven’t reached yet), occurs earlier in the Seventh Doctor’s life, though its events aren’t mentioned here.

Project Lazarus 3

I enjoyed this story immensely; it was a nice change after Pirates, which didn’t interest me, and after Creatures of Beauty, which was hamstrung by its own novelty. Nimrod and the Forge make for dynamic enemies and great action; and this story wastes no time jumping in, as halfway through, we get the death of a major character from the previous entry. The only downside—and perhaps this isn’t a criticism, just a sad observation—is that there is a definite downward spiral to the Doctor’s relationship with Evelyn, as she experiences one tragedy after another. If her story leaves me crying in the end, I may have to stage a riot.

We’re heavy on the continuity references here, even leaving out the obvious connections to Project: Twilight. Cassie Schofield is indicated to be the mother of Tommy Schofield, better known—and much later—as Hex, the Seventh Doctor’s companion (The Harvest). Reference is made to the Seventh Doctor’s appearances in Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield. While I don’t usually refer to connections to future stories, I’ll make an exception for Project Destiny; as I previously noted, that story occurs earlier in the Seventh Doctor’s timeline, and features Ace and Hex visiting the Forge’s beta facility. The Sixth Doctor makes reference to the Record of Rassilon (State of Decay) and the Time Lords’ war against all vampires. The Doctor makes telepathic contact with himself, signified by the “Contact!” catchphrase, previously seen in The Three Doctors and others. The Forge’s archive room contains Zanium (The Twin Dilemma) and Axonite (The Claws of Axos).

It’s worth mentioning that this is the first story to receive multiple covers. (I have only linked one of three, above; the rest can be found on this story’s wiki page.) One cover featured the Sixth Doctor; one featured the Seventh; and one featured both equally. It’s also one of only eight audio dramas so far to feature both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. The voice acting from both is on point as usual—in fact, all the acting in this story is exceptional.

Overall: A very good entry as we begin the lead-up to the fiftieth Main Range entry. I strongly recommend a refresher of Project: Twilight before listening to this story—I wish I had done so myself—but regardless, it’s a fast-moving, action-packed story, and a great listen. Free on Spotify, as well—if you haven’t already, check it out! (Unfortunately, as I discovered, the Spotify edition of this story is missing the final track. However, the story is available for download from Big Finish Productions for $2.99.)

Project Lazarus 4

Next time: One more experimental story before we start the iconic villain stories leading up to the fiftieth entry. We’ll join the Seventh Doctor and Mel in Flip-Flop! See you there.

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

Project: Lazarus

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Doctor Who and the Pirates

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week—and after a very long delay (more on that later)—we’re listening to the forty-third entry in the Main Range of audios, Doctor Who and the Pirates! (This story is also subtitled, in true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, as or, The Lass That Lost a Sailor.) Written by Jaqueline Rayner, and directed by Barnaby Edwards, this, err, unusual story is the first musical entry into Big Finish’s catalog, and features the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables). The story was released in April 2003. Let’s get started!

Doctor Who and the Pirates 1

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

Part One:

Evelyn drops in unexpectedly on one of her students, Sally. Over Sally’s repeated and strident objections, she begins telling Sally an unlikely story—one in which Evelyn, accompanied by a bombastic time traveler called the Doctor, landed their time machine, the TARDIS, in the hold of a sailing ship, the Sea Eagle. Unfortunately, that ship was in the middle of being captured by pirates, and its crew—to the horror of their captain—are throwing in their lot with the pirates.

Evelyn is no great storyteller, and her story is a mess of elisions, corrections, and clichés, such that Sally finds it impossible to believe—and Sally says as much. Nevertheless, Evelyn persists, first describing the capture of the ship and the murder of its first mate, then moving on to the theft of the TARDIS by the pirates. At last, Evelyn—in the story, that is—is left in a barrel on the sinking (and now burning!) ship, while the pirate captain turns instruments of torture on the Doctor. Sally believes none of this…until the Doctor himself enters her flat, and takes over the story.

Part Two:

The Doctor makes tea, and Evelyn brings him up to speed on what she has already revealed. They decide to split the storytelling, with Evelyn telling her experiences and the Doctor telling his. Evelyn picks up with story-Evelyn still in a barrel on the burning ship, and the captain, Swan, lashed to the mast above. However, a cabin girl—conveniently named Sally—rescues Evelyn, prompting the real Sally to object. The Doctor gently persuades Evelyn not to insert Sally into the story; the cabin boy’s real name was Jem. Evelyn continues.

Jem frees Evelyn and Swan, and in the absence of any boats or firefighting tools, helps them lash together a raft from deck planks. Meanwhile the pirate captain, Red Jasper, and his first mate Merryweather, prepare to torture the Docor. They want to know where to find a man named One-Eyed Trent, who possesses a treasure map for the Ruby Islands. The Doctor knows nothing, and gets Jasper to explain his history with Trent, in which their former captain hid the treasure. The captain and crew were then arrested and/or killed, but Jasper survived, and Trent’s body was not among the dead. Jasper had assumed Trent betrayed them; he then trailed the man to England before losing him. He now seeks any mention of Trent or the treasure, and refuses to admit defeat. Believing the Sea Eagle crew to know something, he kills one of them, and plans to continue killing them until someone talks.

Evelyn, Jem, and Swan paddle the raft, with some argument from Swan. Jem tells her that his father told him about the Ruby Islands and the treasure hidden on one of them, a donkey-shaped island; he also has his father’s compass, which Evelyn uses to steer them. However, they don’t find the islands, but rather, a ship—probably the pirate ship. Meanwhile, present-day Evelyn doesn’t want to continue the story; she knows the tragedy that is coming. The Doctor takes over, and details his confrontation with Jasper, who insists that the treasure is worth a few lives. The mate, Merryweather, insists that the Doctor doesn’t understand the life of a pirate; the Doctor denies this, and to everyone’s horror, begins to sing: I am the very model of a Gallifreyan buccaneer…

Part Three:

The Doctor tries, in his song, to convince Merryweather that murder is the wrong choice; Merryweather agrees, but insists he will follow his captain’s orders. The Doctor insists he wants to understand Merryweather’s thinking; and so Merryweather and the pirates respond with a song of their own, justifying their obedience. To the Doctor’s surprise, Sally joins this song, acknowledging blood on her own hands. The Doctor joins in as well, singing a counterpoint. Sally, now fully engrossed in the song, admits she is ready to accept blame and give it all up, despite the Doctor’s arguments.

In the present, Evelyn quietly admits that she knows why Sally joined in. Sally was involved in an auto accident that killed her lover, and she blames herself for driving too fast for the road conditions. Though she couches it in metaphor, it appears she intends to kill herself, out of guilt.

The Doctor brings more tea, and the story resumes. Evelyn and Jem plan to board the ship and try to reach safety in the TARDIS; Swan, however, refuses to stow away, considering it an affront to his dignity as captain. Instead, he wants his crew to admit their errors and accept him back as captain. Meanwhile the Doctor and Merryweather continue to debate—in song, at that—and they engage in a contest of piratical skills. The Doctor tricks Merryweather—now quite intoxicated from drinking more rum than the Doctor—into walking the plank. Evelyn, Jem, and Swan hear the mate fall overboard, but can’t reach him; but this distracts the pirates and lets Evelyn and Jem climb aboard. Swan refuses, and stays behind on the raft. Meanwhile Jasper accuses the Doctor of mutiny, and the pirates prepare to kill him. However, the Doctor sees Evelyn and Jem arrive, and bluffs, telling the pirates that he serves “Evil Evelyn”, the most dreaded pirate of all, captain of the Lecturer’s Revenge! She tries to help him, but her warning pistol shot uses up all Jem’s gunpowder, and the bluff fails.

Merryweather, humiliated, climbs back to the deck, and Jasper has him lock up the Doctor. He confronts Evelyn and Jem and threatens to kill them. One of the Sea Eagle sailors, John Johnson, protests; but for his trouble, Jasper cuts out his tongue and makes him eat it.  Evelyn tries to calm the pirates with chocolate, but to no avail. She and Jem are dragged away. Hearing this, the Doctor breaks out of the hold, but Jasper makes him walk the plank.

Part Four:

The Doctor falls in, witnessed by Evelyn and Jem from Jasper’s cabin. She breaks the sternlight and directs the Doctor to the raft, where Swan still waits. As the ship starts to leave the raft behind, Evelyn throws the compass to the Doctor and directs him south-southwest. Jasper enters, and confronts Evelyn—who, not knowing about Jasper’s obsession, asks to be let off at the Ruby Islands that Jem had mentioned. Jasper confronts Jem, who admits that his father told him about the islands. His father, it is revealed, was One-Eyed Trent…but Jem knows nothing about any map. Jasper starts to beat him. Present-day Evelyn can’t continue the story at this point, because she blames herself for what happened next; the Doctor sadly confirms that Jasper refused to believe Jem, and beat him to death. Evelyn comments that she has learned there are no happy endings in real life. Sally agrees; she believes real stories only end one way. The Doctor insists that it doesn’t have to be that way; that when one story ends, another begins. He continues the story, relieving Evelyn of the burden—and this time without singing.

The Doctor and Swan reach the Ruby Islands, and search for the one shaped like a donkey. Using one island as a vantage point, the Doctor climbs a tree, and sees two likely islands—but is interrupted by Swan, who claims a dragon is chasing him. As Swan climbs the tree, the Doctor drops the compass. Swan reveals that he has a spyglass, which the Doctor uses to verify that one of the islands is the likely choice—and that the “dragon” was just an iguana. They climb down, and in the fragments of the compass, they find a treasure map.

The Doctor skips ahead in the story, glossing over the hunt for the treasure. He and Swan find the treasure—a cache of rubies—before the pirates arrive; but now they have to recover Evelyn, the TARDIS, and of course Swan’s crew, who are still in league with the pirates. The ship lands, and Jasper uses a boat to lead a party ashore. The Doctor finds that Swan let the raft drift away; and so he uses a few rubies to bribe the boat guards to let them board the ship. As they approach, the Doctor swims to the side of the ship, while Swan announces himself to his sailors. He claims to have the map, and Merryweather takes him on board. Merryweather takes the map, knowing it will fetch a reward from Jasper, and locks Swan up.

