Seasons of War Mini-Review 36: The Time Lord Who Came to Tea

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

Seasons of War cover

On war-torn Gallifrey, near the city of Arcadia, a thirteen-year-old girl named Sophienna keeps a diary. In it she talks of many things: of her friends, who have one by one disappeared to different fates; of the crumbling sky trench (affectionately called “Bob”) that hangs above her town, Jericho, in decrepit danger; of the walled city of Arcadia, and her desire to relocate there, and her crippled father’s resistance to the idea; of the gang warfare that dominates her little town in the shadow of the War; and of her family’s trade. They are Dalek meat scavengers, a profession as horrible as it sounds. Sophienna goes into the battlefields nearby and scavenges for dead Daleks, pulling the mutant corpses from their armor and taking them home, where her father renders them down into stinking cuts of meat and foul energy drinks. Their clientele are the refugees in the ruins nearby, people who come and—sometimes grudgingly—give the last treasures of their old lives in exchange for another day’s terrible sustenance. Sophienna hates this life, but knows no other way in the face of the War—but she rejects a terrible idea, propagated by the cult-cum-terrorist group of the Puritanians, that those who eat Dalek meat become Dalek themselves in some way. It’s difficult for her to ignore the words, though, as her boyfriend, Mazal, comes from a Puritanian family; and already they keep their relationship secret.

She talks of the deadly (and illegal) Time Ball games that the older children play. Sophienna believes that the children do this to remind themselves of what victory—a distant concept—is like. She is too young, but she plays her own game, tossing stones at jars of Dalek eyes, the one part of the mutant that few people will eat. In dwelling on this, she thinks of her prize possession—a particular stone that she will not throw, one given to her now-deceased mother years ago by a man, a hero, who saved her mother’s life. She follows his adventures, as best she can, with news clippings in a scrapbook.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door—a secret knock, signifying something unusual. The face that greets her at the door…is that of her hero. He sweeps past her simply enough, with an airy “I believe I am expected for tea.” He sets the table and provides the meal, foods and teas that have not been seen in this house for a very long time. The family and the hero catch up; and the man is shaken by the news of the death of the woman he once saved, who has died in childbirth with Sophienna’s younger brother. At this he grows sad; but he grows angry at word of the stripping of Jericho’s resources and defenses, of the transfer of doctors, nurses, and warriors to Arcadia. Later he lets Sophienna show him her room, with a star hanging from the ceiling in memory of her mother. Sophienna tells him that she once named a real star for her mother—but for seven years, the sky trenches have necessarily obscured the view of the stars.

The Warrior takes Sophienna by the hand and leads her from the house. Traveling through an underground network of tunnels, and before she realizes it, in the darkness they have entered the Warrior’s TARDIS, and are traveling. When the doors open, they are standing atop the sky trench. Sophienna chokes up at seeing her mother’s star, unimpeded, for the first time in years; and as she writes this down, she finds it hard to articulate. The Warrior pleads with her to share her thoughts and experiences, to write them down and make them live on; he assures her that to him, she is the true war hero. She understands…but that is not enough. She grabs his hand and makes him look down on the ravaged landscape, and she tells him:

“You come and go, fixing things and leaving them as if they can stay mended. But even after the victory the horrors of war multiply. Mum didn’t die in war – but she died because of it. Ask yourself: what did you save her for? Every day I face a struggle to survive, to keep Father alive. The Time Lords, like distant gods, curse the kids, but what chance have we got? My school days finished when the last of our teachers fled to Arcadia – lessons in ancient Gallifreyan replaced by demonstrations of how to skin a cat. You’ve taken me on an incredible journey and for that I am truly grateful, but if you want to understand you need to walk in my shoes, follow my lead. Let me take you on the trip of your lifetime. Come and face the hostile terrain without using your TARDIS as a shortcut or hideout.”

And follow he does. Later she will reflect that it is his journey with her across the battlefields that eases the memory of her journey with him to the sky trench. She is due to pick up medical supplies for her father, and so the TARDIS lands near the medical center—and then they make the long trek on foot, under warships en route to Arcadia, under the rattled sky trenches, back to Jericho. Along the way, they forage for trade goods in the wreckage. Only in Jericho do they enter the underground network, where they encounter a band of Puritanians; but Sophienna is able to bribe her way past them, impressing her hero. She is surprised to see the Warrior is out of shape in his old age, but he presses on—and she reflects that to him, this must be like unfinished business, a debt owed to her mother.

As they approach the house, a Dalek rises from the weeds of the neighbor’s garden.

It is barely alive, but Sophienna—who has been thinking for years of how to face this—is ready. She manages to evade its now-feeble defenses, and pry off its gunstick, and beat the mutant inside to death. In the process, years of restrained anger pours out. It seems this journey has not only been cathartic for the Warrior.

He kneels beside her and whispers a lullaby, one she knows from her childhood—one that, she sees, her mother must have learned from this man. Then he carries her inside, and is off again, on his way. Before he goes, he reassures her that she is, indeed, a hero in his eyes—and her story, of what makes her strong, must live on.

We’ve been looking at the Time War for a long time now, and it’s sad to say, but stories like this are common now—stories of loss, of misery, of jaded minds and eyes, of the futility of life in the face of war. What is not common is the perspective we see here. This story is told in first person by Sophienna, where most stories have given us the Doctor’s view. It’s eye-opening, both for him and for us. One shouldn’t be too hard on the Doctor; every war needs its leaders, its generals, its heroes, and the Doctor is all of that. He’s here to think big. He is bound to look at a war this size with a macro view of fighting it. And yet, he is still, in some way, the Doctor—even Sophienna reflects on this near the end—and is bound to lift up individuals where he can. He may desperately want to pretend that he doesn’t care, but the truth comes out, even if occasionally it requires a reminder.

Sophienna’s journey at the end, in the company of the War Doctor, is almost downplayed, despite being the climax of the story. It feels very ethereal, hazy even, less than real, which is odd given that her purpose is to show the Doctor real life. I took this as a trick of perspective. We’re still seeing things through Sophienna’s eyes here; and she doesn’t need the lesson. For her this is commonplace. She navigates the wasteland with skill and ease. It’s the Doctor who is taking it in and learning from it, but we don’t get his perspective here. That’s okay, though; let’s not forget that this is part of a larger narrative, and we will see the outcome of his experiences, the change in his way of thinking, in the future.

I should mention the sky trenches briefly. We never get a good description or depiction of them on television, or in licensed materials (as far as I know, at any rate; I should give the caveat that there are War Doctor audio dramas to which I have not yet listened). We still don’t get a full description here, but there are some things we can infer. The trenches are actual structures as opposed to force fields, and can contain soldiers and equipment (hence “trenches”, as World War I and II trenches). They hover over strategic areas to intercept incoming Daleks, and are substantial enough to block the view of the sky depending on their altitude; at the same time, they are light enough and fragile enough to crumble and break down, and they appear to lack measures to prevent people from falling off. By this point in the War, some of the trenches are abandoned, though we know from The Last Day that Arcadia’s trenches, as well as those of the Capitol, are still active.

Many times now, as we near the end of the War, we’ve gone back and forth with regard to the Doctor’s attitude. It may seem as though we’re not actually making any progress, though I’ve repeatedly said he’s taking step after step toward the Moment. The reason for this is simple: He’s wrestling with himself. He simply has not resolved the conflict within himself between Warrior and Doctor; and until he does, he’ll continue to go back and forth. Nevertheless, every swing of the pendulum brings him closer to the final swing, the one that will end the War. And perhaps, along the way, he’ll continue to do good where he can, as with a girl named Sophienna.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Time Lord Who Came To Tea was written by Paul Driscoll. Next time: We’ll take a brief look at one of the more enigmatic references from the television series in Declan May’s The Nightmare Child! 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 34: The Postman

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

Hudrix may be a Time Lord, but he’s no hero. He’s a sigher, and even he knows it—he’s carried his trademark sigh through all eight perfectly average incarnations. Stemming from a memory of infanthood, that sigh is a part of him as much as…well, more than anything else, really, given that regeneration changes everything else. It’s particularly appropriate here, however, in his three hundredth (or so) year and second regeneration spent working in the War Office Department of Officially Sanctioned Condolence. Put another way, he writes letters of condolence to the families of victims of the Time War, using an ancient Biro pen from Earth (he’s a bit of a romantic even in these dreary surroundings, and eschews a computer for this thankless task). It’s a job for which a sigh is most definitely appropriate.

He’s just coming to resent the job, after all these years; and it’s beginning to weigh on him. He finishes another condolence letter—to the mother of one Wardenman Azbaselandularvenor regarding the death of her son in battle—and hands it off to the Postman—a grizzled old man with a curious limp. The man’s manner is as grizzled as he is; and he insults Hudrix for sitting at a desk and blandly repeating platitudes. He can talk; Hudrix is aware of some of what the man has been through in the war effort before taking up this role. The Postman casts a last verbal barb at him before slumping off into his TARDIS—the “post box”, as the desk jockeys here call it—and setting off on a delivery run. Hudrix returns to his work, and a death list that has grown by two million while he talks.

The Postman delivers his letters, watching as invariably wives and mothers fall to their knees, weeping at the bad news. Later, his work over for the moment, he sits in his TARDIS with a cigarette and his hip flask, and thinks. No rest for the weary, however; the Cloister Bell, that harbinger of destruction, begins to sound. The trouble isn’t inside the TARDIS this time; but a quick scan points him to the source, and a short flight takes him to the edge of a massive battle. He’s furious; the Time Lords promised him time to recover from his torture and repeated deaths, but it seems they’ve reneged on that promise. He’s to lead this battle, and strategically lose it. But there’s nothing for it but to carry on.

It becomes clear at once that this battle, Hirash Kam, is familiar to him. The Sergeant beneath him…is one Wardenman Azbasel, a name familiar to him in his job as the Postman. The battle rages, and the soldier dies, and the gambit is lost—so different from the calm and peaceful tones of honor in Hudrix’s letter to Azbasel’s mother, which the Postman has already delivered. Later, elsewhere, he screams with the fury and futility of it. This cannot go on.

Back in the Department of Officially Sanctioned Condolence, Hudrix has reached his next regeneration—and at long last his sigh is gone. It’s been replaced with a chuckle, which is equally annoying to his colleagues, but a change for him. And it’s merited; his new regeneration is far better with technology, allowing him to use a computer and thus make better time with his list. (It’s still bad taste to chuckle while writing death letters, of course, and his coworker Sprak kicks him for it, but what can you do?) Finally he settles back down to work, and sees the next name on the list: Azbaselandularvenor. Wait, no—he’s already written that one. Three times, in fact. Stupid technology, slipping back in time…he smacks the counter, getting it to move to the next name. Maybe newer isn’t always better…and he slips an ancient Biro from his pocket.

No matter how many ways that war can inflict terror, there are always more to be discovered. It’s a tragedy on every level, no matter how necessary it may be. I’m not arguing against it as a concept; rather, I’m simply saying, there’s enough horror for everyone. Take, for example, the matter of condolence letters. In the real world, armies send these letters, usually with some sort of personal delivery, to the families of fallen soldiers. It’s a horrible time for the families; it’s no less easy for those who must carry out this solemn task. An old college friend of mine once served in the Middle East in a capacity in which he was the last person to see or handle the bodies of fallen soldiers before they were flown home—a similarly garish and difficult task—and the effect it had on him was profound. It’s much the same here.

