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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Regenerations book cover

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

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

With all that said, let’s dive in!


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

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

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

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


Let’s take a look at the stories.

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

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

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

And ultimately, he does exactly that.

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

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

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

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


Most spoilers end here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

The trailer for the anthology may be viewed here.

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

Novel Review: Conundrum

We’re back! Today we’re looking at the twenty-second entry in the New Adventures (or VNAs) series of Seventh Doctor novels: Steve Lyons’ Conundrum, published in January 1994. This one is hard to describe, and although it was a fun read, I feel that it won’t lend itself easily to analysis; so we’ll make this quick. Let’s get started!

Conundrum

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

  • A family man with a dark and outrageous secret.
  • A detective who’s just a little too cliched to be for real.
  • An old man with both regrets and superpowers.
  • A group of adventuring kids too cute for their own good.
  • A criminal hiding in plain sight.

And right in the middle of it all—in a place that should no longer exist—the Doctor, Ace and Benny!

The town of Arandale is at the center of not one, not two, but three mysteries; and the Doctor, drawn here against his will, intends to solve them all. The problem is, nothing in the town is what it appears to be—and this time, that’s literally true! As events in the town race toward final destruction, the Doctor comes to realize he and his friends have been trapped in a realm he destroyed long ago, in another life: The Land of Fiction. Once again, someone or something has interfered with his past; and this time, he may not get away.

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The Mind Robber is such a classic of early Doctor Who, that revisiting it is always a dangerous exercise. (Coincidentally, it was my first experience with the Second Doctor; accordingly, I think very highly of the story.) The Land of Fiction is a concept that by its nature has few rules for its usage; and so there’s a multitude of directions a writer can go with it—but, many of those directions won’t live up to the standards of the original.

Steve Lyons comes close, though. His take on the Land of Fiction relies on the original just enough to establish continuity and give solidity to the story, but goes its own direction just enough to keep the story from feeling like a copy of the original. It’s a bit scattershot; the plot is all over the place, and that’s probably its biggest weakness (especially given the ambition of a story that brings superheroes into the DW universe!). I feel there’s perhaps one or two subplots too many for the story to contain. But I get why he chose that tactic, and I agree with him: As I’ve said before, few writers in this series seem to know what to do with this TARDIS team. Lyons does a better job than most, by giving the Doctor, Ace, and Benny each a situation of their own to deal with—and crucially, by making those situations of equal weight. No one is sidelined here the way it usually goes; everyone is important. (He’s still needlessly hard on Benny, I think, but hey, we can’t have it all. For the record, though, it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who feels this way; from the Cloister Library entry for this book: “There are so many things so wonderfully right about this book, and the first among those equals is Benny. Finally, after a few books where she is underused, the character shines here, being empathic, sarcastic, hilarious and sad by turns.”)

As a consequence, he manages something else that others don’t usually manage: He brings the interpersonal tensions between the Doctor, Benny, and Ace out into the open, and to a head. Benny finally admits that she feels pushed to the edge by the conflict between the Doctor and Ace, and she intends to leave (spoiler: she doesn’t, but she plans to). Ace finally admits to her fury at the way the Doctor manipulates her, and declares that she’s staying on so she can beat him at his own game; she actively confronts him about it at the end. The Doctor, for his part, doesn’t resolve his issues, but he ends the book aware that that reckoning must come. (Now, with all that said, don’t take this to mean there won’t be any further regression of this arc; I can’t promise you that. But it’s progress!)

The Land of Fiction, as portrayed here, is one relying heavily on stereotypes, as a result of the mind and experiences of its new Master (usually referred to as the Writer in this novel—I wonder if there was a copyright issue for the original Master of the Land character?). You have the detective who’s too noir to be real (Ace’s thread of the story); the retired (and very sad and poignant) superhero and his over-the-top nemesis (Benny’s thread); the precocious children (the Doctor’s); a mysterious string of exsanguinated murder victims; and oh yes, a village witch caught in the middle of everything. It’s all played for laughs, but this book is not a comedy; the laughs are only there to call attention to the fictional nature of this reality. It’s hard to say when the Doctor catches on—he, of course, has been here before—but Ace and Benny take a surprisingly long time to figure it out. I suppose that’s only fair, though; you’ll have readers who have watched The Mind Robber, and figure it out early; and readers who haven’t, and may need longer. It’s nice that the book has something for each.

