Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Full Circle, by M.H. Norris

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re nearing the end of our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing the “Family” portion of the anthology with entry number fourteen of fifteen: Full Circle, by anthology editor M.H. Norris. Let’s get started!

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

Defending Earth (Cover)

Maria Jackson returns home for the first time in several years, taking a break from her university studies. Just as her plane lands, she gets a call from an old friend: Sarah Jane Smith. It’s not long afterward that she is met by another friend, one she has not had opportunity to know as well as she’d like: young Sky Smith, Sarah Jane’s adopted daughter.

There’s no time to lose, for they have a mission to complete!

All her old memories come racing back the moment Maria sees the Star Poet. It isn’t the same one she met on that long-ago night, when she first discovered aliens were real; but it could be its twin. What is it about Earth being a popular destination for the residents of Arcateen Five? And what gets them stranded here? But never mind that now.

Sky greets the Poet, and explains that her mother heard the distress call and sent them to fix the alien’s transportation. The alien, whose name is Am’i, is delighted to meet them; she has heard of Sarah Jane from her mentor, whom Sarah once helped to return home. Sky, who has an…unconventional relationship with electricity, has Maria complete the actual repair, just in case of more damage.

With the mission complete, Am’i smiles gratefully at them, and makes her departure in a show of brilliance. And Maria, who once perhaps doubted her own memory, is gratified to see it. Perhaps her name, and that of Sky, will be told on Arcateen Five just as Sarah Jane’s has been.

How strange would that be?!

But for now, it’s enough. And as Maria and Sky turn to go, Maria tells her an old story: of how she once learned that aliens were real.

Norris Title Card 2

We’re very nearly to the end of the anthology, and we’ve reached the end of The Sarah Jane Adventures as well. Of course—and unfortunately—real-world history records that the series ended due to the untimely death of its star, Elisabeth Sladen. In the universe of Doctor Who, however, Sarah Jane Smith still has adventures ahead of her, and stories to be told.

This particular story—which only features Sarah Jane by mention, not in its events—serves as a sort of coda to The Sarah Jane Adventures. It brings us full circle—hence the title—to the very beginning of that series, and back to the event that opened it for us: Maria Jackson’s encounter with the Star Poet behind Sarah Jane’s house. Anthology editor M.H. Norris, who wrote the tale, mentions in her introduction that the “Family” segment of the anthology includes one story for each of the Bannerman Road children: Luke features in Gifts for Good; Rani in The Circles of Drel; Clyde in Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault. However, when no story was forthcoming for Maria, she decided to put together this piece, and place it in a most unexpected spot—at the end of the collection, long after Maria left the Bannerman Road gang. It was certainly the right choice, as Maria gets to put the finishing touch on those years, just as she opened them, so long ago.

Not a lot happens here; but sometimes, not much is needed. Even in the Doctor Who universe, not every story is about the action. Sometimes, what you need most is a look into the minds and hearts of the characters; and that is exactly what we get here.

If this story is a coda, you may ask, then why is it not the final entry? I mentioned in the previous review that there is one more known chapter of Sarah Jane’s life, which is briefly documented in the prose Short Trip titled Lily. The final installment of the anthology will again revisit that part of Sarah’s life, and will expand on it; and so, for now, we say goodbye to Bannerman Road and the children who have lived there. As endings go, this one is exactly what one would hope for.

Next time: Letters from the Heart, by Anne-Laure Tuduri! See you there.