This story sets a vivid contrast between two equally terrible aspects of this part of war. On one hand, there are those who must deliver the letters (a role in this case played by the recuperating War Doctor, a role which was foreshadowed as far back as The Girl With The Purple Hair (III), with its sacks of mail scattered around the TARDIS). They face the horror head-on, as they must deal with the reactions of the survivors. On the other hand, there are those who write the letters. I don’t know with certainty how this works in the real world—I have heard that a soldier’s commanding officer will write the letter, but I am unaware of how accurate that is, or if secretaries or other office workers draft the letters before passing them to the officers for signature (which seems likely to me). In this story, the difference is emphasized by the sheer magnitude of the war; Hudrix’s queue jumps by two million in one scene, and the condolence department is said to have grown immensely since its creation. The point is that those writing condolences can be widely separated from the men and women about whom they’re writing; and if their words are devoid of that connection, then aren’t they really just platitudes? Hudrix, though he definitely does care about his work, is there to illustrate that point. The Doctor sees the contrast, and recognizes it as yet another injustice in a long line of them—necessary perhaps, but no less wrong for that—and takes another step toward the man who will put an end to it all. When read from Hudrix’s point of view, the story is light, almost comical—but it quickly becomes clear that that is a veneer, pasted over a depth of horror and emotion. The Doctor intends to break through that veneer and deal with what’s beneath. In that context, his belligerence toward Hudrix makes perfect sense—ever thinking of the individual, he’s trying to kick the man out of his complacency.

This story gives us the end of the short arc that began with Always Face the Curtain with a Bow, in which the Doctor was tortured and traumatized and then went into a convalescence of sorts. Like it or not—and he definitely does not—he has been recalled to active duty now. We’re in the final stretch, with only ten stories to go (and one of those is merely an interlude in a larger story); and things will seem to move quickly from here on.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Postman was written by John Davies. Next time: The Thief of All Ways by Elliot Thorpe. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 31: Always Face the Curtain with a Bow

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 awakens in a furnished bedroom. He is missing his sonic screwdriver and TARDIS key, and nothing else except for the memory of how he got there. He checks the area for Daleks; finds none, even outside the window. Everything seems almost too calm, too normal—until a man comes in the door, greets him jauntily, and shoots him dead. One bullet through each heart, and one through the throat.

The next morning, he awakens similarly, and goes through the same routine; but before the newcomer arrives, the War Doctor gets a sense that he has done this before. A time loop? Perhaps. When the man arrives, he assures the Doctor that he won’t shoot him this time—a clear confirmation that the Doctor isn’t imagining it. Instead, he invites him down to the garden for breakfast. At a table outside, he offers tea, and introduces himself as the Colonel. Despite the oddity of the circumstances, they share the meal, and talk about the Doctor’s rejection of his title. The Colonel is Gallifreyan, or was, at least; he is something more or less than the Time Lords now—something unique. He is held together, it seems, with Dalek technology; they pieced him back together after an encounter with a trap-laden timeline. He must obey them, or they will turn off the static field that keeps him alive. He admits to having had some hero worship for the Doctor during his time in the War, but insists he only fought because he had to. Nevertheless, he insists, the War is over for the Doctor. The Doctor is unperturbed; he has escaped prisons before, and he will escape this one, even without his TARDIS or sonic screwdriver. The Colonel is not convinced; this place is a pocket dimension cut off from the rest of the universe, “set adrift in the Cataracts of Non-Existence at the end of the universe. Beyond Time Lord technology to detect. At the limits of even Dalek science. We’re trapped here, just you and me. Forever.” Still, he offers the Doctor freedom…if he will betray Gallifrey, and Rassilon, and even the long-hidden Earth. When the Doctor refuses, the exercise is at an end…and the poison in the tea kicks in, reducing him to a cloud of atoms displaced in time.

The next morning, the ordeal repeats. This time, carnivorous rabbits swarm and devour him. After this, he determines to go on the offensive.

The next day, a piano falls on him (or rather, a second piano, after he successfully dodges the first one).

The days—and the deaths—continue, day upon week upon month upon year upon century. The deaths become more and more inventive. A pie filled with acid, delivered to the face. Mind-eating penguins. A sudden volcanic eruption. A sudden failure of gravity. Beaten to death by pensioners. Reality television (!). A confused brontosaurus. Sentient, hungry books. The list went on. Even killing himself doesn’t break the pattern, though he gives it a try. He is ripped apart by a gorilla (and a pink one, at that). Eaten by a plant. Killed by his own, suddenly-independent second heart. Struck by a bowl of petunias (with his last thought being “Oh no, not again”—Adams fans, here’s your moment!). Death upon death, until they become mundane.

One day he unexpectedly develops a cramp in his leg that blossoms into pain. He is left with a limp that persists through all the days that follow. Even this place, though powerful, was not perfect. The pain galvanizes him, keeps him going.

Another day, the Colonel tells him this will be their last conversation. The Daleks believe the contact is keeping the Doctor sane. That day, he dies from an electric joy buzzer in the Colonel’s palm.

As the decades pass, a strange thing happens: it is the Colonel who wears down. His inventiveness disappears. He is reduced to a regular pattern: death by shooting, death by stabbing. Over and over, it continues. He begins to weep as time loses meaning for him. The awfulness of the Daleks’ design becomes apparent: it is not only the Doctor who is suffering here.

Suddenly, it ends.

A Time Lady and a Gallifreyan soldier teleport onto the grounds. They quickly find that a regeneration suppression field is in place…and one life form shows, inside the house. They find the man—the Colonel—staring into space inside the house, and capture him easily. And yet, something still isn’t right. The Time Lady, a longtime veteran of the War, searches the house. She bursts in on the Doctor, who has just awakened; he is quite taken aback to find that it isn’t his tormentor. Instead, this woman believes she knows him. She checks her database…and it gives her an impossible answer. And yet it can’t be the Doctor. The Doctor, she tells him, died on Reyella, where the Daleks faked an offer of peace, then destroyed the planet. He is flattered, but lets it go; how, he wants to know, is Gallifrey? She surprises him again when she chides him for his ego; Gallifrey wouldn’t fall without him in a few short days. All his suffering, it seems, has been compressed into a small slice of time. And then, she takes him home—or rather, to her ship.

In the morning, he goes to the detention cells and greets an old…friend? Enemy? After so many years (so few days?), it’s hard to say. Naturally the Colonel expects the Doctor to kill him. It seems he has learned nothing, however; all those days, all those deaths, the Doctor was fighting even as he died. He was fighting, not for his own freedom, but for the Colonel. Not every war is fought with weapons; and when death is simply a nap, there’s no cause in perpetuating the violence.

The man doesn’t get it. He simply stares.

The Time Lords plan to put the man on trial, and to interrogate him. The Doctor refuses to testify. He has talked to the man for years, and learned nothing of strategic value. The Time Lords will not relent. Is this what Gallifrey has become? Without mercy or compassion, what are they? The Time Lady who rescued him grudgingly agrees to relay his request for clemency on the Colonel to the Castellan. However, when the Doctor is out of hearing, she contacts the Castellan, and tells him that the Doctor has returned—and that she has an enemy agent that requires a Mind Probe.

***

I love to see things which set this war apart as a Time War. Certainly there will be traditional battles, in space and on various worlds; but any war can have those. No, it’s the manipulation of time that makes this war different. Sometimes it happens on a macroscopic scale; we’ve long since established the idea that parts of the war were fought by changing the timeline, again and again. What existed may not, and what was destroyed might be brought back. The combatants aren’t just superpowers, but temporal superpowers. However, sometimes things happen on a smaller scale; and that provides an amazing array of possibilities as well. Here, we have the Doctor suffering torture by an endlessly looping day in which he is quite comfortable, right up to the moment that he is killed. It’s millennia of life and death, packed into what proves in the end to be only a few days. It’s enough to drive anyone mad…unless, that is, you’re the Doctor.

It’s almost impossible now to read this story without comparing it to the penultimate episode of the 2015 television series, Heaven Sent. That story—which has justifiably garnered many accolades—finds the Doctor trapped in his own confession dial. That strange realm, much like the one pictured here, proves to be a temporally transcendent place of repeated torture and death, with only a single adversary that is destined to kill the Doctor every time. Like the confession dial, this realm exists to elicit a confession of sorts from the Doctor; the Daleks want the secrets of Gallifrey’s defenses. Unlike the confession dial, the Doctor isn’t faced with a growing collection of his own remains; but like it, he begins every day afresh, with memories that aren’t complete, but aren’t missing entirely either. Like Heaven Sent, this story begins with a rumor of his death (although we don’t know that until later). Similarly, the entire situation is a trap, a setup. Like Heaven Sent, the Doctor doesn’t appear to age during his centuries in the environment, although he does pick up a limp that stays with him for the rest of this lifetime. The similarities are, in fact, eerie; and it would be tempting to believe that one is based on the other. I don’t believe that to be the case; the time frame of the release of this story (early 2015) and that episode (November 2015) doesn’t allow this story to have mimicked that one. Though it’s possible that the episode stole ideas from this story, I find that supremely unlikely; and it would take a terrible level of dishonesty to steal intellectual property from a charity work.

My head canon for this story is that the Daleks have, at some point, laid hands (or plungers, as it were) on a confession dial—perhaps the Colonel’s? We don’t know that all confession dials behave internally as the Doctor’s did, but it’s a safe guess that they all are capable of it. The Daleks would have then augmented and adapted the technology to create the looped environment we see here. The Colonel, tied as he is to the Dalek systems, could serve the function filled by the Veil in Heaven Sent; and this would make their request for the secrets of Gallifrey a part of the workings of the environment, in the same way as the confessions in the televised episode. The “dial” would know when the Doctor is truthfully giving the required answers, and upon doing so, it would release him from the environment as promised. Of course, the Daleks would be ready to recapture him immediately; but what’s a little betrayal between old enemies?

Overall: This is a tense story, as it is designed to be, but like Heaven Sent, there’s a bit of poetry to it. It also contains a fair measure of the wry (and sometimes gallows) humor for which the War Doctor is famous; in addition to his frequent quips, there’s the increasingly more insane list of kill methods. (The Douglas Adams/Hitchhiker’s Guide reference is a nice touch, too.) In the end, it pushes us a bit closer to, well, the end, as the Doctor grows more frustrated with the Time Lords.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Always Face the Curtain with a Bow was written by Jon Arnold. Next time: We’ll look at some actual poetry from the owner of anthology publisher Chinbeard Books, Barnaby Eaton-Jones, in The Man in the Bandolier. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 29: Reflections

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 contemplates his reflection, and muses on his life. He has aged, and with far less grace than he may have preferred. It has been a long time since he had that experience; his second and third incarnations were born old, so to speak, and had the vitality of youth encapsulated in the appearance of age. Only his first body lived long enough to age and wear thin, and he has had centuries and many lives since then. It is a most unwelcome feeling…but his life is not over yet, and there is a little left to do.

Or perhaps not—if he doesn’t survive this mission. He has come to Howth’s World at the behest of the Time Lords. He does not trust them any longer; Romana is dead, and Rassilon is in power, and they cannot be trusted any more than the Daleks. Still, this mission—to destroy a cursed mirror on a world under Gallifrey’s umbrella—is, perhaps, if one looks hard enough, something the old Doctor would have done; and the voices of his past lives in his mind reinforce this. So, here he is, standing beside a local woman named Lucia, the tavern owner who contacted the Time Lords about this artifact with forty years of history in her family—this mirror. She claims that it twists anyone who looks into it, makes them aggressive, makes them afraid; and, the War Doctor admits, perhaps there is something to it, curse or not. For he looks into it, and in his own reflection, he sees his own embrace of the warrior within, his love of the fight, of the victory. He sees his hatred of the enemy, and his own bloodthirst. He doesn’t want to face it, but it is there—and there is more. Behind himself, he sees his past lives; but they are twisted now, filled with rage and pain. His demonic second life, scarred and manic. His third, cunning and bloodthirsty. His fourth, twisted into a leering fascist. His fifth, dressed for combat, and sporting a knife. His sixth and seventh, fused together, the seventh killing the sixth while both laugh in their insanity. His eighth, wounded and dying, his jaw torn off.

