Novel Review: No Future

We’re back! Today we’ll be finishing up the “Alternate Universe” arc of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, hereafter), with the fifth entry in that miniseries (and twenty-third in the VNAs overall), Paul Cornell’s No Future. Published in February 1994, this novel as usual features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice. Let’s get started!

No Future

I almost never comment on the cover art, but in this case…wow. That’s…really something.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Led by a hint laid for them during their time in the Land of Fiction, the Doctor and his companions land in 1976 London, searching for a man named Danny Pain. They find him to be less impressive than promised; a moody teenager in a punk band, he shows no sign of saving the world as implied. Nevertheless, something is up, and the Doctor has had enough of the meddling happening in his past; one way or another, the game ends here and now.

Now, Benny is a full member of Pain’s band, Plasticine—a fact the Doctor knew before he ever met her. Ace is at odds with the Doctor, and seeks to end their problems on her own terms. The Doctor seeks help from his old friends in UNIT…and finds that they don’t know him—but they’re more than willing to deal with the threat that he represents. It’s good timing, because the anarchist group Black Star is on a rampage, setting off bombs and sparking riots; but a record producer named Robert Bertram has a plan to bring peace to the world—and Plasticine, Benny, and Ace are at the core of it all.

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I’ll say up front that I enjoyed this novel; but I also have to say that I’m afraid that I can’t do it justice here. So, this entry is likely to be brief and a bit unsatisfying—but don’t let that reflect on the novel!

The problem, for me, is that this book, among all the entries in the Alternate Universe arc, is heavily steeped in a period of British culture with which I am almost completely unfamiliar. I grew up in the USA in the eighties and nineties, a time and place where most knowledge of British culture came from A) those bands that were popular on both sides of the Atlantic, B) Monty Python, and C) classic Doctor Who. None of those sources give much insight into what things were like locally, especially in the political and musical sense. (You’d think the musical side would be obvious, but in my experience, we can be fairly tunnel-visioned about such things.) As a result, references were lost on me; jokes most likely went over my head; and, since we’re dealing specifically with an altered history in this novel, I sometimes had trouble seeing where the novel’s background deviates from reality. It’s likely I’ll even get some things wrong in this review, even after having done the research.

To that end, I’ll mostly talk about what I did appreciate (and what I didn’t!) here. For one, it’s a UNIT story, which is generally a plus to me. It bookends the arc nicely; we started with an alternate version of UNIT, and we’re finishing with one as well. (To be fair, it’s not “alternate” here in the sense of another version; this is the real UNIT, but with some past experiences altered.) They also appeared tangentially in The Left-Handed Hummingbird, but insignificantly by comparison. Unfortunately, this book makes a strong effort to align UNIT’s history with the dates given in Mawdryn Undead, rather than every other UNIT story, thus further confusing the issue. While researching this review, I found mention that Paul Cornell had been vocal in his dislike for the Pertwee era; it seemed to be implied that this book was his effort to see a UNIT story “done right”. I hadn’t heard that before, and unfortunately didn’t have time to dig into original sources to confirm; but if that was his goal, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t come across as particularly different from a typical UNIT story. Or perhaps I’m not sorry; after all, I like most UNIT stories.

Generally, though, I like Cornell’s work, and usually recommend his books. Allegedly he himself considers this to be the worst of his DW novels; but that doesn’t make it bad. The worst I can say for it is that it’s clogged; there are so many real-world references and continuity references here, I’d struggle to list them all (though I’ll take a stab at the continuity, at least). He has a lot of threads to tie together here, and he does a fair job of it. Our final villain—and before I say it, I’ll remind you that I did say there were spoilers ahead—turns out to be the Monk; allegedly this is the first DW story to confirm, not just suggest, that the Monk and the Master were not the same Time Lord. (In 1994! Who would have thought it would be that late?!) It’s he that has been tampering with the Doctor’s past since Blood Heat, chiefly out of a desire for revenge for trapping him on an ice planet in The Daleks’ Master Plan. That’s no mean feat; he does so with the help of a captive Chronovore, a creature that devours the leftovers and mistakes of time itself (think Reapers from Father’s Day, but much more sentient and attractive). He works his plan here with the help of the Vardans, the energy-based humanoids first seen in The Invasion of Time; they, too, have long been trapped by the Doctor, and seek revenge.

Ace, Benny, and the Doctor finally get some resolution for their various interpersonal problems here. Ace and Benny’s conflict comes to a head; after this we’ll see them getting along much better. It’s too bad that Ace has to get pulled over to the Monk’s side for awhile to get there, but then, no one said people were uncomplicated. There will still be the occasional tension with the Doctor on both their parts—soon it will be Benny’s turn to think about leaving (a nice change from Ace’s constant flirting with the idea)—but overall we’ll see some improvement going forward. And not a moment too soon, in my opinion!