When Merryweather departs for the island, the Doctor slips aboard and frees Swan. He locate Evelyn, who is crying over Jem’s body. Meanwhile Swan tries to convince his crew to return to him; he fails, until the Doctor and Evelyn arrive with Jem’s body. The sight shames them, and they agree to switch allegiances back to Swan. They take control of the ship and sail away, leaving Jasper and the pirates to their fate. However, the Doctor explains that Jasper, Merryweather and the pirates followed the directions on the map…only to find a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey waiting, courtesy of the Doctor.

The Doctor and Evelyn opt to leave the rubies with Swan, considering what they have already cost. They leave him practicing his speech for the Queen. Evelyn is shaken by the events, but the Doctor points out that this means she can still be shocked by evil. Nevertheless, she needs a rest, and so the Doctor takes her home…leading to the current events with Sally. At the end of the story, Evelyn is tired again, and the Doctor lets her go home, assuring her he won’t leave without her. After she leaves, the Doctor produces a letter that was waiting for Evelyn at home—one written by Sally, announcing her suicide, which Sally has only just mailed before Evelyn’s arrival! The Doctor explains that he had taken Evelyn back in time by one night, to allow her a chance to talk to Sally and perhaps prevent this tragedy. The story reminds sally that, as the Doctor says, if you make it through the night, it can seem better in the morning. He leaves Sally in the morning light, with the knowledge that Evelyn cares, and some hope for the future.

Doctor Who and the Pirates 2

Credit to Martin Geraghty, DWM 329

I fear, up front, that this will be an “unpopular opinion” post, as I know this story is generally well-liked. I struggled with it, however; it took me multiple attempts to get through it, over a period of a few months, and even then I had trouble paying attention to it. I don’t have a solid explanation for why; I don’t think it’s because of the musical nature of the presentation, as the songs are all found in part three, whereas I had trouble with the entire story.

With all that said, I think that it’s a cleverly constructed story. The frame story, in which Evelyn and later the Doctor visit Sally, one of Evelyn’s students, seems irrelevant at first. Later, however, you find that the story Evelyn is telling is not just important to Sally, but vital—life-changing, even. That reveal is a bit sudden, but it’s less “deus ex machina” and more “Wait, did she mean what I think she means?” Yes, yes she did. This also adds some gravity to what would otherwise be just a silly story; I won’t say why that is, but it’s enough to make you reconsider your view of the entire performance.

I’ve been aware for some time that Evelyn’s overall arc is a sad one; I don’t yet know how it ends (and please don’t spoil it!), but I know it’s not going to end well. This story adds another brick to that edifice; there’s a sense of foreboding to Evelyn here. For once, even the Sixth Doctor is somber as we approach the end of the story—partly because of Sally’s issues, but also, I think, because of Evelyn’s. It’s enough to make me dread what lies ahead, though I am certainly looking forward to getting there.

The songs in part three are all homages (or parodies, if you prefer) of musical tunes and sea shanties, mostly from Gilbert and Sullivan shows. This is not a form of media with which I’ve had much experience, and I only recognized one of the source tunes from which the songs were constructed (“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General”, from The Pirates of Penzance, and thank you, Star Trek, for that one! Here it is rendered as “I Am the Very Model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer”). The tunes are catchy, though. One gets the impression that both the Doctor and Colin Baker have been waiting for a chance to sing for a long time (at least since Terror of the Vervoids, according to Mel…). I won’t list all the songs here; but you can find a complete list on the TARDIS wiki’s page for this story.

Continuity references: Hold on to your three-cornered hat, because there are a lot of these! Most occur in the Doctor’s previously-mentioned “I Am the Very Model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer” song, rattled off in rapid-fire mode. He mentions the following:

  • The Death Zone and the Game of Rassilon (The Five Doctors)
  • His Gallifreyan presidencies (The Invasion of TimeThe Ancestor CellTime In OfficeThe Five Doctors, and if we play with the timelines, the Sixth Doctor himself in *The Quantum Archangel)
  • Tobias Vaughn (The Invasion)
  • Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan)
  • Viking hordes (The Time Meddler)
  • Daleks (The Daleks, many MANY others)
  • Quarks (The Dominators)
  • Cybermen (The Tenth Planet, et al.)
  • Autons (Spearhead from Space, et al.)
  • Axons (The Claws of Axos)
  • Daemons (The Daemons)
  • Krotons (The Krotons)
  • Monoids (The Ark)
  • Vampires (State of Decay, stories in other media)
  • Voords [sic; I think it should be “Voord”, but he adds the -s] (The Keys of Marinus)
  • Manussa (Snakedance)
  • Dulkis (The Dominators)
  • Skonnos (The Horns of Nimon)
  • Tigella (Meglos)
  • He quotes Drax’s line from The Armageddon Factor: “Remember me to Gallifrey!” (here pronounced as “Gallifree”, for the sake of rhyming the previous line of the song.)
  • As well, he mentions Hecate from K9 and Company, though the canonicity is doubtful, and he wouldn’t have been there to know that story.
  • The Great Fire of London (The Visitation; not mentioned in the song)

Interestingly, all the above are from television episodes; I’ve made connections to a few stories in other media, but none of those are necessary for the references.

Overall: Not a bad performance, but not my cup of tea. While the story has value as part of Evelyn’s arc, it’s been the most difficult part for me to digest so far. Still, if musicals (and pirates!) are your thing, you’ll probably enjoy it much more than I did. For myself, I’m happy to move on.

Next time: After much delay, we rejoin the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in the experimentally non-linear Creatures of Beauty! See you there.

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

Doctor Who and the Pirates, or, The Lass That Lost a Sailor

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Jubilee

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! After a very long delay, we return to the Main Range with Jubilee, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. It’s been long enough already, so, let’s get started!

Jubilee

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

An advertisement plays; coming soon to cinemas, we have *Daleks: The Ultimate Adventure!* In this new blockbuster, the insane Daleks once again target the Earth—and only the Doctor stands in the way! He is joined in his battle by his beautiful assistant, Evelyn “Hot Lips” Smythe, played by Plenty O’Toole. Be our guest—after all, attendance is compulsory…and all praise to the English Empire!

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Evelyn argue over the value of history as a career—after all, it can never give more than a filtered view of the past, and aren’t they seeing it firsthand? Evelyn is not amused. The argument is cut short when the TARDIS materializes in 1903 London…but then begins to shake. The Doctor says that it is as though it is trying to materialize in two places at once—but how can that be? At length it lands, and they step out, finding themselves in the chapel of St. John in the Tower of London. The Doctor dismisses the turbulence as Evelyn points out that the chapel is dusty and unvisited. The TARDIS dematerializes, leaving the Doctor and Evelyn behind. The Doctor hears screaming and Dalek energy weapons—and passes out in fear, but not before warning Evelyn that they’ve been here before, and are in danger.

The English Empire is ruled by a President, and it is Nigel Rochester. He plays a naughty game with his wife Miriam in which they speak in illegal contractions; but when he tires of it, he slaps her to get her to stop. He sends her to bed, as there are celebrations in the morning. Meanwhile, a Commander Farrow and a guard named Lamb go to torture a prisoner, as the president means for it to speak at tomorrow’s jubilee. A magnetic field in the cell keeps the prisoner motionless, and they enter. The subject remains silent, and they begin.

As the Doctor begins to recover, he guesses that the TARDIS has relocated to the other of the two destinations they detected earlier; but where is that? Evelyn finds a stained glass window depicting the TARDIS on a hill, surrounded by red as though in the midst of war. They go exploring.

The American prime minister congratulates Rochester on the jubilee, while Rochester enjoys the man’s discomfort. Miriam enters and witnesses this video call, and is dismissive toward the Americans. No one who leaves England is ever permitted to come back, as the race must be pure. Meanwhile, the torture of the prisoner continues, but it refuses to speak. Farrow tells it there are sympathizers who would save it and overthrow Rochester, but this brings no response either. He prepares to slice into its optic nerve.

Leaving the Tower, the Doctor and Evelyn find the grounds decorated for a festival. A box is attached to the side of the Tower. They hear something screaming in agony.

Farrow is screaming as well, as the creature’s flesh grows over his own hand, trapping it and sending agony into him. Lamb frees him, and Farrow wonders if the creature was screaming or laughing at him. They hear the Doctor and Evelyn arriving outside the cell, and Lamb investigates; he is shocked when he hears them using contractions. Farrow joins them and is even more stunned to hear them call themselves the Doctor and Evelyn. Farrow reports it to Rochester, and adds that, unlike other Doctor-imposters, this one wears a coat of many colors—a detail he couldn’t know.

Rochester orders them brought to him, and allows Miriam to watch. At first, Rochester is obsequious toward the Doctor; but then he drops the act and threatens to exterminate Evelyn. He demands to know how this imposter knew about the Doctor’s coat—the official histories depict much more normal garb, and most imposters dress in that way.

The Doctor insists on his identity, and so Rochester decides to put him to the test. He allows Miriam to come along. She takes a moment to speak with Farrow about his progress, which does not please her; she wants rid of Rochester, especially as he hit her tonight. Rochester leads them back to the cell, which is the box on the side of the Tower. Lamb pushes the Doctor inside and turns off the magnetic field; as the creature begins to move and make threats, the Doctor recognizes it as a Dalek.

The Dalek’s gunstick is missing, and its shell is cracked open, rendering it harmless for now. Rochester realizes the Doctor is who he claims to be, and brings him out. The Doctor wants the Dalek destroyed; Rochester insists it will be blown up at noon tomorrow. They relocate to Rochester’s rooms, and Farrow restores the magnetic field—and then confronts the Dalek, demanding its knowledge of power in exchange for its freedom. All it wants, however, is the Doctor.