It is then that Lucia reveals herself, as well. It is a trap she has set for him—not for the Time Lords, for it is they whom she serves. Rather, it is a trap for the Doctor, for all of his selves. The mirror is a Time Lord creation from the Omega Arsenal—as the reflection of his first life tells him. That worthy presence now sports hair of silver, twisted by the Cybermen against whom he once lost his life. This presence tells him that Rassilon does not trust the Doctor any longer; the War Doctor fights, but not for the aims of Rassilon. But these, these twisted reflections—they can win the war, for Rassilon, for the Time Lords Victorious. All the War Doctor must do is smash the mirror…and let them out. After all, there’s a part of him that wants it.

Later, he dwells on how our reflections may not always show what we want to see. In his wake, he leaves behind the destruction of a small room…and the tavern that held it…and the town that embraced the tavern…and a continent…and a world, Howth’s World, after he caused its sun to go supernova. After all, how else to wipe out every mirror on the planet? The people, their true selves, were gone long ago, courtesy of the Time Lords, and only the twisted reflections remained. He goes on to cover every mirror he can find in the TARDIS; there’s no sense in letting the Time Lords continue this trick. After all, it was an effective one—but they may regret that it cued him in to the Omega Arsenal. Of Lucia, he thinks only in passing—after all, involving himself with her is something the Doctor might have done, and the Doctor is not here.

This story is one of the three that were written for the final edition of the Seasons of War anthology (following Life During Wartime, and we’ll have one more at the end). It’s a matter of saving the worst for last—not worst in terms of quality, for it’s an excellent story, but worst in terms of the events of the Doctor’s life. Prior to his use of the Moment, I think it would be hard to top this story for horror. My only complaint—and I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way early—is that the statement that the Time Lords got to the people of Howth’s World long ago mitigates the seriousness of the story. If the Doctor’s destruction of the planet doesn’t cost innocent lives, then it’s not really monstrous at all, is it? But if we ignore that one line, then this story becomes monumental. The War Doctor becomes the monster we’ve always heard him say he is. This is it—this is rock bottom, and everything from here to the end is just set dressing on the way to the Moment. (It’s very good set dressing, and I certainly won’t treat any upcoming story worse for having come in the interval, but for his character development, we’ve reached his lowest point.)

There’s certainly nothing new about the concept of the Doctor facing his past selves in some sort of visitation, and this is not even the most creative rendition we’ve seen (for me, that honor goes to Timewyrm: Revelation until I find a better one). It is, however the most terrifying. We’ve seen the Doctor’s past lives be tortured; we’ve seen them interfere; we’ve even seen him give a past self control of his body for a time. We’ve never (to my admittedly-limited knowledge) seen them be evil. The story goes to great lengths to establish that this is no hallucination, and no impersonation; these beings are the Doctors, though with their evil crystallized and brought to the fore. They’re each a little Valeyard, so to speak, but with none of his grace or logic. It’s utterly terrifying.

The author deserves credit for the details here. In addition to tying this story to the larger Time War narrative (she mentions the Could-Have-Been King and his army of Meanwhiles and Never-weres, as well as the Omega Arsenal and the return of Rassilon), she gives a nod to some other aspects of Doctor Who history from various media. She portrays the Sixth and Seventh Doctors as fused together, with the Seventh killing the Sixth; this is a reference to the novel Head Games, which suggests that the as-yet-unborn Seventh Doctor brought about the death of the Sixth to prevent the creation of the Valeyard. (I should note that this is later dismissed by the Seventh Doctor in The Room With No Doors.) She also says of the First Doctor’s body that it is “the one he was born with”, but then parenthetically adds the qualifier “probably”; this is a nod to the much-debated Loom continuity, and possibly also to the debated (and sometimes discredited) possibility that the faces seen in The Brain of Morbius represent incarnations of the Doctor before the First. Karn gets another mention (The Night of the Doctor), as does Maxil, who is now a Magistrate on Gallifrey. She comments, when thinking about the Doctor’s earliest incarnations:

“…back when being old is what one did when one was young…”

This is a likely reference to the Tenth Doctor’s similar lines, stated to the Fifth Doctor, in *Time Crash*:

“Back when I first started at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young.”

She also gives us a few new events of significance to the War, though without much explanation: “The Skein Mutiny and the subsequent purge of Gallifreyan Chronology”—an event that sounds, from its name, as though it may have to do with the establishment of the Time Lock on the War, though I’m really just speculating—as well as a battle on Skaro Moon, and an unnamed event in which the time winds of the Vortex threatened to split up Kasterborous. Tantalizing strands, indeed! Last, but far from least, there’s a reference to the Doctor being diverted from the trip he was previously taking, to Earth in the 1990s. This is a reference to the events of the next story, so I won’t spoil it now.

Overall: One couldn’t ask for a better story, and especially when we’re trying to describe the nadir of the War Doctor’s life. He has more tragedies ahead, as anyone who has read Engines of War knows, but he’s reached the bottom already. There’s a lot of sadness, and little good news, left to us after this point—but hang in there. The end is coming.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Reflections was written by Christine Grit. Next time: We’ll revisit a beloved old friend in Fall, by Matt Barber. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 23: Lady Leela

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

I’m going to start this post a little differently, and give the opening lines of the story involved, because they’re far too good to pass up. It’s a very short story, so I will try not to include so much as to be exceeding fair use.

Before the world of Gallifrey, before this War that tears minutes from the clock like leaves from a tree, and burns huts filled with hours and days like a fire tempest; before I became, as the Doctor would say – ‘civilised’, I was Leela, warrior of the Sevateem.

A widow no less. A widow no more. My spouse is the War and my kin is the fight.

For I have no children of my own. A sapien and a chrono-superior may not mate with success. This was my burden and my distress. Now, these thoughts are replaced by the drums of battle and the taste of victory. My own complaints were pathetic, and a weakness. Even the death of Andred, my betrothed, must be hidden in the red dirt until the War is won.

And won it shall be. For I have heard that the Doctor is returned.

And yet…

And yet, he is not the Doctor. They say he no longer goes by that name. They say he shuns his noble calling and is now a Warrior. They speak of this as if it was a dirty word. I have always known him to be so. I comfort myself by thinking that he learned it from me.

Leela goes on to talk about how the Time Lords tried to persuade her not to fight. They called her “Lady Leela” and told her it was not her fight; but how could it not be? The War cost her those she loved, and she claims it as her own. She fights Ogrons, who are too stupid to be much threat to her, and she takes their heads as trophies. She fights with a Time Lord, the Brevet, as her pilot, and adorns the roundels of his TARDIS with her trophies. She won’t accept him as a protector, despite his friendship with the dead Andred, but she will accept his help. Through the miracle of Time Lord science, she has lived hundreds of years and yet remains young, although unlike them, she cannot regenerate. She fights at Bedullah against the Daleks’ Robomen, Ogrons, Thaleks, Brutals, and against the Reapers; and there she loses an eye, but keeps fighting. The Brevet’s squadron of Battle TARDISes scours the Kaled Sandhedrin off the face of the world. At the end, the Brevet is too sick and hurt and frightened to go on, so Leela kills him and takes his TARDIS. She regrets this, and wishes she could have avoided killing him, but as a warrior, she must go on. She is no lady, and she is no Time Lord—but, following the example of the man who called himself the Doctor, she will fight for Gallifrey, and for right, and against tyranny. As much as she can, she will follow the once-Doctor’s rules—though not even he seems to know what they are.

Some things are just destined to happen. This is one of them.

It’s difficult to understand the Time War, because of the manner in which it is locked away from the rest of the universe. Inevitably, we have to ask “what about so-and-so?” Not every thread of Doctor Who history can be neatly cut away from the war. A good example is Romana: many stories in multiple media establish her as the Lady President of Gallifrey, up to and into the Time War. You simply have to address her presence at some point—and indeed, this anthology did so in indirect fashion in The Holdover, where it’s implied that she died along with the High Council when Rassilon returned. A more explicit example is Leela. Last known to be living on Gallifrey, and married to former Castellan Andred, it was absolutely inevitable that this warrior woman would involve herself somehow in the War. Here, we finally learn how, and it is everything we would expect from her. As she said, she learned civilization; but war strips away the surface layers, and exposes the warrior beneath. It’s just as well; the Doctor is not the only one who understands that a warrior is what is needed now. The image of one-eyed Leela taking the heads of Ogrons is compelling (and illustrated in the book by the excellent Paul Hanley, as included below; check out his DeviantArt page here for more works in the Doctor Who universe as well as others). Leela’s reality has always been stark; most of her arguments with the Fourth Doctor were on this point, where he encouraged finesse while she encouraged directness and action. This time, the Doctor could learn a thing or two from her; her reality is everyone’s reality.

In a very rare case for this anthology, the War Doctor does not appear. He does get a mention, but as of this story, Leela hasn’t seen him. It’s better that way; had he appeared, the story would be far less about what she’s doing in the War, and far more about what he thinks of it. There’s a time and place for that, but it’s not here.

There are some interesting and tantalizing references here. Andred’s death is mentioned, and while it doesn’t directly contradict the version of his death noted in the Gallifrey audio dramas (at the hand of Romana, no less!), it seems to imply that he died in the War instead. As I’ve said many times, a feature of the War is the rewriting of timelines, and so contradictions of this nature are generally no problem. The Brevet is an original character, but fits well into Andred’s established story. It is stated that he and Andred fought at Dark Horizon (a battle original to this story, not to be confused with the Eleventh Doctor novel Dark Horizons). The battle at Bedullah is also original, as are the Thaleks and Brutals (presumably more Dalek variations, at least one of which appears to be a corruption of the Daleks’ old enemies, the Thals) but the Robomen and Ogrons are not. The Reapers are, presumably, the same as the Reapers we saw in Father’s Day, indicating that there were wounds in time present at Bedullah. Leela’s group mistakes them for Skaro Bloodhawks at first, but—amazingly—they successfully fight them off at close quarters. There’s also a reference to the Kaled Sanhedrin; historically, the Sanhedrin was the ruling council of the Jews in Israel under Roman occupation, so it would seem that the Kaled Sanhedrin is a sort of ruling council for the Daleks, one iteration among several that we have seen over the years.

Overall: I expected that any tributes to past companions here would be melancholy. I should have known better, when it comes to Leela—she would never tolerate melancholy. Instead, she’s as much a warrior as ever, and she’s finally unleashed. I, for one, hope she survives the War; and this story makes me think she just might.

Lady Leela

Art by Paul Hanley.  Used with permission.

 

Lady Leela was written by Declan May, with art by Paul Hanley. Next time: Making Endings, by Nick Mellish. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 19: Life During Wartime

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.

Apologies; this one is a little longer than the other mini-reviews, but that’s because there’s a lot to talk about.

Seasons of War cover

A young Gallifreyan girl, Karlen of the House of Brightshore, knows that she is different. All around her, Gallifrey suffers and groans in the throes of the Time War. Its history is written and rewritten, again and again, as the two temporal superpowers—the Daleks and the Time Lords—battle for the future and the past. People wink out of existence as their history changes, then wink back in, sometimes the same, sometimes very different. Whole areas come and go. Most people can’t track these changes, for they are part of them. Some, a rare and fortunate (unfortunate?) few, can, and Karlen is one of them. She sees these Untempered Time Rents, and remembers, and does not change with the rest of the world.

She works in a munitions factory with many other children—until he comes. She doesn’t know him, but she sense that he is a Time Lord and more, far more, a man of great import. He rages at the factory’s overseers—“Children are our future! They are every future, and we have so few to choose from!” He tells the children to flee. Most are scared of him, and refuse to move. Karlen follows him, compelled by his demeanour. She talks with him that night. She tells him of the changes she can see, and he tells her of the history of the war, and the deep weariness and pain he carries. He has fought all his life—most of it anyway—to save various worlds; but he can’t save his own home, this world that he loves, no matter how much it deserves saving. But this is why he learned—to try. Now, he wishes only to stop Rassilon, to stop the Dalek Emperor, and to bring peace—but first, he has to survive this time and place.