Though we’re finished with the Alternate Universe arc, there are still a few threads hanging. Most importantly, the TARDIS: the Doctor is still using his third incarnation’s TARDIS from Blood Heat, and as far as we can tell, his original TARDIS is gone along with that universe. More on that to come, but for now, it’s a thread we’ll leave out there. He does, however, smash the chameleon circuit with a hammer; he decides he prefers the police box after all. Eh, well, it was fun while it lasted; in fact, the chameleon circuit is instrumental in his search for the Monk in this story.

Continuity References: I don’t expect to get them all today; there are quite a lot of them. But, notably: The events of Battlefield get a mention (for the Brigadier it is yet to come, but for the Doctor it was before this adventure). The Vardans are released from their time loop (The Invasion of Time); in reference to that story, Bernice, very quotably, remarks that the Vardans are “the only race in history to be outwitted by the intellectual might of the Sontarans” (a double burn, very nice!). The Monk was last encountered in The Daleks’ Master Plan, but that means that this novel contradicts his appearance in the comic 4-Dimensional Vistas. The Chronovores were introduced in The Time Monster. Very frequent references are made to all the preceding Alternate Universe entries (Blood HeatThe Dimension RidersThe Left-Handed HummingbirdConundrum). Ace already knows who Danny Pain is, having had one of his albums in Colditz; she denies knowing him here, but that may be because of her poor relationship with, well, everyone at this point. The Monk mentions Magnus, later revealed to be the real name of the War Chief (The War GamesDivided Loyalties). Professor Clegg is mentioned (Planet of the Spiders), as are the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), the Axons (The Claws of Axos), the Autons (Spearhead from Space), Omega (The Three Doctors), the Guardians (The Ribos Operation, et al.), Morgaine (Battlefield), the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and more recently, mentioned in Conundrum), and the Yeti (The Web of Fear). The Doctor mentions the Brigade Leader (Inferno), and the (alleged) death of the Master (Survival, though we of course know he survived). Ace and the Monk both mention Jan (Love and War). She also mentions the events of Nightshade. The Monk mentions the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which are still in the future. The Brigadier mentions Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane Smith, and the Doctor mentions Susan (various stories). Mike Yates and his betrayal in Invasion of the Dinosaurs was mentioned. The Vardans use the phrase “chronic hysteresis” (Meglos). The Monk uses Chelonian technology (The Highest Science) and mentions the Daemons (The Daemons) and the Eternals (Enlightenment).

Overall: It’s been a tumultuous trip, but we made it! Through the Alternate Universe arc, that is. We’ll move on to some mostly standalone adventures for awhile, and some of the issues we’ve been facing will fade away. Not a bad ending, I must say, though quite a roller coaster in its own right. If you made it through the others, you’ll want to read this one.

Next time: We’ll catch up next time in (pre-scandal) Gareth Roberts’ Tragedy Day. See you there!

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

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Novel Review: The Left-Handed Hummingbird

We’re back! To date, I’ve reviewed the first twenty volumes of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, for short) line of Seventh Doctor novels. (There are a total of 61 novels in the VNAS featuring the Doctor, including one Eighth Doctor novel, The Dying Days. I’m not counting the novels with Bernice Summerfield as protagonist, although I do hope to read them and review them. Eventually.) Twenty sounds like an impressive enough number…except that I’ve read twenty-six of them (Well, twenty-seven; but I wrote the review for Lungbarrow a long time ago, after I read it out of order, and am just waiting to post it.) As I’m quickly beginning to forget details, and want to catch up as quickly as possible, I think a little picking up of the pace is in order. So, here we are, posting for the second day in a row.

Now, on to number twenty-one! This brings us to prolific DW author Kate Orman’s debut novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird. Published in December 1993, this novel is the third entry in the “Alternate Universe Arc”. Let’s get started!

Left Handed Hummingbird

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

The life of a Mexican man of Aztec descent, Cristian Alvarez, is forever shaped by four events: the discovery of the Aztec great temple in 1978; the murder of John Lennon in New York, 1980; a marketplace massacre in Mexico City, 1994; and predating them all, a meeting with the Doctor in 1968 London. But Cristian has a secret that plagues him: at each crucial moment, he is assaulted by a psychic event or force that he calls “the Blue”. He can’t explain it; but he knows that when the Blue arrives, tragedy walks with it.

The Doctor, Ace and Benny are summoned by a psychic distress call. Arriving in late 1994, they meet Cristian for the first time—but, not his first time, as he knows them well. Soon enough it becomes apparent that someone or something is stalking Cristian through time; and, it seems, also stalking the Doctor. But, why? The Doctor first traces the phenomenon to the unearthing of the Aztec temple in 1978, and then to the temple’s bloody dedication in 1487. His course then takes him to 1968, and Cristian’s first encounter with the Doctor, in London; then at last to 1980, and the murder of John Lennon. At last, he comes to a final, traumatic event, one that Cristian would not have expected: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. There, he faces a final battle with the persistent spirit of a long-dead Aztec warrior…but this battle will bring him no closer to his true enemy, the being interfering with his own past since the events in the alternate universe.

