Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today—finally—we have reached the fiftieth entry in the main range, which also serves as Doctor Who’s fortieth anniversary story: Zagreus, written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell. The story was released in November 2003, fifteen years ago as I write this review, and was directed by Gary Russell. It featured every Doctor and companion actor to have performed in Big Finish’s productions to date, although nearly all appeared in new roles here. The story is famously bizarre and trippy; and, well, I will say up front that the rumors are both correct and unable to do it justice. I can’t promise that anything I say here will do it justice, either; it’s hard to even wrap your head around a story like this, let alone sum it up. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a try. Let’s dig in!

Zagreus 1

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

Due to the extreme length and detail of this story, I’m going to break my own pattern today and leave out the usual plot summary. Several good summaries already exist; therefore I will point you to the summary that can be found at the TARDIS wiki, or the summary at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Zagreus 2

Yep, it’s exactly this weird. Credit to Roger Langridge, DWM 340.

Despite having discussed it many times on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, and despite having listened to the audio dramas that lead up to it, I still didn’t truly know what I was getting into with Zagreus. For one thing, the story is very long; it’s the longest entry to date in the main range, at three hours and fifty-six minutes, and the second longest in all of BF’s Doctor Who audio dramas. (Only UNIT: Dominion–which is excellent, and which I hope to cover eventually—is longer, by a measly two minutes.) If the average main range audio is a serial, and the average Eighth Doctor Adventures story is a NuWho episode, then Zagreus is a feature film, or possibly a trilogy of films. For another thing, the story takes many familiar actors and scrambles them like eggs (via new roles); the resulting omelette is…well, it is definitely different.

Zagreus picks up where Neverland–which feels like a very long time ago to me; I covered it more than a year and a half ago)–left off, just after the TARDIS and the Doctor absorb the explosion of the anti-time casket. This transforms the Doctor’s mind into a strange, raging beast that takes the name and identity of the mythical Zagreus. Most of the story then proceeds inside the TARDIS, and also on a place called the Foundry of Rassilon, which is at least nominally located on Gallifrey. The Doctor, Zagreus, and the TARDIS all battle their respective foes and selves to establish their identities. At the end, it is discovered that there is another hand at work in these events; and in the end, the characters are—for the most part—saved from destruction. However, the Doctor still is not rid of the anti-time infection; and he cannot be allowed out into the universe any longer. If he makes contact with the normal universe, the infection will escape, and bring all of time to an end (or worse: a state of never having been). Instead, he chooses exile in the anti-time universe, called hereafter the Divergent Universe after the name of its dominant species, the Divergence. Unknown to him, Charley Pollard chooses to go with him.

Most actors appear in different roles, as I have mentioned; but a few appear as their usual characters. Lalla Ward appears as President Romana; Louise Jameson appears as Leela; John Leeson, as K9 (Romana’s K9, in this instance; Leela and Sarah Jane, of course, have their own, who do not appear here). Miles Richardson appears very briefly as Cardinal Braxiatel, and Don Warrington appears as Rassilon. Charley Pollard is the true central character of the story, and as such, India Fisher appears in her usual role; and Nicholas Courtney, while not appearing as the actual Brigadier, appears as a simulation thereof. As well, posthumous voice clips of Jon Pertwee (taken from the Devious fan production) were used to reproduce the voice of the Third Doctor, though he does not appear corporeally in this story. The entire cast, with roles, can be found on the story pages for Zagreus at the TARDIS wiki and at Big Finish’s site. Of special interest is that Big Finish’s site does not credit Paul McGann as the Doctor, but only as Zagreus, though he fills both roles. This is the first appearance in audio of both Leela and K9, though both will go on to figure prominently in the Gallifrey series and other places. Likewise, Braxiatel appears for the first—and only—time in the main range here, though he too will appear in Gallifrey. The story is a three-parter, and only four actors—Peter Davison, Nicholas Courtney, India Fisher, and Paul McGann—appear in all three parts. More sadly, it is Elizabeth Sladen’s only appearance in the main range, and her only work with any of the Doctor actors in Big Finish, due to her untimely death.

I’ve described this story as trippy, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s hard to follow. It flows very directly, with two parallel plot threads (one for the Doctor/Zagreus, one for Charley). However, the story is filled with mindscapes and illusions and visitations by past Doctors; in that sense, it can be thought of as a sort of bookend for The Eight Doctors. Both the Doctor and Charley are subject to these visions; and, given that they provide the viewpoints for the story, it becomes a little difficult to know what is real and what isn’t. (Here’s the cheater’s version: almost everything in parts one and two is illusory—though valid and important; there are few red herrings here—while part three is reality.) At first the story feels as though it’s wandering; it tells several narratives that don’t seem to be related to anything. I didn’t have any trouble maintaining interest, though, as each narrative is well-told and interesting enough on its own. Soon enough, they all come together, as Zagreus—the monster, not the story—reaches its endgame.

The problems, I think, are twofold. First and foremost: this story is not what we were promised. Not that I’m saying that we, the audience, were literally promised anything; but the lead-up in the various preceding stories would have suggested something much different than what we ultimately got. Zagreus is supposed to be a universe-ending monster that consumes the unsuspecting and undoes time itself; but when you consider that the entire story occurs within the confines of the TARDIS (or the second location, which is also confined), with no one in danger but the Doctor himself, it quickly becomes apparent that Zagreus is sort of a joke. Were he to be unleashed on the universe, he might become the promised monster; as it is, he’s a Schrodinger’s Cat of unrealized potential. Indeed, the story itself uses the same metaphor in part one, and it’s very apt. It subverts the usual Doctor Who trope of the universe-ending catastrophe, but it doesn’t feel clever for subverting it; it just feels like we were a bit cheated. The second problem is related: this is, for better or worse, an anniversary story; and we’ve come to expect something exceptional from an anniversary story. (Well, perhaps not as much as we expect it after The Day of the Doctor, but still…) As the Discontinuity Guide puts it: “Oh dear. An eighteen-month wait – for this!” I’m not sure what I would have done differently; but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.

Still, it’s not entirely out of step with Big Finish’s other stories; and we did just come off of a run of experimental stories. Perhaps Zagreus is best thought of as the last of those stories, rather than as an anniversary story; in that regard it fits right in. For me, the worst part is that I greatly suspect that Zagreus–the monster, not the story–will turn out to be forgotten and never mentioned again. You can’t just create a universe-ending threat and then pretend it didn’t happen–but it won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. So much wasted potential!

Continuity: There are a great many continuity references here, and I can’t be sure I’ve found or compiled them all. Charley has met the Brigadier before, in Minuet in Hell; Romana also has done so, in Heart of TARDIS. This story proposes that Romana and Leela are meeting for the first time; but this contradicts the events of Lungbarrow, which takes place at the end of the Seventh Doctor’s life, and which makes it clear that they have known each other on Gallifrey for some time. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS briefly as Bessie (last seen in Battlefield). The Doctor finds a copy of Through the Looking-Glass; Ace previously read it in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible. There are hints that Project Dionysus (seen in one of the simulations) was under the auspices of the Forge (Project: Twilight, et al). The Brigadier paraphrases the Doctor from The Five Doctors regarding being the sum of one’s memories—a quote he shouldn’t know, but…spoilers! The Yssgaroth get a couple of mentions (State of DecayThe Pit). The Doctor sees a vision of the planet Oblivion (Oblivion), the Oracle on KS-159 (Tears of the Oracle), the removal of one of his hearts (The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) and a crystal Time Station (Sometime Never, and possibly Timeless). The effect of all of these latter visions is to place the novel series—from which all of them are drawn—in a separate continuity from the audios, which allows for various noted contradictions going forward. Likewise, another vision shows the Time Lords with great mental powers (Death Comes to Time).

The Sisterhood of Karn appears, though not by name (The Brain of Morbius, et al). The TARDIS has a history of generating sentient avatars (A Life of Matter and DeathThe Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe). Gallifrey has a watchtower (The Final Chapter). The statue from Sivler Nemesis is mentioned, as well as Rassilon’s various accoutrements and the De-Mat Gun (The Invasion of Time). The Oubliette of Eternity is mentioned (Sisterhood of the Flame). Cardington appears in a vision (Storm Warning). The Doctor mentions meeting Rasputin (The WandererThe Wages of Sin). Charley mentions the Doctor escaping from Colditz Castle (Colditz), which she did not witness, but the Doctor has mentioned. The Doctor refers to John Polidori (Mary’s Story). Charley and Leela have met before, but do not remember (The Light at the End). The Fifth Doctor paraphrases the Fourth Doctor from Logopolis: “I very much fear that the moment’s not been prepared for.” The Tower of Rassilon appears, along with the Death Zone (The Five Doctors). Fifth Doctor lines from Warriors of the Deep and The Caves of Androzani are also quoted, as well the Seventh Doctor from Survival: “If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!” Gallfrey will in the future be empty (Dead RomanceHell Bent). The Doctor suggest that power will corrupt Romana; this comes true in The Shadows of Avalon. The Doctor mentions a beryllium clock (TV movie). Vortisaurs are mentioned (Storm Warning, et al). Transduction inducers are first mentioned in The Deadly Assassin. The Rassilon Imprimature—mentioned here, but not by name—is first mentioned in The Two Doctors. The TARDIS has a back door (LogopolisGenocide). Various monsters are mentioned in quick succession—Mandrells, Hypnotrons, Drashigs, Daleks, Yeti, Quarks.

Overall: Not a bad story. I enjoyed it quite well. On the other hand, it’s definitely not what I expected—if I expected anything. Certainly it feels more appropriate as an experimental story than as an anniversary story, as I mentioned. Most importantly, it serves to get the Doctor and Charley into the Divergent Universe, where they will spend the next several adventures. It’s a story I am glad to have heard once, but I probably won’t come back to it. Still, it’s unique, and I can’t say I regret it. Moving on!

Next time: Well, that was a lot to take in. We’ll take a break with the Sixth Doctor (and introduce another popular character, Iris Wildthyme!) in The Wormery. 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.

Zagreus

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Audio Drama Review: The Death-Dealer

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re continuing our look at Short Trips, Volume I with the Fourth Doctor’s contribution: The Death-Dealer! Alternately titled, simply, Death-Dealer, this story was written by Damian Sawyer, and read by Louise Jameson; it features the Fourth Doctor and Leela, and appears to take place early in Leela’s travels with the Doctor. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume I

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

The Doctor and Leela have arrived at a bazaar on a new world, and are engaging in a little shopping. Leela wrestles with the idea of money, as her people haven’t advanced beyond simple barter; but she takes a handful of credits from the Doctor anyway, and tries her hand. While the Doctor visits a sweets dealer in search of jelly babies, Leela wanders around. She spots a merchant—Jason, as she later finds his name to be—carrying a small but functional knife which catches her eye; and it’s only fifty credits! Despite the Doctor’s dislike of weapons, she hasn’t been actually forbidden to own any…and so she pays the man. However, instead of handing her the knife, he stabs her with it! As her life fades, apparently from poison on the blade, the Doctor sees what is happening, and comes running.

The Doctor makes such a scene over Leela’s death that a local policeman is forced to intervene. He seems alarmingly undisturbed by the murder; in fact, he denies that any murder has taken place, and insists that Leela has paid for a perfectly legal death experience. The policeman and Jason realize that the Doctor doesn’t understand what is happening…and suddenly, Leela returns to life, with her wound fully healed. She instantly attacks Jason, holding a deadly Janis thorn to his throat, until the policeman and the Doctor intervene.

Jason explains. His knife contains an efficient poison; but it also contains microscopic nanobots which heal, restore, and reactivate the victim. It is a highly prized service, this “death-dealing”; for when one experiences death, it changes her perspective, and teaches her things about herself that she may not otherwise know. En route back to the TARDIS, Leela talks about her experience, and the appreciation for life that she has gained in its wake. The Doctor muses that he, too, knows something about coming back from the dead—having done it several times, after all—and acknowledges her lesson.

Short Trips Volume I 1

Second only to Rise and Fall, I find this story to be the most memorable of Volume I’s entries. It seems to take place early in Leela’s travels with the Fourth Doctor, as her grasp of things as simple as money is still at a very tribal level; it definitely takes place after The Face of Evil, and I would place it also just after the second entry in season one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, The Renaissance Man, as that is the point at which the Doctor has just declared his intention to educate Leela. This story seems to be an early part of that effort—but the Doctor gets an education here, as well.