Karlen feels for him. He is a good man, and so weary, and she pities him. Trying to reassure him, she reaches out to touch him, but only manages to touch his coat—and yet she is suddenly assaulted with visions of the man’s past, of another life, crashing on a rocky world, a blue box, dying a Doctor, reborn as a Warrior…She sees his future as well. She sees destruction and devastation, especially here on Gallifrey. She sees a ragged barn, and an ornate box. She sees the Moment, and knows it for what it is, and what it can do. He does not have it yet, but soon will.

But there is still worse to happen here…for she isn’t the only one seeing. At thatr brief touch, the man sees something as well: he sees Karlen in a new light. Her visions of the changes to history were just a story before; now, he understands what she can do, and he wants to use it. She shrinks back from his greed, seeing him as cruel and cowardly, but when he asks for a safe path out, she has no choice but to point it out. The way that she indicates will take him to safety, avoiding the Time Rents. Before he can go, however, a Dalek Saucer appears in the sky, and bombs the nearby factory. There’s no time to save the children—but, he tells her, it doesn’t matter. They will be reborn, perhaps different, in another Time Rent. Everyone is. He leaves, and she calls out to him—first as Warrior, which he ignores, then as Doctor, which gives him pause. He explains to her that people like her are a result of the Time Lock on the War. These temporal changes have nowhere to go, because they are locked into the War, and so they rebound onto Gallifrey, creating both the Time Rents—history’s “antibodies” against the destruction of itself—and those who can see them. She thinks she understands; breaking the First Law of Time, as is happening here constantly, is a great and devastating problem, and even a touch between two of the same Time Lord could destroy things. She tries to pull him back again, and he muses that she is his “what if?” And then he is gone. Karlen is left with only confusion as she dwells on his words—and it only grows, because suddenly, she cannot remember what is true of her own history. It seems that she, too, is now subject to the Untempered Time Rents.

There’s a lot packed into this short story, and for the sake of organization I’m going to mention some references first. Very early, Karlen talks about having witnessed many events of the War, and having seen them rewritten again and again. She mentions the Fall of Arcadia (which is on the last day of the War, so make of that what you will with regard to how time plays out—the events of this story are certainly not on or after the last day); the Horde of Travesties; The Erosion of the Crevice of Memories That Will Be (Time Lord names for phenomena are so poetic); the Rupture of the Schism (presumably the Untempered Schism?); and the Emergence of the Divergence (possibly a reference to the Divergent Universe from Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Main Range stories). The first two were already familiar from references in The End of Time; the others are new here, and it’s a shame we’ve never been able to see any of these famous events. She mentions the Daleks firing on the Capitol and the Cruciform (with the latter having been mentioned in The Sound of Drums as the event that made the Master flee the War; it’s worth noting that Engines of War has the Doctor returning from searching for the Master. The Cruciform is noted to have been destroyed on the day that Gallifrey fell, but it apparently was attacked earlier than that). She mentions worlds that have been destroyed: Polymos (the Nestene homeworld, destroyed during the Eighth Doctor’s time in the War in Natural Regression, and first referenced as such in Rose); the Zygon Waterworld (Zygor, mentioned in The Day of the Doctor as destroyed in the early days of the War); and Eve (original to this story, as far as I can tell). She mentions Pazithi Gallifreya, the planet’s moon, and states that it still exists (contrary to The Gallifrey Chronicles, but as usual, things can be rewritten—a literal theme of this story); Mount Cadon (home of the Prydonian Academy, the House of Lungbarrow, and the Hermit K’anpo Rimpoche); Mount Perdition (The Master’s childhood home, The End of Time); Lake Endeavour (original to this story, but probably located on the continent of Wild Endeavour, The Sound of Drums; here it is said to be the location of the House of Brightshore), and Olyesti (a Three Minute City of Gallifrey in an alternate universe, The Infinity Doctors, but here implied to exist in N-Space as well). The Doctor talks about why he left Gallifrey—boredom, mostly, plus the desire to see the things he had read about—and about his years in his first life as a Scrutationary Archivist (Lungbarrow). He mentions the Nightmare Child (The End of Time), which will get further discussion in later stories. He mentions his previous returns to Gallifrey, before the War, and he inadvertantly gives Karlen a vision of the events of The Night of the Doctor.

This anthology has done a notable job of balancing the various media of Doctor Who. There have been references to various audios, novels, short stories, and television episodes (I can’t account for the comics, as I have no real experience with them as yet). Of particular interest to me is its handling of the New Adventures novel series. That series is decidedly in favor of the existence of Looms, which has long been a point of contention among fans, and is the major issue with trying to incorporate the New Adventures into the rest of continuity (such as it is). This anthology gracefully regards the Looms as not real, but a rumor, a tongue-in-cheek reference that allows us to incorporate as much else as we like from the novels. It comes up again here; this story is firmly in favor of the existence of the sentient Houses such as Lungbarrow, with several references to the Houses and their locations. If anything, it goes a little too far; the Doctor makes an offhand reference to having had “millennia of study and research” before leaving Gallifrey, which doesn’t fit with his early stated ages, but would fit nicely with the idea that he had lives before his documented First.

The story ends with a curious suggestion:

Before he ran, he shook his head at me. “Fascinating. You are my What If. My path not taken.”

It seems to suggest that Karlen is a version of the Doctor from another timeline, despite being born into a different House. It seems silly at first; but note this exchange:

[The Doctor says] “The Rents are like antibodies, Gallifrey is trying to find a way to cope when two, three, or even a dozen versions of the same Time Lord co-exist in the War simultaneously.”

And he smiled again; breathlessly it had to be said. And I [Karlen] didn’t understand what he was getting at. I mean, I understood what he said, and I understood the gravity of it. If the Laws of Time were being flouted, then… well, everything could be destroyed just by two versions of the same Time Lord touching one another.

Immediately after this exchange, the Doctor stops her from touching him, as if he knows what may result. Indeed, some damage is already done; earlier she had tried to touch him, and only touched his coat, and yet her protection from the Time Rents is already being stripped away, as we see at the end as her memories change. Who knows what would have happened had she touched him directly?

There’s one final item worth mentioning here, and although it’s mentioned almost incidentally, it’s of great importance. This story tells us how the Doctor becomes aware of the Moment, and chooses to use it as his weapon to end the War. In the brief almost-contact with Karlen, both of them receive a quick vision of his future, in which the Moment and the barn in which he uses it are seen and named. This would place this story, from his perspective, after Engines of War; at the end of that novel, he determines to end the War right away, but hasn’t determined how. It fits; at the beginning of the story, he is described as old, with rheumy eyes. While the anthology mostly occurs in chronological order with regard to the War Doctor’s life, this story is out of place; but that is most likely because it is a late addition. It appears only in the final edition; it is the first of three new stories in that edition, and I imagine that the stories were distributed throughout the book rather than added to the end.

Overall, it’s a bit confusing, and there’s a lot to take in. However, it’s rich with references, and gives tantalizing hints not only of what is to come, but of what could have been. Coming as it does, it may be one of the very last stories of the War, possibly directly before the events of The Day of the Doctor–but we’ll see.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Life During Wartime was written by Gary Russell, a man of many Doctor Who credits—author, audio actor, director, and editor. Next time (Tuesday, due to the Memorial Day holiday in my area): Sleepwalking to Paradise, by Dan Barratt. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 16: The Holdover

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

A Gallifreyan named Vanus works arrival duty on Treytis—a place called, informally, the Holdover. It is a temporary colony for displaced Gallifreyans—those whose homes have been destroyed, and who, for one reason or another, do not participate in the Time War. Here they wait, in Spartan living conditions, to be transferred on to the safe haven of Kayeff. Vanus greets the new arrivals, but he is unprepared for a strange new refugee in a leather coat. The man smoothly takes charge of the situation, and calls himself “the Foreman”. The Foreman questions everything; the Treytis system, once home to the training grounds of the Perpetual Watch, has no other habitable worlds, so where is Kayeff? And Vanus, a refugee himself, has been here for five months—just how long does this processing take? To this last, Vanus admits that he is a conscientious objector to the War, which reduces his status; many with less time here than him have already been sent on. The Foreman concludes that this is no transit camp. Its guards are members of the Perpetual Watch:

“The private soldiers of the President, so secret, they hardly exist. An order of highly trained, highly skilled and disciplined agents of the High Council. Even the Celestial Intervention Agency has no control over them. And here they are guarding refugees in the galaxy’s toilet rather than defending the capital from imminent destruction.” Rising from his chair he added, “And I’m going to find out why.”

The Foreman shocks one of the guards by stealing and field-stripping his weapon. He then shocks everyone by announcing that he is a former Wartime Prime of the Order of the Perpetual Watch—he outranks everyone present. He offers a confirming code phrase, and forces the guards to take him to whoever is in charge. He takes Vanus with him, and explains…well, very little, actually, but enough to comfort the anxious objector. Inside the command center, which is marked with the Seal of Rassilon, they meet a Time Lord named Goren, who identifies the Foreman as the Doctor—a name even Vanus knows. The Doctor once displaced Goren as Wartime Prime, aided by President Romana. Goren mocks the Doctor for his actions, and accuses him of cowardice; they fought together once, and when the Doctor obeyed an order to retreat, Goren did not, and suffered for it, becoming trapped in what was called the Silver Devastation anomaly-loop. He is now a cyborg, as much machine as man; he claims he stayed on the battlefield at the behest of the Black Order, an organization nearly as mythical as the Toclafane, and that it was the Black Order who repaired him. Now, he is the current Prime of the Watch, and master of this facility. He imprisons the Doctor and Vanus.

Vanus awakens, wounded, in a cell with the Doctor. However, the cell is actually a supply closet; and Vanus helps the Doctor escape, though he is too weak to go with him. Meanwhile Goren reports to his commanding Magistrate—Magistrate Maxil, Ombre-Chancillier of the Black Order—and then leaves for the Kayeff. After he completes the “Emergency Sanction”, he will atomize the facility and all its remaining refugees.

The Doctor uses psychic paper to bluff his way into the monorail leading to the Kayeff. Repairing the train, he heads to the end of the line, seeing plains strewn with ash from the furnaces ahead as he travels. At the Kayeff, he passes through an empty waiting room, and finds a bay full of thousands of TARDISes. He is stopped by Goren, who invites him into one of the TARDISes—a heavily modified Type 93, filled with engineers who work for the Perpetual Watch. They are watching row upon row of refugees tied to metal cruciforms—men, women, children alike. As the Doctor watches, the Watch floods the refugee chamber with Charleur gas, the deadliest nerve agent in history—a death horrible beyond belief. He sees Vanus among the victims. Goren insists this is to win the War. He explains that this torture will force the victims to regenerate, repeatedly, until they die; and each time, the energy will be drained off, leaving only enough to restore life without initiating the change of body. The TARDISes were necessary to contain the paradoxes that fuel the process, allowing more than the standard twelve regenerations per subject. Goren calls this area the Killing Floor—the K.F., or Kayeff. To the Doctor’s horror, he realizes this is the end of the process—they are already finished, and he has already lost. They are initiating the Emergency Sanction. All of the collected regeneration energy is redirected into a certain casket, stolen in secret from the Death Zone, against the wishes of the High Council—and now, in addition, the Watch has deposed the High Council while these events occurred. And as the Doctor watches in impotent rage, the casket opens, and a tall, dark-haired man steps out.

“Behold, Doctor,” said Goren, his voice filled with sordid triumph. “Rassilon returns!”

I like to think that this story is not only the turning point of the Seasons of War anthology, but of the Time War itself. It’s hard to say whether things got worse—it’s hard to go any lower than “the universe is very nearly over”, as Ohila mentioned in The Night of the Doctor–but they certainly accelerate after this point. How could they do anything else, with the return of Rassilon?