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My first inclination, when sitting down to write this review, was to be a bit hard on the book. I’ve already mentioned more than once that this arc of the New Adventures—the “Alternate Universe” arc—was a chore to work through. In fact, yesterday I said that this book represents the peak of that feeling for me—and that remains true.

And yet, that’s an unfairly negative description. Upon further thought, I’ve decided that to present the novel that way would be to do it an injustice and a disservice; because it’s a very good book, in the end. It’s possible my judgment, going into this book, was colored by the experience of the preceding two books; but more to the point, this book is extraordinarily complex, even for the VNAs, and I think I wasn’t prepared for that. My lack of preparation, though, doesn’t invalidate the fact that that complexity is a good thing.

Nevertheless, if you read this book, be warned: It’s going to take some time for it to come together. You’ll have passages where you think the plot is wandering. I assure you it isn’t. Kate Orman chose to weave together any number of very different historical events, on two continents and in three countries (plus the middle of the ocean!); naturally it’s going to take time to tie those things together.

It’s all that history that really shines here; and with that, I have to apologize, because I haven’t been able to put in the research time necessary to figure out what is real and what is fictionalized here. Some of it is fairly fresh; the death of John Lennon, for example, occurred within my lifetime. Some of it is distant enough to be of interest chiefly to historians—but we’re all historians here, at least when the Doctor goes to visit. Aztec history is something in which I’ve only lightly looked over the years, but if it’s even a fraction as interesting as Orman portrays, I find myself fascinated.

After a short reprieve, we’re back to the usual amount of violence found in the VNAs. Nearly everywhere Cristian and the Doctor go, people die in horrifically violent ways. Perhaps that’s to be expected in a story about the Aztecs, who were known for bloody human sacrifices; and yet, we don’t see much in the way of sacrifices (possibly not any at all; I can’t recall). This, in spite of the fact that the temple featured in the story was known to have been dedicated with twenty thousand sacrifices; we don’t stay on hand for that scene, if I recall correctly. Rather, the deaths here are often bloody, always personal, and always up close. Deaths are far from uncommon for the VNAs, but often they occur offscreen and quietly; not so much here. It’s one of the few times I feel the series thus far has earned its description of “more adult than the television series”.

Some things for which I didn’t care: After just finishing with the Garvond, we get another incorporeal, violent, possession-capable villain whose origin and persistence are tied to the Doctor’s mind—that is, the Aztec “god” Huitzilopochtli, aka the warrior Huitzilin. (I put “god” in quotes because, in true DW fashion, he’s not actually a god in the end; but he certainly plays the part.) Maybe that’s in keeping with a theme for this arc, but it’s not exactly revolutionary at this point. The Doctor uses LSD at one point; now, applying 21st-century society to this, I don’t care, because there’s been a softening of views on drug use in our time, and because there’s growing evidence that LSD has therapeutic value for some conditions. But, when this novel was released in the early nineties, the anti-drug movement was at its height, and this…well, it makes me wonder about the reception at the time. Anyway, having lived through that period, it feels jarring to me.

Most of all, though, we’re back to the same issues we’ve been having with Ace and Benny. Once again, the trust among the members of our TARDIS team is left broken at the end; once again, Ace is angry with the Doctor for interfering in her way of doing things, and once again, the Doctor suspects that he is responsible for making Ace a killer. Once again, Benny gets largely sidelined; most egregious of all, when the Doctor and Ace take off for 1487, it’s Benny, the archaeologist of the group, who gets left babysitting Cristian in the future! Don’t worry, Benny, your chance is coming…half a dozen books from now, give or take. It’s frustrating to see these same old problems—can I call them tropes at this point? They feel like tropes—arising again. Better things are coming, I think, but only through slow and incremental progress.

Continuity References: Almost endless! The Doctor visits the Titanic, which has appeared in numerous stories, and which he has visited in multiple incarnations (first DW appearance in a DWM comic titled Follow That TARDIS!). He mentions Barbara’s actions from The Aztecs. He mentions numerous aliens that have interfered with Earth: The Osirians (Pyramids of Mars), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks; also of great importance in this very book, though not actually present), Scaroth (City of Death), the Daleks (The Chase, for this purpose, and many others), and the Timewyrm (Timewyrm: Genesys and its sequels). He mentions Woodstock; the wiki indicates two earlier incarnations were there. One is the Second Doctor (Wonderland), but I was not able to identify the other or his story; however, he will visit again in his Twelfth incarnation (The Crawling Terror). Ace mentions Saul, the church in Cheldon Bonniface (Timewyrm: Revelation). UNIT gets several mentions; notably, Mike Yates is known to not speak to anyone by 1994, and Harry Sullivan is mentioned. Unit Corporal Carol Bell was last seen in The Claws of Axos. Ace contacts an Air Commodore Ian Gilmore (Remembrance of the Daleks). Herbert Clegg is mentioned (Planet of the Spiders). The Nightshade TV series is playing in 1968 (Nightshade). The Doctor mentions the Mara (KindaSnakedance) and the Fendahl (Image of the Fendahl). The Doctor mentions that an aspirin could kill him (The Mind of Evil). Ace wears a shirt from Svartos, specifically Iceworld (Dragonfire). UNIT agent Hank Macbeth mentions the Yeti invasion (The Web of Fear), the evacuation of London (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), and Devil’s End Church (The Daemons). Ace mentions Merlin (Battlefield). Benny thinks of the planet Heaven (Love and War). The Doctor mentions Xanxia (The Pirate Planet). And, a touch of foreshadowing, the Doctor gets (ostensibly) killed and placed in a morgue with a “John Doe” toe tag, which will happen for real at his regeneration. Also notable: This book is absolutely littered with real-world pop culture references; I won’t list them here, but for a quick rundown, check the Discontinuity Guide.