We aren’t given a location. We know it’s a trade world of some sort; the Doctor comments that foodstuffs don’t grow here, but are imported. The unit of currency is the credit, which is such a common name that it tells us nothing. Nor are we given a time period; however, as the Doctor expects to find jelly babies for sale, we can guess that it is at a point far enough into Earth’s future for Earth to have interstellar trade. We also don’t get many continuity references here. There’s a general reference to regeneration, which is a concept with which Leela would not be familiar at this time. Leela is still carrying Janis thorns (The Face of Evil). The nanobots on the knife with which Leela is stabbed aren’t called nanogenes, but are similar in function to the nanogenes seen in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and also to the healing nanites aboard the TARDIS (The Shadow of the Scourge).

Overall: This story, like Rise and Fall, is a contemplation of mortality. In fact, the two stories are very similar; they’re a microcosm of tragedy and its meaning, and the only real difference between the two is the perspective of the Doctor’s companion. In Rise and Fall, the companion (Ian) is outside the situation along with the Doctor; in The Death-Dealer, the companion (Leela) experiences the tragedy firsthand. As such, both are somber and reflective stories; but where Rise and Fall ended with sadness, The Death-Dealer ends on a hopeful note. It’s a beautiful complement, and I enjoyed it greatly.

Next time: Enough seriousness—we’ll move over into the realm of the comedic with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in The Deep! 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.

Short Trips, Volume I

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Audio Drama Review: The Oseidon Adventure

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Oseidon Adventure, the conclusion to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, series one. Let’s get started!

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

Oseidon Adventure 1

Immediately following the events of Trail of the White Worm, the Doctor and Leela watch as the white worm transforms into a spatial wormhole, and the Master calls his allies through.  Many tanks come through the wormhole, until the Master stops the rain, causing the procession to stop.  The tanks are occupied by Kraals of the Second Kraal Army—and they are led by Marshal Grinmal, who remembers how the Doctor destroyed the first army.  The Master offers the Doctor as a gift to the Kraals, who summon their deadly android servants.  The Doctor sends Leela away as the Androids take him down; she promises to return with allies and weapons.  The Master sends Spindleton in his own tank to recapture her.  Grinmal wants to take the Doctor back to their homeworld of Oseidon, but the Master wants to kill him now; the androids intervene and disarm the Master, taking away his staser; they then send the Doctor back through the wormhole to their chief scientist, Tyngworg.  Meanwhile, Spindleton loses Leela in the woods, and sends his helicopter to find her.  The Kraals bring the Master back to the house with Spindleton.  Grinmal negotiates with Spindleton, who wants to rule England when the Kraals conquer the rest of the world; Grinmal approves the plan, and imprisons the Master in the stables; he swears revenge.

Leela uses a horse from the stables to trample the androids guarding the Master. He tries to hypnotize her, but she slaps him, breaking the spell; she frees him, intending to make him fly the TARDIS to rescue the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Spindleton and Grinmal confer about strategy, and Spindleton wants them to attack the local village, Dark Peak, as an example to the surrounding country.  Spindleton wants to burn it, but Grinmal suggests a matter-dissolving bomb.  On Oseidon, the Doctor is restrained by Tyngworg; he jokes about having been strapped to that table before.  Tyngworg intends to drain off the Doctor’s knowledge with an analyzer device, as his predecessor once tried to do; it will take eight minutes.  Outside Spindleton’s house, Spindleton and Grinmal see Leela and the Master race by on one of Spindleton’s prize horses; Spindleton prevents Grinmal from shooting them, for fear of hurting the horse, assuming that the army will hem them in.  Grinmal dispatches the army toward Dark Peak.  Leela gets the Master to the TARDIS, but the Kraals are guarding it; therefore Leela takes Master and the horse through the wormhole to Oseidon.  Beholding the ruined landscape, the Master explains that the surface is radioactive; he suggests that the Doctor is in the nearest of the Kraals’ underground bunker.  Unknown to them, Tyngworg is monitoring the area, and overhears the plan.

The Master and Leela find the Doctor, who is disoriented and calls Leela “Tilly”; he explains about the transfer (or rather, copy) of his knowledge. Tyngworg is monitoring the cell as well, and hears the Doctor tell Leela that the Master will be dropping in on Tyngworg, and that therefore they should go there as well.  Moments later, the Master arrives, but Tyngworg is on his side; Tyngworg mentions that the Doctor in the cell is an android duplicate, which does not know it is a duplicate.  Tyngworg insists he is aware of events on Earth.  The Master tries to hypnotize him, but is unsuccessful, and finds that he himself is an android; Tyngworg is the real Master in disguise.  He sheds the disguise and destroys the duplicate.  The real Doctor is still on the table; he congratulates the Master on his success; however, the Master still intends to kill him.  First, however, he resumes Tyngworg’s voice and calls Grinmal for an update; Grinmal reports that Spindleton has delivered a slightly-eccentric ultimatum to the British government.  He also reveals that UNIT is approaching, and the Master orders him to detonate the bomb as soon as UNIT arrives, even if the ultimatum has not been answered.  When Grinmal objects, he activates an override code for the androids, ordering them to return to Dark Peak and activate the bomb.  The Doctor congratulates him again, but then says it may have been a mistake to leave him connected to the analyzer; his ongoing experiences are still being fed to the android duplicate, so that it knows everything now.  The android arrives to attack, but is shot down at once; but the Doctor is not deterred.  Instead, his duplicate had taken the opportunity to create a Tyngworg duplicate, which is even now ordering the androids to disarm the bomb and attack the Kraals.  The Master loses contact with Grinmal, but in retaliation, he orders an autodestruct of the android Tyngworg.  He then moves to attack the Doctor, but suddenly funds that again, he is an android—and as he ceases to function, the real Master has yet to be seen.  Leela rejoins the real Doctor at the behest of the duplicate—and the Doctor wonders where the real Master is, and what he is doing, as the Kraal invasion seems to be a distraction.

On Earth, UNIT is mopping up the Kraals and the androids, but they can’t find Spindleton, and astrange-colored blood trail leads into the woods. The duty officer at UNIT HQ hands the base over to the Master, and is killed for his trouble.  Spindleton and the Master infiltrate the Doctor’s old lab at UNIT, where Spindleton begins to rebel; however, the Master hypnotizes him and sends him out to join the guards.  On Oseidon, the Doctor and Leela create a new duplicate of the Master to interrogate.  The duplicate doesn’t believe he is an android, so the Doctor has him try (and fail) to hypnotize Leela; he lacks the psychic empathy field that real Time Lords possess, and therefore cannot do it.  Leela intends to melt him down, causing him to beg them to stop; the Doctor wants him to betray his original self, but he refuses.  The Doctor realizes that the wormhole is an integral part of the Master’s plan, but how?  He realizes the duplicates have the Master’s personality, but not his knowledge relevant to the current situation; therefore he looks at recently-deleted items in the Kraal computer.  He finds a file indicating that two types of harmless radiation, Z-radiation and O-radiation, can combine to create deadly ZO-radiation, which has the power of a billion neutron stars.  The Master duplicate realizes that the real Master wants this radiation to restart his regeneration cycle and become functionally immortal.  If he does so inside the wormhole, he will survive the process.  Oseidon is saturated with O-radiation; for the requisite Z-radiation, he turned to Earth, knowing that the Third Doctor once stashed a Z-radiation battery in UNIT HQ after failing to jump-start the TARDIS with it.  The android breaks free of its restraints, forcing the Doctor and Leela to run away.  The duplicate accesses the records to learn the real Master’s plan; but he finds a message from the real Master, who anticipated this possibility.  Accessing the deleted files activated a matter dissolution bomb under the lab, which will detonate in seconds.

Outside, Leela recovers the horse, and uses it to get them back through the wormhole to Earth. There they meet Captain Clarke, who is acting commander of UNIT while the Brigadier is away on business in Canada; the Doctor has him contact HQ, but he gets no response.  The Doctor realizes the Master must already be there, trying to steal the battery.  The Doctor persuades Clarke to order the convoy back to HQ; he takes Leela to recover the TARDIS and get there ahead of the soldiers.  He insists that if the Master has already succeeded, Clarke will meet him on the way back to the wormhole; the battery plays havoc with TARDIS navigation systems, forcing the Master to transport it by road.  At the TARDIS, they encounter Grinmal, who alone survived the betrayal.  Leela subdues him.  However, the Doctor hears a helicopter, and realizes that the Master is sending the battery through the wormhole in that manner.  As anyone aboard will die in the detonation, the Master can’t be there; and they only have until he arrives to recover the battery and seal the wormhole.  Grinmal realizes his world is about to be destroyed, and volunteers to help stop the Master; he takes Leela and goes to recover the battery, while the Doctor wants to find out how to seal the wormhole.  Meanwhile, Spindleton has arrived on Oseidon with one of his men and the battery; they set up in the mock village of Devesham that the Kraals use as a training center.

Using the TARDIS, the Doctor intercepts the Master, who admits to the plan. The Doctor tricks him into admitting that a temporal pulse will close the wormhole, as executable by any TARDIS.  However, the Doctor reveals that the ZO radiation cannot be controlled; he suggests that this Master as well is a duplicate, and that the real Master is waiting in orbit.  The Master draws a staser, and decides to kill the Doctor at once.  On Oseidon, Leela and Grinmal kill Spindleton’s man, and intends to recover the battery, but Spindleton reveals that it is very unstable, and will trigger if he falls on it.  He reveals his goal in the plan; the Master promised him a rebuilt country, filled with android duplicates which will obey him.  Spindleton shoots Grinmal.

The Doctor demands proof that this Master is genuine before he dies; he suggests that the real Master intentionally withheld knowledge about the uncontrollable nature of the radiation. The Master insists he is real because he can sense a Time Lord in the vicinity (a function of the psychic empathy field), whereas the Doctor doesn’t sense one.  The Doctor admits defeat.  The Master contacts Spindleton and reasserts his control over him; Leela sees this and attacks Spindleton, dragging him away from the battery.  The Master tells the Doctor he will activate the battery by remote; and he forces the Doctor toward the wormhole.  However, the android from the exploding lab comes through the wormhole, having escaped the blast with only some damage; the real Master fires on him, but staser blasts can’t hurt an android, and the duplicate captures him, leaving the remote with the Doctor.  The duplicate drags the real Master into his TARDIS, intending to force him to repair him and give him control of the TARDIS, as he now considers his android self to be the superior version of the Master.  The Doctor bids them goodbye, and takes his own TARDIS to Oseidon’s Devesham.  He finds Leela and Spindleton, and plans to take Spindleton to UNIT custody; but Spindleton intends to stay here, finding this mock village preferable to the real England.  He sends them away, but asks them to take the horse home and set it free; though it’s a magnificent horse, history reports that it was a famous stolen horse, and therefore they can’t return it to its original owners.  They depart in the TARDIS with the horse.

Oseidon Adventure 2

After a rocky start, the first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures ends strong in this story. We pick up immediately after the events of the previous entry, Trail of the White Worm, with the titular worm having transformed into a wormhole to the planet Oseidon, home of the mutated and militaristic Kraals. In typical Master fashion, what follows is a series of twists. The Kraals are known for one thing in particular; they create fantastic android duplicates which have not only the form of their victims, but also the personality. Therefore, once this story begins, it will be a long time before you know who is real and who isn’t. I won’t spoil it; but for once the twists are perfectly deployed. Once again we see the mock village of Devesham as deployed in The Android Invasion; and this time it ends up with a permanent human resident at the end (although, if he is not also an android, he may not last very long—a point that isn’t really addressed when the Doctor leaves him there).

This is a UNIT story, and as such it is hard to get a firm date. The promotional material indicates it takes place in 1979, but with the difficulty in dating UNIT stories near the end of the Brigadier’s tenure (due to contradictory statements within the classic series—the infamous “UNIT dating controversy”), it may actually have to be as early as 1975. UNIT HQ is mostly unchanged, with the Doctor’s things still in the lab. The Brigadier is still around, but is not seen here, being on assignment in Canada. The Master seen here is again the Geoffrey Beevers incarnation as seen up to The Keeper of Traken, indicating this story predates that serial, but comes after Dust Breeding. He’s at his best here, playing several conflicting versions of himself; with disguises and stasers and plots within plots, this is a story that harks back to the Master stories of the Fourth Doctor era very well, and even somewhat to the Third Doctor era.