Rassilon is one of the most fascinating and pivotal characters in Doctor Who history. His shadow hung over the classic series despite his death in antiquity; he didn’t get an appearance as a living character until the novel Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible (as far as I know, anyway; correct me if I’m wrong). The revived series quite suddenly revealed that he had returned during the Time War, but never gave any description of the event…until now. I find the description of his resurrection here to be fitting; of course the canonicity of the novels—as with any other media—is always up for debate, but Time’s Crucible made it clear that although Rassilon and his companions invented regeneration, they were not able to partake of it themselves. It was only the Gallifreyans who were Loomed and/or born after that generation who had the ability. We know that in the new series, he is able to regenerate, which means that, not only was he resurrected here, but also he was given the ability to regenerate—a very fundamental change, I imagine. This, and only this, justifies the expenditure of so many lives and so much regeneration energy to bring him back. (I mean “justified” in the literary sense; there’s no moral justification for it, as the Doctor points out loudly and often.) I should also mention that the physical description given here seems to correlate with the incarnation played by Timothy Dalton in The End of Time, as does Simon Brett’s incidental artwork at the end (featured above).

I had been promising an explanation of the Perpetual Watch, and here is where we get it. They’re the most secret order we’ve seen among Time Lords to date—and are immediately trumped by the Black Order, who are more secret yet. The Time Lords certainly love their secret organizations; let’s not forget that the now-familiar Celestial Intervention Agency, or CIA (also mentioned in this story), started out that way. The Perpetual Watch makes sense, especially if they date back all the way to Rassilon; he’s just the type to create his own secret army. The Black Order makes less sense, but then again, Time Lords love secret agencies, so we’ll let it pass. It was a shock to see that Maxil—who for us was last seen in An Historical Curiosity, and who, let’s not forget, looks like the Sixth Doctor—is heading the organization. It’s secrets all the way down!

I’ve mentioned that there is a loose arc to this anthology.  One notable link in the chain is here.  Goren references a battle from which the Doctor allegedly fled, which then resulted in Goren’s injuries and cybernetic repairs.  That battle is the battle of the Pan-Kaled Phalange, which was mentioned in the previous story, *Loop*; it was the battle at which the Time Lords first deployed a weapon from the Omega Arsenal.  Goren, on orders from the Black Order, was caught in the resulting time loop, in which the Cybermen were perpetually erased from time and re-created.  He states that he used up all his remaining regenerations trying to survive over the course of fifty years of reliving the events.  He eventually managed to slave a Cyberman Tomb Ship to his TARDIS and escape, with help from the Order; he used its conversion technology to save his own life.  The partial conversion was then augmented by the Order, making him the man he is today.  Of special note is the Doctor’s statement that he retreated when ordered to do so, because the Time Lords were about to deploy a second, unnamed weapon from the Arsenal; it’s not stated whether they went through with it.

Overall: This story is exactly what it should be. It’s a little longer than most, as befits the event it’s covering, and yet it races by like an action movie. It has the Doctor being a little more “Doctor-ish” than usual for the Time War, but still refuses to gloss over his own horrific actions—it notes, for example, that he was the first to employ Charleur gas, against the Daleks. It includes the requisite horde of deaths, including that of a would-be companion—and though I make it sound formulaic, it doesn’t feel that way at all; it just feels supremely tragic. Most of all, this story leaves us with a sense of foreboding and urgency; things are ramping up now.

The Holdover 1

The Holdover was written by Daniel Wealands, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: Climbing the Mountain, by longtime Who writer Lance Parkin. 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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Audio Drama Review: Neverland

A note about spoilers:  I’ve been wrestling with the idea of spoilers in these reviews for some time.  The versions I post over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit are abbreviated to remove the plot summaries, which provide the bulk of possible spoilers here.  It’s a difficult balance; I want this site to be a resource, much as the TARDIS wiki, the Doctor Who Reference Guide, or the various Discontinuity Guides, and so I want to continue to include the plot summaries–but at the same time, many readers want to find out for themselves.

With that said, there is unfortunately no way to obscure text here, as with Reddit’s spoiler-tagging system.  This means that I can’t guarantee you won’t see spoilers.  What I can do is this:  I can tell you where they will be, always.  With only a few exceptions, all my review posts open with a uniform introductory paragraph–the “We’re back” etc.–which will give you the major actors, authors, format, etc. or some combination thereof.  After that will always come a spoiler warning, and the cover art of the work in question.  From there, you’re in spoiler territory; the plot summary comes next.  In the past, I’ve sometimes included multiple pictures within the plot section; but from this point forward, I won’t be doing that.  Instead, pictures will serve as content dividers.  After the cover art and spoiler warning, you’ll be in spoiler territory until you reach the next picture.  After that, you’ll be in the review itself, and should be (mostly!) safe from spoilers.  I usually conclude with another picture, as well, if relevant art or screencaps are available.  And, if you simply can’t risk spoilers at all, you are always welcome to follow the link in the sidebar to the /r/Gallifrey subreddit; everything I post here will also appear there, sans spoilers.  Soon I will post a stickied post to this effect, but for now, I’m including this notice here.

One exception to this plan: My series of mini-reviews for the Seasons of War charity anthology will include spoilers in both locations.  This is by design, as the book only had a limited print run, and will not be released again; most fans will not have the opportunity to read it, and so I set out to summarize the stories in each case.  Thanks for understanding, and thanks, as always, for reading!

 

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #33, Neverland, featuring the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley Pollard (India Fisher), with a special appearance by Romana (Lalla Ward). This story concludes the informal second “series” of Eighth Doctor stories in the Main Range of audio dramas, and leads directly into the fiftieth entry of the Main Range, Zagreus. Let’s get started!

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

Neverland 1

Historical events are being recited; but the narrators can no longer retain the proper memories, and are going mad.  Elsewhere, the Doctor and Charley are talking about their recent victory over the Daleks, who remain caught in a time loop; the Doctor expects the Time Lords under President Romana will eventually release them, as history sometimes hangs on their actions.  It won’t be soon, however; Romana has her own score to settle with the Daleks.  Meanwhile, a fleet of Battle TARDISes materializes around the Doctor’s TARDIS.  He recalls that this happened once before in recent memory; this time, it seems they are coming for him and for Charley.  Further, Romana is among them, accompanied by Celestial Intervention Agency Co-ordinator Vansell.  He tries to escape again, but one of the other ships fires temporal torpedoes; if he dematerializes, they will snatch his ship from the Vortex, and if he stays put, the torpedoes will strike and freeze his TARDIS—and everyone aboard—in time for a few centuries, allowing the Time Lords opportunity to get inside.  Just before the torpedoes strike, a wave of time distortion sweeps by, tearing seconds from the web of Time; the Doctor rides the wave and escapes the Battle TARDISes via a complicated path.

Once free, the Doctor presents Charley with an invitation to a rather extravagant party—a thousand-year party inside a pocket universe—allegedly so that she can celebrate her birthday.  She sees it for what it is—a transparent attempt to get her off the TARDIS for a time—and deduces that he is going to find out what the Time Lords want.  She knows the answer already: her rescue from death on the R101 airship has somehow broken the web of time.  Determined to be mature and do the right thing, and grateful for the six extra months the Doctor has given her, she hits the fast return switch, sending the TARDIS back into the path of the time torpedoes.

Three hundred frozen years later, the TARDIS is invaded by CIA agents Levith and Kurst.  They transfer the awakening Doctor to President Romana’s TARDIS: a massive Time Station, similar to the one aboard which his sixth incarnation stood trial.  In his absence, they install Charley into a space-time converter device while she is still disoriented.  Aboard the Time Station, Co-ordinator Vansell tries and fails to interrogate the Doctor, who invokes the Archetryx Convention and demands a fair trial.    Romana assures him that Charley is safe; she explains that the time distortions appear to be caused by particles of anti-time, which has always been considered both theoretical and absurd, but now seems to be real.  The Doctor doesn’t believe it at first; he recounts a legend of Rassilon, which states that Rassilon pinned creation down to one continuity when creating the Eye of Harmony, and in the process created both positive time and a universe of anti-time.  Such a universe would have no continuity—no past, no future, just a chaotic present.  He doesn’t believe it exists, but the strain on the Web of Time says otherwise; it is near to breaking, and many changes to history have been noted, all stemming back to his rescue of Charley.  Her rescue created a living gateway through which anti-time can flow from the mirror universe.  Gallifrey, a bastion of positive time, remains as the universe’s last stable point, and Romana has given the Matrix over to retaining a memory of the true history of the universe—and even this is failing.  To prove her point, she forces the Doctor through the Eighth Door into the Matrix to see a projection of what is to come.

The Doctor finds himself on a ruined version of Gallifrey.  A sad, elderly man tells him this was once Gallifrey, but is now the empire of Zagreus, the mythical monster from Gallifreyan nursery rhymes.  In the former Panopticon, Romana—now ruling as Imperiatrix—presents to the people the trapped Daleks, who beg for mercy and freedom.  Instead, she obliterates them completely, removing them from history.  The Doctor protests, and the crowd turns on him.  Vansell pulls him out of the projection, bringing him back to the Time Station.  He is shaken by what he has seen, but still refuses to allow Romana to return Charley to the R101 to die; but Romana tells him it would make no difference anyway, as anti-time is already present.  Instead, they will track the anti-time backward to its source and stop it there, in the other universe—and to do this, they will use Charley as a gateway.  Already she is inside the Doctor’s TARDIS, hooked into the proton accelerator which will transform her into the living gateway she is.  Kurst activates the machine, sending her writhing out of time and space.  It’s only temporary, however, and Romana intends to free her when the anti-time is stopped; therefore the Doctor allows it.  Levith informs them the gate is open, and the Time Station begins to follow the TARDIS through.  However, the TARDIS console overloads, causing the ship to be pulled out of control through the breach into mirror universe, and the Time Station follows.

Charley reverts to normal as the power level drops, though she is shaken.  Levith and Kurst discover that the sensors are not producing proper data, and they cannot isolate their temporal co-ordinates—it seems they are truly outside the universe of time.  Still, they have landed somewhere; Levith takes the others outside, and sets up a beacon for the Time Station.  Meanwhile the station’s sensors are likewise useless; it’s not a mechanical problem, as the Doctor points out, but a problem of the frame of reference.  Their sensors are calibrated to require the passage of time, and there is nothing like that here.  Only one fixed point can be found: a nearby planetoid, from which the beacon is emanating.  The station approaches, but the beacon vanishes, indicating it is being affected by time distortion.

Charley and Kurst see a forest of metal spikes nearby, and Charley goes to explore while the others work to repair the beacon.  Something speaks to her, using her own voice, and she meets an apparition that looks like her.  More phantoms appear, calling themselves the “people who never were”.  Kurst and Levith fire on the phantoms, and Charley escapes, but the phantoms reappear and consume Kurst, devouring his life energy.  As Charley and Levith flee, the ground splits ahead of them, and the TARDIS—with the beacon—tumbles into the chasm.  Aboard the station, the Doctor realizes that the TARDIS they are detecting is not his TARDIS.  Defying Vansell, he seizes control and pilots the station to the surface, unwittingly allowing it to crash into the metal forest.  Vansell takes a concussion in the crash; in his delirium he quotes a poem about Zagreus.  The Doctor notes it, and wonders why this mythical figure keeps coming up today.

When Vansell recovers, he is furious, and threatens to remove the Doctor from history, until the phantom in Charley’s form arrives.  He deduces its nature as a being of anti-time, a “Never-person”, and is shocked to learn it has been to his universe, where it consumed Lucy and Richard Martin.  Other Never-People appear and begin to devour the time energy pouring from the station’s damaged Time Rotor.  Vansell tries to chase them off, until the lead phantom tells him that what he seeks is in a grotto nearby.  Vansell immediately leaves, and Romana persuades the Doctor to follow, telling him that the station has the power to repair itself.  Nevertheless, she hasn’t told him everything; and as Vansell well knows, the Doctor won’t like the truth.