Overall: You’ll like this one; and there are plenty of good reviews to support me on that. Just give it time, take it slow, and savor the story.

Next time: We’re more than halfway through the Alternate Universe arc! Next time we’ll look at the fourth entry, Steve Lyons’ Conundrum. See you there!

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

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Charity Zine Review: A Pile of Good Things, and Someone Kidnapped, Something Blue

We’re back, with another charity zine review! Today I’ll be looking at the third entry in Ginger Hoesly’s Eleventh Doctor Zine, A Pile of Good Things. This entry, by Tina Marie DeLucia, is titled Someone Kidnapped, Something Blue, and features a few old favorite friends.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! For my rationale for spoilers, check out the first entry in this series. If you want to skip the spoilers, you can pick up at the next divider, below.

For context, this story takes place near the end of the Eleventh Doctor comic, Hunters of the Burning Stone, after the end of the story’s primary action, but before the wedding scene. And with that, let’s get started!

A Pile of Good Things cover art

The Eleventh Doctor stands on a battlefield, the sounds of combat dying around him. With him stand two old friends—the oldest, or very nearly. Friends he never expected to see again: Ian Chesterton, and Barbara Wright. The unlikely trio have just survived the battle between the Prometheans and the now-uplifted Tribe of Gum—old adversaries and new, now turned on each other—and it is time to make an exit. For a moment, Ian and Barbara think the Doctor has been scarred by this encounter—but it only takes that moment for his boyish enthusiasm and boundless energy to return, and he ushers them aboard the TARDIS with glee.

It’s all been a lot to take in for Ian and Barbara. For them, it’s only been months since they last saw the Doctor—their year is still 1965, the year in which they returned home from their travels with him. For the Time Lord—did he ever even say that phrase to them?—it’s been centuries, and lifetimes. There’s a core of him that is still the same man, though—as Barbara says—changed for the better; but in so many surface ways, he’s a new man. Moreover, the TARDIS is different; Ian even finds himself missing the old bright white walls. But the Doctor doesn’t give them time to process it; he’s already bustling over the controls, and he claims, no, insists, that he knows how to fly the ship properly now! He hits a switch…

…And the TARDIS materializes in deep space. Well, that wasn’t according to plan!

Another attempt takes them to a tube station, in the path of an oncoming train! Another terrified, hurried jump takes them to yet another new location…and none of them are 1965 London. The Doctor is forced to come to a rather unusual conclusion: The TARDIS is playing with them. In fact, it seems—though the thought is bizarre to Ian and Barbara—that the ship…has missed them. After a brief, slightly huffy argument, the two schoolteachers leave the Doctor to work out his differences with the errant time machine.

Some time later—minutes, hours?—the Doctor is sitting on the edge of the doorway of the TARDIS, gazing out over the glowing spectacle of a galaxy. Ian comes to join him, and the Doctor nudges him over his anxiety to return home. At last Ian admits that he has a question to ask Barbara, and he doesn’t want to ask it here, or in the depths of space, or anywhere else in their travels. After all, it’s a very important question–the question, the only one that matters to them: He plans to ask Barbara to marry him.

The Doctor’s reaction is one of boundless excitement—he practically falls out of the ship in his joyful congratulations. He has already moved on to planning the wedding, while Ian is still voicing his concerns! Will Barbara take it seriously, Ian wonders, or will she think this is only a grab at normalcy after the world has moved ahead without them?

But the Doctor can’t accept that. Instantly he reassures Ian that Barbara loves him as well; after all, the two are not exactly subtle about it. Moving on, he announces that his oldest friends need the best possible wedding, certainly one better than his own (a revelation that sets Ian back a step). His enthusiasm is infectious; and in the midst of all the plans of dubious viability (Ian hasn’t even asked her yet!), he finds time to make a spur-of-the-moment request that is, despite it all, perfect: He asks the Doctor to be his best man.

In the morning—TARDIS’s morning, at any rate—the time machine has finally become more agreeable, and the Doctor is able to take his friends home. And as they step out into the London sunlight, and Ian gets down on one knee, the Doctor takes a moment to reflect that stealing them away, all those years ago, was worth it. He may not belong anywhere…but they do, and for a moment, he can enjoy that belonging as well. And, he decides, he will miss them.