Leela gets a better treatment here than in some of the earlier stories. I don’t mean to harp on the same point all the time, regarding the Doctor’s poor treatment of her; it’s just that it continues to be relevant! Here, however, there’s none of that for once (she does get called “Savage”, but by the Master this time, and his opinion hardly counts). She’s quite a force in this story: rescuing the Master, navigating the wormhole, freeing the Doctor, taking out the Kraal leader Grinmal, and then allying with Grinmal to recover the Z-battery, the story’s macguffin. She began the series weakly, but ends very strong, and I couldn’t approve more.

There’s one new bit of technobabble here, which adds to the lore of the series a bit: Time Lords possess a psychic empathy field, by which they recognize each other when close together, and by which the Master is able to easily mesmerize others. It’s been handwaved a bit in the past, but here it’s an integral part of the story.

References are mostly back to The Android Invasion, and I’ve covered most of them. The Doctor does refer to meeting the Master last on Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin); and the Master’s TARDIS is in the form of a grandfather clock, which it will still be as of The Keeper of Traken.

Overall: Great story, with little to complain about. If Series Two is this good, we have something to look forward to.

Oseidon Adventure 3

Next time: I’m debating between Series Two, with the Fourth Doctor and Romana I (played by Mary Tamm before her untimely death), and another range. We’ll find out next week. See you there!

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

The Oseidon Adventure

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Audio Drama Review: Trail of the White Worm

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, with the fifth entry, Trail of the White Worm. Written by Alan Barnes, this adventure guest stars Geoffrey Beevers. Let’s get started!

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

Trail of the White Worm 1

The Doctor and Leela land on a muddy day in England…and immediately step into the slimy mucus trail of a large worm. Moments later, it becomes clear that the creature is fleeing, as hunters with dogs and guns are following.  The hunters cut them off from the TARDIS, forcing them to hide in the high grass.  The hunters, Carswell and John, are searching for someone named Julie, and are momentarily stymied by the TARDIS—but the hunt continues.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela come to the abrupt end of the mucus trail; it ends at an electric fence, and it appears the creature went over.  The Doctor wonders if they are inside or outside the barrier.  Knowing they have the scent of the trail on them, Leela borrows the Doctor’s scarf to cross the fence, planning to distract the dogs and hunters while the Doctor escapes.  She taunts the hunters, before escaping herself.  They consider chasing, but decide against—it’s 9:00 AM, and one Colonel Spindleton is about to arrive…in a tank.  Overhearing this, the Doctor confronts them, seeking answers.

At some distance, Leela meets the elusive Spindleton—or rather, his voice, as he speaks through loudspeakers. He warns her she is trespassing, and is about to wander into a minefield.  He approaches in a Chieftain tank; he directs her attention to himself, on the balcony of a nearby manor house, and demonstrates that he is controlling the tank by remote.  He uses the tank’s machine gun for target practice, narrowly missing Leela, and then orders her to run as he “brings out the big gun”.

The Doctor works his way into the confidence of the hunters, who tell him that the creature took Julie. He offers to help them, but insists on recovering Leela first.  Carswell is suspicious of him, and implies that the creature can do unusual things, but withholds the details.  They are interrupted when the dogs locate something.  Meanwhile, Leela manages to outlast the tank’s fuel; but she takes advantage of its positioning—pointing its guns toward the house—to force Spindleton to help her locate and recover the Doctor.

The dogs have not found Julie. Instead, it’s a man, dead and missing a shoe; the Doctor notes that the man is dead by molecular extraction, essentially dessicated, and that no one on Earth has that capability.  As well, the mucus trail is nowhere nearby, meaning that they are not dealing only with the creature, but with a murderer.  While viewing the body, they are met by a woman, Demesne Furze, who quickly assesses the situation and realizes that the body was killed elsewhere, then transported here.  She reveals that she has Julie in the boot of her car, much to everyone’s surprise, and lets her out.  She admits to kidnapping the girl, but says she did it to bring her home safely, as the girl was attempting to hitchhike on the highway.  Julie tells Carswell—her uncle—that she was trying to run away to London, as she feels there is nothing for her in this town, Dark Peak.  Carswell calls off the search, and they insist on taking her home—but there is still the dead man to consider, and the Doctor thinks it may be beyond the constabulary…and what about Leela?  Demesne offers to take the Doctor to Lambton Hall, Spindleton’s manor house, as it is on her way back to town.

Leela meets Spindleton at the house, and asks to call the “blue guards,” the police. Spindleton shrugs it off, and shows off his collection of hunting conquests, but he is shocked when she asks him to hunt the creature with her.  However, when she calls it a “worm”, he instantly becomes excited, and agrees to help—but insists on telling his manservant first.  He shows her to the caves beneath the house.

Demesne and the Doctor discuss the “Great White Worm” and the legends behind it, as well as Spindleton’s Swahili manservant. The legends don’t match, however, as the “wyrm” in the legends is a dragon, not a worm.  Demesne drops him at the manor house.  In the caves, Leela and Spindleton view his weapon collection; then the manservant, Mwalimu, arrives, and disarms Leela.  She notes that he is hooded and cowled; he comments that although they allow a deception about it, Spindleton is the servant, and Mwalimu is the master.  The alarm sounds as the Doctor reaches the door, and Mwalimu sends Spindleton to deal with him.  On threat of death, he places Leela by a crack in the floor; she recognizes that the weapon he carries is not of Earth, and she notes fresh blood on the floor.  He tells her it is animal blood, from beasts given as food to the worm—and the worm is coming to feast on Leela.

The worm appears—and it speaks. It refuses to serve Mwalimu, and tells Leela to let it swallow her; it insists it will not harm her, and that she has no other chance.  When she mentions the Doctor, it refers to him as its savior.  She climbs on its back instead, letting slip that she is with the Doctor, which startles Mwalimu; she slides down the creature’s back to escape, and Mwalimu orders it after her.  It leaves, but still refuses to obey.  Spindleton returns and insists he sent the Doctor away; Mwalimu is troubled, and insists the Doctor can thwart their plans.  He sends Spindleton for reinforcements.

Julie sneaks out again in the afternoon, but is caught by John near Demesne’s residence. She ignores his pleas to return, and finds a hidden doorkey, then enters the house, prompting John to follow; she gives him the key.  She admits she is there to steal any valuables she can find, intending to finance her next attempt to run away.  John refuses to help her, until she informs him that his fingerprints on the key and his bootprints on the floor are enough to link him to her petty crimes.  They are interrupted by the Doctor.  John assumes he is a policeman, but he demurs; he admits he has been looking for Leela all afternoon, and that he thinks Spindleton was lying about not knowing where she is.  As if summoned, Spindleton’s tank arrives, and hails them, telling the Doctor that they are surrounded.  A helicopter arrives as well—Spindleton’s reinforcements, a group of mercenaries.  In the confusion, Julie runs off; John finds her when she screams, and she tells him she found bodies in the cellar.  Meanwhile, Spindleton says he is after Demesne; he insists she is actually the worm.  The Doctor is incredulous, until John and Julie return, and their story adds weight to Spindleton’s.

Deeper in the caves, Leela encounters Demesne, who recognizes her from the Doctor’s description. She leads Leela out via an exit to the churchyard.  Outside, Demesne and Leela see the helicopter Demesne determines to help the Doctor.  Leela insists on helping, as the Doctor needs to know about Mwalimu.  Demesne knows about him, and says he is a Time Lord, like the Doctor; she says she can smell the vortex on them, though the comment seems lost on Leela.  Demesne transforms into the white worm.

Spindleton takes the Doctor, Julie, and John in custody, and begins marching them back to the manor house to meet Mwalimu, giving them a lecture about the social situation along the way. He refers to Mwalimu as “the Master”, though the Doctor doesn’t react to it.  The worm overtakes them, and the mercenaries fire on it, to no effect.  The Doctor confronts the worm by name as Demesne; she doesn’t deny it, and swallows the Doctor whole.  He isn’t killed, however, and finds Leela inside it as well, unharmed.  As they confer, he states that the worm is engineered, but to what purpose?  Demesne can hear them, and he questions it, guessing most of the worm’s history.  She admits its original purpose was to dig tunnels—literal “wormholes”—in spacetime.  She knows the Master wants her for that ability, but she does not know why.  She does know that creating the tunnel he desires will consumer her completely—an ouroboros of sorts.  It appeals to him to take it away from here, and says it will digest them if he does not.  He resents the blackmail, but considers it…

Spindleton returns to Mwalimu—or rather, the Master—and reports the Doctor’s death, but the Master is sure he is alive, given that the worm referred to him as its savior. He realizes what the worm must want.  He contacts unknown allies, and assures them the wormhole will be open soon.

Outside, the Worm expels the Doctor and Leela in the churchyard. Leela finds Demesne’s skin; the worm takes it back like clothing, and resumes human form.  She offers to take them back to the TARDIS, but the Doctor insists on dealing with the Master first.  He sends Leela to find the police and summon UNIT, giving her a string of code words.  As she goes, a thunderstorm looms; Demesne seems unusually unnerved by it.  En route to the village, Leela encounters John and Julie, who nearly make her forget the code words; Leela gives them the (now slightly altered) message, and sends them in her place, then returns to help the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Demesne insists to the Doctor that the storm is not natural.  The Master meets them, backed up by Spindleton in his tank, and demands the worm.  Leela arrives, and is shot at by Spindleton, but dodges the shell.  The Master gloats that UNIT will be too late, and reveals a device that summons the storm; he summons lightning to strike Demesne, electrocuting her and triggering her transformation, not just into the worm, but into the wormhole.  As Demesne dies, the wormhole opens.

Trail of the White Worm 2

Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and Michael Cochrane (Spindleton)

 

It’s always interesting when the Master pops up! This story is no exception. The villainous Time Lord has appeared in the audios before—as I write this, I just recently reviewed his first appearance in the Main Range, in Dust Breeding—but this is his first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures; and as such, it takes us back into history a bit. Geoffrey Beevers plays the part, just as he did in Dust Breeding, playing the decayed version that we last saw onscreen in The Keeper of Traken. From the Doctor’s perspective, that hasn’t happened yet, as this story takes place in Leela’s tenure. We know that everything in this season must happen after The Talons of Weng-Chiang, courtesy of some definite references in the season opener; and it’s probably a safe bet that the entire season happens between Talons Horror of Fang Rock, as no mention has yet been made of any of the events of television season fifteen. As well, it seems that the stories in this season flow continuously from one to the next, with only enough gap to account for sleep and travel times.

The Master follows his old habit of using an alias that is a play on the word “master” in some way. In this case, “Mwalimu” is Swahili for “master”, or alternately “teacher”. This time however, he doesn’t bother disguising his appearance (beyond wearing robes), as he wasn’t expecting the Doctor to appear. Leela encounters him first, but as this is her first meeting with him, she doesn’t recognize him. He is a little less decayed than before; he attributes this to the Master’s absorption of energy from the Eye of Harmony during the events of The Deadly Assassin, allowing the Master to heal to some degree. From a meta perspective, this is done to account for the difference in appearance between Peter Pratt’s version of the Master as seen in The Deadly Assassin and Beevers’ version as seen in The Keeper of Traken. He’s working with accomplices here (other than Spindleton, that is), but we won’t find out who until the next entry.

The White Worm is hardly the first shape-changing, sometimes human monster we’ve had—they’re a dime a dozen in Doctor Who, including the likes of Richard Lazarus (The Lazarus Experiment), the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons, et al), various werewolves (Tooth and Claw, Loups-Garoux, et al), and many others. I think it is the first I’ve encountered, however, which is both content with its situation and basically good. The worm’s human alter-ego doesn’t want to cause any trouble; it just wants to be left alone. Of course, the Master won’t allow that. The creature uses a skin suit for concealment, much like the Slitheen (Aliens of London, et al), presumably with some form of compression as well, as the worm is big enough to swallow both the Doctor and Leela. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Worm; it’s misunderstood more than anything else, and though the Doctor tries to save it, it meets a bad end. It’s also the victim of “Unknown Species Syndrome”, that common Doctor Who affliction wherein a creature is of artificial origin, but its original creators are unknown, dead, or otherwise absent; for comparison, see the Fearmonger (The Fearmonger), the Warp Core (Dust Breeding), the clockwork robots (The Girl in the Fireplace, although they were possibly made by humans), and many others. Whether its motives are innocent or not, it does kill to survive; the dessicated, drained bodies it leaves behind are very reminiscent of the similarly-drained bodies in the BBC Fourth Doctor audio series Demon Quest.