Outside, Charley and Levith join the group, and Levith makes her report.  The Doctor examines the metal forest and determines its spikes to be artificial; even the dirt consists of metal shavings.  As an acid rain begins to fall, Charley and the Time Lords take shelter in a cave, but soon find it is actually an artificial corridor.  Proceeding into the corridor, they find roundels on the walls, and a vast chamber with a hexagonal platform—it would seem, then, that the entire planetoid is a crashed TARDIS, with its internal structure mapped to the outside.

Vansell manages to feed in enough power to activate a few systems, and a hologram appears.  The Doctor recognizes it as the old man from the Matrix projection.  The hologram announces its various titles—among them, conqueror of the Yssgaroth and First President of Gallifrey—and declares himself to be Rassilon.  The Doctor knows him to be long-dead, with his tomb in the Death Zone—but the hologram claims the legends are true.  He accidentally created this anti-time universe upon establishing the Eye of Harmony, and battled the monster Zagreus.  Though he defeated Zagreus, his TARDIS was wrecked, and he was trapped, but he lies in wait inside a Zero Cabinet nearby—and now his descendants and heirs will take him home.

The Doctor remains skeptical, but Vansell explains that Zagreus, with Rassilon, appears in the legends of many worlds, with similar events recorded.  He suggests that the tomb of Rassilon on Gallifrey is false, with Rassilon still alive in the Zero Cabinet—and poised to lead Gallifrey to greater achievements if returned.  The Neverperson in the form of Charley returns to negotiate the release of the Zero Cabinet; it opts to negotiate only with Vansell, who is more than willing to cooperate.  In exchange, the Neverpeople want freedom to explore the timestream of the normal universe in order to gather the temporal energy on which they subsist.  They demand, as a show of faith, that one of the Time Lords remain behind until the pact is finalized.  The Doctor objects, as this will mean leaving Charley here as a continual gateway—but Vansell agrees with the Neverperson, and nominates Romana to stay behind.  The Doctor realizes that all along, Vansell has intended a coup, with the aim of installing Rassilon in power once again—and of course placing himself at Rassilon’s side.  Vansell’s guards return the Doctor, Charley, and Romana to the surface, where the ground disgorges the Cabinet; the Neverpeople transport Romana back under the surface.  The Doctor stumbles into the chasm, and despite his protests, Vansell lets him fall in, before escorting Charley and the Cabinet back to the Time Station.  His guards bring the converter device to the bridge, and place Charley inside.

Romana is taken to an amphitheatre filled with Neverpeople.  The Charley phantom introduces two of them as Rorvan and Taris, friends from Romana’s childhood, but she cannot remember them.  The phantom questions her about a device called the Oubliette of Eternity.  The device, belonging to the CIA, is a molecular dispersion chamber, used to remove criminals from all of time and space by dispersing their molecules through the timestream.  The Doctor arrives and overhears this, and realizes that the Neverpeople are former Time Lords who were destroyed in the Oubliette; they somehow arrived here.  This is why Romana cannot recall Rorvan and Taris; after their dispersal, they had never existed in the first place.  Their crime was accessing classified documents, and for this they were erased.  Meanwhile, the Neverperson with Charley’s form reveals that she is Sentris, the 217th (and now former) Co-ordinator of the CIA.  Once responsible for overseeing what she believed to be only very rare uses of the Oubliette, she was appalled when the records in a time-protected vault revealed that she herself had overseen over two hundred such executions—which she now could not remember, because the victims never existed.  In severe guilt, she committed suicide by leaping into the Oubliette, but found herself here, with her former victims.  Thus she leads them toward the normal universe for revenge.

Romana insists that the Oubliette is a relic of the past, and that Gallifrey will not forget the injustice; but Sentris reveals that the CIA continues to use it to this day, although of course no one would know.  She blames Vansell as well as Romana, but more than that, she blames Rassilon for establishing this system.  The Doctor realizes that there were no personalities in anti-time before Rassilon established the Oubliette, meaning that the Zagreus legend is a lie, and therefore Rassilon is most likely in his tomb in the Death Zone—which means the Cabinet is something else entirely, and it is on its way to Gallifrey.  Meanwhile, on the now-repaired Time Station, Charley realizes that Vansell’s voice has become distorted, indicating he is infected with anti-time, and is being manipulated.  Under his orders, Levith—although she too realizes something is wrong—activates the device; just before Charley is transformed again, she realizes that Levith, too, is infected.  On the planetoid, Sentris confirms the Doctor’s fears: the Cabinet contains a huge quantity of anti-time energy.  As well, though Gallifrey is under quarantine, the Presidential ship will be admitted without question; and when it materializes, the Cabinet will detonate, destroying the Capitol with a flood of anti-time and breaking down the last anchor of the Web of Time, causing the chaos the Doctor foresaw in the Matrix.  It will be the Empire of Zagreus.  She releases the Neverpeople to consume the Doctor and Romana.  However, the Time Station stalls out during materialization, failing to arrive; and Sentris pulls the Neverpeople away to deal with this new problem.  As the Neverpeople are incorporeal, she sends the Doctor and Romana in the Doctor’s TARDIS to repair the Time Station; none of its now-possessed skeleton crew have the necessary skills.  Sentris accompanies them, holding Romana hostage to ensure the Doctor’s cooperation.  Romana manages to covertly tell the Doctor that she has a plan; if she can reach the Matrix door, she can change the station’s authorization codes and prevent it from landing on Gallifrey.

The TARDIS materializes on the station’s bridge, where the Doctor and Romana find Charley, and learn that the rest of the crew is infected and unable to break free of the Neverpeople’s control.  The Doctor sends Romana to reset the flux patterns in the reactor, and gives her his sonic screwdriver; Vansell suggests an escort for her, and Sentris sends Vansell himself with Romana.  He links the station controls to his own TARDIS so as to boost the power, but then Sentris threatens to have Levith kill herself in order to make him cooperate further.  She orders him to slave the Cabinet to the self-destruct system, so that the station will explode upon materialization, spreading anti-time across the world.

At the reactor, the positive temporal energy draws Romana’s Neverpeople guards—Rorvan and Taris, as it turns out—toward the reactor.  This allows Vansell to regain some control of himself; horrified by his previous actions, he swears loyalty to Romana.  She enlists his help; by lowering the two blast shutters on the engine and raising its shield, she will expose Rorvan and Taris to the overwhelming energy of the core, and hopefully destroy them.  However, Vansell’s shutter jams open; he lowers the shield anyway, sacrificing himself to destroy the Neverpeople.

With the boost from the TARDIS, the station’s time rotor revives, just as Sentris senses the deaths of Rorvan and Taris.  She deduces Romana’s plan, and her possessed Time Lords activate the emergency bulkheads throughout the ship, sealing Romana away from the Matrix chamber.  She uses the sonic screwdriver to override the bulkheads, and reaches the Matrix, but finds its voices are all insane now, ranting about the coming of Zagreus.  She is unable to change the codes; and Sentris tells the Doctor that it doesn’t matter anyway—before leaving Gallifrey, Vansell had pushed through an order making it impossible to change the codes during a state of emergency.  However, she taunts the Doctor by telling him that one option remains: he could kill Charley.  This would close the gateway.  Of course, he refuses, even when the possessed Levith gives him her staser.  Charley makes an impassioned speech as to why he should let her die—knowing she is grateful for the extra time she’s had—but he cannot do it.  As Sentris activates the gateway again, the station dematerializes, heading for Gallifrey.  The Doctor realizes there is one more thing he can do, however—and he runs into the TARDIS and dematerializes.  Confident of victory, Sentris lets him go.

The Doctor quickly reconfigures the interior of the TARDIS, but is interrupted when time comes to a halt.  He is visited by an apparition—the old man from the Matrix, now recognized as Rassilon.  With time paused, the old man asks the Doctor to explain the course that led him here; he does so, beginning with meeting Charley on the R101.  He insists he has considered every possible alternative; and at that, the old man allows him to proceed.  He warns the Doctor that he must face the consequences of his decisions, but assures him that the Doctor has always made him proud.  Time resumes its flow.

As the Time Station materializes, Sentris—through Levith—activates the self-destruct mechanism.  However, the Doctor’s TARDIS materializes around the station.  The TARDIS will contain the fallout until the Time Lords can fix it; and though the Doctor will die, he has won, saving both the Universe and Charley.  The station explodes as Sentris screams.

Inside the Matrix, everything suddenly returns to normal, with history repaired.  This time, it includes Charley’s rescue and all the events of the anti-time crisis, up to the Doctor’s sacrifice.  Rassilon appears to Romana, and explains that Charley and the threat she represented to history are now a part of history.  Her survival on the R101 ensured the Universe’s survival, thus meaning that her survival could never have been a threat to the Universe in the first place.  It’s a paradox, but one everyone can live with.    Rassilon expresses pride in Romana, and gives her the chance to return to Gallifrey; but if she does so, the future must be hidden from her.  Still, she and Charley have a part to play, even if the future is dark.  Romana leaves the Matrix, returning to Gallifrey.

Charley, too, has survived, and makes her way to the shattered console room of the TARDIS.  She finds the Doctor in the darkened room, but he strikes her, knocking her down.  He exultantly tells her that, with the breach closed, all the anti-time in the Universe is contained in him, as he absorbed it during the explosion.  He is no longer the Doctor, but the embodiment of anti-time, the dark being known as Zagreus.

Neverland 2

This “series” of Eighth Doctor stories has been up and down; but the ending exceeded all expectations. I understand that there’s considerably more to come—and the ending of this story leads directly into Zagreus, which I will reach in a few months—but it’s quite a satisfying story on its own. Had the Eighth Doctor’s adventures been televised, this would make a fine, and quite literally explosive, series finale, and probably would have resulted in a regeneration, as well as a new companion. It has the makings of a good finale: the end of not one, but two interrelated plot arcs (Charley’s survival, and the anti-time crisis); a fast-paced, high-tension resolution; a noble sacrifice for the Doctor, which has that crucial characteristic of providing a good overall ending should the series be cancelled; the return of an old enemy (CIA Co-ordinator Vansell) as well as an old friend and companion (Romana); and plenty of references back to previous stories, from this series as well as other times.

From the beginning, this story is different; instead of the usual four parts of approximately thirty minutes each, it consists of two parts of seventy-two minutes each. It was a good choice; this story doesn’t lend itself to a plethora of cliffhangers. There are few cliffhangers bigger than the ostensible return of Rassilon at the end of Part One, and it stands better without competition. (For anyone worried about spoilers, trust me; you don’t yet know the full story of Rassilon’s involvement here, and won’t be disappointed.) Keep in mind that this story was released years before the introduction of the Last Great Time War, and still more years before the return of Rassilon to the television series in The End of Time; therefore events seen here may contradict the television series—but not much. I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve heard more audios in this sequence, but I suspect that the audios here can be made to agree with the television series. (Rassilon here is played by Don Warrington, who reprises the role in several more audios, and also plays the President of Great Britain in the televised episode Rise of the Cybermen).

Romana’s appearance here is one of the highlights. The story follows up on her appearance in The Apocalypse Element; it is one of only three audios in which both she (as played by Lalla Ward) and the Eighth Doctor appear (the others are Shada and Zagreus). I am aware that she plays the role of Lady President in the Gallifrey audios, but I have yet to obtain that series; therefore this is my first encounter with Romana at the height of her power. Lalla Ward plays the part as well as always; it’s unfortunate that Romana, usually such a savvy character, is taken in by Vansell and by the plans set in motion by the anti-time Neverpeople. Her Time Station, the oversized TARDIS available to her in her role as President, appears to be similar to the station seen in Trial of a Time Lord, but doesn’t appear to be the same ship. It does, however, contain a Matrix doorway.

There are a number of Zagreus references here, capitalizing on the scattered references in earlier stories. It’s made clear that there’s a reason why so many worlds have Zagreus myths; and though the character is indeed a myth, myths have a way of becoming reality. One would think it’s the other way around, but this is a series about time-travel, and there’s no need for such concern over causality. The way in which Zagreus comes to be is reminiscent of the Bad Wolf entity, which claimed to create itself; and here, that makes perfect sense.