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I’m a sucker for a good story involving Ian and Barbara, and I particularly like Hunters of the Burning Stone, the story on which this story builds. I wasn’t expecting to find it complemented here in this collection, but the surprise was certainly pleasant.

In any story like this, that brings the Doctor into contact with old companions, there is naturally going to be a heavy emphasis on referring back to old times. This story is no exception, and there’s a considerable amount of reminiscing that goes on: Ian talks about the changes in the TARDIS, Barbara talks about the changes in the Doctor. As a result, we do get a few continuity references. There are references to The Aztecs, and especially to Cameca, the Doctor’s erstwhile fiancée from that story. There’s a reference to the events of The Chase, most notably the Dalek time machine used to transport Ian and Barbara home. From the other direction, there is a quick overview of the Doctor’s relationship and marriage to River Song (A Good Man Goes to WarThe Wedding of River SongLet’s Kill HitlerThe Impossible Astronaut, and others). There’s even a bit of foreshadowing of much later events; the Doctor mentions the Kerblam! shipping company while talking about plans for Ian and Barbara’s wedding.

Overall: This is a much-appreciated vignette giving us a glimpse of a very important moment in the Chestertons’ lives. We’ve seen their wedding; we’ve seen their future and their son; here we get the proposal that started it all. It’s yet another good moment in the Doctor’s very long life, and it’s a pleasure to see it with him.

Next time: I’ve gotten a bit behind, so I may rush a bit to get through the remaining stories in the collection. Next we’ll be looking at a very low moment in the Eleventh Doctor’s life with Paul Driscoll in The Birds of Sweet Forgetfulness. See you there!

A Pile of Good Things is available here until 25 November 2019, in both physical and digital form.

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities: Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, and The Peculiar Package

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with two entries in Chapter III, the post-Doctor era: Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, by Dana Reboe; and Logan Fairchild’s The Peculiar Package.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! I do this when reviewing charity projects, because these projects are generally only available for a limited time or in limited quantities, and because they get little in the way of documentation. Although I would not give the text away for free, I believe these stories deserve to be remembered, and also to be catalogued and accessible in some way. Therefore, I include plot summaries, which are naturally heavy in spoilers. (But don’t let that stop you from buying the anthology and appreciating the work firsthand! Purchase link is at the end!)

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel

After two years of trying—give or take; with time travel, who can tell?—Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have made it home. The problem is: What to do now? Sometime shortly after their return, the duo sit in Barbara’s flat, just taking it all in. It’s been a stressful transition—of course it has—but here they are, at long last, sipping drinks and enjoying the peace and quiet. After all, those are things they rarely experienced with the Doctor; adventure, action, and even outright terror were more the order of the day. This is so much better.

Therefore, it comes as a bit of a surprise when Ian asks Barbara if she is happy.

She is taken aback; of course she’s happy, right? This is what they wanted. She turns the question back to Ian; and as always, his answer is a bit layered. Of course they’re happy; but, what about the Doctor? It was quite a blow to him when Susan left, and now they’ve followed suit. Will he be okay? To put it another way, though they wanted this for years, was their leaving a bit premature?

Barbara spends a moment musing about her time in the TARDIS—specifically, an early moment, in which she sat in the open doorway of the ship and looked out at the stars, with nothing beneath her feet but the vastness of space. What a view! It brings back all the longing, the curiosity, the sense of wonder she has felt—and yes, she is forced to admit, she too will miss the Doctor. So will Ian, obviously. After all, who will challenge the Doctor’s technobabble? Who will argue right and wrong with the old man?

It all begs the question: Will they see him again?

They don’t know. There’s no way to know.

But—and here Ian joins Barbara at the window, looking out over a bustling London morning—the world is still turning, and the two of them still carry on. There’s something satisfying about that. Despite what they’ve given up, they have each other; and if they are now on the slow path through life, rather than the highlights, well…Ian doesn’t mind. Barbara, either.

The Peculiar Package

It’s been some time since Ian and Barbara found their way back to 1965 London, and they’ve begun to settle in. More to the point, they’ve finally found time to make their relationship something more than just friends or traveling companions; and so, while Ian is away for the weekend with family, Barbara finds herself unexpectedly at loose ends.

She doesn’t have long to think about it, though; for a mysterious package has arrived in the post. Inside, she finds a strange, handheld device, made up of a screen like those on the TARDIS, surrounded by a large number of switches and buttons. Intrigued—and a bit worried at the obviously alien nature of the machine—she spends the rest of the weekend tinkering with the device, but to no response. When Ian returns (with romance on his mind, but unfortunately he’ll be redirected in a moment), she enlists his help with it. He spends the evening working with the device, but also gets no response; in the end he falls asleep on her sofa.

During the night Barbara awakens—and spots a strange light from the room where Ian is asleep. She knows at once it’s the device, and with a sinking feeling she moves to check it out. When she picks it up, however, she is shocked to see the Doctor and Vicki on its screen!