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

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

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 8: The Celephas Gift

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

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor has just double-crossed the Sterrati, mercenaries who proved to be Dalek agents posing as allies to the rebel Luminals. They didn’t take the betrayal well, and the Time Lord finds himself running to his TARDIS to escape their ship. He is forced to kill seven of them by breaking a window onto vacuum; but in his death throes, the Sterrati captain tosses a grenade into the TARDIS console room. The explosion causes the War Doctor to make an emergency landing on an isolationist world called Muranius. He finds himself in a mine, where he is menaced by cave-dwelling, acid-venomed, spiderlike creatures; he is rescued by a regal woman named Larana, who has striking golden eyes and a gift for telepathy. She is able to pick through his mind at first, learning his former name, and revealing his slaughter of the Sterrati, before he erects mental barriers to keep her out. She decides to take him to the Muranian leader, the Custodian, where he will look upon “the Gift”. On the way to the surface, he sees that the Muranians are divided into two classes: the golden-eyed leadership, and the common menials, who are forced to work themselves to death in the mines. Upon meeting the Custodian, he argues the matter with him, calling it genocide against the menials, but the Custodian sweeps aside his concerns. He explains that, two years ago, meteorites fell from the sky; when held in the hand, the meteorites open up and emit a golden light, which suffuses the holder with a warm life force. If the holder is not found worthy, they remain normal, and become a menial, widely considered less important than even the cave creatures. If the holder is worthy, they receive the Gift; their minds are opened, and they gain the power of telepathy, and a new purpose. As a side effect and a sign, their eyes become golden. The Doctor believes this is the sign of an invasion, and that the meteorites are manipulating the Muranians; hence, the early “chosen” were all from among the ruling elite. Nevertheless, the Custodian forces him to look into one of the meteorites. Its light fills him…and withdraws. He stuns the Muranians when he explains that it looked into him, saw his true identity as the Doctor—and was afraid. The Custodian is then fully taken over, and speaks for the invaders, and reveals that the Doctor is a Time Lord, whom they fear. The Doctor identifies the invaders as the telepathic Celephas, and exposes their plan: they are using the Muranians to dig up Jenelium ore, a high-energy power source used in faster-than-light travel. Larana becomes convinced when she hears this; the Muranians do not leave their world, so why would they need the ore? The Custodian-Celephas says that it no longer matters; they are on their way to dispose of the Muranians and collect their ore. The Doctor manages to place a temporary block on Larana’s mind, breaking her link to the Celephas, just before the Custodian—and every other Chosen with him—falls dead. With Larana, he flees back to the mine, trying to get away before her temporary block breaks down, and before the Celephas arrive. A massive Celephas ship breaks atmosphere, and lizardlike Celephas warriors follow them into the mine, but are intercepted by the cave-dwelling creatures, allowing the Doctor to get Larana into the TARDIS. He cannot save her world—it was too late when the first meteorite opened—but he can save her. To remove her from the Celephas’s telepathic reach, he takes her back in time a thousand years, to a peaceful world with a welcoming species, in a time before the Celephas left their own planet. But, before leaving, he promises to destroy the Celephas fleet so that they cannot do the same to another world.

If your only exposure to the Time War was through the War Doctor audio dramas, the Engines of War novel, or The Day of the Doctor television special, it would be easy to forget that the rest of the universe goes on amidst all the fighting. Not every situation requires direct involvement by the Daleks and Time Lords; the War touches all places, all times, whether the Daleks are on hand or not. This story’s secondary villains, the Muranians, had made their society isolationist specifically to protect themselves from the War (as if refusing to move would protect one from the Daleks), and yet it came to them in the form of the War Doctor. In previous stories, he has been a tired character, stressed by the War, but we hadn’t yet seen the real effect it has on him; but here, he begins to let it slip. There’s a great, brief scene, after he is forced to kill the Sterrati but before the grenade goes off, where he finds his fist twisting with rage, and bitterly mutters “He [that is, the Sterrati captain] should have let me go.” He has to force himself to calm down. This scene is revisited later, when Larana pulls the details from his mind; it becomes clear that he is already struggling with his own motives, his justification for his actions, and already he is starting to question whether he can commit horrors and still be a good man. Interestingly, this is a very rare story where he actually uses the name “Doctor”; when the Celephas retreat from his mind, he comments:

“I could feel it in my head too. A presence, digging, breaking through any barrier I could put up. Looking into my memories, my experiences… It found me. Who I am. It found the Doctor.”
The Doctor lifted his head and stared straight at the Custodian. With his resolutely brown eyes.
“…and it was afraid!”