Rochester describes a Dalek invasion one hundred years ago, which only two Daleks survived. One of them was destroyed at the fiftieth anniversary, and one remains in the cell. He seems genuinely joyful now that he believes the Doctor’s identity, for it was the Doctor and Evelyn who led the battle a century ago. The Doctor can hear that battle in his mind, and weakens for a moment. Rochester offers him a drink, but the Doctor is taken aback when he learns it is “Dalek Juice”, a product of boiled Dalek flesh. It is considered a specialty. Evelyn is shocked to see the Daleks trivialized; but the Doctor is more concerned that they are being used to promote an idea of English superiority. Miriam mentions a wheelchair-bound prisoner, worse than the Dalek, in the Bloody Tower; but Rochester cuts her off despite the Doctor’s curiosity. As the law dictates that women must be in bed by midnight, the Doctor offers to escort Evelyn to her newly-assigned room in the guest quarters. Miriam goes as well, but Rochester suspects she might be playing him…

Lamb escorts them to Evelyn’s room, then leaves, though he is amazed at their presence. Evelyn is disturbed by this version of history, but the Doctor insists it proves his point, that history is written by the winners—with mockery for the losers. He suggests that they did in fact land in 1903, but catastrophically changed history, fracturing local time—and ultimately causing past and present to run together. The Doctor refuses to let Evelyn question the Dalek; it may have no gun, but it can be psychologically dangerous. He returns to talk to Rochester; Evelyn leaves the room almost immediately to investigate. Meanwhile, Rochester takes the Doctor through the Tower museum, displaying much alien technology which shouldn’t be here. On the roof, he has a Dalek transolar disk—a hover platform of sorts—and he uses it to take the Doctor on an aerial tour. The rest of the city lies in ruins, which was not done by the Daleks, but by Rochester’s father, who wanted to build a new capital, but lost interest. Rochester himself has concentrated on the centennial jubilee instead.

Evelyn finds herself in a room full of Daleks…who want to play with her. Miriam arrives and tells Evelyn that these are Rochester’s toys, and not real. Evelyn requests to see the real Dalek, and Miriam agrees. At the cell, Farrow lets them in, but chastises Miriam for not bringing the Doctor. However, Miriam still slaps him for using a contraction, despite the fact that they are secretly lovers.

The Dalek quickly realizes that Evelyn fears it despite its lack of weapon. Curiously, it regards her as an equal. It agrees to answer questions if she turns off the magnetic field, which she does. Evelyn comes to realize that this Dalek is a footsoldier of sorts, and doesn’t have any strategic answers; it was sent to fight or die, and now it can do neither, as its self-destruct is disabled. Farrow stops the interview so that he can resume the torture, as he has been ordered to do. Evelyn leaves, and the Dalek repeats its desire to have the Doctor brought.

Rochester lands the disc, and shocks the Doctor by drawing a weapon—but oddly, he shoots and destroys the disc. He insists it was bugged; he believes there are Daleks everywhere, and that everyone else is under their control. They walk to Trafalgar Square; Rochester explains that the English secretly believe the Daleks their superiors, who would have won if not for the Doctor. Even here, Nelson’s column has been replaced with an image of the Doctor, but dressed in an imperial stormtrooper uniform.

Miriam finally drops her act completely for Evelyn, and says that Evelyn is not the only one horrified at the way the Dalek has been treated. Others agree, and will need help to overthrow Rochester. Evelyn refers her to the Doctor, but Miriam knows that this will not help; and to prove her point, she takes Evelyn to the Bloody Tower. There, a wheelchair-bound prisoner waits who bears some credit for creating the Daleks as they are…and Evelyn is horrified to learn that it is the Doctor.

The wheelchair-bound Doctor is the version from 1903. After his victory, the English cut off his legs when he tried to leave; they did this in retribution for his forcing of independence and responsibility on them. The historic Evelyn, meanwhile, died here years ago. This Doctor is mad, and beyond help. Miriam explains that the English government kept him as half of their propaganda machine; with the Doctor as carrot and the Daleks as stick, they could do anything they liked. Miriam wants to expose the truth to the public, and Evelyn decides to help. Meanwhile the Doctor—Evelyn’s version—is beginning to understand the problems his 1903 self caused; England, with Dalek technology, conquered the world before World War I could break out. Rochester believes he is the only man in the world who can resist Dalek mind control, and therefore he must appear ruthless despite his good nature. The Doctor admits that he understands.

Evelyn goes back to the Dalek and asks it to tell the crowd the truth. However, Miriam stuns Evelyn by admitting the truth—she wants the Dalek to exterminate Rochester. Evelyn refuses to help, and so does the Dalek, though for different reasons. Miriam tells Farrow to kill Evelyn unless the Dalek complies; to everyone’s surprise, it agrees. Miriam tells Farrow to restore the Dalek’s gun, and she takes Evelyn to prepare for the celebration. Meanwhile, as dawn arrives, the Doctor and Rochester return to the Tower. The streets quickly fill with celebrating people as the curfew lifts. However, battle sounds are suddenly heard, and a squad of Daleks on discs flies over and fires on the crowd. The Doctor wavers for a moment; when he recovers, the Daleks are gone, and no one—including Rochester—seems to remember them; but a man in the crowd is dead of a gunstick blast.

The gunstick on the Dalek is supposed to be for show, Lamb believes; but Farrow switches off the restraining field and tells the Dalek to kill Lamb. Instead, it aims at Farrow and tells him to kill Lamb himself, to test his commitment to the cause. Farrow tries, but can’t; and the Dalek tells Lamb to kill Farrow, which he does. It then orders Lamb to take it to the Doctor. He takes it to the broken Doctor in the Bloody Tower, where it sends him out. It asks the Doctor for orders—thus verifying Evelyn’s theory that this Dalek is only a soldier, and doesn’t know how to decide for itself. The crippled Doctor understands, and refuses, laughing at the Dalek; in a rage, it exterminates him. It orders Lamb to take it back to the cell; he does so.

Miriam puts makeup on Evelyn; as she does so, she explains that she doesn’t actually want to overthrow Rochester, so much as replace him with a stronger ruler, one who can properly oppress the weak, and hits her hard enough to make her bleed. That could be Farrow…but he has failed to report in. Evelyn offers to check on him while Miriam dresses for the Jubilee. She finds Farrow dying in the cell; when the Dalek returns with Lamb, she asks why it doesn’t kill her also. It is confused by the question, but says that she is the only one who fears it properly. Farrow finally dies, and the Dalek orders Lamb to cut off his head as is traditional; he does so, and takes the head to Miriam. She recovers quickly, and asks Lamb to be her new consort; but he declines, saying that he is only good at obeying orders. Miriam sends him away.

Back at the Tower, Rochester shows the Doctor the toy Daleks, which he uses to feel as though he is fighting as his ancestors did. The Doctor is appalled to learn that they are not actually machines, but that they contain dwarves sent in from other countries at Rochester’s order. Another has just arrived, from America, but he won’t quite fit inside the casing; and as the Doctor is forced to watch, Rochester cuts off the man’s hand. Still, he insists he is only pretending to be evil. The Doctor is unable to talk sense into him, and he sends for Miriam so that they can attend the Jubilee.

The Dalek tells Evelyn that it does not know what to do now that it is armed—it has choice, now, but doesn’t know what to decide. It asks her to remove the gun, but it warns her that it may not be able to resist killing her in self-defence. She refuses, and suddenly it is time for it to be taken out for execution.

Rochester greets the jubilant crowd with the Dalek beside him. He orders it to speak, but it does not—until he threatens Evelyn. It speaks as demanded in order to save her again; it threatens the crowd with extermination, to great applause. Rochester then allows the Doctor to speak. The Doctor tells the crowd that he will talk about evil—but not this sanitized version. He will tell them about real evil. The Daleks have no choice about their hate, but humans do—and they have chosen to become something repulsive. He no longer sees a difference between these people and the Dalek.

Miriam seizes the stage and denounces Rochester, and tells the Dalek to kill him; but it refuses. Rochester flees, shooting to cover himself. Miriam declares him deposed; and then she proposes to the Dalek, promising the people that it will be a strong leader. As the crowd still expects an execution, she offers the Doctor and Evelyn for death; the crowd begins to chant “Exterminate!” However, the two timelines have now fully converged, and the Doctor collapses under the pressure. The TARDIS appears on a nearby hill, and the two timelines merge—and Daleks pour into the crowd from 1903, exterminating the people.

Lamb gets Miriam to safety. Meanwhile, a Dalek saucer brings the Dalek Supreme to the location of the prisoner Dalek. It recognizes the Doctor, but decides to eliminate Evelyn—and again, the prisoner saves her, though it can’t say why. The Dalek Supreme sends the trio to the mothership for questioning.

Lamb abandons Miriam and flees; but Rochester saves her. He assures her that he truly loves her, and hopes that as he is no longer a leader, they can be happy together. She doesn’t have time to decide, as a Dalek finds them. It has orders to find the human leader; she therefore stabs Rochester in the heart, and claims to rule. However, the Dalek’s full orders are to find the leader—and exterminate! Meanwhile, the Daleks also exterminate Rochester’s dwarf Daleks.

The Doctor, Evelyn, and the prisoner find themselves locked up on the Dalek ship. The Dalek knows it will be exterminated, and blames itself for erroneously choosing humanity as the heirs of the Daleks; but the Doctor insists that it is not humanity that the Dalek has misjudged, but the Dalek legacy itself. Any empire that exists by consuming all around it must eventually consume itself, until only one insane Dalek is left. The Dalek Supreme summons the prisoner for questioning; it admits it is mad, and that it respects Evelyn. This makes it untrustworthy, and the Dalek Supreme tells it to bring the Doctor and Evelyn and exterminate them to prove its loyalty to the Daleks.

Evelyn is angry with the Doctor for his callousness toward the Dalek, but he insists he has never known one to be trustworthy. Evelyn thinks that proves his point about history: it is just what one chooses to remember. A refusal to reconsider makes him no better than Rochester. They are interrupted by the prisoner, who takes them to the bridge. The Dalek Supreme opens the Dalek command net so that the prisoner can pass on intelligence about the humans to all the Daleks; and then it orders the prisoner to kill Evelyn. It cannot, and offers to kill the Doctor instead; however, the Dalek Supreme refuses to allow it. It deems the prisoner untrustworthy, and therefore its information is useless.

However, the prisoner claims to have vital information; when the Dalek Supreme refuses to allow it access to the command net, it exterminates the Dalek Supreme and takes access for itself. It has accepted the Doctor’s arguments, and now believes that failure is essential to ultimate Dalek success. When it uploads this information, the Daleks in the invasion force take it literally…and self-destruct. This leaves only the prisoner alive, as its self-destruct was removed. It trusts Evelyn to do the job for it, and stands still while she removes its gun. As the Doctor sadly watches, she grants its last request, and exterminates it.

The destruction of the fleet in the converged timeline means that the 1903 invasion never happened. As the timelines separate, the Doctor and Evelyn find themselves outside the Tower in 2003, with all restored. In the crowd, they find a tourist named Nigel Rochester, collapsed with a heart attack despite the panicked ministrations of his wife, Miriam; he almost seems to have been stabbed, though there is no wound. The Doctor uses CPR to save him; but in his delirium, Rochester somehow recognizes the Doctor, and thanks him for saving them all. He is taken by paramedics, and the Doctor and Evelyn hurry back to the TARDIS.