Continuity References: The Mind Robber, obviously; the Doctor destroyed the Land of Fiction, but it has been restored. He also has visits there in his Fourth and Sixth lives (The Crooked ManLegend of the Cybermen), but this story predates those, and so the Doctor behaves as though this is his first time back. There are numerous references back to the previous entries in the Alternate Universe Arc (Blood HeatThe Dimension RidersThe Left-Handed Hummingbird), and they only advance from here. Ace sees fictional versions of her adventures, especially DragonfireLove and War, and Deceit. The Doctor plays the spoons (Time and the Rani, et al.). The Land of Fiction was created by the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). The chameleon circuit in this version of the TARDIS (the Blood Heat TARDIS) was repaired, and Ace knows how to use it (first explained in the last novel, and I apologize for not mentioning it there). The destruction of the Althosian system is mentioned (The Pit–spare us all from the memory!). The ghostly trio of Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Adric make an appearance (The Daleks’ Master PlanEarthshock); we’ve seen them appear similarly before (Timewyrm: Revelation). The Valeyard is mentioned (Trial of a Time Lord), as is Fenric (The Curse of Fenric) and the Timewyrm (Timewyrm tetralogy). Ace thinks of several old acquaintances: Chad Boyle (Timewyrm: Revelation), Robin (Nightshade), Jan (Love and War), and IMC (Lucifer Rising). And, for the first time, we get a clear picture of just who is tampering with the Doctor’s timeline: The Meddling Monk. The Doctor, however, will have to wait to find out later.

Overall: You’ll like this one, but don’t expect it to be straightforward or tame; it’s nonsensical, as befits a Land of Fiction story. You should definitely read it before wrapping up in the next book.

Next time: We finish out the Alternate Universe arc with Paul Cornell’s No Future. See you there!

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 24: Making Endings

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 unnamed protagonist runs and hides. In a dark world, with rain pouring down, he runs through empty streets, then hides in an empty, dusty house. He finds food and drink—a half-empty bottle of wine, an apple, an orange. He doesn’t care for oranges, but he eats the apple. He goes up to a darkened bedroom, once belonging to a child, and seeks a place to sleep. He is nearly captured when one of his pursuers—a strange, one-eyed creature he calls a Sentimonock, its eye emitting a blue beam—hovers outside the window, searching for him. He hides, and it leaves, and he sleeps a restless sleep. He dreams of a majestic party, and a princess in blue, who runs with him as the guards chase him. When he awakens, he checks his map, and runs again. He finds another house, oddly similar, but there’s no time to think of that. He finds wine and fruit, and a child’s bedroom, and is nearly captured. He sleeps, and dreams of a princess, and awakens again… and all this time, he remembers a son he has not seen since the invasion began, and misses the boy, and searches for him. It is for him that he keeps going, as the dreams grow shorter and the days run together.

In one house, he finds a stranger, a man with grey hair. He pulls the man with him as he hides from the Sentimonocks. They make their way to another house, where they find food and wine. The man eats the orange, leaving the apple for the protagonist. He follows along, and refuses to tell his name. One day, the protagonist awakens to find the man has turned on lights and is taking a shower—which will surely draw the Sentimonocks. Aghast, he forces the man to hide, only to find the man has been busy, cleaning up the child’s bedroom in which they will hide. The protagonist can’t grasp it, can’t process what is happening. No Sentimonocks come that day. Afterward, they continue to run, day after identical day—until one night.

The strange man has played along for some time, making no more changes. Now, however, they must talk—and what he has to say is going to hurt. He has the protagonist tell his story—the invasion, his son, the Sentimonocks, the deaths of everyone else. Then he has him tell it again. The second time, it is word-for-word the same as the first. None of it makes sense; but the man will end it tonight, after the protagonist sleeps. When the protagonist awakens, the man stops him from turning on the kitchen light, as he has done every day in every house—this, of course, is what usually summons the Sentimonocks. It makes no sense; the bathroom light, when the man took his shower days ago, didn’t draw them. They only come, it seems, for the protagonist—who now inadvertantly turns on the light. Like clockwork, a Sentimonock arrives outside. They run to the bedroom, as usual, but the man stays where the Sentimonock can see him. A betrayal? No. Something worse. The Sentimonock leaves, and the man apologizes, then explains.

This world, he says, is not real, and neither is the protagonist. The Sentimonocks are not real, either, though they are the image of monsters, combatants in a great War going on outside this world. This is a land of Fiction, a place of stories given life. The man has been here before, and knows how it works. Both sides in the war tried to use it, to create devoted armies at no cost; but the world fell, and burnt. Now all that remains are scraps, bits of stories here and there—like this one. He demonstrates that it’s true—that each day is just a reiteration, another draft. Indeed, they aren’t days at all; all the wandering they have done together has taken about an hour, not the months that the protagonist thinks. Nothing happens except the few minutes covered by the “script” of this story; the protagonist is reset between them. He isn’t going anywhere; there is nowhere to go. Worst of all, neither the princess in his dreams, nor the son he searches for, are real.