This is a much better story for Leela, and she gets to be the badass she was born to be. She faces down a tank, then Spindleton, then the Master, then the Worm, and comports herself well under pressure in every case, even though she really has no clue what she’s up against. It seems the best way for Leela to have a good story is to let her get separated from the Doctor…well, I suppose that didn’t work out so well in Energy of the Daleks, so maybe not. Still, she puts in a good performance here. After several Leela audios, my only issue is that she sounds considerably older than she did in her television appearances. That’s to be expected, I suppose, given Louise Jameson’s age, but then, it doesn’t seem to happen much with other Big Finish actors, who routinely play much younger characters. I can’t help picturing her at her current age, or at least somewhere in between, when I hear her in the audios. Still, she always plays the role well.

We don’t get much in the way of references here, beyond what I’ve already covered. UNIT gets a mention; the Doctor gives Leela a string of code words and sends her to call UNIT for assistance (or rather, call the authorities, and hopefully UNIT’s monitoring systems will catch the code string). Leela refers to some events of this season, most notably that she met the Romans (Wrath of the Iceni; this is another similarity between this season and Demon Quest, in which she met a Roman-era Celtic tribe and a would-be Roman emperor). Beyond that, it’s a relatively reference-free story.

Not a bad story overall; not the best of the season, either (so far, that would be Energy of the Daleks, with Wrath of the Iceni close behind). We’ll reserve final judgment until we get the season finale under our belts. It’s a fun story, and gets bonus points for the Master, even if he is a bit underused.

Trail of the White Worm 3

Next time: We’ll finish up the series with The Oseidon Adventure! 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.

Trail of the White Worm

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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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Audio Drama Review: Energy of the Daleks

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Energy of the Daleks, the fourth entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. This audio drama was written and directed by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs, and stars Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. Let’s get started!

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

Energy of the Daleks 1

An astronaut named Damien Stephens is about to make a spacewalk from his shuttle to a base on the moon—but his vitals are not right. Nevertheless he plunges ahead.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela are preparing to land in 21st-century London.  Leela has dressed for the occasion, at the Doctor’s direction, but the TARDIS’s sensors indicate something is not right about their destination.  The Doctor lands them in the year 2025; for once they are noticed immediately, but the first observer they encounter is surprisingly nonplussed.  The man indicates that a protest is about to take place, however, intriguing the Doctor, who takes Leela to watch.  Aboard the moonbase, Stephens arrives and meets crew members Lydia Harding and Kevin Winston, who have made some minor adjustments to the control systems.  Stephens is noticeably tired, and asks for his quarters to rest before the system’s test run.  As he sleeps, he hears strange, mechanized voices in his head. Lydia and Kevin discuss Stephens’ strange behavior, and Lydia persuades Kevin to illegally access the security camera in Stephens’ quarters so they can monitor his health.  They find him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep—“I must obey!”.  The system mysteriously shuts off.  Stephens finds himself transported back to his office in GlobeSphere Corporation’s headquarters, where he is confronted by Daleks.  Shortly afterward, Lydia finds Stephens in his quarters, refreshed and ready to begin the test.

The Doctor and Leela find the protest, which includes thousands of people, all of whom are protesting the treachery of “Globesphere”, the GlobeSphere Corporation. The sight of a large holographic screen makes the Doctor realizes he has landed in the wrong time again; he was aiming for 2015, but has brought them to 2025.  He locates an access terminal for the holographic internet; it doesn’t recognize him at first, but he uses his sonic screwdriver to gain access.  He researches GlobeSphere, and learns that the date is 30 January 2025.  The Earth, it seems, is in the grip of an energy crisis—but GlobeSphere, under Damien Stephens’ leadership, intends to solve it.  The Doctor is distracted by an announcement from the protest—one Jack Coulson is about to take the stage.  Coulson’s speech takes place in front of the National Gallery, which now has a huge energy receiver on its roof.  Coulson’s speech is primarily economic, decrying the increased prices that are projected to accompany the transition to GlobeSphere’s new energy source, and the shortages that will result in the meantime, which may cause many deaths.  Just before the crowd can become a mob, a private security force arrives to disperse the crowd, and the crowd turns to conflict, forcing the Doctor and Leela to separate.  Leela is arrested by one of the security officers, whom she finds she is unable to hurt despite her best efforts.  The Doctor, meanwhile, locates Coulson and shows him an energy reading coming from the National Gallery; he escorts Coulson away from the scene.

Leela is taken for processing, but she is unable to answer her captor’s questions, and finds that he behaves as though drugged. The man uses soundwaves to temporarily incapacitate her.  A security scan reveals that she is a time traveler; and the men—the Robomen, to be precise—report it to the Daleks.  She is taken before the Daleks, who use a cerebral probe on her to gain more information.  They question her about her time travel and history; but she is mostly able to resist at first.  However, she is unable to avoid revealing that she is with the Doctor.  Meanwhile, the Doctor talks with Coulson about his history with Stephens; they used to be partners, until Stephens abruptly went off on his own to found GlobeSphere.  Stephens’ advancements are brilliant, but perhaps too brilliant; in their past, Coulson was the intelligent one, while Stephens was the radical.  Further, Stephens gave up his radicalism when he founded GlobeSphere.  A news dispatch reveals that the protest has been dispersed.  The Doctor decides to infiltrate GlobeSphere in search of Leela and the source of the anomalous readings.  He gets Coulson inside the National Gallery via a WWII-era evacuation tunnel.  He determines the energy readings are anomalously high for this era; and Coulson tells him the first test of the system is expected to start at any time.  At the same time, the Daleks detect their entry, and conclude the Doctor is on the scene.

The test of the energy transmission system commences. On Earth, the Doctor hears the Daleks announce his presence to their troops in the building, and he realizes the energy readings are consistent with a Dalek timeship.  On the moon, Kevin realizes the energy levels are far too high, much higher than anticipated; but Stephens assures them it is according to plan.  Kevin and Lydia are not convinced; and suddenly a transmission comes through.  The Daleks congratulate Stephens on doing well, and announce the beginning of the destruction of the human race.

Coulson is shocked to learn a little of the alien origins of the Daleks; but there is no time to discuss it. The Doctor and Coulson witness the Robomen guards, and the Doctor concludes that the timeship is small, with perhaps half a dozen Daleks.  He realizes, as well, that Leela must have been interrogated, and will be inside the timeship.  Coulson has little choice but to go with him; but first, the Doctor borrows Coulson’s “little TV” (a smartphone or datapad, presumably).  Inside the timeship, the Daleks release Leela from her bonds.  She insults them, and insists that the Doctor will defeat them; but they decide to have her robotized.  They have the Robomen place her in the robotizing unit for conversion. She is at first able to resist the control wave, but the Robomen increase the power accordingly.

On the moon, the test ends, and Lydia and Kevin question Stephens about the high energy levels; at that level, and worldwide, they would be a hundred times the amount of energy needed by humanity. However, Stephens has set the controls to maximum, and started the countdown.  In the National Gallery, the Doctor encounters some Robomen, and uses the television device to overload the microwave control signal, disabling them.  He and Coulson disguise themselves in the Robomen uniforms and make their way to the chamber where Leela is imprisoned, encountering more Robomen along the way; it seems Leela is causing trouble with the robotizing process.  The Doctor again uses the TV device to disrupt the control wave, and frees Leela from the machine, introducing her to Jack.  He discovers a Janis thorn in the back of a dead Roboman; the Doctor scolds Leela for using them, but not harshly, as the Robomen are mostly dead already.    The Doctor searches for the energy source, and finds it is close by, about a hundred yards away.  However, a Dalek enters the room and catches them; the Doctor, Leela, and Jack get the Dalek into the robotizing unit and activate the machine at full power.  The Dalek becomes briefly compliant under the effect of the machine, and the Doctor interrogates it.  It reveals the Daleks are there to use the solar energy—focused from the moon—to destroy humanity.  It reveals a teleport (transmat unit) nearby, connecting to the moonbase.  The machine overloads and explodes, disabling the Dalek.

The Doctor, Leela, and Coulson hide from the Daleks in Stephens’ office; the Doctor reveals that the transmat unit is in the office—specifically, built into Stephens’ chair. As the Daleks break in, the Doctor activates the unit, teleporting the three of them away.  They arrive on the moonbase, in Stephens’ bed; Stephens is also there, but unconscious.  The Doctor disables the transmat, preventing the Daleks from following.  However, before he can do anything else, Kevin and Lydia discover their presence and take them into custody. Lydia recognizes Jack, giving the Doctor an opportunity to explain; he accurately describes the current situation. On Earth, the Daleks take their ship and set course for the moon to exterminate the Doctor.  En route, they send a signal to reactivate Stephens.  As Stephens awakens, the Doctor reveals that Stephens is a high-functioning Roboman.  Stephens recognizes the Doctor, lending credence to the Doctor’s explanation; this makes Kevin hesitate at obeying Stephens’ order to kill the Doctor.  Jack tries to get through to Stephens, but is unsuccessful, and the man runs from the room to obey his Dalek orders.  As the others follow, Kevin gets a message from the control center of the base, stating that the Daleks have arrived—and moments later, the control center crew are exterminated.  Shaken, Kevin leads the Doctor and the others to the energy transfer controls, where Stephens is accelerating the process.  Kevin and Lydia evacuate the rest of the crew while the Doctor deals with Stephens.  Leela convinces the Doctor to let Jack talk to Stephens again, as she knows it is possible to resist the Robomen control wave.

Jack distracts Stephens while the Doctor examines the layout of the transfer system. Jack successfully breaks through to Stephens’ buried emotions, but he is unable as yet to stop him from his work.  Meanwhile the Daleks are advancing on the transfer control room.  The Doctor realizes that the system, when fully active, will put a force field around the Earth; but why?  Stephens manages to reveal the Dalek plan:  the overpowered energy source will counteract gravity, expelling the moon from orbit, and thus causing massive meteorological changes that will exterminate humanity.  The Daleks arrive at that moment, and confirm this; they state that the controls are locked, but the Doctor insists on trying to stop the plan anyway.  Meanwhile, Leela can hear the sound of the Dalek timeship nearby.  The Daleks can’t fire on the Doctor, for fear of destroying the controls.  Stephens tells the Doctor to access the power grid of the directional controls, and the Daleks immediately exterminate them.  They threaten to kill Leela to get the Doctor to stop, and he is forced to do so.  The countdown reaches zero, and the transfer begins.  Exultant, the Daleks explain that they came back in time to ensure the extinction of humanity before their many future battles with the Daleks.  The Doctor orders his friends to cover their ears, and he activates the same sonic wave he used on the Robomen, disrupting the Daleks’ concentration and impairing their vision.  The Daleks retreat, still confident they have won.  The Doctor reveals that yes, the beam will still fire.

As the Daleks prepare to leave, they discover that the beam has been redirected at the timeship’s power source. The ship explodes, destroying the Daleks and damaging the base.  The Doctor tells the others what he has done, and credits Stephens with the final clue that allowed him to redirect the beam.  Jack mourns Stephens’ death, and the Doctor admits that he does not know if Stephens could have survived had he not been exterminated.  He reflects that there is a lesson to be learned from Stephens’ desire for a shortcut to the future.  He sets to repairing the transmat for return to Earth.

Energy of the Daleks 2

It’s that time again: the Daleks make their first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures! It’s not a bad Dalek story, either, serving as Leela’s first encounter with them. It’s very much in the classic mold; there’s no universe-sized threat here, but the destruction of Earth is at stake. The moonbase seen here—operated by energy research company GlobeSphere Corporation—is suggestive of the titular facility from the Second Doctor serial The Moonbase, but it can’t be the same, as that serial’s base was established in or around the year 2050, some 25 years after this story. Still, it indicates that the world’s space programs are well underway, and humanity is taking its first tentative steps outward from Earth.