Much later, Evelyn tells the Doctor that her dreams now carry memories of the nonexistent 1903 version of herself dying of starvation in the Tower. The Doctor tells her that the last 100 years haven’t been fully removed; they did happen, though time was restored, and the memories will live on in restless dreams. If people will not look into those shadows, and learn, they will repeat such atrocities again and again.

Jubilee 2

Jubilee is a story with which I was loosely familiar before listening to it. This is because it’s known to be the source material for the Series One episode Dalek, which gives us the story of the Ninth Doctor’s first encounter with a survivor from the opposite side of the Last Great Time War. Dalek is a truly monumental story, and is frequently cited by viewers as the favorite episode of Series One. It would be hard indeed to top the Doctor’s raging, fear-laden, hate-filled monologue against the Dalek, or the Dalek’s destructive rampage through the underground facility; and indeed, we don’t have direct analogues of those scenes here. This story, in fact, predates the revelation of the Last Great Time War; though the Doctor’s distrust of the Daleks is legendary even in the classic series, it would be hard to find equivalents. Regardless, of that, however, this story stands well on its own, and is one of the better main range entries I’ve encountered so far.

We find the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe landing in a fractured timeline, a version of history in which, one hundred years prior, they led the English to victory over a Dalek invasion, but with catastrophic consequences. Now, England is the head of a worldwide dictatorship, and the last Dalek will be destroyed tomorrow in a centennial jubilee—unless the timelines collapse before then. Here, it is Evelyn, rather than Rose Tyler, who changes the Dalek’s point of view; she does so with her arguments rather than her DNA. (The television story, which had a much shorter runtime, can perhaps be forgiven for taking such a shortcut; even here, considerable groundwork went into establishing the a background for the Dalek in order to allow it to accept Evelyn’s words.) In the end, the fractured timelines cancel out, thus removing the entire Dalek invasion from existence, and allowing history to resume its course; but the shadows of the now-defunct timelines will be long.

Evelyn becomes a more sympathetic companion with every story in which she appears. Many companions take the path of challenging the Doctor and his views; but not many succeed. Evelyn does, and it doesn’t feel contrived at all. She does the seemingly impossible—converts a Dalek to a more humane point of view—but it doesn’t come across as improbable. Perhaps this is partly because she’s never overbearing about her successes; some companions have been known to spend the ending of the story exchanging barbs with the Doctor, “rubbing it in”, if you will, but Evelyn doesn’t do this (at least not here, anyway).

I was fascinated by the idea of two versions of the Sixth Doctor as portrayed here. We encounter an older version, a relic of the Dalek invasion of 1903, who has been imprisoned by the people he saved; when he repeatedly tried to escape, they cut off his legs and placed him in a wheelchair. (There’s some clever misdirection at first, leading one to expect that Davros is the prisoner in question; it’s obvious in hindsight, but caught me at first.) We’ve caught glimpses of displaced (and sometimes mad) future versions of the Doctor before—notably in The Big Bang, though that version isn’t mad (or at least not any more so than normally), The Ancestor Cell, and The Wrong Doctors. It’s a little more well-developed here than usual, and I would have liked to see the two Doctors meet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

Continuity References: This story features Dalek transolar discs, an oft-used (but rarely onscreen) method of flight before it became integral to the design of the Daleks; this first appears in a rather obscure short story set called Doctor Who and the Daleks (not to be confused with any other story by that name), and then again in various prose, comic, and audio sources. The Doctor and Evelyn have previously visited the Tower of London, in 1555 (The Marian Conspiracy). The Sixth Doctor has previously seen a statue of himself, on Necros (Revelation of the Daleks); his fourth incarnation also saw such a monument, though in larger scale, in The Face of Evil. Alternate futures have presented as dreams in another Dalek story, The Time of the Daleks. Dalek and several Torchwood episodes feature pizza boxes from a “Jubilee Pizza”, a reference to this story; it appears again on a flyer in The Lodger. As a further homage to Jubilee, Robert Shearman, the writer of Dalek, borrowed the surnames of Jubilee actors Jane Goddard and Kai Simmons for characters in the episode. Some notable firsts: This is the first audio to use Dominic Glynn’s arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, and the first Dalek audio to not be part of the Dalek Empire arc (with the exception of the cameo appearance in Seasons of Fear).

Overall: It’s been a good day for morality tales in Doctor Who; this morning I posted a review of the Short Trip The Death-Dealer, which is a reflection on death. In turn, this story serves as a reflection on evil, and on the human ability to become what we hate. Much later, the revived television series would give us a glimpse of what that principle looks like when applied to the Time Lords (Oh, who can tell the difference anymore?! ~Cass, The Night of the Doctor). For now it’s enough to see it applied to humans. While Dalek asks “Can the Dalek be human?”, Jubilee asks “Should the humans be Daleks?” Or at least, should we be like them? The answer is, of course, now—but one gets the impression the matter is far from settled.

Next time: We’ll continue the Main Range next week (hopefully) with the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem in Nekromanteia! See you there.

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

Jubilee

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: The Sandman

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #37, The Sandman. Written by Simon A. Forward and directed by Gary Russell, this story features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. Let’s get started!

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

Sandman 1

In deep space travels a large fleet of ships called the Clutch, which is led by a reptilian race, the Galyari, but populated by hundreds of races. A Galyari nursemaid tells a group of children the legend of the Sandman, who takes the skins of misbehaving children.  Suddenly the story becomes terribly real, and the children die in agony.  Their mother, trade director Nrosha, feels their pain, and takes security Commander Brel and his patrol with her to the nursery…but it is too late.  The Sandman, also known as the Doctor, has struck again.

Two years later, the TARDIS arrives on the bridge of a transport ship owned by a star gypsy named Mordecan. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe alarm him at first, but manage to calm his nerves.  He carries them with him to the Clutch, where he has an appointment.  Accompanying him is his anxious partner, Nintaru.  Evelyn marvels at the sight of the fleet, like a massive school of fish in coordinated grace…and then they dock with the ships.  Irritated, Mordecan lets them out into the fleet, but warns them that they must return before he leaves in three days if they want their blue box back.  He warns them to avoid the Warrens, a dangerous area of the fleet; and he urges Evelyn to get rid of the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Orchestrator Shol, the Galyari responsible for the coordination of the fleet, has his own problems; he meets with Nrosha, who is sure the Sandman is returning, and reminds her that despite her past tragedy, she must continue to carry out her duties.  For the moment, those duties include monitoring Mordecan; and she promises to do so, though she does not respect Shol’s wishes.

While the Doctor and Evelyn set off, Mordecan contacts Nintaru’s and reviews their agenda; Mordecan must first meet Nrosha, but then they will meet another contact in another ship, as they have done in the past. Nintaru’s anxiety grows; the Galyari have stringent trade laws, and are not happy with what she is selling, but she intends to go through with it—especially as this is the last shipment.  Meanwhile, Evelyn notices a strange thing: none of the Galyari will look directly at the Doctor.  She suspects something is going on, and her thoughts are verified when he breaks into the Orchestrator’s control center.  He intentionally trips the alarm, knowing it will summon the Orchestrator to him.  He explains that this is a valid technique for him, as the Galyari have no grasp on a criminal mindset; this means, however, that they punish severely any criminal that does face justice.  While they wait, the Doctor plays with the controls for Traffic, the central computer that coordinates the fleet, and learns it is being controlled from an auxiliary command center.  Orchestrator Shol arrives, and the Doctor becomes haughty and arrogant, terrifying the Orchestrator.  When Evelyn confronts him about it, he tells her she is wrong about him; he IS the monster they believe him to be.

The Doctor’s behaviour continues to shock, as he dictates to Shol that the Galyari must cease their trade in weapons, a problem which reappears every few generations despite the Doctor’s efforts. Shol reluctantly agrees, though he knows it will make his people poor.  Meanwhile, Mordecan talks business with Nrosha; he has brought a shipment of sunbirds, which the Galyari regard almost reverently, as they themselves descend from an avian species.  He realizes she is more troubled than usual—and she becomes even more so when he reveals that his unwilling passenger was called “the Doctor”—the alternate name of the Sandman…

The Doctor orders Shol to tell Evelyn about the history of the Galyari and the Sandman. Shol explains that their homeworld, Galyar, was overrun by vermin who burrowed in the ground.  When an army of conquest under the command of famed General Voshkar returned to the world and found it in ruins, they fought the vermin, but were defeated by a monster called the Sandman.  The Doctor is that monster; he appeared and overwhelmed Voshkar’s army, and ordered the general never to return to the world.  He then took the skins of the fallen as trophies.  Voshkar left, but raised a second army of twenty thousand soldiers, and returned.    Though he had some success against the vermin, the Sandman returned, wearing the skins of the dead, and the Galyari could not look on him without pain.  The Sandman stated he had given the vermin, the Cuscaru, intelligence, so that they could oppose the Galyari.  He cursed the Galyari to never live on a planet again; and more, he crushed the planet’s Srushkubr, its Memory Egg, to dust.  The Doctor explains this part of the story to Evelyn; the Srushkuby is an organic data bank of sorts, which holds the race memory of the Galyari, and to which all of them are bound.  Every Galyari colony world has one; Shol balks at the idea that Galyar was just another colony and not the homeworld, but the Doctor insists it is so.  The Doctor admits that he did curse the Galyari, so that they will not curse others.

With Mordecan’s information, Nrosha contacts Commander Brel, who is investigating more mysterious deaths. She persuades him to come with her, insisting that they may be able to kill the Sandman and end the nightmare now.  Tempted by the thought of being the hero who destroyed the Sandman, Brel agrees, and joins her en route to the command center.  Meanwhile Mordecan makes his way to the Warrens and to an unmonitored terminal, from which he transmits a current map of the Clutch to Nintaru so that she can meet with him at their appointed rendezvous.

Despite Evelyn’s disgust with the Doctor, Shol agrees to the demands, if the Doctor will end the recent unnatural deaths. The Doctor knows nothing of these deaths, and is caught off guard, but plays along, and gets Shol to describe the deaths, which began with Shol’s own predecessor as Orchestrator.  That death began after a meeting with Mordecan, but the sale proposed at the meeting fell through with the Orchestrator’s death.  Since then, others have died, and it has been attributed to the Sandman.  The Sandman would, in the past, only take skins shed during the “growth sickness” that all Galyari periodically undergo; but now the skins are being taken before they are shed, killing the victims.  Evelyn and the Doctor are horrified, especially upon learning that trade director Nrosha’s young were early victims.  The Doctor promises to end the deaths as soon as he meets with Mordecan—but they are interrupted by Nrosha and Brel, who burst in.  Through the pain of looking at the Doctor, Brel opens fire.