I don’t find much in the way of flaws with this story; but it is worth noting that the anti-time universe contains a TARDIS, reputed to be Rassilon’s. This makes no sense; its description makes it clear that it is a Type-40 or something near it, but Rassilon would never have had access to such a ship—early TARDISes were very different. As well—and I’m skirting spoilers here—there’s no good explanation given for how it came to be there. Certainly this is not a problem with the performance, but it’s a bit of a logical hole in the story.

Continuity references: There are many here. Frequent references are made to the R101 (Storm Warning) and the Daleks stuck in a time loop (The Time of the Daleks). Rassilon first appeared in The Five Doctors. The Doctor was surrounded by Battle TARDISes before, in Embrace the Darkness. He mentions the Nimon invasion of Earth (Seasons of Fear). Vansell mentions Charley’s presence in France (Storm Warning), the Vanguard (Sword of Orion), Venice (The Stones of Venice), Malebolgia (Minuet in Hell), New York (Invaders from Mars), and London (The Chimes of Midnight). Seasons of Fear showed the arrival of the Neverpeople (not named at that time), when they devoured Richard and Lucy Martin, who are mentioned here. Zagreus has been previously mentioned in Project: Twilight, Seasons of Fear, and the novel Instruments of Darkness (which, incidentally, was the first novel to feature a Big Finish-original character, Evelyn Smythe). The Library of St. John the Beheaded (All-Consuming Fire) gets a mention. Rassilon mentions the Yssgaroth (The Pit). Mount Cadon (Timewyrm: Revelation) and its silver-leafed Cadonwood trees are mentioned. The Doctor mentions his adventures in E-Space (Full Circle, State of Decay, Warrior’s Gate, and the audio drama The Invasion of E-Space). He also mentions an adventure with Mary Shelley and Lord Byron, 1816 (Mary’s Story). Vansell previously appeared in The Sirens of Time and The Apocalypse Element; he will be succeeded by Narvin (Weapon of Choice). The fast-return switch first appeared in The Edge of Destruction, and Charley discovered it in Seasons of Fear. The Monan Host and other time-travelling species appeared in The Apocalypse Element; the Archetryx Convention also stems from that story. The Oubliette of Eternity seems to be the same device as the molecular dispersal chamber from Sisters of the Flame/The Vengeance of Morbius, although it may be a similar unit rather than the same one. The Matrix, while recording history, mentions a number of events and people: The crash of the R101, Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor (Timewyrm: Exodus), the abdication of King Edward VIII (Players), the invasion of Poland (A Blind Eye), the evacuation of Dunkirk (Timewyrm: Exodus, Fugitives), Peladon’s admission to the Galactic Federation (The Curse of Peladon), the election of Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan), the Daleks on Kembel (Mission to the Unknown), the Cult of Morbius (The Brain of Morbius, The Vengeance of Morbius), the Doomsday Weapon and the Master (Colony in Space), Goth’s visit to Tersurus (Legacy of the Daleks, also mentioned in UNIT: Dominion), the disappearance of Etra Prime with Romana and the invasion of Gallifrey (The Apocalypse Element).

Overall: Quite a ride this has been! Perhaps it’s too soon to call the matter settled, but we have reached a point of some resolution, at least. We have also reached the end of Series Two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, which in many ways paralleled this series. Both series ended on cliffhangers regarding the Doctor’s survival; and thus both give us something to look forward to. For now, though, we’ll take a breath and rejoin some of the other Doctors.

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Let’s end on a comical note.  (Illustration by Roger Langridge)

 

Next time: On Thursday, we’ll begin a series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures with Destination Nerva; and on Monday we’ll return to the Main Range. As I’ve already covered the next entry, Spare Parts–you can read my review here—we’ll skip over it and go on to …ish, featuring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. 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.

Neverland

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 6: The Ambassador from Wolf-Rayet 134

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

An ambassador has arrived on Gallifrey, and is not handling it well. She is no ordinary ambassador; she is from a race called the Lobopods, and she is time-sensitive. Her species’ star holds a secret in its core: a natural rift in time. For this cause her race evolved the ability to see the world line of any individual—their passage through time and space. This makes them valuable potential allies to the Time Lords—imagine a race that can tell you where and when a Dalek ship will emerge from a time jump—and further, the defenseless Lobopods need the powerful Time Lords more than the Time Lords need them. Her mission is critical, but there is one problem: to her time-sense, the Time Lords glow like supernovae, overwhelming her senses—and she is on a planet full of them. As she goes to address the War Council and its many attendants, she is overwrought by the strain, and flees the council chamber, nearly bowling over a Time Lord before passing out. She awakens in a white room that is blessedly silent and free of world lines; in front of her is the Time Lord she nearly trampled. His own world line is muted to her sense by a simple temporal shield. She explodes in rage against the wall at her own failure, working out her frustration, and then speaks with the Time Lord. He explains that the room is a Zero Room, cutting them off from the rest of the universe; and he apologizes, for he should have known better. His own world line is far more complex than most; but in his youth, when his world line wasn’t yet the spectacle it now is, he visited the ambassador’s homeworld, and learned of this weakness which is also their strength. He consoles her, and assures her she has not failed; her determination to continue in spite of everything, for the sake of her people and the universe, represents great strength rather than weakness. He promises her that Zero Rooms will be available as needed, and in return, her people will help his as promised. Revived, she says she is ready to face the War Councillors—and he tells her she already has. He is the Doctor, one of the Councillors, himself; and he welcomes her to the war.

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The Ambassador meets the young War Doctor.  Art by Carolyn Edwards; used with permission.

 

The Time War is full of enormous tragedies, like the Battle of Infinite Regress that we mentioned in the last entry. One thing in which all the War Doctor materials have excelled, however, is showing how those tragedies are personal. This story exemplifies that strength. Kate Orman’s Ambassador—who is, incidentally, an alien that is far from humanoid; it resembles an oversized caterpillar or mantis shrimp—is fully aware of the risk to her species; but she is facing the war on a personal level, as well. It nearly defeats her, but she overcomes it, with a little nudge from the Doctor. His name isn’t spoken aloud here, but in the surrounding text Orman refers to him as the Doctor; this is fitting, because in the midst of the insanity of the war, he takes a moment to be the Doctor again. I’ve commented frequently that one of the strengths of this anthology is that it lives up to the promise of a man who betrayed the name of the Doctor, and I stand by that statement; but even I have to acknowledge that scenes like this are necessary. We need them in order to set up for The Day of the Doctor, in which it’s clear that the War Doctor has been the Doctor as much as it was possible to do so, in a time when it was mostly impossible. The Eighth Doctor may have said “I don’t suppose there’s a need for a doctor any more”; but sometimes, albeit briefly, there is. It’s good to know that something of the man remains inside the warrior. Also noteworthy here is the reference to “world lines” and to the Doctor’s world line being far more complex than most; this seems to be a reference to the visuals of the Doctor’s tomb in The Name of the Doctor, and that’s how I pictured it here. The “Wolf-Rayet” from the title is not the name of the ambassador’s planet or system, but rather, a description of the type of star; it indicates stars containing time rifts. The Daleks, it is revealed, have been targeting and destroying such stars in order to deprive Gallifrey of time-sensitive allies. We also get a glimpse, however short, of Gallifrey, in what constitutes a behind-the-scenes look at the war effort. It’s quite the revelation to know that the Doctor is one of the War Councillors; I had the impression his relationship with them is usually quite adversarial. Then again, there’s plenty of time for that to change; Carolyn Edwards’ attached artwork, as well as hints in the story itself, tell us that this War Doctor is still very young. Overall: this may be a small event, but it’s a compassionate one, and it gives us a look at what’s going on inside the Doctor’s mind. It’s also a nice quick look at the way that Gallifrey acquires allies in the war, and how it sometimes takes advantage of them even without meaning to do so. I should mention, as well, that author Kate Orman is a longtime writer of Doctor Who fiction, with a dozen novels and a number of short stories under her belt; this anthology did a fine job of combining unknown and well-established authors.

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Negotiations in the Zero Room.  Art by Carolyn Edwards; used with permission.

 

The Ambassador from Wolf-Rayet 134 was written by Kate Orman, with art by Carolyn Edwards. Next: The Amber Room, by Simon A. Brett 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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For more of Carolyn Edwards’ Doctor Who and other artwork, visit her DeviantArt page, her artist blog, or her Facebook or Etsy pages.  Carolyn Edwards is also available on Twitter at this link.  Author Kate Orman currently blogs at this link.

Audio Drama Review: The Vengeance of Morbius

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we wrap up the second series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Vengeance of Morbius. Written by Nicholas Briggs, this audio drama concludes the two-part story begun last week in Sisters of the Flame. Let’s get started!

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

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Desperate to avoid molecular dispersal, the Doctor and Lucie compare notes with the Sisterhood regarding Morbius, Zarodnix, and the Cult of Morbius.  The full story begins to come together—while on Karn, Zarodnix is arriving at level -1.087, the main laboratory.  Orthena explains to the Doctor and Lucie that Zarodnix forced the Sisterhood off of Karn, then mined the planet surface, searching for artifacts of Morbius.  Haspira was sent to infiltrate Zarodnix’s corporation; doing so, she befriended the Trell, but then learned that Zarodnix plans to revive Morbius.  Meanwhile, Zarodnix enters the lab and learns that the latest extraction experiment was a success; with his Trell, he prepares to complete his vision.  He is interrupted by Haspira’s ship about to land; he tells the Trell to either arrest or kill the occupants, as they may wish.  On the ship, Straxus grows more frightened as the ship lands; Rosto fails to understand his fear.

The Doctor explains that Morbius’s brain fell into a canyon and was destroyed centuries earlier.  Orthena agrees, but says that Zarodnix has been scouring space and time to try to capture a Time Lord.  Unknown to them, at that moment Zarodnix is detecting the presence of one in the ship on the surface of Karn.  Meanwhile, Orthena explains that Gallifrey has recalled all Time Lords and secured itself, which explains the Time Scoop that came for the Doctor; as he dodged the Time Scoop, he now owes Haspira his life for rescuing him.  However, now Haspira is urgent to have him executed.  She forces the Doctor and Lucie into the chamber, and Orthena orders her to switch it on.  Meanwhile Zarodnix’s Trell break into Haspira’s ship and inject Rosto with augmentation nanocytes, causing him to collapse.  They then turn on Strax.

The dispersal chamber activates, leaving the Doctor about 37 seconds to escape.  Lucie reveals the Time Ring, and the Doctor activates it.  An alarm sounds, indicating conflict between the Ring and the dispersal chamber.  However, it slows down, and the chamber powers up again; it grows hot inside as their molecules are agitated.  The Doctor bangs on the door and tells the Sisters that Zarodnix already has a Time Lord.  Orthena lets them out, and he tells them about Straxus; Haspira confirms that her ship is near Karn.  Meanwhile Straxus is taken to Zarodnix, who scans him to confirm his identity. Zarodnix dismisses concerns about the High Council on Gallifrey, and has Straxus taken away for the procedure.

Haspira still wants to kill the Doctor and Lucie, giving Lucie cause to re-evaluate her initial impression of the woman.  The Doctor points out what must have happened: in mining the surface of Karn, Zarodnix must have found a fragment of Morbius’s brain—but why does he need a Time Lord?  Meanwhile, Straxus is strapped onto a machine in Zarodnix’s laboratory.  Zarodnix mocks him and the other Time Lords, then says that Straxus will help him resurrect Morbius.