We don’t delve very deeply into the science at stake here. The energy source being channeled to Earth is suggested to be solar, reflected by and collected on the moon; but it begs the question of why the moon is needed—wouldn’t it be more efficient to collect sunlight directly on Earth? Nor is the plan to negate the Earth’s gravity well explained—in fact, it hardly gets a breath’s mention in the dialogue. There’s no time to worry about it, however, because this story moves at what passes for breakneck speed in the Fourth Doctor era—the entire story, with the exception of GlobeSphere CEO and lead scientist Damien Stephens’ arrival and nap at the moonbase, probably covers no more than two or three hours.

The Robomen, first seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (and again in The Mutant Phase), appear here. We learn that they are controlled by a microwave carrier wave, and that this can be disrupted by certain sonic frequencies; as well, it can be resisted by a strong mind, with mixed results. We get a glimpse of the process by which humans are converted into Robomen, but it is interrupted before completion. Robomen have appeared in different forms in various stories; this story is the chronologically earliest appearance, but it’s not the earliest development of the technique, as the Daleks here are from an unspecified point in the future. Unlike the Dalek Invasion of Earth Robomen, the ones seen here can visibly pass for normal humans in a crowd, leading me to suspect that they are the later and more advanced version seen in the audio dramas The Human Factor and Project Infinity (which I have not yet covered). If this is the case, it would place these Daleks as originating after the year 4162, as noted in The Human Factor. Interestingly, Davros and Skaro get no mention here (a first for the Fourth Doctor’s adventures with the Daleks); you can interpret that as you may wish with regard to the Daleks.

Although it’s not the first story of the series, this is the first recorded; and as such it’s Tom Baker’s first appearance for Big Finish, as he does not routinely appear in the Main Range. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and his performance here is similar to the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures (Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest, Serpent Crest), which were recorded around the same time (2009-late 2011). As well, this is a better story for Leela, and the usual air of condescension between the two characters is greatly toned down. Susan Jameson doesn’t get a lot of dialogue here—Leela’s part is more minimal than in some of the other entries in the series—but she carries it well, getting at least a few good, humorous lines:

Coulson: Are you as barking mad as the Doctor?

Leela: I do not “bark.”

Coulson: …Oh. Right, then.

The supporting actors are good here, especially Mark Benton in the role of protest leader Jack Coulson. There’s an appearance by Dan Starkey, who is better known as the Sontaran Strax; here he plays a Roboman and also moonbase crewmember Kevin Winston.

Continuity references: Leela is still carrying and occasionally using Janis thorns (The Face of Evil, et al); here she uses them ineffectively on the Robomen, whom the Doctor states are nearly dead anyway. She mentions her previous visit to London (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and refers to the police as “Blue Guards” (many stories, but beginning in Talons). The Daleks refer to various human defeats of the Daleks in the future, which may include The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Daleks’ Master Plan, and many others, though it’s not specified. 2025 in London is a busy time for the Doctor, as he will reappear there in his seventh incarnation in Project: Destiny, and again in Black and White.

Overall, my impression of this story is that it’s very believable. I read in another summary that it seems Nicholas Briggs intended to evoke the Baker era, “with union protests, energy crises and general civil unrest”. That may well be, but in a similar fashion, it’s fitting for today’s world as we approach 2025—less than a decade away as I write this! We have a renewed focus on solar energy, research being made into wireless energy transfer, talk in recent years (here in America, at least) about returning to the moon, an internet that is on the verge of adapting to holographic technology, portable devices that can serve as televisions (among many other functions), and widespread protest movements. It’s not so farfetched to imagine this world arriving soon, sans Daleks and Time Lords of course. But there’s hope to be had, both in the real world and in this story, and the Doctor, as always, embraces that fact. This story doesn’t try to play the fear angle for the Daleks, instead focusing on the threat angle; and it works. The result is a good story, and possibly the highlight of the series (two-part finale pending).

Energy of the Daleks 3

Next time: We’ll get to the aforementioned two-part finale—and revisit another old foe—in Trail of the White Worm! 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.

Energy of the Daleks

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Audio Drama Review: The Wrath of the Iceni (take two!)

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Wrath of the Iceni, the third entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, this story is a notable and rare Fourth Doctor historical. I’ve reviewed it before, but it was only the second audio review I posted, and I hadn’t really worked out a format yet; nor did I have much background as to the audios from which to work. We’ve come a long way since then, and so I’ve decided to post a new review here, in the midst of series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures; but you can still read the original review here if you are interested. Let’s get started!

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

Wrath of the Iceni 1

The TARDIS materializes in a vacant field. The Doctor and Leela emerge and head toward a nearby wood.  The Doctor declines Leela’s suggestion that they return to the TARDIS, and explains that he intends this journey to be a part of her education; he wishes to track her ancestry via the local natives and gain information for her.  Nearby in the wood, two Romans are tracked down by the local warrior queen, Boudica of the Iceni tribe.  The Romans discover her, and kill her horse before threatening her.  They are interrupted by the Doctor and Leela, and Leela takes arms to assist Boudica; Boudica takes advantage of the situation to kill the two Romans.  She introduces herself; when the Doctor learns her identity, he changes his mind and tries to persuade Leela to return to the TARDIS.

Leela refuses, and Boudica supports her in it. To thank Leela for her loyalty, Boudica takes them back to her tribe’s encampment and offers them shelter and food.  When they at last obtain some privacy, Leela asks the Doctor why he was suddenly anxious to leave.  He explains the era in which they have landed: seventeen years ago, the Romans invaded the land that will one day be England, and bought off several local tribal rulers in order to ensure a peaceful conquest.  Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, was one of those rulers; in his will he divided his domain between the Roman Empire and his own daughters.  The Emperor, Nero, disregarded the will and claimed the entire kingdom; when Boudica raised objections, her daughters were taken and publicly raped, and she herself was flogged.  Now—if the Doctor has correctly pinpointed the date, and he is certain he has—Boudica is preparing to lead her tribe in an attack on the nearest Roman town.  History records that her campaign will end in a massacre of her tribe.

Leela insists that they must prevent the deaths of the Iceni, but the Doctor explains that history has fixed these events, and they cannot be changed. Leela doesn’t understand; they are here, now, and the events have not yet happened, and therefore she believes they can and should be changed.  When the Doctor insists, she refuses to listen; instead she goes to Boudica and offers her loyalty and assistance.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is approached by a servant girl named Bragnar. Having overheard his conversation, she believes him to be a seer; now, she wants him to save her tribe.  He explains that he cannot, as they are destined to fail; but perhaps he can save her.  To that end, he decides to take her to the TARDIS, and also to recover Leela if he can.  However, their conspiracy is overheard, and Boudica is informed.  She takes this as a sign of betrayal, despite Leela’s insistence on the Doctor’s good faith.  She heads into the forest on horseback with Leela, and intercepts the Doctor and Bragnar.  Boudica threatens to kill them, but is stopped by Leela, who insists that the Doctor can see the future; she explains that he has predicted that tomorrow’s battle will end in destruction.  Boudica decides to let him live; but she holds the Doctor and Bragnar prisoner instead, planning to extort from him the information she needs to win the battle.

Boudica and Leela overlook the targeted Roman town, Camulodunum; Boudica is confident it can be overrun. She insists that the Doctor can be made to give her more information.

The Doctor and Bragnar are tied up in a tent at Boudica’s orders, and lamenting their situation. Bragnar doesn’t wish anyone dead; she just wishes for peace.  Boudica returns and checks in with the guard, Caedmon, regarding the progress of the situation; he wants to torture the Doctor, but Boudica again forbids it.  Instead, she intends to use Bragnar to get the Doctor to speak.  Inside the tent, Bragnar has grown tired of the Doctor’s banter, when Boudica and Leela arrive; Leela has him untied, but Boudica keeps Bragnar bound.  Boudica demands answers about his prophecy of destruction, and how the Iceni will be defeated.  When he won’t elaborate, Boudica says she will find her own omens…in Bragnar’s entrails.

The Doctor gives in to save Bragnar’s life. He explains that Camulodunum is sparsely guarded, but that it is a decoy; though the attack there will be successful, Governor Paulinus is laying a trap for the Iceni, with his armies held to the north.  When the city is taken, he will return and hem in the Iceni inside the city, then destroy them.  Satisfied, she leaves him in the tent, bound again, and orders a reinforcement of her army’s rear guard; she orders the army to prepare to ride.  Leela is appalled that she won’t release him, but she insists she has many battles to fight, and will make him serve her for all of them.

Leela returns and confronts the Doctor, but leaves him in the tent. She insists that Boudica is a good woman, and declares that she will ride with the army.  To Caedmon’s satisfaction, she tells the Doctor that he must stay and give up his old life and serve as Boudica insists.  However, when Leela leaves with Caedmon, the Doctor tells Bragnar that it’s not what she said, but what she did—and what she did, was slip him her knife.  The Doctor laboriously cuts his own bonds, then Bragnar’s; he comments that Leela was really telling him to abandon her, not his own life.

The army gathers near the Romans encampment, and prepares to charge, though Leela expresses her doubts. Boudica gives a speech to rally her troops, and leads the charge.  The armies engage, and the battle begins.

The Doctor and Bragnar locate a pair of horses, and hurry toward Camulodunum; Bragnar is alarmed, but the Doctor insists he is going to rescue Leela, despite what she asked of him. Meanwhile, Leela is becoming more and more distraught at Boudica’s bloodthirst; she is ashamed to see the Iceni killing the aged, sick, women, and even those who had surrendered.  Boudica orders her troops to destroy the city’s temple and the final survivors inside, which include British slaves—Leela protests, as Boudica plans to kill them as well.  Leela confronts Boudica, and insists that the woman is fighting not for her country, but for revenge.  She declares that the Doctor was right—Boudica is not a good woman, and her battle is wrong.  She reveals that she released the Doctor, which Boudica takes as a betrayal.  Boudica attacks Leela, declaring that she has “scarce fought an equal”.

The Doctor and Bragnar arrive in the last of the battle, where they meet with Caedmon, who chases after them. Caedmon kills the Doctor’s horse; the Doctor sends Bragnar away for her safety, and confronts Caedmon.  Caedmon intends to defy Boudica’s order and kill the Doctor, blaming it on the Romans; but Bragnar doubles back and attacks Caedmon, unintentionally killing him.  They set off again to search for Leela.

Leela and Boudica are still battling, as the Doctor arrives. Boudica manages to strike her while she is distracted, but she is not badly hurt.  She orders the Doctor not to interfere; and moments later, she gets the advantage.  She refuses to kill Boudica, instead leaving her behind.  Boudica is undeterred; she refuses to consider herself defeated, and continues the larger battle.

On the road back toward the TARDIS, Leela and Bragnar discuss the battle. The Doctor admits that he didn’t tell Boudica the truth; there was no army coming from the north, and no defeat today.  Instead, it was a Roman massacre that took place, just as history had recorded.  However, in the future, Boudica will go on to fight other battles, which will lead to her ultimate defeat—not today, but on a day to come, when her pride and arrogance will leave her own army hemmed in to be slaughtered.  Leela admits that she may no longer have the stomach for slaughter, leading the Doctor to comment that her education may be progressing after all.  At the TARDIS, the Doctor explains how Boudica dies: facing death in battle, she kills her daughters, then poisons herself.  Violence brings its own end, it seems.  As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor considers that Leela has had enough education for now; it’s time for something different.

Years hence, Bragnar passes on her story to her own daughters as the sole survivor of her tribe.

Wrath of the Iceni 4

Historicals may have become rare in Doctor Who over the years, but at least they’re familiar, for the most part. Perhaps in part because of the programme’s origins in children’s television, it tends to stick to well-known parts of history. This one, however, covers a corner of history which I knew nothing about, and indeed had never heard of prior to my first time listening. That probably says more about the difference between American and British education than it does about Doctor Who; but still, it came as a rare surprise to me.