Brel’s inability to look directly at the Doctor throws off his aim, and the Doctor and Evelyn retreat, destroying the door lock on the way out. They flee through the Clutch, and notice the lights flickering as they do; this indicates there is a cloaked security drone watching them, tapping into the somewhat-incompatible power system.  The Doctor captures the drone and begins rewiring it to find Mordecan, but before he can finish, an announcement is made: this ship is leaving the Clutch, and is about to be detached from its neighbors.  Evelyn manages to make it to the airlock and into the next ship, but the Doctor, delayed by his electronic work, does not.

Nrosha takes the Doctor’s flight to mean he fears death. Shol fears what may come of this if they fail to kill the Doctor, but reluctantly complies; Nrosha sends out patrols to track the Doctor but not attack him, leaving Brel to press the attack.  When the door is prepared, Brel sets off; Shol seals himself and Nrosha in, and warns her that if Brel fails, he will kill the Commander so as to appease the Sandman.  Meanwhile, Nintaru becomes aware of the extra patrols, which make her more anxious than ever.  She warns Mordecan, and changes her route to the rendezvous.  En route, Mordecan meets Evelyn in the Warrens.  She asks about his meeting with the previous Orchestrator, but he says that all he did was connect the Orchestrator with Nintaru before the deal fell through.  He does not know what merchandise Nintaru peddles, but he knows it was unusual.

The Doctor’s drone has caught the transmission between Nintaru and Mordecan. When the ship docks in a new position, the Doctor finds Nintaru and questions her; as he does so, they pass through one of many aviaries in the fleet, and the birds attack Nintaru.  The Doctor helps drive them off, and explains the genetic connection between the Galyari and birds—which, as it seems, leads the reptilian Galyari to revere such species.  Nintaru reveals her own species—the Cuscaru—and learns that the Clutch is nearing Nintaru’s world—a planet once called Galyar.  He knows that the Galyari rename every colony world Galyar, and have often forgotten that each world is not the homeworld—so it is with Nintaru’s world.  The Cuscaru also have a version of the legend about the Sandman and the early conquest over the Galyari; and when they detected the Clutch approaching, some years earlier, they connected it to the legend, and began seeking a solution.  They found trace elements in their soil which must have come from the Memory Egg; and, collecting the fragments, they set out to return them as a peace offering.  That mission became a trade mission, but failed; now, Nintaru continues it in secret.  The Doctor realizes there are yet larger stakes; when he destroyed the Srushkubr, it released neural energy that forced a mutation on all the Galyari who were present.  If the egg’s ashes come into contact with any of those mutated Galyari, it will mean disaster—in fact, it may already have done so.

Shrol is unable to wait patiently, and resumes his duties—but he is unable to contact his sub-Orchestrator, Korshal, in the auxiliary command center. It seems the Sandman has struck again, although the Doctor is nowhere near that area.  Meanwhile, Mordecan and Evelyn arrive at the rendezvous point, waiting for Nintaru and their secretive contact.  When the trade deal under the former Orchestrator fell through, this was the only option.  Mordecan warns her that the contact is unpleasant to look at; if Nintaru is smuggling drugs, as Mordecan suspects, the contact seems to have sampled them.  Nintaru and the Doctor arrives, but when she reaches for her merchandise, the Doctor reveals he has stolen it, to prevent any Galyari from having contact with it.  The contact grows angry, and comes out of the shadows to attack—and calls the Doctor by name.

Brel arrives, having tracked the Doctor, but is stunned by the sight of the monster. Mordecan snatches Brel’s gun and kills the creature.  It proves to be a Galyari skin, empty inside.  Brel still plans to the kill the Doctor; to stop him, the Doctor removes his coat and waistcoat, revealing that it serves as a sort of camouflage to the Galyari, who are highly sensitive to bright, clashing colours.  This is tantamount to admitting he has no supernatural powers; but Brel lets that go in the face of a more important issue: once, the Galyari also had a power of camouflage, much like chameleons on Earth.  Brel realizes that the walking skin is something requiring analysis, and he summons a medical team for Nintaru; but at that moment, they are interrupted by a broadcast summons.  Its voice comes from the auxiliary command center, and is familiar to the Doctor.  It claims to be the new Sandman, and the new Orchestrator of the Clutch; and it will let every non-Galyari depart, if only they bring him the Doctor.

The Doctor has Brel connect him to Shol, and transmits the image of the husk monster. He explains that fragments of the ancient Srushkubr are present; as well, the previous Orchestrator was a descendant of the long-dead General Voshkar.  The Doctor can expose and eliminate their tormentor, but it will require letting him into the sacred cultivation chambers.  Nrosha objects, but Shol realizes the truth: the Doctor could easily get there in his TARDIS; instead he is asking for their help.  Nrosha cannot abide Shol’s decision to listen, and takes a patrol to the auxiliary command center, trying to prove Shol wrong.  Meanwhile, leaving Nintaru to recover, the Doctor goes with Evelyn, Mordecan, and Brel to the aviary to collect feathers, which they will need for the cultivation chamber.  He explains that the legend wasn’t quite right; the Cuscaru were the natives of this Galyar, and were just becoming intelligent when the Galyari colonised it.  The Doctor helped them to mount a defense, and so gained access to the Srushkubr, and realized he would need dead Galyari tissue to interface with it.  This, he obtained from the battlefield; but he was found harvesting skins by the Galyari soldiers.  He acted the part of a monster in an attempt to get Voshkar to leave peacefully; the retreat was only temporary, but by the time Voshkar returned, the Doctor had gained control of the Srushkubr.  He used it to drive the Galyari away, and destroyed it, blasting them with the neural energy which imprinted them with a fear of him—the Sandman, as they knew him.  However, the neural energy was enough to irradiate the soldiers, and that contamination was passed down through many generations.  Contact with Nintaru’s fragments unleashed the energy, creating a new Srushkubr.  That Srushkubr, filled with malice, was formed around a living core, but has been adding skins to itself ever since—thus creating the husk monsters.  Still, as they now embody the racial memory, Brel cannot shoot them.

Still, this racial memory—and the control of it afforded by the Srushkubr—will allow the Doctor a plan. He uses the feathers, along with Galyari skin cells and his own blood, to create his own Srushkubr inside the cultivation chambers.  He sends Evelyn and Shol to the command center, and gets Brel to have all the Galyari seal themselves behind secure bulkheads.  He takes Mordecan to the auxiliary command deck to confront the Sandman and then transfer Traffic control back to the main command center.  The plan is not lost on Shol or Evelyn; they realize that the one the Galyari have considered their nemesis, is now working to save them all.

The corridor outside auxiliary command is full of bodies and husks. Only Nrosha, in her hatred, managed to fight her way past the husks; but, the Doctor finds, it was in vain, as the Sandman has torn her apart.  The Sandman reveals himself: he is Voshkar reborn, as his mind was the strongest in the race memory.  Now he will lead his people to retake the Cuscaru world and make it Galyar again.  The Doctor angrily tells him that the Sandman—as the Doctor created the legend—was no killer; he merely harvested shed skins and planted fear, which kept the Galyari from harming anyone else.  Under Voshkar, the Clutch will become a war fleet; and this, the Doctor cannot allow.  Voshkar attacks him, and in the chaos, Mordecan transfers control back to Shol.  Shol opens all the internal bulkheads except those behind which the Galyari shelter.  Throughout the fleet, the birds—at the telepathic suggestion of the Doctor—flood the corridors from the aviaries, attacking the husks, who cannot fight them off.  As the husks die, Voshkar is steadily diminished, until, wracked with pain, he dies.

Later, at the Doctor’s suggestion, Shol drops the old charges against Nintaru, who acted in good faith without knowledge of the trouble she would cause. Since the Cuscaru world still contains the ashes of the ancient Srushkubr, the Clutch will bypass it, for the sake of safety.  With a new era dawning for the Galyari, the Doctor and Evelyn depart in the TARDIS.

Sandman 2

The premise of this story is that the Doctor has a hidden dark side, which of course comes as a shock to his companion Evelyn. Leaving aside the fact that the Sixth Doctor has had a major “dark side” story with The Trial of a Time Lord in season 23, it’s still not a particularly original concept; many companions have had to face the fact that the Doctor can be cruel or bizarre or simply not what he seems. It’s pretty egregious here at first, but as is typical with Doctor Who, things are not what they seem. My view of the story is that it does expose a major flaw in the Doctor, and the Sixth Doctor especially, but that the flaw in question isn’t cruelty or arrogance or evil. No, the problem is that he overreaches. He feels free to meddle—every incarnation of the Doctor does this—and of course on many occasions, it’s justifiable; but in particular, he sometimes meddles where he shouldn’t, and doesn’t consider the consequences. What he does in this story (or rather, before it, in the past to which the story makes reference) is for a good cause, but the consequences spiral out of control, and people die as a result. One gets the impression that he thinks himself above consequences, but in the end they find him out anyway.

The Clutch, the fleet of ships in which this story takes place, is a great setting, and very possibly unique in Doctor Who. This fleet of ships, with the Galyari race at its core, constantly wanders the stars at the speed of its slowest (sublight speed) members, engaging in trade as it goes. Its ships are connected by airlock tunnels, allowing traffic among ships; however, they also are frequently rearranged at the behest of the Galyari Orchestrator and the central Traffic computer. It is of great age, covering many generations of Galyari, and incorporates over a hundred other species and their ships. The Doctor, as we learn, is responsible for its existence, as he is the one who caused the Galyari to be nomads without a world—but that’s part of the issue to be resolved herein. The setting is good enough that it is revisited in two more audio dramas, Dreamtime (Doctor Who) and The Bone of Contention (Bernice Summerfield), both of which were published after this story, but take place before it, and both of which share at least one character with this story (in addition to the Doctor).

There’s a very unique enemy here; unfortunately I say much about it, as that would constitute a major spoiler (for those trying to avoid them). We’ve had any number of enemies with odd origins and various levels of consciousness and/or life, but this, I think, is a first for me. As well, the method in which it is defeated is quite creative—perfectly in character for the Doctor, but still something I’ve never seen before.