The Doctor theorizes that Zarodnix will use genetic fusing—like the dinosaurs in *Jurassic Park*, DNA from Morbius’s brain can be fused with Straxus’s Time Lord body to resurrect the dead tyrant.  Orthena admits that Zarodnix’s money has probably given him access to the necessary knowledge, culled from across the known universe.  As Morbius’s essentials will be contained in even a fragment of his brain, the plan can work—therefore Straxus must be rescued at once.  Orthena starts a teleportation chant, but the Doctor says that Karn will be shielded; however, the TARDIS can take him there by locking onto the coordinates in the Time Ring.  Meanwhile Straxus begs Zarodnix to stop, but it is no use; Zarodnix states that Morbius’s reputation is false, based on propaganda, and so he will resurrect him using living Time Lord DNA.  He also has Morbius’s presidential robes, as well as cells from the brain.

Orthena overrules Haspira’s objections and takes the Doctor and Lucie to the TARDIS, sending them on a mission to prevent Morbius’s rise.  She promises that the Sisterhood will watch over them; once in the TARDIS, Lucie asks about this, and the Doctor says that no one knows the full extent of the Sisterhood’s psychic power.  He explains that they can’t go back to the ship before it reaches Karn; this would require crossing his own timeline, which may have already happened earlier—this may be what caused the power to blink out in the TARDIS.  However, he decides to try it anyway, and prepares.  However, they are intercepted by the Time Scoop, which disables the controls and starts to pull them in.

The TARDIS materializes on Gallifrey, in a holding area.  Bulek calls to them, and explains that other Time Lords are in isolation; but his fear of Morbius is obvious.  Lucie reminds him that Straxus is in trouble, but he is unwilling to let them break the laws of time, and orders them to stay.  Records indicate Straxus was en route to Gallifrey—but the Doctor points out that they were tracking the Time Ring, not Straxus himself; and the ring is in the TARDIS.  Straxus remains in captivity—in fact, his processing is complete, though he is still alive.  The Trell confirm success, and when they open the Genotron device, they find a man in presidential robes.  Zarodnix asks Straxus to identify the man, but the man emerges and declares that he is Morbius.

In the TARDIS, Lucie and the Doctor wait for Bulek to drop the transduction barriers so they can leave.  However, the ship shudders, and they emerge to meet Bulek, who tells them Gallifrey is under attack—the shaking is from missiles bouncing off the transduction barriers.  The attacking ships are manned by Trell—they must work for Zarodnix.  Although they can’t reach the planet, they relay a hyperlink communication from Karn—and on the screens, Zarodnix introduces Morbius.  Morbius tells the High Council that he has returned, and promises them defeat.  As the Council does not respond, the Doctor does so, and tells Morbius to give up his plans for domination, as they will only result in failure and chaos.  Morbius recognizes the Doctor, and boasts that the Time Lords cannot stop his revenge, prompting the Doctor to mock him.  Morbius produces a medallion, which is the remote activator for a stellar manipulator—allegedly only one was produced, but that seems to be untrue.  Morbius activates the manipulator, and power begins to drain from the Eye of Harmony.  Soon the Time Lords will have no power for time travel.  Cutting the transmission, the Doctor tells Bulek to lower the barriers so he can move while there is still power for the TARDIS—even if it means breaking the laws of time.

Zarodnix notes that the barriers are down, and Morbius orders the Trell to fire on Gallifrey.  Meanwhile the Doctor and Lucie dematerialise in the TARDIS.  The Doctor reassures her that they will have enough reserve power even if the Eye stops functioning; Lucie insists that they go back to before the events began and stop Zarodnix there.  The console starts to spark—the manipulator is tearing the heart from the TARDIS.  There is an explosion—and then the TARDIS materialises again.  There is a little power left, but not enough to waste on the scanner, and so they trust the TARDIS and step outside.  They find themselves in a cell, along with a hooded man, who is revealed to be Straxus.  They hear an announcement from the Trell, announcing Morbius’s victory.  Straxus says it has been happening for ten years, and Lucie realises they have slipped forward in time, not backward.  Morbius has conquered every opponent, and this is his palace.  Further, his gene-splicing was not fully successful; his life force periodically fades, and each time it does so, he siphons more from the now-weak Straxus.  Now, Morbius is returning, and soon he will summon Straxus for another feeding, which the man may not survive.

Zarodnix greets Morbius, who calls for Straxus, then reviews the battle and the victory.  His empire is growing, and systems are surrendering without a fight sometimes, but some worlds still fight—Earth, for example, which he has just defeated, and brought back the Statue of Liberty as a trophy for the roof of his palace.  He muses on whether humans would make good soldiers, then is wracked with pain, and sends Zarodnix for Straxus.

The Doctor asks Straxus if Morbius still has the manipulator remote; Straxus says he always wears it.  The Doctor thinks it is holding back the Eye of Harmony, preventing the Time Lords from using it.  Lucie says that switching it off should repower Gallifrey and allow them to travel back in time to fix this situation.  It won’t be easy, but she is right.  The Doctor takes her back to the TARDIS, and uses the last power to activate the telepathic circuits and try to contact the Sisterhood.  He sends Lucie to take water to Straxus while he works.  Straxus tells her that Rosto is still here, though injected with the control nanocytes; he is the one who takes Straxus to Morbius.  He may retain some of himself, however; the only words he ever speaks are “Lucie Miller”.

The Doctor reaches Orthena, and tells her they must teleport him away as soon as he switches off the manipulator, or else Morbius will kill him and reactivate it.  He gets no response, but senses that she is there, and has no choice but to trust her—and then the last power fades.  Unknown to him, Haspira tries to get Orthena to abandon the Doctor and the Time Lords, insisting the Sisterhood owes nothing to anyone.

The Doctor returns to the dungeon in time to see Rosto arrive for Straxus; the Trell does indeed greet Lucie.  Meanwhile, Morbius grows weak, and muses that he will need another Time Lord if Straxus succumbs to death—but the Time Lords are nowhere to be found.  Moodily, he looks down at the canyon beneath his balcony, where he once fell to his death; Zarodnix notes he is always like this before a “feeding”.  Rosto arrives with Straxus, but when Morbius orders Straxus to remove his cowl, it is revealed to be the Doctor.  The Doctor grabs the remote from him.  Morbius yells for Zarodnix to kill the Doctor, but Lucie, Straxus, and Rosto break in, and engage the guards. Rosto is shot and falls.  Morbius grapples with the Doctor for the remote; the Doctor sends a telepathic signal to the Sisterhood while he tries to shut down the activator.  They stumble onto the balcony; Lucie calls a warning to the Doctor, but he cannot divert his attention.  He warns Morbius that the Time Lords have power back, and will be on their way, even crossing time streams to remove Morbius from history.  Morbius grabs the Doctor and drags him over the edge of the balcony, into the canyon.

Lucie checks the canyon, but the Doctor, it seems, is truly gone—although, so is Morbius.  A strange noise fills the air; Straxus says it is the Time Lords correcting history.  The scene changes around them, and they find themselves on Karn years earlier, before the arrival of the Zarodnix Corporation.  Bulek arrives, and explains that the Doctor saved them—but his death is integral to the events that allowed the Time Lords to make the correction, and therefore it cannot be undone.  Lucie threatens Bulek, and then breaks down crying when he tells her she must be returned to her own time and place; she says she would rather die with the Doctor.  Straxus offers to help her forget the Doctor so as to ease her pain, but she angrily refuses—she never wants to forget him.  Bulek agrees to respect her choice.  She asks him to send her home.

Later, Lucie is at home, when her doorbell rings in the middle of the night.  Lucie opens the door to find the Headhunter, who pulls an alien weapon on her and threatens to kill her if she moves.  When Lucie protests, the woman shoots her.

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Well, this was not what I was expecting—not that that’s a bad thing! Although the story progressed much as I expected, there were some surprises. Most notable—and perhaps not too much of a spoiler—was the ending, which leaves the Doctor ostensibly dead. I say it’s not much of a spoiler simply because we already know he’s not dead, or at least not permanently; it’s no secret that there are more Eighth Doctor Adventures to come, and of course all the future incarnations of the Doctor, which we know do not begin here. Still, it came as a surprise to me; I never saw it coming, and neither did Lucie Miller. It seems, as well, that Lucie is dead at the end (although I suspect that this cliffhanger is not what it seems)—I wasn’t expecting that, either.

The biggest surprise for me was the way that Morbius was portrayed. In The Brain of Morbius, he’s an angry, arrogant, overconfident villain (which makes sense, I guess—if all you have is a brain, you may as well go all in). Here, he’s softspoken and plagued with self-doubts; even as he conquers the galaxy, he’s more “alcoholic businessman” than “megalomaniacal tyrant”. It’s quite jarring, but in a good way. I like it when villains subvert the tropes, and Morbius—here played by Samuel West—does that in great fashion.

The story is a little reminiscent of He Jests at Scars, the Unbound story focusing on the Valeyard, in that it leaps ahead into an altered timeline that comprises a Time Lord-led dystopia. Morbius’s ill-fated empire is very similar to the Valeyard’s (once you remove the string of paradoxes), right down to collecting trophies of his conquered worlds and stealing away time travel from his rivals. Of course, the resolution here is more straightforward, but that’s only because the show must go on, as it were; Unbound can afford to give us an ending that puts punctuation on the end of the Doctor’s story, but other ranges have to remain open for sequels.

I was especially impressed with the means by which Morbius is resurrected. Using only a fragment of the dead tyrant’s brain (which is already remarkable—it survived centuries in a chasm without rotting away!), Zarodnix is able to merge it with DNA from another Time Lord and quite literally grow Morbius a new, fully functional Time Lord body, presumably complete with regenerations. (There is a flaw, which weakens him periodically, but that’s only because Zarodnix didn’t fully understand what he was doing—the accomplishment is still impressive.) This raises questions for which we don’t yet have answers, notably: how are his memories retained? Can Time Lords retain their personalities with just a small fragment of brain tissue? If so, how? The procedure here, I would think, must be similar to a regeneration; but I’ve always been under the impression the brain is required, undamaged, for a regeneration to take place. Perhaps not. Maybe someday we’ll get some elaboration. At any rate, it’s worth pointing out that Morbius may not in fact be dead (and if anyone knows more about this, from future audios, don’t tell me!), as he “dies” in the same manner as the Doctor, whom we know will return. We may see the mad dictator again!

Katarina Olsson’s performance bears some mention here. She plays two very different roles in this story. She appears near the end in her customary role as the Headhunter; and she also masterfully plays the role of the Sisterhood’s High Priestess, Orthena. The two voices sound nothing alike, and I had to marvel at her versatility. Meanwhile, Alexander Siddig reprises his role as Rosto, though with only a few lines this time; and Nicola Weeks returns as Sister Haspira, who gives an impression of being Lucie’s counterpart in many ways—young, hotheaded, potentially violent, and occasionally misguided, but always meaning well.

Continuity references: Naturally there are frequent references to The Brain of Morbius and Sisters of the Flame. Straxus’s last appearance (before Sisters, that is) was in Human Resources. The Doctor refers to meeting the Duke of Wellington before the battle of Waterloo in his second incarnation; this occurred in the novel World Game. As well, he was there at that battle in his sixth incarnation in The Curse of Davros. Morbius last appeared in the Fifth Doctor novel Warmonger. Lucie calls the Doctor “Sarcasmo”, a term she coined in Human Resources. Transduction barriers on Gallifrey were first mentioned by name in The Invasion of Time, though there are suggestions of their existence as far back as The War Games.

Overall: A great ending to a good series. Having this series running alongside the second “season” of Eighth Doctor/Charley Pollard stories in the main range has been interesting. I prefer the Eighth Doctor/Lucie stories, if only because the shorter format forces them to move more quickly; that’s not a complaint about the length, but rather, a compliment, as I think a fast pace and unhinged action suit the Eighth Doctor well. As this story and series ends on a strong cliffhanger, I’m looking forward to the future…

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…But not just yet. We’ll wrap up the Main Range Eighth Doctor series on Monday, and then, for a change, on Thursday we’ll begin a series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. 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.

The Vengeance of Morbius

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