For any other American fans like me, who may not be familiar with the particulars of distant eras of British history, the titular Iceni were a British Celtic tribe, with this story—and presumably much of their history—ending around AD 60 or 61. Boudica was queen of the Iceni by necessity; her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the tribe, but of necessity become a partially independent ally of the invading Romans some seventeen years earlier. He intended for his daughters to rule after him and continue the alliance; but after his death the territory of the Iceni was claimed fully by Rome. Boudica protested, and was subsequently flogged; her daughters were publicly raped. Boudica then led the Iceni and some of their allies in revolt against the Romans, destroying Camulodunum (modern Colchester, according to Wikipedia) before moving on to Londinium (modern London), and in the process killing about eighty thousand Romans. However, they were eventually defeated by the Romans and practically wiped out, with Boudica either committing suicide or dying of illness (there is some debate). This story takes place in the earliest days of her campaign, just before and during the attack on Camulodunum. The Doctor and Leela fall in with Boudica quite by accident, but Leela is taken with her warrior ways, and chooses to help Boudica’s cause. The Doctor, meanwhile, knows how history plays out, and knows that helping the Iceni is futile; nevertheless, his knowledge slips out, and he is held prisoner as a seer. Toward the end, Leela realizes her mistake, but is in too deep to back off; therefore the Doctor, upon escaping, is forced to rescue her. He tells Boudica what she wants to hear, but cleverly hides the ultimate outcome, causing her to commit to her original plan without changing history. In the end, Leela cannot save the Iceni, but with the Doctor’s help, she saves one person—a woman named Bragnar, who survives to tell the story to her own daughters.

Over five decades, we’ve seen nearly every possible take on the idea that history cannot be changed. This episode is nothing new; it’s just very tragic. Then again, history itself is often tragic; and this story, at least, reports it as accurately as can be done when adding the Doctor to a story. We don’t watch or listen to these stories in order to see how the Doctor changes things; we listen to them to see the clever lengths to which he must go to prevent changing things. In that regard, this story is very reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii with the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; the Doctor would find it exceedingly simple to change things, but that change would most likely have catastrophic repercussions throughout the future. Therefore he has to work at not changing anything; and his task is made that much harder by a companion who wants more than anything to save everyone. The only answer that will allow him to maintain his identity as the Doctor, and yet preserve history (even with its tragedies!) is to do what he does in both stories: save someone.

As a reminder, this is still very early in Leela’s story. As far as can be told, this is only her seventh adventure with the Doctor. Thus he is still on his quest to educate her about her own species’ history. Boudica’s era is familiar territory to Leela, as she is also of a “savage” tribal background; therefore the Doctor is far less condescending toward her here than in most stories, because he knows he is surrounded by people just like her, who won’t put up with it (or understand it, probably). He does take the opportunity to give her the lesson about history being unchangeable, although without the level of technical detail he gives to more technically advanced companions. This is truly Leela’s story, not the Doctor’s, even though the screen time is about equally split between them; for the first time, she is the confident one, and she makes her own decisions. She may be wrong in the end, but seeing her take charge is practically majestic; and even the Doctor seems to acknowledge that.

Continuity References: Leela expressly says that history can be changed, despite what the Doctor says; this is a reference to The Foe From the Future, which, though an audio, is set immediately before The Talons of Weng-Chiang (and notably was originally written to be the series 14 finale, but was not produced). The Doctor’s observation (regarding Bragnar) that one person is unlikely to make a difference is also a reference to that story. He hates Morris dancers, which nearly killed him in The Daemons. He makes reference to the Morovanian Museum, and Leela mentions Reginald Harcourt (The Renaissance Man). He mentions his earliest encounter with Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and the extinction of the dodo (The Last Dodo–Doctor Who has a story for everything). A few future references are noteworthy, although I usually try to avoid them until we reach the stories involved and can look back: Leela claims her name has no meaning, contradicting several future audios (notably, The Catalyst); The Tenth Doctor and Donna will meet Boudica again in The Lonely Computer; the Doctor plans a trip to the 21st century (the next entry, Energy of the Daleks). Iris Wildthyme claims to have been at the siege of Colchester (or Camulodunum in this case; The Elixir of Doom). Boudica and the Iceni get a mention in Byzantium!.

Overall: It’s worth noting that this is the first pure historical for the fourth Doctor in any performance medium (and possibly still the only—I haven’t looked ahead at later series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, but we’ll find out as we get there). While it’s fairly straightforward—as I said, there are no great surprises here—that’s all it needs to be, being the first historical for him. The conflict between Leela and the Doctor is not new, and isn’t going away anytime soon—all in all, they are a bit of a one-note duo—but it’s done well here, and this story does more than any other I’ve encountered to make Leela’s point and make it sympathetic. Her way of life is valid; it’s just not always applicable. She’s a moral and noble and valiant character, and all of those strengths get showcased here; she just happens to be lacking a piece of relevant knowledge about history. It proves to be a hard and bitter lesson for her, but learn it she does.

Wrath of the Iceni 3

Next time: Energy of the Daleks! See you there.

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

The Wrath of the Iceni

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Audio Drama Review: The Renaissance Man

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Today we’re listening to the second installment, The Renaissance Man, written by Justin Richards and directed by Ken Bentley. Let’s get started!

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

renaissance man 1

A medieval history scholar is showing a fellow scholar around a castle.  He is struck down suddenly by a severe headache.

The Doctor is talking to Leela about the TARDIS’s gravitic drift compensator when they arrive at the Morovanian Museum on Morovania Minor, for the opening of the Renaissance exhibit—but they land in the wrong place, at a medieval-styled village near the museum.  They meet a dog, and the woman chasing it off—Professor Hilda Lutterthwaite, a renowned lepidopterist.  After mystifying Leela with her intellectual area of interest, she departs abruptly to the nearby museum.

The Doctor and Leela proceed to the museum, where they meet Reginald Harcout, his daughter Lizzie Harcourt, Christopher Manners, the maid, Beryl, and the butler, Jephson.  Reginald invites them to join in for tea, then to view the collection—“a collection of…everything”, as Reginald puts it.  Viewing the collection, Leela thinks something is wrong; she and the Doctor note spaces where things seem to have been removed.  Leela goes to see the armory, while Reginald takes the Doctor to view paintings.  From the paintings, they proceed to the library.

Manners and Lizzie take note of Leela’s proficiency and knowledge of weapons.  They are interrupted by Lutterthwaite, who is talking about her life’s work being gone.  Leela goes to find the Doctor, and Manners and Lizzie go to find Jephson.  The Doctor is in the library, where he is left alone; he notes that none of the books are older than fifty years.  Leela finds him and takes him to help Lutterthwaite; along the way, he is struck with a severe toothache.  He pushes the pain away, but they hear a gunshot from the armory; they find that Lutterthwaite has shot herself.  Christopher and Lizzie arrive, and the Doctor suggests checking the cameras; but Christopher and Lizzie cannot see the camera on the wall.

Paintings which were missing are now present.  Also, in the library, other items have appeared, including text in books which previously wasn’t there.  The Doctor notes that some of the information is incorrect, based on statements he himself made which were misunderstood.  At that time, the police arrive to view the body.

The officer that arrives…is *Inspector* Reginald Harcourt, accompanied by Sergeant Jephson.  The Doctor and Leela are stunned; why are these people now appearing in a different identity than that which they’ve already displayed, and acting as though they don’t recognize the Doctor and Leela?

The officers state that this is the third such incident this week.  However, Leela notices a door that wasn’t there before, and she and the Doctor take it.  Inside is a brand new room, filled with butterfly samples, including the one that Lutterthwaite was following.  Harcourt comes in, and claims ownership of the room; when the Doctor asks him about being a policeman, he calls it a hobby.  After some tense discussion, he calls for Jephson to arrest them; Leela knocks him down, and they escape.  Jephson chases them through the grounds and into the wood, accompanied by Manners, who is now a constable.  The Doctor and Leela elude the officers, who comment that they are heading toward ‘the castle”, but Leela slips away from the Doctor.

Leela finds a man in distress, who begs her for help.  (His voice identifies him as the afflicted man from the opening teaser.)  He says that if the others catch her, they will “take everything”.  He claims to be the doctor—but not the same Doctor—and is disoriented.  Meanwhile, he Doctor finds the castle, and meets Beryl there.  He doubles back and finds Leela and the other doctor, whom he recognizes as medieval scholar Dr. Henry Carnforth.  As they compare notes, the Doctor realizes that Harcourt and his associates are stealing the knowledge from the minds of those around them, including Lutterthwaite and Carnforth.  Suddenly, Leela realizes she is losing her memory of how to track their location—she too is being affected.  The Doctor realizes that calling this section a “Renaissance” section is a misnomer; “Renaissance” represents a new era of knowledge, and the museum’s systems are creating just that, by taking the knowledge from those on site.  However, where it should be making copies, it is taking the original data from the minds of those affected…and any number of scholars, great minds who can change the course of history, will soon be here.  The man who could control this system would become supremely knowledgeable—a true “Renaissance Man”.  However, he would also be extremely dangerous.  The Doctor assures Carnforth that his own mind is protected, and he leads them to the TARDIS.

At the TARDIS, he plans to tap into the museum systems and reverse the effects.  However, they are ambushed by Harcourt and Jephson.  Jephson assures him that nothing has gone wrong with the systems, however; and Harcourt says they will be arrested for the murder of Carnforth.  Carnforth is still alive…but Harcourt shoots him immediately, and arrests them.

Leela draws a knife, but the Doctor makes her give it up to Jephson.  Harcourt takes them back to his office at a local police station, where Lizzie is typing a report, and Beryl is serving as well.  Harcourt says that here, they collect people; he displays a book full of life stories of thousands of people.  Leela notes that the book seems to go on no matter how many pages you turn.  Jephson insists that the book includes everyone from this period, but the Doctor gives him another name, which is not in the book, causing consternation; the Doctor feeds them a long and colorful story about the unknown man.  Elsewhere, Manning and Lizzie now seem to have morphed into a surgeon and nurse; Manning comments that the Doctor is uncooperative, and orders preparation for surgery.

The Doctor gets a phone call from the dog they encountered upon arrival.  It makes no sense, but the Doctor concludes that this artificial reality is unraveling.  He argues that they should not take the knowledge from the arriving scholars, when they can have a copy instead.  Harcourt insists it doesn’t work as well as anticipated.  He states that they intend to continue accumulating knowledge, for the sake of what he can accomplish with it.  Manning arrives and takes the Doctor for surgery, as his knowledge can’t be removed the normal way.  Leela attacks Manning and frees the Doctor, and they run.

In a new room, they encounter a room full of bottled drinks; outside are a number of Spitfire planes.  Manners and Lizzie arrives, now having morphed into a pilot and a plane deliverywoman.  The Doctor discovers that despite appearances, they do remember their other identities, but they are not supposed to show it.  Harcourt arrives outside as the squadron’s wing commander, and the Doctor and Leela exit, leaving Manners and Lizzie to fret over what is happening to them; but their memories are beginning to clear.

Outside, the Doctor and Leela must run from a group of Messerschmidts; it seems Harcourt would rather kill the Doctor than let him escape.  They escape into another building, where Leela finds herself alone; Beryl—now appearing as a secretary—meets her and identifies the place as Harcourt International.  She refers her to the twelfth floor for a meeting with the Doctor.  On the twelfth floor, Beryl appears again, and this time indicates that the Doctor in question is Harcourt.  Leela grapples with her, and pushes her through a window; she tries to pull Beryl back up, but the woman falls, apparently to her death.  However, Leela goes down and finds that she is alive, though badly damaged.

The Doctor has found himself in a Western saloon.  He is confronted by Manners and Lizzie, now in Western guise; they claim not to know him, but they call him Doctor.  He calls them on it.  He insists they are not real, but are based on archetypes through history.  With his sonic screwdriver, he demonstrates that they are just empty shells.  Harcourt arrives in the guise of a marshal, and orders Manners to arrest him; but Manners won’t, now that he knows the truth.  Harcourt summons Jephson instead, but Leela arrives instead; she has incapacitated Jephson and taken his gun, as well as her knife.

The Doctor says they are heading for the TARDIS, and leaves with Leela.  Outside, he changes course, and they head for the manor house instead.  Harcourt and Jephson are going there themselves, with Lizzie , Manning, and the damaged Beryl.  When the Doctor and Leela arrive, Harcourt tells the Doctor he is already taking the Doctor’s knowledge, bit by bit; but the Doctor assures him he has bitten off more than he can chew. [There is a break in the audio here, with static?] The Doctor assures Harcourt that the human brain cannot absorb the scale of information in question here; a separate storage system is needed—a library.  To prove his point, he quizzes Harcourt on random facts.  Harcourt gets the questions right, but the Doctor uses this to reveal that Harcourt isn’t the real “Renaissance Man”…he is the library.  The Doctor makes the point that love, emotion, experience—these are just as important as knowledge.  He is contradicted, however, by Jephson—who is the Renaissance Man.  The Doctor reveals that he had planted the information for one of his questions, which wasn’t real at all; when Harcourt was able to produce an answer, it was a clue to the truth about him.  Other statements he has made have also been false.  These errors in the data have had a “butterfly effect” in the database—and now the projections around them, the library and the rest of the building, the entire world of the museum—are coming apart.  Harcourt rejects Jephson’s plea for help as the manor begins to collapse.