It’s a little early to be sure, but it seems that a theme of Evelyn’s time with the Doctor is her shedding her early eagerness and learning to distrust him, or at least to regard him with more caution. I’ve glanced ahead at the publisher’s summaries for several of her upcoming stories, and it seems this thread continues; but it certainly gets a large boost here. It doesn’t help that he openly admits to being the monster the Galyari think him to be; and even after all is told, it seems she still regards him with some small amount of suspicion. At the very least, she has learned he is not perfect, and that his mistakes cost lives. She does get in some great one-liners and insults along the way (Mordecan: “Lose the Doctor.” Evelyn: “I’m sure that he is perfectly capable of losing both of us!”), and her dialogue alone is worth the price of admission.

Pinning down the time period of this story is practically impossible, but we do get one clue. The Clutch does frequent business with humans, of which the trader Mordecan is one (he describes himself as a star gypsy), indicating that this story is set in Earth’s future, during the colonisation period at least, and possibly further. Sublight ships are still common, indicating it’s probably not too far ahead—several centuries perhaps, rather than several millennia. As for the Doctor’s timeline: the flashback sequence, in which he first meets the Galyari, have him traveling without a companion, making it sometime after Peri’s forced departure at the beginning of Season 23 (and before he took Mel on full-time), but we can’t be more specific than that, especially with Mel’s rather convoluted history with the Doctor (and she doesn’t even appear here!).

Other than the aforementioned audios set in the Clutch, I could find no continuity references. That’s very unusual for a main range audio drama; even Evelyn makes no real references to their previous adventures. Compensating for that, perhaps, is the fact that there is an extended storytelling/flashback sequence in Part Two, and this story gets revisited numerous times, with changes in details. There’s only so much time available, I suppose. Worth mentioning, though: we do get an appearance from Anneke Wills (First Doctor companion Polly) in the role of Trade Director Nrosha of the Galyari.  It’s quite a different role for her, but she carries it well.

Overall: this is a very enjoyable story. We’re all familiar enough with the Doctor to know that things can’t be what they seem at the beginning—there’s no way the Doctor is actually evil—but the anticipation of how the truth will work out is quite good. With its lack of continuity references, and Evelyn’s self-sufficiency as a character, one could easily pick up this audio and enjoy it without having listened to any of its prequels. This far into the main range, that’s rather rare, and I like it.

Sandman 3

Next time: We rejoin the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem for The Church and the Crown! See you there.

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

The Sandman

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Project Twilight

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Project Twilight, #23 in the Main Range of audios. Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, this story features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. Let’s get started!

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

project-twilight-1

4 October 1915:  Dr. William Abberton writes in his journal about “destroying souls” in the course of his duties.  He injects a patient with an unknown substance, and tells the patient that he [the patient] will become a god.  As an alarm sounds, a woman named Amelia Doory breaks into the lab, and asks Abberton if he has “done it”, referring to the patient.  Abberton confirms that he has.  A man named Reginald Mead enters the lab, and Amelia has him unstrap and remove the patient, whose name is Nathaniel; but before leaving, Amelia shoots and kills Abberton.

In 2001, the Sixth Doctor takes Evelyn to the Slow Boat chinese restaurant in southeast London.  Elsewhere, Reginald Mead, now calling himself Reggie, has a casino, the Dusk, in Bermondsey.  He greets new waitress Cassie Schofield, who is having a difficult first night.  Cassie has a bad encounter with a man named Deeks, but is rescued by Amelia.  Amelia takes Deeks to a private room, where he is attacked by Amelia and Reggie.  Later, Reggie pays Cassie for the night, with a hefty bonus.  As Cassie leaves, Amelia says she wants her, and that Cassie is a good candidate.  Downstairs, she and Reggie confer with an associate named Eddie, and find that Deeks has awakened.  They give him an injection.  Eddie goes out to smoke, but is killed by a strange figure with a crossbow; before he dies, he recognizes the figure.

At the restaurant, the Doctor and Evelyn finish their meal and exit, and stumble upon a trail of badly mauled animals—and the tooth marks indicate that they were eaten alive by a human.  They follow the trail to a human-sized nest.  They are interrupted by Eddie’s dying screams, and see the killer running away; the Doctor tries and fails to catch him.  Evelyn witnesses Eddie’s death, and Reggie comes outside, having heard the commotion.  Eddie awakens, but has no pulse; Reggie declines an ambulance, and says he has medical facilities onsite.  The Doctor helps Reggie get Eddie inside to the basement, and begins to help with treatment.  As Evelyn assists, she finds Deeks’ body, and the Doctor demands an explanation, but they refuse to explain until Eddie is safe.  However, Eddie’s temperature is rising dramatically, and his blood begins to literally boil; and he suddenly explodes from the gases inside him, showering Evelyn with entrails.

Amelia is unnaturally calm, making the Doctor suspicious.  Evelyn goes to clean up in the washroom, and the Doctor escorts her; while they are gone, Amelia declines to kill them, sensing that the Doctor is more than meets the eye.  The Doctor returns, and Reggie accuses him of attacking Eddie; the Doctor describes the real killer, which visibly rattles both Reggie and Amelia.  Reggie’s temper is rising, so Amelia removes him from the room; and she calls some associates to research the Doctor.  Reggie does the same, calling a man named Billy for information.  He then finds Cassie in his office, searching his files; but she is saved by Evelyn, who gets Cassie to show her to the restroom.  Downstairs, Amelia tells the Doctor that she, Reggie, and Eddie are the product of a super-soldier research project led by a government agency called the Forge.  They now cannot die of old age; she is over a century old.  In all that time, she has been searching for a cure for their condition, and has reluctantly turned to live subjects.  The Doctor promises to help, if she will control Reggie—and if she ensures no one else dies.  Meanwhile, Cassie and Evelyn are attacked by a beastlike human.

The Doctor intercepts the creature, and between himself and Evelyn, they hold the creature off until Amelia arrives and soothes it.  It proves to be Nathaniel, who has been badly burned.  The Doctor sends Evelyn to take Cassie home, and helps Amelia get Nathaniel to the lab; Amelia says he suffers from porphyria, which makes him anemic and terribly sensitive to sunlight.  However, the Doctor finds rope burns, which indicate that someone tied him up to die in the sun; it is presumably Eddie’s killer, whom Amelia refers to as Nimrod.  Reggie calls up guards to protect the casino.  At Cassie’s apartment, she tells Evelyn about her son, Tommy, whom she left with her mother so that she could work in London to try to give Tommy a better life.  She explains that she was pressed into service by a man who threatened her mother and son, and was ordered to act as a spy inside the Dusk.  So far she has only found a coded book; Evelyn, having some knowledge of wartime codebreaking, offers to look at it.  While she does so, Cassie is stabbed at the door by her mysterious blackmailer.  She refuses an ambulance, fearing authority involvement, and Evelyn takes her back to the Dusk for help.

The Doctor finds that the crossbow bolt injected nanobots into Eddie, which suppressed his otherwise-advanced immune system, then initiated the process that killed him.  Nathaniel has no nanobots in his system, indicating that Nimrod wanted to torture him as a message to Amelia and Reggie.  A full day has passed, and the casino is about to reopen despite the chaos.  The Doctor goes out to pick up dinner from the Slow Boat.  While he is gone, Amelia confers with Reggie, who has discovered the Doctor’s history with UNIT; Amelia is satisfied that the Doctor may be useful.  However, for now they have other business.  Meanwhile, the Doctor has taken the opportunity to investigate the casino on his own.  He finds a door with an exceptional security system, but before he can check further, he spots Reggie, and follows him.  Reggie and Amelia meet a man named Matthew, with whom they have a longstanding deal; decades ago they promised him and his associates a breakthrough, but Matthew’s people have lost confidence in the project after all this time, partly due to Nimrod.  As a result Matthew has only delivered half the merchandise he promised.  Reggie breaks Matthew’s fingers to persuade him to cooperate, and only orders payment for the merchandise—DNA samples—which have been actually delivered.  The Doctor follows Matthew out, and sees that his hand is rapidly healing; Matthew refuses to talk.  However, his car seals him in and drives itself into the river.  Matthew breaks the window, and tosses the briefcase back to the Doctor, but contact with the water causes him to burst into flames.  Nimrod then confronts the Doctor, and castigates him for helping Amelia and Reggie.  Reggie interrupts, trying to stop Nimrod from revealing everything; Nathaniel also attacks Nimrod, but Nimrod grabs him.  The Doctor uses a taser on Nimrod, but it has no effect.  Nimrod kills Nathaniel, and tells the Doctor to look in the briefcase.  It contains Matthew’s payment…in bags of blood.  Reggie moves in on Nimrod, and Nimrod points out that Reggie has no reflection.  The Doctor, it seems, is helping vampires.

project-twilight-2

Reggie attacks Nimrod, but his teeth can’t penetrate the stranger’s body armor.  Amelia arrives with a shotgun and shoots Nimrod, but knows it won’t stop him; and Nimrod slips away.  The Doctor goes back to the casino with Reggie and Amelia, and argues the situation with Amelia, until Evelyn and Cassie arrive.  The Doctor declines to let Amelia treat Cassie, and takes the girl to the basement medical facility.  Meanwhile, Reggie’s rage is boiling over, and he trashes his own office until Amelia contacts him telepathically and stops him, calling him downstairs; she intends to use Cassie for the project.  The Doctor uses the blood bags to give Cassie a transfusion.  He is horrified at the situation, and tells Amelia about the Great Vampires in Gallifrey’s past, and the Time Lords’ secret guilt in the whole matter, although not thoroughly.  He sends Evelyn to take Cassie to the TARDIS for safety; before she goes, she gives him the coded book, and says it is a journal.