It’s one of the most powerful moments in the book. I was reminded of the Eleventh Doctor, who usually makes such speeches; and now we see where he gets it. Meanwhile, the plot of this story is far more reminiscent of the Fifth Doctor; I was especially reminded of Frontios, with its underground setting and slave race, and its Tractators whose abilities are not so different from the Celephas. Unfortunately, while Frontios gains its freedom, Muranius is not so lucky. Overall: The Celephas Gift is the longest entry in the anthology, at twenty-four pages; but that length allows it to feel much more like a traditional, Classic-series story, as opposed to the vignettes we’ll see often here. (Nothing against the shorter entries—they’re all very good—but I mention it to showcase the variety we have here. More on that in later posts!) The Celephas are very hate-able villains; the Muranians are tragic; and the short-lived Sterrati are just vile. Meanwhile, the Doctor is, for once, the Doctor—but with an edge. It’s a very enjoyable read.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Celephas Gift was written by Andrew Smith (a licensed-media Doctor Who author–he gave us Adric with Season 18’s Full Circle), with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: The Girl with the Purple Hair (I), by Declan May and John Davies. See you there!

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

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To E-Space and Back Again: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Eighteen

We’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch!  This week, in Season Eighteen, we say goodbye to an entire TARDIS crew, including the Fourth Doctor—and gain a new one in its place.  Let’s get started!

Leisure Hive 1

Only the Doctor would hit the beach in the winter.

After a brief interlude in Brighton, 1980, the Doctor, Romana and K9 finally take a vacation. The destination is the planet Argolis, a “leisure planet” devoted to recreation—in this case, the resort known as the Leisure Hive, which is also the title of the serial.  (Another notable leisure planet is Midnight, in the Tenth Doctor story of the same name; like Argolis, it is uninhabitable except for its resorts.)  The year is 2290; forty years earlier, a one-sided nuclear war between the Argolians and the reptilian Foamasi devastated the planet.  Now, the resort is failing economically, and the no-longer-aggressive Foamasi want to buy it; at the same time, the Argolians, rendered sterile in the war, are dying out.

Leisure Hive 2

He really doesn’t age well, does he?

A splinter group of Foamasi, the West Lodge, use sabotage to try to ruin the hive and persuade the Argolians to sell. In the meantime, the Argolians have built a machine to try to restore their vitality, but it isn’t working.  They also have a form of cloning available, similar to the much-disputed Gallifreyan Looms from spinoff material.  The young, machine-born Pangol wants to use it to raise an army in his image.  The machine ages the Doctor considerably, much like the Master’s laser screwdriver will do to the Tenth Doctor in The Sound of Drums, but he is later restored.  He uses the TARDIS’s randomizer to repair the machine, thwarting the various plots, and also happens to regress Pangol into an infant, much like Blon Fel-Fotch Passimeer-Day Slitheen in Boom Town.  The randomizer is left behind, as the Doctor declares he won’t run from the Black Guardian forever.

Leisure Hive 3

It’s a bold fashion choice for raising an army, Pangol.

K9 is damaged by seawater at the beginning, and does nothing else for the rest of the story. He should know better.  On the other hand, John Leeson returns to voice the robotic dog, having been lured back by new producer John Nathan-Turner, who will remain for the rest of the classic series.  The Doctor wears a new, burgundy outfit and scarg; it introduces the question-mark motif that will adorn all the remaining Doctors’ costumes.  We also get a brand new opening sequence, with a starfield background, new “neon tube” logo, and a new, synthesizer-heavy arrangement of the theme song; it’s the most 1980s thing we’ve seen yet.

Meglos 1

Meglos in the form of the Doctor.  Not sure why he thought this would be convincing.