Leela has recovered her tracking skills; and amid the destruction, she flees with the Doctor back to the TARDIS.  It’s just in time; the academics will be arriving soon.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela discuss the value of knowledge, and how it is not worth more than even one life.  He assures her that the museum’s systems will have fully reset, returning everyone to their original condition—but as the academics arrive, the Renaissance section is empty.  The scholars are not put off; they decide it is a metaphor for learning, which no one can fully grasp.

renaissance man 2

With every audio involving the Fourth Doctor and Leela, I feel a little more conflicted, and this entry is no exception. The Fourth Doctor is excellent, and Leela has the potential to be—I’ve always liked her as a companion. Still, with every additional story, the My Fair Lady vibe becomes a little stronger, and it’s reaching awkward proportions here. I realize that I’m projecting real-world values onto a fictional story, but it’s difficult to stop, apparently. In this story, Leela fawns over the Doctor to a point of near-worship. The Doctor isn’t much better, as he continues to be condescending; he comments on his own “impeccable style”, then says about Leela: “I’m still working on HER style.” I tried to justify it in my mind by reasoning that this story is still very early in their relationship—just four stories after her first appearance in The Face of Evil–but it’s still awkward.

With that out of the way, it’s an otherwise entertaining story. The rapid changes in setting and in the identity of the characters makes it reminiscent of stories such as The Mind Robber, and that’s not a bad thing. The twist—that the victims’ memories and knowledge are being stolen out of their minds—was not well hidden; I picked up on it right away; but that’s not a hindrance, because the real question here is, what are they going to DO about it? The Fourth Doctor always represented a good balance of action and debate, and this story uses both. He and Leela spend a good deal of time running and fighting, but then the story is resolved through debate, as the Doctor uses verbal trickery to confound Harcourt and Jephson and put an end to the scheme. There’s a good amount of humor, as well (Leela: “He has the eyes of a killer!” Doctor: “As well as the gun.”), even if it tends to the absurd, e.g. when the dog makes a phone call. The absurd is perfectly appropriate here, as it represents the failure of the environment the villains have created—when reality breaks down, of COURSE a dog can call you on the telephone, why not? That’s really the beauty of this story: It’s fast-paced, and (like so many equally fast-paced Eighth Doctor stories) sometimes that means letting the details fall apart; but here, it’s okay if the details fall apart. You EXPECT that they will do that, because you establish early that you’re in the realm of the absurd.

This is another short adventure, not in running time, but with regard to in-universe time. The Doctor and Leela are at the museum for perhaps two or three hours, certainly no more. The same was true in the preceding story, Destination: Nerva, and it’s very possible that the Doctor and Leela have been going non-stop since The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I wonder sometimes about the passage of time within the TARDIS, and between adventures—do the characters sleep? Do they take time out for meals? Of course they do—the classic series established very early that the characters at least sleep and eat on board—but sometimes it’s interesting to think about how long they carry on at one time, when adventures run together, as in this case. Being a companion of the Doctor is a hard life in more ways than one.

The voice acting is on point here. It’s difficult enough for one actor to play multiple characters, as happens in a few instances here; it’s so much more difficult when actors also have to play multiple versions of the same character. Ian McNeice (Harcourt), Gareth Armstrong (Jephson), Anthony Howell (Manners), and Daisy Ashford (Lizzie) all do this very successfully here, while Laura Molyneux plays the dual roles of Beryl and Lutterthwaite. I had a little trouble identifying characters early on, but it wasn’t because the acting was inferior, so much as that the dialogue didn’t identify the characters very well at first. Soon, though, that oversight is corrected, and the cast put in fantastic performances.

References here are mostly to other Leela stories. She mentions visiting London in 1889, and firing a revolver at a dragon (both from The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and mentions that Xoanon (The Face of Evil) used cameras to watch the Tesh. She also mentions crushing baby Hordas (Horda? Not sure of the correct plural) with her hands, another Face of Evil reference. She calls policemen “Blue Guards”, as she does in several stories (Talons again, also The Foe from the Future). The Doctor says he has felt the pain of having a tooth pulled, but “not with these teeth”, which is a reference to The Gunfighters, where the first Doctor had a tooth pulled (by Doc Holliday, no less!). He also comments that he needs to “reverse the polarity* on the museum’s knowledge-stealing system, a reference to too many stories to count, but especially in the Third Doctor era.

So: A great story, if a bit awkward at points, and a fantastic way to continue the season! If the series continues in this vein, we’ll be in good hands. As this story is (as of the time of writing) available for free on Spotify, there’s no good reason not to check it out.

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Next time: I have previously reviewed the next entry, The Wrath of the Iceni; but as it was a very early attempt for me–only the second audio drama I reviewed here–I hadn’t yet found a format I like, and so I’m going to cover it again. With quite a few audios behind me now, I expect some changed opinions; but we’ll see. You can read the previous review here if you like. See you there.

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

The Renaissance Man

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Next

Audio Drama Review: Destination: Nerva

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Last week, we wrapped up series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures; and earlier this week, we finished the Eighth Doctor’s second “season” of the Main Range. This week, we begin something (sort of) new, as we look at series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Today we’ll begin with Destination: Nerva, picking up immediately after the classic serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Let’s get started!

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

Destination Nerva 1

Leaving London and the company of Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot, the Doctor and Leela barely have time to dematerialize before the TARDIS receives an alien distress call…from the year 1895?!  They follow the signal to a house in England, where a battle has taken place.  Human and alien dead can be found; the Doctor identifies the aliens as Drellerans—and they were not the aggressors.  He also finds a Drelleran stardrive, which is faulty and therefore potentially deadly.  They flee in the TARDIS and try to track the drive to the ship it belongs to, but the drive’s effect on the TARDIS nearly knocks them off course.

They arrive on a transport ship, the Chandler, some centuries in the future.  The ship is carrying a construction crew to a space station under construction…and the Doctor is thrilled to discover that the station is Nerva Beacon, which he has visited before (here called Nerva Dock).  With Leela, he has a brief run-in with the crew’s foreman and shop steward, Jim Hooley, who decides they are new workers.  The Chandler is forced to divert to a different airlock, as their expected lock is unexpectedly occupied by a space pod from another ship called the Aeolus.  Upon arrival, he orders the Doctor and Leela into spacesuits and onto the station hull with the rest of the work crew.

The Aeolus pod is of Drelleran design, as is its parent ship; but it’s a human aboard, one Sergeant Henry McMullan.  He enters the airlock without authorization, and demands to be let in.  Chief Technician Laura Craske calls her acting supervisor, Dr. Alison Foster for permission to let him in.  Foster realizes something is not right, and declines, but her signal is cut off, and Laura lets Henry in.  He shakes her hand, and she suddenly becomes compliant to him.  She takes him to the Control Center, and introduces him to the station commander, Commodore Giles Moreau; Moreau declines to shake his hand.  Moreau orders McMullan to medical quarantine as per standard procedure, but is interrupted by a system fault alert.  Elsewhere, Hooley has escorted the Doctor and Leela back inside, and called for security; security arrives in the form of a hovering, robotic Drudger, and takes them (using mild force) to the Control Center.  Hooley returns to the hull.  Moreau, meanwhile, traces the fault to the airlock where the pod is docked.  McMullan tries to control the situation, and appears to mesmerize Leela, but the Doctor breaks her free of it.  McMullan wants to shake hands with everyone, but Leela realizes he is not what he seems.  Moreau orders the Drudger to arrest them all, but it collapses in system failure.  Laura, meanwhile, becomes suddenly weak and incoherent.  On the hull, Hooley is behaving similarly to Laura; Foster orders him back inside.

The Doctor realizes McMullan is wearing the same uniform under his spacesuit as the dead soldiers they saw in 1895.  He realizes the Aeolus is a Drelleran ship, and confronts McMullan about stealing it.  A proximity alert sounds; the Aeolus has arrived, and will soon dock.  Henry, it seems, is an advance troop, carrying some kind of fast-moving infection that affects not only people, but the station systems; it is carried on the skin, in the form of a separate, independently-acting epidermis; the Doctor dubs it an “Epiderm”.  Laura quickly becomes a similarly-mutated creature.  The commander of the Aeolus, Lord Jack Corrigan, contacts them.  The Doctor, Leela, and the Commodore are forced to run.

Corrigan communicates with the Epiderms forming on the station, and says he and the crew will join them for the final unification of humankind.

As the Aeolus docks, the Doctor warns the others not to let the creatures touch them.  Hooley enters the airlock, but the inner door won’t secure.  He insists something is wrong with him, and Foster tries to intervene—but she is stopped just short of touching him by the Doctor and the Commodore.  Hooley dies while they argue, and Foster is outraged; Leela is forced to hold her back.  She sees Hooley begin to transform, and she flees with the others.  Elsewhere, Corrigan comes aboard, and meets a security team—and absorbs them into the Epiderm entity.  The Doctor’s group flees to the Chandler, but Moreau is touched by one of the creatures as the airlock closes; unknown to anyone, he is infected.  They cast off from the station, breaking the airlock in the process.  The Doctor sees, to his delight,  that Nerva is orbiting Jupiter, as he once guessed.

Moreau sends a distress signal to the nearby supply ship from whence the Chandler originated, and requests a quarantine of Nerva, but is unsuccessful, as Jack blocks the signal.  Jack tries to entice them back, and explains how he took the Aeolus in the nineteenth century and used it to try to build a British empire in the stars.  The group discovers that the supply ship is already infected.  With nowhere to go, Leela suggests using the TARDIS to get to Earth, but the Doctor thinks it won’t work—and it becomes moot, as Moreau transforms and blocks their way to the TARDIS.  The Doctor locates spacesuits and gets himself, Leela, and Foster onto the hull.  Outside, they see a huge ship coming—a Drelleran ship, centuries more advanced than the Aeolus.  It teleports them aboard.

Two Drellerans meet them.  They show the group a video of Jack’s initial conquest of a Drelleran expedition, and explain how he conquered the peaceful Drelleran society afterward.  They explain that, in revolt, the Drellerans unleashed a virus which creates the Epiderm creatures.  The infected Jack was compelled to return to Earth and infect the rest of humanity; it’s sheer chance that he landed on Nerva first.  The Doctor argues that humanity has matured since then; Foster and Leela convince them of his trustworthiness.  However, they have made up their minds, and they infect the trio with the virus.  They then return them to the station, where the Epiderms wait.

When the Epiderm tries to merge with them, it begins to die.  They realize they were infected with not the virus, but a cure.  It spreads rapidly, and all over the station, people begin to recover and awaken.  The exceptions are Jack and his crew; having used stolen Drelleran technology to extend their lives, they now cannot handle reversion to normal, and they die.  The Doctor encourages Foster to take the opportunity to develop a serum against the Epiderm virus, because Moreau is still infected—and not only that, but his infection of the Chandler is separating them from the TARDIS.

Later, with the TARDIS recovered, Leela and the Doctor discuss their travels.  He asks where she wants to go, and she takes him up on his previous offer to teach her about the universe.  With that, they depart.

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Cast and crew of Destination: Nerva

 

To be honest, I was under the impression that Big Finish had been doing Fourth Doctor adventures long before 2012, when this story was published. I don’t mind being wrong, however; and they’ve gone to great lengths to put plenty of Fourth Doctor material on the market since then. This story is a decent opener, though it feels very short. It begins, as I said, minutes after the end of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, as evidenced by the fact that the Doctor and Leela are still wearing the same clothes; and naturally, it references that story several times. Tom Baker’s age doesn’t show at all here; he puts in a great performance, as does Louise Jameson.