The Doctor confronts Amelia again, but her arguments about her situation make sense, and he reluctantly agrees to help her continue the experiments toward a cure.  Meanwhile Reggie sets guards at the doors of the casino.  He interrupts Evelyn, and claims the Doctor asked for her in the lab; persuaded, she goes to find the Doctor, leaving Cassie with Reggie.  Reggie locks her out, and begins to interrogate Cassie about her spying.  In the lab, the Doctor determines he can reprogram the nanobots to use the body’s immune system against the vampire factor, amazing Amelia.  Evelyn arrives, and the Doctor quickly realizes that Reggie lied to her, and they run back to Cassie.  They break down the door, but find that Reggie has beaten Cassie badly, and learned that Nimrod has little useful information.  Amelia stops the Doctor from intervening, and reveals the truth: she isn’t trying to cure her condition, but to isolate it, calling it the Twilight virus.  She intends to unleash it on humanity, turning the entire race into vampires.  The Doctor admits he was mistaken to trust them.  Amelia has Reggie take Evelyn and Cassie to the lab, and locks up the Doctor.  As they proceed, Nimrod kills the guards outside.  The Doctor tries to turn Reggie against Amelia, but fails.  Amelia ties up Evelyn, and comments that the Doctor’s work helped her isolate and perfect the virus.  She injects Cassie with it.

 

Cassie quickly transforms into the first of the new vampires, developing heightened senses and telepathy…and a strong hunger.  Amelia refuses to waste the virus on the elderly Evelyn, but intends to let Cassie feed on her.  Meanwhile, the Doctor is trapped in a cell; he takes the opportunity to read the journal, which is Dr. Abberton’s journal from his days at the Forge. He is released by Nimrod, and reluctantly agrees to help the stranger, though he still disapproves of the killing.  They break through the locked door from earlier, and find  more than a hundred humans in cages under the casino, who are being “farmed” for blood for the vampires; they appear to have been bred here for this purpose.  Nimrod wants to blow the place up, but the Doctor insists on freeing the captives first.  However their entrance here has triggered an alarm.  Amelia goes to investigate, leaving Reggie with Cassie.  Cassie gets him to untie Evelyn, but once it is done, Cassie turns on Reggie, and knocks him down; she has not forgotten how he tortured her.  She breaks his legs, and then stabs him with the crossbow bolt, which still has some nanobots; shortly, he explodes as Eddie did.  The shock overwhelms Cassie, and Evelyn tries to comfort her, but she runs out of the casino.

The Doctor’s attempts to free the captives are not going well; the captives have never known freedom, and are reduced nearly to an animal state.  Amelia catches the Doctor and Nimrod, and explains that she began the breeding project when it became unsafe to hunt humans at large.  Nimrod’s answers are similar to the journal entries, and the Doctor suspects that he may in fact be Abberton; when Amelia left for dead in 1915, he injected himself with the preliminary version of the virus.  Since then, the Forge augmented him with machine parts, and he has spent his years hunting down his creations.  Amelia manages to get his crossbow and shoot him; he will live, but the delay lets her escape with the virus.  The Doctor follows while Nimrod sets explosives to destroy the blood farm in four minutes.

The Doctor finds Amelia on the bank of the Thames, watching the sunrise; not all vampires are hurt by sunlight, and she does not have that weakness.  He tries to reason with her, but to no avail; suddenly, the explosives go off, and as far as the Doctor knows, Evelyn was still inside.  In a rage, he attacks Amelia, and both fall into the river.  Evelyn isn’t dead, however; Nimrod got her to safety just in time.  She witnesses the Doctor coming out of the water with the vial, but Amelia is nowhere to be found; she may have escaped in the depths, or she may have died like Matthew—it’s unclear what her weakness was.  With the virus in hand, the Doctor and Evelyn track down Cassie outside the Dusk.  Cassie refuses help, considering herself too dangerous; but she accepts a lift in the TARDIS to Norway, where the months-long darkness will be safe for her, in case she cannot bear the sun.  She may be dangerous, but she will take responsibility for herself, and try to keep others safe from her vampire nature.  Regretfully, the Doctor and Evelyn depart.  Elsewhere, Nimrod survived as well, and intends to find Amelia.  As well, his superiors want him to find Cassie, and bring her in alive.

project-twilight-3

I’ve been very critical in the past of Doctor Who stories that focus on the supernatural—ghosts, werewolves, vampires and the like. Project: Twilight is one of the first such stories to impress me. It uses many of the vampire tropes while managing to avoid straying into cliché; and it neatly ties into both the supernatural past (with mention of the Great Vampires of Gallifreyan history) and the technological present. All of this, in a Sixth Doctor story! Impressive indeed.

The story I can most compare with this one is Night of the Whisper, the Ninth Doctor’s entry in the Destiny of the Doctor fiftieth-anniversary audio series. While that story indulges in more fast-paced action, it has a noir, detective-story vibe that shows up again here, if not as strongly. It’s an interesting coincidence that both stories involve supernatural villains (in Night it’s a werewolf), and both involve cybernetically-enhanced, mysterious figures who fight vigilante-style against the supernatural villains (the titular Whisper, and here, Nimrod). Both involve waitresses in over their heads (Rose Tyler there, Cassie here), and both involve corporate spies with shady dealings and bad fates (Cassie again here, and Daisy Hewett in Night). The Dusk casino is practically synonymous with the Full Moon Nightclub. The similarities go on, and for once it’s a good thing–Night of the Whisper is a great story, easily the highlight of its series.

I was pleased to learn that this story begins an arc that will continue for some years (in terms of release dates, that is), ultimately wrapping up with 2010’s A Death in the Family. While I haven’t yet reached any of the other entries (and therefore can’t comment on their quality), I hope that they continue in this vein (if you’ll excuse the pun), and that they’re worth looking forward to.

I commented in my last post (Bloodtide) that Evelyn Smythe didn’t have much to do. While that’s still mostly true here, it doesn’t feel the same; she seems much more involved this time around. It’s Evelyn who spends much of the story looking after the ill-fated Cassie, and forging a bond with her that I hope will feature into the next entry in the arc. Evelyn discovers the coded journal left behind by Dr. William Abberton, who provides the opening teaser; this in turn leads to an important revelation for the Doctor later on (though I’ll refrain from explaining, for the sake of spoilers). As usual, she verbally spars with the Doctor quite often and quite well; but this time there’s a sharper edge to it, as she confronts him about his habit of keeping things from her. She’s right, of course; it’s a flaw that the Doctor, regardless of incarnation or choice of companion, never seems to eradicate from himself. Here he conceals the nature of their enemies, and it very nearly costs Cassie’s life; there’s a scene where Evelyn leaves Cassie in a dangerous position, which she would never have done had the Doctor been up front with her. Evelyn also has the misfortune of getting sprayed with blood and entrails when a character literally explodes; I’ll leave the details to imagination, but I will say that she handles it better than most people would.

The Sixth Doctor is actually fairly subdued this time around; he’s cheerful enough, but there’s little of his usual melodramatic monologuing. He has the good grace to admit he was wrong in fairly short order after it happens, which is an enormous step of humility for Six. He makes Big Finish’s first mention (to my knowledge anyway) of the Gallifreyan legend Zagreus, which will eventually figure into the main range in a major way. For once, you get the impression that the Sixth Doctor wouldn’t be a bad traveling companion after all; even at his best, he rarely gives that impression, but he nails it here.

I don’t have any technical complaints about this story; the acting, the sound effects, the pacing—everything is as good as it gets. As for plot, my only issue is that I expected a much sharper reaction from the Doctor when he discovers he’s dealing with vampires. He makes much of the way in which they provoke Time Lords by their very existence; he explains to Evelyn how the Time Lords allowed the Great Vampires into the universe from their own dimension, and how they hunted the Time Lords and conquered worlds, and how every Time Lord is charged with the responsibility to destroy them wherever they find them (State of Decay). He rages about it quite emotionally—and then continues to trust and help the vampires, right up until the final extent of their plan is revealed. The contrast is jarring, and it’s hard to believe, even if the Doctor does customarily try even to save his enemies.

Continuity references: Zagreus will appear again in the audios Neverland and Zagreus, and possibly others. The Doctor references the events of State of Decay as I mentioned above, indirectly at least. Evelyn refers to fishing the Doctor out of the Thames in front of the Tower of London; this is the second time it’s happened, as she did the same in The Marian Conspiracy. The Doctor mentions meeting Kublai Khan (Marco Polo) and Houdini (Smoke and Mirrors, with a different meeting referenced in Planet of the Spiders). The story takes place in 2001, making it mostly contemporary for Evelyn.

Overall, a great Sixth Doctor story, and even better for having Evelyn in it. Maybe the curse on supernatural stories is broken? Eh, probably not. Still, it’s a nice deviation from the usual, and I look forward to more to come. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give this one a solid 7.

project-twilight-4

Next time: We meet the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and brand-new companion Erimem in Egypt in The Eye of the Scorpion! And, tomorrow, we’ll finish up the first War Doctor box set with The Heart of the Battle! 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 stories may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Project: Twilight

Previous

Next

Audio Review: Bloodtide

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

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

bloodtide-1

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

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

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

bloodtide-2

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

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

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

bloodtide-3

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

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

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

bloodtide-5

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

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

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

bloodtide-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

bloodtide-6

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

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

Bloodtide

Previous

Next

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Apocalypse Element

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Apocalypse Element, number eleven in the main range of audios—and for once, it lives up to its name! The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe have their work cut out for them this time…with a little help from a long-lost old friend. Let’s get started!

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

apocalypse-element-1

The Time Lords aren’t the only race to develop time travel. In fact, twenty such races—and by default, twenty of the most powerful civilizations in the universe—are gathering on the planet Archetryx for a conference regarding time travel and its limitations. Archetryx’s monitors get a strange reading before the conference, but there is an explanation: the Monans, whose time vessels are even more highly powered than the Time Lords’ TARDISes, have arrived, and their ship’s powerful engines created a disturbance in Archetryx’s temporal defense shields. It’s done more than that, however; it has dragged in a straggler, the TARDIS occupied by the Sixth Doctor and his companion, Evelyn Smythe.

They shouldn’t be there, but they are saved from trouble by Coordinator Vansell of the Gallifreyan Celestial Intervention Agency, who declares them part of the Lord President’s entourage. Nevertheless, there’s no time to rest, because strange things are still happening.

Twenty years ago, the nearby planetoid of Etra Prime—the oldest planetoid in the known universe, coincidentally—vanished from time and space. It took with it five hundred scientists, mostly from Gallifrey, including the newly-elected Lord President Romanadvoratrelundar, Romana for short. A year later, three hundred of them reappeared on Archetryx, dead and distorted by time. To avert an accusation and a war, Archetryx agreed to host this conference, which has now come to fruition. Romana, however, is still to be found. Now, the Archetryxans detect that Etra Prime has returned—and it is on a collision course with Archetryx! And worse…it becomes clear that the Daleks are behind it.