The man can’t make them real. But he can make something else: an ending. And this he does. He writes the ending the protagonist needs. The protagonist quickly finds what he has been waiting for: peace; comfort; the good things of the world…the princess in blue—and then, at last, his son, long lost but alive and well. And then, like all good stories, there is an end—and after a last moment of thankfulness to the man, the writer, there is no more.

I grew up in the 1980s, and my earliest Doctor Who experiences were with reruns of Tom Baker serials. I knew there was at least one more Doctor (the Fifth, to be precise) after him, but for several years I was unaware of the earlier Doctors. It was only a few years ago, as a mid-thirties adult, that I first watched any of the Second Doctor’s episodes—and the first serial I saw was The Mind Robber. That story is unlike any other in its vicinity, and indeed unlike very few in the entire canon of televised Doctor Who. (For a great treatment of just how different it is, check out The Black Archive’s critique of the story—no connection to me, just a read that I would recommend). It introduces the Land of Fiction, a realm where ideas are given form and can be constrained by the words that define them. I’ve always felt that it was the first story to truly expand on the kind of character the Doctor is (with the exception of his first regeneration story, that is), by establishing that he’s far more than just a tinkerer or a wise old man—no, he’s capable of the strangest of things. That story left the Land of Fiction in a bit of an unresolved state, with its Master dispatched and the future uncertain. This story picks it up again.

Several other works have featured the Land of Fiction. This story neither confirms nor contradicts them, for the most part; it’s a self-contained story. It is worth noting that the Tenth Doctor later makes a reference to it as though it’s still standing (The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage). If the Land of Fiction, as seen in The Mind Robber, was mystifying and dreamlike, here it is sad and nightmarish. From the perspective of its inhabitant, the unnamed protagonist, it’s repetitive and dreary and full of fear and sorrow. From the view of the combatants in the Time War, it’s a war crime of sorts. For us, it gives us a representative sample of how the War progresses: both sides pick up tools, ruin them in their pursuit of destruction, and then toss them aside, and damn the consequences. It’s left to the War Doctor to pick up the pieces. We’ve seen a bit of that already with Everything in its Right Place, although in that story it was the Doctor who was ultimately at fault. We’ll see it again, most notably in an upcoming story called Reflections.

Mostly, it’s just tragic. It’s a little morbid to try to reason out whether we should feel sympathy for a character who proves to not be real; but feel it we do, and we put ourselves in his place—a parent searching desperately for a child against horrors that will not relent. That’s the point, really, of the Land of Fiction, or of any fiction: we put ourselves in the protagonist’s place. It’s even reinforced here by the fact that the protagonist’s name and gender aren’t given—I’ve called the protagonist male, but that’s only for convenience; it’s not stated, and indeed there’s a little evidence that it may be the other way around. That may make the protagonist a bit of a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu? Hmm), but it’s by design, I think—all the better to pour yourself into the character. If fiction is supposed to read like that, then so much more the Land of Fiction, and rightly so. It’s similar to the way that so many video games make their protagonists a silent shell for the player to inhabit. This protagonist, make no mistake, is suffering; and it’s up to the Doctor to give the only relief possible: an end. If that’s not a summation of war, I don’t know what is.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Making Endings was written by Nick Mellish. Next time: The Book of Dead Time, by David Carrington. 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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Alien Worlds Abound: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Six

Medusa Cascade

For a show that purports to be about “all of space and time”, Doctor Who spends a hugely disproportionate amount of time on Earth (a phenomenon which will dominate the seasons ahead of us under the Third Doctor). That’s not the case, though, in Season Six; we see more alien worlds than in any previous season.  Let’s get started!

The Dominators

The Dominators, seen here at the height of 1960s fashion.

 

The season opens with The Dominators, an alien invasion story with a twist:  the world getting invaded is not Earth.  Rather, it’s the planet Dulkis.  For the first time since I started tracking the dates of the serials, I was unable to find any; this story has the unusual combination of being set on another world and being a mostly self-contained story, and nothing inside the evidence indicates the date.  I’m guessing from the technology that it’s the relatively near future, but I have no evidence to back up that claim.  There’s an interesting moment in episode two, where the Dominators examine Jamie and conclude that he is vulnerable because he has only one heart.  They don’t examine the Doctor, assuming he is the same.  Later, the Dulcians are revealed to have two hearts.  I can’t help wondering if this scene inspired the later revelation that the Time Lords also have two hearts.  The Sonic Screwdriver makes a second appearance here, and in dramatic fashion, burning through the wall like a large torch (but remember, it’s a scientific instrument, not a water gun!).  The Dominators struck me as particularly calloused villains.  They really have no interest in the planet or its people, and enslaving them is an afterthought; they only want to blow up the planet for fuel.  We don’t often see that degree of callousness in the series.  This is also our first good look at Zoe as a member of the crew; she’s disconcertingly childlike in appearance, and seeing her spout advanced technical knowledge is jarring.  I like her as a character though.