It quickly becomes apparent that she can’t only see them; they can see her, and speak with her. They tell her that the device is a telepathic communicator—just in case Ian and Barbara ever need the Doctor for anything. However, he congratulates her on their engagement, confusing Barbara; they’ve never discussed marriage yet. Vicki realizes what has happened, and chides the Doctor for calling too soon. The Doctor retorts that perhaps he isn’t early; perhaps Ian is late (conveniently ignoring the fact that it’s the preoccupation with his own gift that has distracted both Ian and Barbara!). Just before he cuts contact, he warns Barbara not to check Ian’s jacket pockets.

In the morning, Barbara tells Ian about the call from the Doctor. Feeling emboldened, she includes his congratulations on their engagement. Ian, quickly chagrined, produces a ring box from his jacket pocket, and apologizes, saying that he intended to propose on their now-canceled date last night.

And of course, Barbara’s answer is “yes”.

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I’ve placed these two stories together in part for a reason of my own—that is, that I’m falling further behind in this series, and need to catch up. However, I also observed that the two stories go very well together, almost as chapters in the same story. Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel (hereafter abbreviated as Comfort for convenience’s sake) takes place very shortly after our heroes’ arrival back on Earth; it’s broadly hinted that it takes place on the night of the same day in which they arrived, but I have left that open to interpretation, chiefly because of the insinuation in our last story that their flats may no longer be available to them. Here we see Barbara’s, so I’ve chosen to allow for the possibility of a little more time. The Peculiar Package takes place some time later, possibly months, but still not too long thereafter. Ian and Barbara have moved forward with their relationship, and here we see one account of their engagement (there may be others in existence, I’m not sure). I’m stating that I think this story is only a few months after their return, because that is in keeping with Hunters of the Burning Stone, which recounts their wedding; that story has them encountering the Eleventh Doctor after being kidnapped from 1965, indicating that not too much time can possibly have passed before their wedding.

These stories are more of the slice-of-life variety. There are no villains, no adventures; only good feelings here—after all, the first story’s title begins with Comfort. That’s fair enough for now; after all, they’ve only just come off of two years of adventures. I will be happy to see more adventures later if possible, but for now, this is all we—and they—need. Put another way, all they need is each other and time—and that’s time in linear order, as we must clarify.

I know this is quite fan-service-y, for lack of a better word; but I love the suggestion that The Chase was not the end of their encounters with the Doctor. They don’t need to come back for constant adventures; but just to know that they weren’t abandoned to their own devices forever is nice. We got a hint of that in The Wreck of the San Juan de Pasajes, with the Seventh Doctor; and there will be other stories down the road. It’s comforting to know that in a pinch, they still have access to their old friend, as we see here.

Overall: Two short stories that accomplish exactly what they set out to do: They set our heroes on course for a happy, if Earthbound, life. I’m content with that. In our upcoming entries, we’ll see if it lasts.

Next time: We’ll wrap up this chapter with Riviera Refuge by Stephen Hatcher! See you there.

Mild Curiosities is published in support of Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity and research organization. You can learn more about them here. The anthology can be purchased in digital form here for a limited time.

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities, and Homecoming

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the first entry in Chapter III, the post-Doctor era: Adam Christopher’s Homecoming. You’ll notice that I’ve placed a link in that title; that link will take you to an older version of this story, first released in the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club’s Timestreams 5 collection, waaaaay back in 1995. If you haven’t yet purchased Mild Curiosities, and you’d like a taste of what you can find here, you can check out that link—but remember that the version in our anthology has been revised and updated, and is the “author’s preferred text”, as Adam Christopher puts it.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! I do this when reviewing charity projects, because these projects are generally only available for a limited time or in limited quantities, and because they get little in the way of documentation. Although I would not give the text away for free, I believe these stories deserve to be remembered, and also to be catalogued and accessible in some way. Therefore, I include plot summaries, which are naturally heavy in spoilers. (But don’t let that stop you from buying the anthology and appreciating the work firsthand! Purchase link is at the end!)

With that said, let’s get started!

Mild Curiosities

It’s 1965, and Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have been in London for two hours. Reality is beginning to set in, and they find themselves in a pub, enjoying a drink on the last of Ian’s pocket change. They’ll be walking home from here–if, that is, they have homes to which to go. After all, it’s been two years (give or take—it’s two years on Earth, but how does one even begin to calculate their own elapsed time when traveling in time and space?), and surely their landlords have cleared out their flats by now. Barbara muses that she can go to her mother’s house, and that her mother will gladly put Ian up as well—but of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How do you go back to normal life, after all that they’ve experienced? And it’s not just the psychological adjustment, though that is certainly enough. No, it’s the practical matters. What will they do for work? What about money in the meantime? And fashions! Fashions have changed drastically in this short time, and the two time-stranded teachers feel very out of place.

All of that, though, fades into the background as Ian notices a stranger watching them. Clad in a steel-grey suit and holding a silver pocketwatch, the man acknowledges Ian’s notice, before leaving the pub. As it turns out, it’s closing time anyway, and so Ian takes the opportunity to escort Barbara out, keeping an eye out for the strange man.