Meglos is also contemporary with 1980, but not on Earth; the lone human in the story wears contemporary clothing, and there’s no evidence of any time travel other than the TARDIS.  The story takes place on two worlds in proximity to each other, Tigella and its one-time oppressor, Zolfa-Thura.  The villain, Meglos, is the last of the Zolfa-Thurans; they’re a plant species, usually resembling cacti (and even hilariously potted—who pots them?!).  He’s able to take another’s body, though, which requires a human from Earth; subsequently, he takes the image of the Doctor, allowing Tom Baker—like Hartnell and Troughton before him—to play both the Doctor and the villain.  Another throwback:  the leader of the Deon faction, Lexa, is played by Jacqueline Hill, otherwise known as former companion Barbara Wright, in her first appearance since 1965’s The Chase.

Meglos 2

The Dodecahedron in action.

The story is rooted in a religionist-vs.-secularist conflict among the Tigellans, concerning a powerful Zolfa-Thuran artifact called the Dodecahedron. The Deons revere it as a god; the others use it as a power source; and Meglos wants it back so that he can conquer other worlds.  The Doctor is summoned by the Tigellans to intervene, but gets more than he bargained for.  K9 is repaired, but his batteries now only hold a charge for two hours.  We get some good comic relief here in the form of the Gazdaks—the mercenaries hired by Meglos—and their leader, Brotadac.

Full Circle 1

Welcome aboard, Adric.

With Full Circle, we begin the E-Space trilogy.  The TARDIS is en route to Gallifrey, having been summoned back—Romana, having fulfilled her task, is being called home.  The ship falls through a cosmic phenomenon called a “Charged Vacuum Emboitment” , or CVE; it carries them out of the normal universe (N-Space) and into E-Space, the Exo-Spacetime Continuum.  It’s a parallel or pocket universe, smaller than ours, but with an at least partially corresponding coordinate system; the planet Alzarius, where the TARDIS lands, occupies the same coordinates as Gallifrey occupies in N-Space.  Here they meet Adric, a young mathematical genius, who lives in a colony descended from stranded space travellers from Terradon, another world.  However, as the colony is threatened by the native Marshmen, the Doctor discovers that Adric’s people are not what they believe; they are genetically identical to the Marshmen—in other words, they are native to Alzarius.  Their ancestors killed the original colonists, took their place, and evolved into their image.  Sadly, they refuse to accept it, and leave in the newly-repaired ship, headed for parts unknown.  Adric is left behind, and stows away aboard the TARDIS.

Full Circle 2

Mars(hmen) Attacks!

Romana makes an interesting statement; she claims the TARDIS weighs “five times ten to the sixth kilos in [Alzarius’s] gravity”, or five million kilos. While it seems she’s referring to the external shell weight, probably she means the total weight of the ship if it was completely manifested in this dimension.  It’s clear from many other occurrences that the police box doesn’t possess the full weight; in fact, the Twelfth Doctor makes it clear that he can alter the external weight, and also says that the Earth couldn’t support its full weight without cracking the surface.  Incidentally, she’s probably drastically underestimating; five million kilos is a lot, but hardly on the scale that the Twelfth Doctor describes.

State of Decay 1

“That castle looks like a spaceship!””No, that spaceship looks like a castle!”

The trilogy continues in State of Decay.  The TARDIS lands on an unnamed world; no date is given, as with all E-Space adventures.  However, it must occur well after N-Space’s 32nd century, as the ship seen here is of Earth origin and dates to that century, but is quite old now.  I had seen this serial before, and enjoyed it; I recall thinking that when compared to the earliest seasons, it shows very well how far the production had come.  It’s very 1980s, and I consider it the high point of the season.

State of Decay 2

Vampires!

We get a small but significant part of Gallifreyan lore here. In the distant past, Rassilon led the Time Lords in a war against the Great Vampires, who are far larger than humans.  The Vampires proved resilient to most attacks, leading to the creation of bowships, spacegoing vessels which fired steel bolts to pierce the vampire’s heart.  The king vampire, however, escaped, prompting Rassilon to create the Record of Rassilon, which charges any Time Lord who finds the king to destroy him.  The Record exists in datacard form on every Type 40 TARDIS (which is curious; as the Type 40s were created in Chronotis’s childhood, does that mean that only a few generations passed between Rassilon and the Doctor?)  The Doctor also again mentions the hermit of Gallifrey, Kanpo Rimpoche, though not by name; he says the hermit told him stories about the vampires in his childhood.