The Doctor begins to investigate, at the behest of the current Lord President, who was raised to the post when Romana failed to return; he is also loyal to Romana, and tries to uphold her decisions. The Doctor quickly finds that the Daleks have agents among the Archetryxans, operating under mind control. They kill themselves, but not before the sensors and shields are sabotaged, letting the Daleks into the complex. Another spy also destroys an exterior wall, allowing them in, and unintentionally trapping Evelyn. Vansell, accompanied by the Archetryxan Monitor Vorna, rescue her, but can’t stop the Daleks. However, rather than attack directly, the Daleks steal the Monan time ship. It is not dimensionally transcendent like a TARDIS, and so only a few Daleks fit inside; the rest move deeper into the building and self-destruct, blocking all the delegates from escaping.

The Doctor goes to the gravity wells in the facility to effect repairs and raise the shields. He is attacked by Daleks—but not their machines. The mutants have left their casings in the zero-G environment of the wells, and are attacking personally.

apocalypse-element-2

Inside Etra Prime, Romana has been a slave for twenty years. The years have weighed on her, but she retains her identity and sanity by force of will. She and another slave, a Monan engineer named Vrint, are pulled out to cannibalize the Monan ship; they are instructed to use its engines to build a temporal centrifuge. Etra Prime contains a ridiculously rare element, which, when refined, has fantastic power over space and time; the Daleks call it the Apocalypse Element. As they work they overhear the Daleks’ plans. Later, they finish the centrifuge, but sabotage it; they then use a nearby transmat to escape to Archetryx. The transmat is destroyed in Dalek crossfire. Romana takes with her a strange crystal; it a communicator of sorts, used by the Daleks to telepathically communicate with their spies, so as to avoid detection of conventional signals. It is a rare item, and the Daleks want it back, as it has another purpose—and is vital to their plan.

The Doctor escapes the Dalek mutants, and rendezvoused with Evelyn; she helps him escape, but it’s only temporary, as he must go back in. Meanwhile, the Daleks are stealing technological secrets from the various time machines (though, presumably, the TARDISes have sufficient security to resist entry). The Black Dalek leading the force also tells the delegates that attacks have been launched on their homeworlds. Evelyn volunteers to help clear the way to the ships. Vorna goes with her, and Romana joins the Doctor. The delegates also attack the Daleks. The Doctor gives back the crystal, and the Daleks evacuate, clearing the way; the delegates escape. The Doctor, Evelyn, Vorna, and an Archetryxan security agent named Trinkett escape in the TARDIS immediately before Etra Prime crashes into Archetryx, destroying both worlds and killing everyone remaining behind.

The President and Vansell arrive on Gallifrey before the Doctor. Immediately they learn of a Monan ship seeking refuge there; the President and security Captain Reldath are suspicious, but Vansell, hungry for the Monan’s time travel secrets, persuades them to allow them in. It is a ruse; the Daleks, possessing their own version of a chameleon circuit, have created an illusion of the Monan ship to hide their own ships. Now inside the transduction barriers, they invade Gallifrey.

Romana, whose presidential codes have never been revoked (unlike the Doctor’s), links to the TARDIS telepathic circuits to gain entrance to the Gallifreyan citadel. The Daleks have taken the TARDIS cradle area under the citadel, and have harvested the eyes of a dead soldier to defeat the retina scans on all the security doors. Being forced to get by the Daleks, the Doctor prepares to try his luck; but Romana offers them her presidential codes if they will spare them. It is a ruse, but they fall for it; they need the codes to take down the barriers and allow invasion en masse. She links with them telepathically to transmit the codes; but instead, she unloads twenty years of pain and hatred into their minds, stunning them and allowing her and her companions to escape. They force her out of the link, but she senses enough of their plan to get an inkling of their plans for the Element…

Reaching security control, the Doctor has Vansell erase every Gallifreyan retinal print from the Matrix, and install Evelyn’s human retinal print instead. As she is the only human around, she is now the only key to any door—and the Daleks do not have her, nor can they risk killing her. The Doctor sends her with Vansell to rally the guards. He then seals the bulkheads on the TARDIS cradles, trapping the Daleks there. Evelyn and Vansell meet up with Trinkett and Reldath, but are cut off as the Daleks burn through the wall of the cradles.

The Black Dalek learns that the Element is ready, and sends a Dalek with it to the center of the Seriphia galaxy—four times the size of the Milky Way, and heavily populated—to prepare to ignite it. The Black Dalek demands the help of the Time Lords, as the Element, once ignited, can only be controlled via time distortion—essentially, a bubble time continuum around its field of effect. Otherwise, it will quickly consume the entire universe in a massive chain reaction, ending everything. The President thinks it is bluffing—and so the Black Dalek ignites the Element in Seriphia. Now the Time Lords are forced to act to contain it.

The Doctor and his group make their way to the Eye of Harmony (or rather, its main interface in the Panipticon. He sends Evelyn and Vansell to collect power boosters, which he will need to create enough power from the Eye to contain the Element.

apocalypse-element-3

The Daleks discover the Element is proceeding far faster than they predicted. They realize that they must work with the Time Lords to be able to contain it, or they will be destroyed too. They strike an uneasy bargain with the Lord President, allowing them to land at the Citadel. Evelyn and Vansell get the boosters, but Evelyn is wounded by a Dalek and temporarily paralyzed; she sends Vansell ahead, trusting that the Daleks won’t kill her, as they need her eyes. However, this undoes the president’s plan; with her in custody, the Daleks don’t need his cooperation to get inside, and they kill him. With Evelyn’s forced cooperation, the Daleks already in the citadel shut down the transduction barriers, allowing the fleet to land, and marking the fall of Gallifrey.

The Doctor and Romana use the boosters with the Eye, but it is not enough. The Black Dalek, however, via one of the communication crystals, adds the combined mental might of all the Daleks on Gallifrey to the Eye. The combined power is enough, and the Element is contained; moreover, the containment field has been modified to accelerate time within. This not only burns out the Element, but also leads to the creation of a new galaxy from the rubble—billions of stars and planets, all unoccupied…and all ripe for occupation by the Daleks. The sacrifice of the Daleks on Gallifrey, it seems, was not as altruistic as it appeared. A new Dalek Empire will soon be born.

With the president dead, Romana—who was never removed from office—is now Lady President. Evelyn’s retinal print is removed and replaced with Gallifreyan prints; but the Doctor suggests that traces of it may remain. Romana promises help to any survivors of Archetryx and the Monan homeworld, but there is nothing to be done for the dead of Seriphia. She also promises intervention against the Daleks in that galaxy, and promises to strengthen Gallifrey for the future.

apocalypse-element-7

This story was a roller coaster from start to finish. As the DisContinuity Guide states, “there’s a lot going on here.” It’s most notable for two events that have major impact on continuity (and also on the future of Big Finish’s spinoffs): the return of Romana (subsequent to her original return from E-Space in the VNAs), and the establishment of the Dalek Empire. Romana will feature heavily in the Gallifrey audios, and the Dalek Empire in, well, Dalek Empire. There are some other references worth noting, as well; Evelyn’s temporary paralysis at the hands (plungers? blasters?) of the Daleks echoes a similar wounding of Ian Chesterton in The Daleks. The Daleks hollowed out a planet for a weapon in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Reldath appeared previously in The Sirens of Time. Evelyn mentions having a specialty in creating feedback loops, previously noted in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor. The Doctor mentions his presidency, most recently seen in The Five Doctors, and also in The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time (coincidentally also involving a successful-but-temporary invasion of Gallifrey), but he has since been removed from office. Most interestingly, this story accounts for the use of a human retinal print in the television movie; some trace of Evelyn’s print remains. (Though occupying a human body, the Master could not open the Eye, as his eyes had been changed by his possession of the body, and possibly by remnants of the Cheetah virus from Survival.) These Daleks appear to be post-Davros-arc Daleks that did not originate with his Imperial faction, as they are led by a Black Dalek and refer to Skaro.

The Sixth Doctor is truly at his best here; the action in this story is much more like what we’d see under, say, the Tenth Doctor, with a frantic pace and lots of yelling. Evelyn takes a bit of a backseat, but that’s to be expected in a story that showcases Romana; of course Romana gets the lion’s share of the attention here, although I don’t mean to compare the two as companions. Evelyn can hold her own easily in that regard. Romana is a hard character compared to her previous appearances; she’s been shaped by her years of slavery. Twenty years may be a blink of the eye to a Time Lord, but it’s still a lot of torture and hard labor.

We’ve seen universe-threatening forces before, and the phrase “destroy the universe!” gets thrown around quite a lot. This time, though, it truly comes across as serious. The Apocalypse Element is frightening in a way that most threats can only dream about; it says something that even the Daleks are frightened of what they’ve unleashed. While they weren’t being altruistic in helping the Time Lords, the fact that they would ally themselves at all speaks volumes. The Part Three cliffhanger is quite the wicked trap: Either lower the barriers and lose Gallifrey, or keep them up and lose the universe.

I’ve been trying for some time to date Dalek stories in one specific sense: do they possess time travel or not? In this story, they are mentioned as having it, but not until near the end. Is this the moment when they acquire it? It’s curiously vague on this point. Still, they have the chance to steal technological secrets from a variety of time vessels, so I think this is a likely candidate—unless I’m contradicted later, of course. It is very like the Daleks to steal and modify the technology rather than develop it on their own. This is borne out by the fact that no Davros story in the classic area—again, unless it happens in audios I have yet to hear—involves Dalek time travel. Related: They DO possess dimensional transcendent technology, but interestingly, I think they stole that from the Time Lords at some point in the past—the Genesis Ark in Series Two would seem to indicate as much.

The Monans represent a disturbing implication. Many times in the new television series, the Doctor states that his TARDIS—being the last one—is the most powerful ship in existence. This makes sense, as it draws from the Eye of Harmony. However, the Monan ships are said to be far more powerful. That fact alone should give us pause—what is more powerful in terms of raw power than the Eye of Harmony? I’m interested to see if the Monans appear again in the audios.

My final verdict: This is a great story, one of the highlights of the early Main Range. Ordinarily I try to find some flaws, but I don’t see any here. Check it out!

apocalypse-element-5

Next time: On Thursday we’ll continue the Destiny of the Doctor series with the Second Doctor’s contribution, Shadow of Death; and then we’ll return to the main range for The Fires of Vulcan, with the Seventh Doctor and Mel! See you there.

All audios in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Apocalypse Element

Previous

Next