My usual criticism of the Fourth Doctor/Leela team still applies here, unfortunately: They have a very strange relationship, and it wouldn’t be such a stretch to refer to it as a master/slave relationship, or better, master/pet. I will grudgingly admit that it fits in with the established chronology in that sense; Talons is a very early story for Leela, and this one follows immediately after, so their relationship has had no time to grow. I wish I could say it gets better with time, but I don’t think it does, or at least not enough. Leela does get some character growth in other materials after leaving the Doctor’s company on Gallifrey, so there’s that. Here, she is very obsequious toward him, practically fawning over him when speaking to Dr. Foster; it makes for the only really awkward moment in the story.

Nerva Beacon, or Nerva Dock as it is known here, is a good location for stories, and I don’t mind revisiting it, especially as it’s already been established as surviving for thousands of years. The Doctor makes some reference to his previous visits (The Ark in Space through Revenge of the Cybermen, covering almost all of season twelve), but not in any great detail, which is appropriate for the rushed action of the story. (I say “rushed” in a good sense; it’s hectic for the characters, who are racing against time to escape the Epiderms.) Ironically enough, the Doctor doesn’t really do much to solve this crisis, other than a few moments of trying to persuade the Drellerans; it’s they who save the station crew, by administering the cure. That’s a strange turn for the normally proactive Fourth Doctor and the combative Leela, but it’s okay once in a while.

Most of the continuity references seen here are, naturally, from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s worth mentioning that that serial’s Jago and Litefoot, mentioned again here, will eventually have their own audio series, and will appear in a few other Doctor Who audios as well (The Justice of Jalxar, Voyage to Venus, possibly others). The Drudgers, the station’s hovering security robots, originate in the Audio Visuals audio productions; for Big Finish, they first appeared in The Sirens of Time, and reappeared in Invasion of the Daleks (Dalek Empire I), as well as a Bernice Sumerfield novel (Benny and Louise). The Doctor mentions that he once knew a butler named Butler (The Foe from the Future). As well, there are the previously-mentioned references to season twelve.

Overall, there’s not much to complain about, other than the general relationship between the Doctor and Leela. It’s a quick story with no real loose ends, and no overarching story arc (at least, as far as I can tell at this point). It’s fun to listen to, and doesn’t require much investment of time or energy. Not a bad start to what I hope is a good series.

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Next time: The Renaissance Man! 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.

Destination: Nerva

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Doctor Who Novel Review: Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt

I know, I know…two posts in one day?!  My apologies; that wasn’t the plan.  This should have been posted several days ago, at the same time as I posted it on Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit.  It’s not crucial to anything else going on, just an interesting read; you can feel free to skip it if you like, although it has some interesting backstory for Doctor Who which gives a different take from the television series.  If that interests you, read on!

 

We’re back, with…something different? Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will most likely not be able to post my review of the second Big Finish Main Range audio, Phantasmagoria, this week as promised. I should be back on track by next week; but in the meantime, here’s a review of a very controversial Doctor Who novel, Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read the book!

Lungbarrow cover 1

Lungbarrow is the next-to-last novel of the “Virgin New Adventures” series of novels, which mostly concerned the Seventh Doctor. (Technically it’s third-from-last, as So Vile A Sin was delayed, but the internal order of the stories places this one next-to-last. As well, it’s the last to involve the Seventh Doctor; the final novel, The Dying Days, involved the Eighth Doctor.) It’s a series that sought to continue where the classic television series left off, and it did so admirably, totaling sixty-one entries, far more than the Seventh Doctor ever received onscreen. By the time of its completion, the 1996 TV movie had actually already been released and considered canon, and the last few novels–Lungbarrow and The Dying Days–were written with the lead-up to the Eighth Doctor in mind. Lungbarrow, in particular, ends with a setup that directly references the opening events of the movie. Despite all of this, the novel series doesn’t exactly fit with everything referenced in the television series, either classic or revived (or, for that matter, with other lines of books); Steven Moffatt has described them as “a separate (and equally valid) continuity” to the television series. [The parenthesis is his, not mine.] The New Adventures series would continue after the expiration of Virgin’s license, but would focus on the non-BBC-owned Bernice Summerfield rather than the Doctor; for my purposes, though, I’m only counting the novels concerned with the Doctor.

It would take a very long time to explain the backdrop of the novel, and I want to keep this readably short. Suffice it to say that the story is set mostly on a Gallifrey where Romana (II, if we’re keeping count) is Lord (Lady?) President; Andred has become Castellan, and therefore head of the Chancellery Guard; Leela, as Andred’s wife, occupies a not-quite defined position that does not sit well with her; there are not one, but two K9s (Leela’s Mk. I and Romana’s Mk. II); and the Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA) is active in a major way. (That agency is a source of great fascination to me, as I am new to the novels; it seems to appear in many places there, but was almost totally unknown on television, netting only a single unilluminated reference in The Deadly Assassin.) It is into all of this that the Doctor, his current companion Chris Cwej, and former companion Ace (here preferring to be called Dorothée) wander.

I called this book controversial; “notorious” might be a better term. It was conceived during the writing of the television serial Ghost Light, written also by Marc Platt. That serial’s mysterious mansion in Perivale would have been the house of Lungbarrow on Gallifrey, had Platt not been advised to bring the story back to Earth. Lungbarrow recycles many of the elements that went into that original script effort, but the finished product is very different. Further, it’s essentially the last bastion of the Cartmel Masterplan, Andrew Cartmel’s ill-fated effort to breathe new life into Doctor Who by changing its backstory. While I think that’s perfectly fine for a novel, it did cause much debate among fans for years.

This novel is perhaps the only full expression of where that plan might have gone. In that version of Doctor Who lore, the ancient Pythia—the women who once ruled Gallifrey before Rassilon—were vanquished; their remnants would become the Sisterhood of Karn. That much is also common to the television series. However, the Pythia (singular this time, indicating their leader), before dying, cursed Gallifrey with infertility. No children would be born to the Time Lords. (Of course, this has since been discarded onscreen; The Day of the Doctor makes a point of the billions of children on Gallifrey.) In response, Rassilon, Omega, and a mysterious third founding father known as the Other, created the Looms—machines that would remix and recycle Gallifreyan DNA and give birth to new Time Lords. Those so born would arrive fully grown, but with childlike minds. The Looms, like much Time Lord technology, are sentient, after a fashion.

The word “House” has a double meaning here, as was also common in European history. It refers to the families into which Loomed Gallifreyans are born (for want of a better word); those houses are restricted in the number of living members, or “Cousins”, they may have, as a means of population management. However, the word also refers to the literal house, the mansion owned and operated by the House of Lungbarrow. The physical house is also sentient, sort of; it definitely has a will and mind of its own, although it is telepathically linked with its Housekeeper, the female family member chosen to maintain and govern the house. Further, all of its outsized furnishings, as well as its artificial servants—the wooden Drudges, not to be confused with the robotic Drudgers in some of the audios—are alive, in one way or another, and often unfriendly as well.

Lungbarrow’s events are precipitated long ago—673 years ago, to be precise—when the family’s leader, or Kithriarch, is murdered on the day he would have chosen to die anyway. It seems like a minor matter, except that he died before revealing his last will and testament, which would have named his successor; oh, yes, and there’s also the small matter of his having been murdered by the First Doctor. In reaction to this awful betrayal within the family’s ranks, the house—that is, the physical house—takes drastic action: It buries itself with all forty-plus cousins inside. All, that is, except the Doctor, who has taken off to begin his life of adventures in his stolen TARDIS. Over the intervening centuries, the house slowly degrades, and so do its occupants; they become the darkest soap opera imaginable, so to speak.

The story can be a bit awkward, because it’s going in two directions at once. On the one hand—the stronger hand, in my opinion—it’s a mostly straightforward mystery. Did the Doctor, so long ago, really murder the Kithriarch Quences? Where is his missing will? What’s up with the rivalry between the Doctor and his Cousin Glospin? What about Cousin Owis, who legally shouldn’t exist (as he was Loomed to replace the disowned Doctor, but before the Doctor’s death)? Why is the house underground, and how can it be saved? (Spoiler: It can’t.) And what about Glospin’s obsession with the Doctor’s DNA and origins? More on that last in a bit. At the same time as all of this, it’s a political intrigue; behind the scenes, Romana is conducting secret diplomatic dealings offworld, and facing a coup attempt by the CIA. Those scenes are awkward, and don’t seem to fit well; in the end, all the characters involved there serve mainly to give the Doctor some backup at the house. The mystery is the main attraction here, and it makes you question everything you know about Time Lords, from Looms to TARDISes to regenerations.

But, the Cartmel plan would have done more than just establish the existence of Looms. Its greater focus, judging by the references that made their way into the final seasons of the classic series, were with regard to the Doctor’s identity. While this novel goes to great lengths—and some dialogue gymnastics—to avoid saying the Doctor’s actual name aloud, it does make it clear that the Doctor is something more than just a Time Lord of the House of Lungbarrow. He is the Other, reincarnate. Glospin suspected it, and indeed, it’s almost completely confirmed. We see that the Other killed himself by leaping into the master Loom which feeds all the others; that the Hand of Omega had in the past attached itself to the Other, and in the more recent past to the Doctor (consistent with Remembrance of the Daleks); that the Doctor’s DNA doesn’t match Lungbarrow’s imprint; and that Susan is not actually the Doctor’s granddaughter, but the Other’s, from the Old Times. Susan joins the Doctor on his very first TARDIS flight when the Hand of Omega defeats the barriers and takes the TARDIS into Gallifrey’s past—but what is more, she recognizes him as her grandfather, though his face has changed.

I won’t spoil the resolution. While the book is hard to come by (due to a combination of high demand and a small, non-repeated print run), it’s a great read if you can get it. However, I will say that it neatly wraps up all the threads it spins out, and yet somehow manages to avoid feeling too convenient. It sets up nicely for the movie—not too difficult a task, given the movie was already out at the time of writing—and also ties in nicely with many other stories, both televised and written. It has the feeling of a hinge between two realities—that of the generally-accepted canon of Doctor Who (such as it is), and that of the Cartmel plan. It’s a bit like the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound dramas; It’s a great window into what could have been; and with it behind me, I have to say, the alternate lore isn’t so bad. Certainly I like the version we have onscreen, but this alternate view is pretty interesting as well.

Some notable things: The Doctor takes up the Sonic Screwdriver again, as Romana gives him hers; this is consistent with the movie, except that her screwdriver as last seen looks nothing like any version of the Doctor’s screwdriver. Of course, she could have rebuilt it in the interim. The Hand of Omega makes a reappearance in flashbacks here, both with the Other and with the Doctor, and displays more abilities than we have previously seen. Kan’po Rimpoche, the hermit from the Doctor’s childhood, gets a mention by one of the Cousins; he was last seen in Planet of the Spiders. Ace makes an appearance, but not as a companion; she is summoned by Romana, but intercepted and interrogated by the CIA. Chris Cwej, after several literary adventures with the Doctor, departs here, leaving the Doctor companionless for the opening events of the movie. As the Gallifreyans don’t have a bodily childhood, the furniture in the house is intentionally larger-than-life, to give them the sensation of being small until they are old enough to leave home. Time Lords can live many hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years without regenerating, a fact that would later be borne out in the revived series; some of the Cousins in the house have never regenerated since its burial, and altogether they display a wildly varying collection of lifespans. One Cousin, Innocet, regenerates during the course of the events, and seems to recover much faster than the Doctor ever does, adding some evidence to the idea that he’s just not good at it; maybe this has something to do with his past as the Other, who—being an ancient Gallifreyan—did not possess the ability to regenerate. Incidentally, that very fact is contradicted by the revived series, in which Rassilon is seen to be able to regenerate. (It is unknown whether he could do so in the classic series, as he only appeared once, in The Five Doctors.)

Lungbarrow cover 2

Altogether, it’s a good read, and I enjoyed it. Perhaps it’s backward, reading this book before any of the preceding New Adventures novels, but I wanted to get an idea of the outcome of the Cartmel plan, having just finished the Seventh Doctor’s television stories. I was not disappointed, and I think others would agree. If you can come by a copy, it’s worth checking out.

Next time (hopefully): Phantasmagoria! See you there.

Lungbarrow unfortunately was unable to receive further print runs due to the expiration of the publisher’s license to the characters.  Therefore print copies are expensive and rare.  A free ebook was issued by the BBC, but has since been removed from their site.  However, an archived version is available here via the internet archive.