State of Decay 3

The king rises! …or not.

The Doctor locates the buried king vampire and kills it just before it can rise; lacking a bowship, he uses the pointed prow of a small scoutship to pierce its heart. Adric joins the crew officially here, having nowhere else to go.

Warriors Gate 1

Saying goodbye to Romana and K9.

Warrior’s Gate concludes the E-Space trilogy.  It finds the TARDIS trapped in an empty white void, which is the gateway between E-Space and N-Space, and also between multiple timelines.  Another ship is trapped there as well, and it has a secret: it carries an imprisoned group of Tharils, a time-sensitive race whom the crew use as forced navigators among timelines.  The crew are referred to as humans, but it’s not clear from where they originate.  Attempting to liberate the Tharils (who themselves have a history as oppressors, but are now enslaved), Romana chooses to leave the TARDIS; K9 is obligated to stay with her as well, as his most recent bout of damage can only be repaired in E-Space.  The Doctor is unhappy with her choice, but only momentarily, as he knows he himself would have done the same; “You were the noblest Romana of them all!” he tells her, and lets her go.  He and Adric return to N-Space.

Warriors Gate 2

The Doctor, Romana, and the Tharil Biroc.

Something I had long overlooked: K9 states that he contains all the necessary information for duplicating the TARDIS!  It’s probably doubtful that Romana would be able to obtain whatever materials are necessary, given that the TARDIS is no ordinary machine, and she now lacks the ability to travel from world to world.  However, it’s at least nominally possible for her to have eventually constructed her own TARDIS in E-Space.  (I am aware that spinoff materials have her returning to Gallifrey, but I am not aware of what mechanisms it uses to do so.)

Keeper of Traken 1

The Master steals the body of Tremas.

In The Keeper of Traken, the Doctor and Adric emerge into N-Space near Mettula Orionsis, the start that is home to the center of the Traken Union, an exceedingly harmonious and peaceful civilization.  Of course, this being Doctor Who, that can’t be allowed to stand for long; and we get interference immediately in the form of an old enemy: The Master.

Keeper of Traken 2

The Melkur.

The next four serials, as far as it can be told, occur consecutively in the same time period. Four to Doomsday will establish that it is 1981.  This serial and the next two comprise what is often called the Master Trilogy, as he will be the primary antagonist.  Here he is still in the same degenerate body last seen in The Deadly Assassin, which is the final life of his regeneration cycle (and also probably the same as the Delgado incarnation, though much degraded).  He escapes death by stealing the body of Tremas (Anthony Ainley, who very much copies the style of Delgado’s Master), the father of future companion Nyssa and a councilor of Traken.  How exactly he does so is not explained; but he will do something similar in the 1996 movie.  Prior to that theft, he seeks to save his life by stealing control of the Source, a powerful energy under the control of Traken’s leader, the Keeper.  He possesses not one, but two TARDISes: the grandfather clock we saw at his last appearance, and an advanced model, which takes the form of a living statue called the Melkur.  This TARDIS can walk around and function as the living Melkur would; it even speaks, by way of transmitting the Master’s speech.  It is destroyed by the Source, thanks to sabotage by Adric and Nyssa.

Keeper of Traken 3

Welcome aboard, Ny…oh, nope, not yet.  Sorry.