The Mind Robber

Jamie and Zoe vs. the White Robots

 

I had seen serial two, The Mind Robber, before, but with no context.  It doesn’t occur on Earth, but rather, in the mysterious Land of Fiction, which may or may not be a planet at all.  I remember being confused at first by the references to “the Master”, as the Time Lord by that name doesn’t appear until the Third Doctor’s era; of course they are referring to the master of the land of fiction instead.  This serial shares similar themes, in my opinion, with The Celestial Toymaker and the much later Amy’s Choice.  Like the preceding serial, I could find no projected dates; the only clue we have is that it includes a circa-2000s comic book character, the Karkus, but that is little help in placing the story.  The Minotaur seen here becomes something of a motif, with variations showing up later under the third, fourth, and eleventh Doctors.  As well, there’s a “Captain Jack Harkaway” in the stories written by the Master; maybe a partial inspiration for Captain Jack Harkness?  I had to laugh at one point; the Doctor gets thrown around in a fight with the Karkus, who then gets manhandled by tiny little Zoe.  No Venusian Aikido yet!

The Invasion

Cybermen in London.  Why does no one ever remember these invasions?!

 

The Invasion is a partial reconstruction, which is increasingly rare this season, and will soon end altogether.  The quality of the version I saw was particularly bad, but fortunately it had subtitles.  It’s a Cybermen story, with a new appearance that will remain unchanged for a few years.  We don’t know much about these Cybermen; they are presumably descendants of the Mondasian Cybermen, but they claim to originate from “Planet 14”, presumably the fourteenth planet of the Solar System (Mondas was tenth).  I suspect the original intent was that Planet 14 be synonymous with Telos, but internal chronology and later media contradict this.  The Doctor has met them on that planet at some point, but this is never seen, and must have happened off camera.  The Cybermen meet UNIT in this episode—the agency’s proper introduction in the series—and Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart returns, this time with his familiar rank of Brigadier.  (“It’s Brigadier now, I’ve gone up in the world.”)  The best date I could locate is summer of 1979 (incidentally, the year I was born), which seems fairly consistent with the technology in view.  The Cybermen have a Cybercontroller here, but it is a stationary unit, not a mobile Cyberman.  Zoe knows ALGOL, which must have been a positively ancient computer language by her time.  The TARDIS is seen to be able to turn invisible; I would have thought that was a function of the broken chameleon circuit, but apparently not.  The suspense in the story is excellent; the Cybermen don’t appear onscreen until the end of episode four (of eight).  Notably, this was Terrance Dicks’ first credit on the show.

Krotons_title

The Krotons

 

Yet another undateable story appears with The Krotons.  It occurs on the unnamed planet of the Gonds, and seems to be in the future, but without any verifying context.  I like the crystalline Krotons, and would like to see them get a new and updated appearance in NuWho.  They look primitive here, in keeping with the production values of the time, but that could be explained away by the primitive circumstances under which they revive themselves on the Gond planet; it could be said that at the height of their power, they look and sound different.  The story exemplifies something I love about Doctor Who:  stories that aren’t just black and white, good and evil, but rather, involve conflict among various factions with conflicting interests.  Here you have the Doctor and his companions, several factions among the Gonds (who agree on the threat of the Krotons, but not on what to do about it) and the Krotons themselves.  They aren’t all good or evil; they just disagree.  It’s so much more believable this way.  The ending reminds me of the scenes in Rose with the Nestene Consciousness.  Also, the concept of the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) in the TARDIS is introduced, and is later used by the Eleventh Doctor.  Such a simple and elegant solution to attacks.

the seeds of death

“Them?  Oh, they’re with me.”