Still, somehow, it’s the stranger who finds them, as they turn into an alley. He is now accompanied by an equally strange woman in a sapphire-blue dress. Strangest of all, the duo call Ian and Barbara by name—in fact, by their full names: Ian Francis Chesterton and Barbara Eileen Wright. Ian and Barbara are caught off guard as when the strangers question them further. “On November 23rd, 1963, your time traces disappeared from this continuum,” the strangers say. “Where did you go?*”

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Our story today crosses the world of Doctor Who over with another time-travel series of the era: Sapphire and Steel. This is a series that I only know by reputation and by reading; I haven’t seen it, though it’s on my “eventually” list. Fortunately, this story hints more than tells; it stops just as our heroes meet the titular Sapphire and Steel, and so it doesn’t stray far into territory which I wouldn’t be able to properly discuss. I understand that there’s a fair bit of overlap in the fandoms of Sapphire and Steel and classic Doctor Who, and justifiably so, given the relation in the subject matter; therefore I think this is a great connection, and am glad to have read it.

What I appreciate most about this story, however, is the immediacy of it. When we last saw Ian and Barbara (chronologically, that is), they had just used the Dalek time machine to return home. In most instances of companion exits, we don’t get to see what happens thereafter. We carry on with the Doctor (and not always immediately, even in that context), and often we get to revisit companions at a later time, but we rarely see what happens to them when they return home. How does one adapt to the mundane life of an earthbound human, after traveling with the Doctor? How does one even get started? Here we get a glimpse, if not a long one. It’s a bit reminiscent of Rose, the first episode of the revived series, in which we get to see Rose Tyler’s first morning after meeting the Doctor—a situation that, while not quite a companion exit, is similar enough, as her encounter with the Doctor destroys a significant part of her old life.

So, check it out. Take this opportunity to get a glimpse of what Ian and Barbara are feeling as reality—the reality that they are home, and don’t know what to do–sets in. After all, what would you or I do in that situation?

Next time: We’ll carry on with Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, by Dana Reboe. See you there!

Mild Curiosities is published in support of Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity and research organization. You can learn more about them here. The anthology can be purchased in digital form here for a limited time.

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Audio Drama Review: 1963

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we begin listening to Short Trips, Volume 2, released on 28 February 2011. This second collection (of four) again covers the first Eight Doctors. We’ll begin with the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki in 1963, written by Niall Boyce and read by William Russell. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 2

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

A man in an alley cowers as another man looms over him with a flick knife [a switchblade, for the Americans in the audience ~ TLA]. Barbara Wright looks at the scene…which is oddly frozen in place. More than just still, there is no motion at all, not even breath—she cannot even budge the men’s clothes or hair when she touches them. She wonders who the men are; but there was no way to know. Barbara leaves the alley to search for life anywhere in the city; for the entire place is still in just this fashion.

That morning, Barbara awakened to the smell of coffee and breakfast, newly made by Vicki just for Barbara; but she recalls that she did not sleep well, as the TARDIS had flown roughly through the “night”. Vicki calls her to the control room where the Doctor awaits; she finds him filled with excitement over a pending surprise. Ian joins them. At the Doctor’s direction, Vicki activates the scanner…and it reveals London, 23 November 1963—the very day that they left, so long ago.

After the alley, Barbara makes her way down the middle of a crowded-but-still street. She notices that the clock face of Big Ben is frozen at quarter past one; but her own watch continues to move. She hears a voice calling her name…it is Ian, standing on the water of the river! Of course, the water is frozen as well.

The Doctor had been as surprised as they when no motion was evident on the scanner. He blamed the scanner at first, and then—with Vicki’s help—began to work under the console.

Ian and Vicki discuss the situation as they sit in the middle of the river. Ian thinks it may not even be aliens, but the Russians; after all, Kennedy was just assassinated yesterday. He mentions the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how close the world was to annihilation then. She quotes T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.” Ian comments again on the date—and Barbara suddenly remembers: it is her aunt Cecilia’s birthday, and they had a meeting scheduled, at Lyons’ Corner House on the Strand.

Luckily for Barbara, the door is half open due to a young woman entering at the moment of freezing; otherwise they would not have been able to enter. They slip inside, and find Aunt Cecilia sitting at a nearby table, reading a novel called The Price of Salt as she sips her tea and waits for Barbara. Barbara thinks for a moment that Cecilia is about to rise, but of course she isn’t. Ian breaks Barbara’s reverie when he points out that they don’t have reflections in a nearby mirror.

Vicki locates them and calls them back to the TARDIS, where the Doctor has figured out what went wrong. He assures them that London is fine; the problem is with the TARDIS. The ship’s “heart”, so to speak, went wrong; he explains that this feature of the TARDIS keeps its existence in real time synchronized to that of its owner and passengers. Otherwise it would vanish into the past or the future. In this case, it simply—for want of a better term—skipped a beat. As a safety measure, it then materialized at a static point in time and space, allowing it to be repaired by the Doctor while time simply stays still around them. Why London? Barbara asks. To this the Doctor has no answer—perhaps the TARDIS is simply fond of the city. At any rate, it is repaired…

…However, the Doctor can’t simply set time running again. The only thing to do is dematerialize and land again—but the Doctor is no better at steering the ship than he has ever been. So close to home, and yet so far away… The Doctor offers them a chance to look around again, but they decline; they are ready to leave now. Perhaps one day they will make it home for real.