As Nyssa does not actually become a companion in this story, this is the only Classic story in which the Doctor travels with only a male companion. An equivalent story exists in NuWho with The End of Time, and in fact it mirrors this story in several ways:  The Master is the villain in both; here, the Master takes another’s body, while there he takes everyone’s body; the male companion here, Adric, is younger than most companions, while there the male companion, Wilfred Mott, is older than most; a female companion makes a non-companion appearance in each (Nyssa, pre-companion, Donna Noble, post-companion); Adric will eventually die on behalf of the Doctor, while the Doctor will die on behalf of Wilfred.  This is also the final Classic serial to not include any humans, as Adric and the Trakenites are not actually human, just humanoid.  The TARDIS wiki states it’s the final such story overall, but I would argue that Heaven Sent counts for NuWho, as Clara Oswald isn’t actually present in reality in that story.

Logopolis 1

You’d think a city of hyper-advanced mathematicians wouldn’t look so primitive.

We end with Logopolis, and what an end it is.  In this second story of the Master Trilogy, we’re introduced to a new piece of TARDIS lore: The Cloister Bell.  This somber chime rings when there’s a massive threat to the existence of the TARDIS, or to the universe itself; and that’s exactly what we face here.

Logopolis 2

The Watcher.

Attempting to take his mind off of things, the Doctor travels to the city of Logopolis—its planet is unnamed—to have his chameleon circuit repaired. (Spoiler alert:  It doesn’t succeed.)  The Logopolitans are mathematical masters, but with a twist:  They don’t use computers.  Rather, they model all their calculations in their minds and out loud, in a large cooperative effort.  They specialize in Block Transfer Computations, a form of higher math which actually models reality so effectively that the modeled thing becomes real—physical objects made of pure math.  (Some have theorized that TARDISes are primarily constructed in this manner.)  Along the way, the Doctor unwittingly picks up the Master when he materializes his TARDIS around the Master’s, creating a recursive loop—TARDISes within TARDISes, repeated endlessly.  He also unintentionally picks up new companion Tegan Jovanka, a flight attendant from Earth, who is the first human companion since Leela in Season Fifteen.  Nyssa of Traken returns as well, having been transported by another mysterious figure:  The Watcher, who is later revealed to be a projection of the Doctor, much as Cho-Je was once a projection of Kanpo Rimpoche.  Unlike Kanpo, the Doctor appears unaware of the Watcher’s existence at first.  We learn that the TARDIS can jettison rooms for thrust, having done so with Romana’s room.  At the same time, we get another view of the deeper parts of the TARDIS.

Logopolis 3

New crew, old Doctor.

The Logopolitans are responsible for CVEs such as that leading to E-Space. These holes in reality are a method of draining off entropy from the universe; otherwise it would have already died a heat death.  (The science here is fairly far-fetched; entropy, as I understand it, is not a thing so much as the absence of a thing, much as cold is an absence of heat.)  They have constructed a copy of the Pharos radio dish from Earth—last seen in Terror of the Autons—for use in making the CVEs self-sustaining.  The Master tries to take control of this situation so as to hold the universe hostage; but his plan backfires when the mounting entropy eliminates the Logopolitans.  With the dish out of commission, he must join forces with the Doctor and travel to Earth, to the real Pharos Project…where he promptly betrays the Doctor.  Defeated, he escapes, but not before a great swath of reality—including the Traken Union—is destroyed, making him a murderer of billions  at a minimum.  The Doctor then falls from the dish, seemingly to his death.

Logopolis 4

It is the end…but the moment has been prepared for.

Thus ends the Fourth Doctor, in another regeneration. He sees visions of enemies and companions, and his current companions gather around.  “It is the end…but the moment has been prepared for.”  He then merges with the Watcher, and transforms into the young, smiling Fifth Doctor.

Logopolis 5

There’s much more to be said about this episode, but space is at a premium. It’s well worth your time, even if you don’t care for the rest of the season.  Next time:  The Fifth Doctor!  See you there.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

The Leisure Hive (Parts 1 and 2, Parts 3 and 4)

Meglos

Full Circle

State of Decay (Note:  This is a user page.  No playlist was available.  Scroll down to locate the individual parts.)

Warrior’s Gate

The Keeper of Traken

Logopolis

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