 

We return to Earth for The Seeds of Death (not to be confused with the later The Seeds of Doom).  We can’t be precise about the date, but there is enough evidence to place it in the mid-21st Century, before the year 2050. A History of the Universe places it somewhat arbitrarily in 2044, and I find that to be a fair guess.  It introduces the concept of T Mat (“Travel Mat”, later transmat) teleportation, which is more common in NuWho, especially as used by the Daleks.  It’s been in existence for a few years on Earth, just long enough to be both common and regulated.  This is the second appearance of the Ice Warriors of Mars and their sonic weapons…sure would be nice if the Doctor had a sonic—wait, sorry, I can’t make that joke anymore.  Anyway.  This story occurs before The Ice Warriors, therefore they are not familiar with the Doctor.  However, it appears that these Ice Warriors are contemporary, whereas the previous group were ancient, having been frozen in the ice for millennia.  There’s a space museum (another minor recurring theme by now?) on the moon, and a staff member named Osgood, whom I would like to think is a relative of the Osgood of NuWho.  It’s not made clear whether the moon base here is the same as the one from the serial of that name.  In a rare moment of deviation from character, the Doctor directly kills one Ice Warrior and is responsible for the death of at least one more.  The moon landing seen in episode three is a bit farfetched, but then, the serial was broadcast some months before the real moon landing.

The Space Pirates

A face not even a mother could love

I had difficulty getting into The Space Pirates, which is a pity, because it was actually a great story; I just felt it was poorly done.  Date is hard to establish, but it appears to be in the very early days of Earth’s colonization of space (an onscreen reference indicates 1992, but that is contradicted by dialog indicating at least fifty years of deep space travel). A History places it in 2119, 150 years after the broadcast date.  This is the final reconstruction!  All further serials are available in their entirety.  It goes out with a bang, though; only episode two (of six) is complete.  To me, this is a clear early example of the TARDIS taking the Doctor where he needs to go rather than where he wants to go; after all, it’s pretty unlikely that the TARDIS would randomly materialize on a tiny, unmanned beacon in space.

The War Games

A Time Lord’s last adventure

 

 

We end with The War Games.  This is it:  The final serial of the Second Doctor’s era.  It’s difficult but not impossible to date; it appears at first to date to WWI, but of course that is an illusion.  A History says this, which I think is best quoted rather than paraphrased:  “It is stated that humanity has been killing itself for ‘half a million years’ before this story takes place, which (coincidentally) ties up with the date 309,906 established for the [Fourth] Doctor’s first Trial (or “Malfeasance Tribunal”) in The Deadly Assassin [which, in my opinion, looks to be a VERY good serial indeed!].  There are a lot of firsts and lasts here:  First appearance of the Time Lords en masse and under that name; first appearance of Time Lord hypercubes (telepathic communication cubes, as later seen in The Doctor’s Wife); first appearance of the SIDRAT time travel machines, which are much like scaled-down TARDISES; first appearance of Gallifrey, though not with that name.  It’s also the last appearance of Jamie and Zoe (with the exception of reunion episodes); last adventure of the Second Doctor; and last black and white episode.

Tardis docking bay

Our first view of Gallifrey–the TARDIS docking bay.  Note the open TARDISes on the right wall.

 

This serial is weighty in the canon of Doctor Who, and it’s hard to do it justice. A few observations presented themselves, though.  The SIDRATs provide an explanation for the long-perplexing problem of why the Doctor can’t control the TARDIS remotely:  any time ship that has a malleable interior (as the TARDIS does) and remote control capabilities will be inherently unstable.  No explanation is given as to why that should be, but there you have it.  Also, the Time Lords seem to be able to (mostly!) recognize each other on site in spite of regenerations; the Doctor had not been to Gallifrey since his first body, but he is instantly recognized by the War Chief.  We see some uncamouflaged TARDISes in the docking bay on Gallifrey, and it’s worth noting that they are rectangular rather than spherical as seen in The Name of the Doctor; probably a later model, as the Doctor’s TARDIS was found in a maintenance bay and outdated.  I didn’t realize that it was established this early that Time Lords can control the appearance of their regenerating bodies; it seems odd that it’s such a crapshoot for the Doctor later on, but then, that probably is because of the absence of the Time Lords.

Second Doctor the war games

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (RIP)

 

I find the Second Doctor’s tenure to be fascinating, because by definition it must be the shortest era of any Doctor with the possible exception of Nine. Jamie is with the Doctor consistently throughout his entire era, start to finish, and ages only a very little.  Therefore even if there are a few unseen adventures, there cannot be vast swaths of time unaccounted for. And yet, so much foundational material was delivered in that short time!  All in all, I’ve enjoyed the second Doctor’s run much more than the first (who wasn’t bad himself).

Second Doctor Regeneration

Regeneration

Next time: The Third Doctor arrives on Earth!  These entries should become shorter, as well, as the upcoming seasons contain fewer stories.  See you there!

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

The Dominators

The Mind Robber

The Invasion

The Krotons

The Seeds of Death

The Space Pirates

The War Games

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