In the wake of their exit, a murdered man was found in an alley. A baby, named John Fitzgerald, was born. And in a cafe, a woman’s niece was late…but that was alright. Elsewhere, with the recent assassination of a President, a new era was beginning—one that many may wish to have stopped. But, as well know, time never stops.

Short Trips Volume 2 1

We seem to be setting a pattern of melancholy stories for the First Doctor; first we had Rise and Fall, and now 1963. It doesn’t matter that we viewers know that Ian and Barbara eventually make it home (and later marry, if the comics are taken as fact!); they don’t know it yet, and for all they do know, they’ll never get there. This kind of “almost but not quite” ending is quite common in serialized fiction—after all, you can’t have your hero achieve his or her ultimate goal while you still have stories to tell—but here it seems all the more sad for how close they come to making it home safely. If only the Doctor knew how to fly his TARDIS…well, I suppose it’s not in the greatest repair at this point, either, so it isn’t all the Doctor’s fault.

I was confused by one notation at the end of this story. Barbara mentions that 23 November is her aunt Cecilia’s birthday, and that each year she meets her aunt on that day for a lunch date. She goes and confirms her aunt’s presence at the designated cafe; but of course her aunt is frozen in place with the rest of London. At the end, when the TARDIS leaves, a list of events that occur thereafter is given. One event is the aforementioned lunch date; the woman notes that her niece is fifteen minutes late. However, to my knowledge, Ian and Barbara are eventually returned to 1965, not 1963 (see The Chase); therefore I don’t know how Barbara’s lunch date could take place here. The though occurred to me that it’s the pre-Doctor version of Barbara—which makes sense, as she shouldn’t be leaving with the Doctor until that evening after school hours were completed. However, Barbara mentions to Ian that “she was waiting for me…but I never came”. The notation at the end conspicuously doesn’t mention any names, so I suppose it could be a coincidental mention of someone else, but that seems unlikely. Perhaps there’s a story I’ve missed, in which they make it home to 1963?

There are few continuity references as such—not a surprise at this point. Vicki does make a point of telling Ian that “Vicki” is her full name, not “Victoria”. There’s a bit of a glimpse of life in the TARDIS, especially as regards eating and sleeping; it’s consistent with what we’ve seen in episodes such as The Edge of Destruction, including food bars that replicate whole meals. Vicki is unusually knowledgeable about 20th century pop culture—she knows a Beatles album by heart—but then, she did study 20th century history (The Suffering).

I will say that, while I think William Russell is an excellent voice actor (and a fantastic alternate for the First Doctor), it’s a little odd to hear him read a story that is chiefly from Barbara’s point of view. Of course, Jacqueline Hill (i.e. Barbara) has been gone for a long time, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic—and perhaps more so, as she never had the opportunity to lend her voice talents to any of these stories.

Overall: Not a bad start to the collection, but not an optimistic one, either. It serves as a reminder that Ian and Barbara’s time in the TARDIS was really the start of something new, and no one—least of all the Doctor—really knew what they were doing. There was a level of everyday stress and struggle that perhaps is absent with most other companions, simply because none of the familiar patterns had yet been set. Add in a moment like this, with so much hope that is then snatched away, and it’s something of a breaking point for the companions. I wonder if future stories will be in this vein.

Next time: We’ll join the Second Doctor and Victoria (not Vicki!) in The Way Forwards; and with any luck, we’ll pick up the Main Range’s Nekromanteia. See you there!

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

Short Trips, Volume 2

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 7: The Amber Room

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

Seasons of War cover

A human soldier named Leo Dunning finds himself being chased by a dinosaur. When one was just on patrol in Baghdad, this is hardly normal procedure, and Leo justifiably expected to be dead in a moment. He is disappointed—or perhaps not?—when a strange man in a leather jacket and bandolier saves his life…and drags him into a police box. Just when you think the day can’t get any stranger… The stranger explains (and not very simply) how Leo has come to be displaced in time—sent back to prehistoric times—by temporal shrapnel from another, greater war. However, when he tries to take Leo home, there’s a problem: Earth isn’t there. In Leo’s time, it’s simply gone—and it seems to have never existed. This is a monumental problem, of course, and it’s complicated by the presence on the scanner of another police box, floating in Earth’s place. The stranger—whom Leo decides to call “Dave”, when the man refuses to give a name—materializes his ship around the police box, which proves to be perfectly ordinarily—not a TARDIS—but which is reeking with Dalek-variety temporal radiation. Dave says that the box was at the center of an “Impact Causal Event”, or ICE—a literal time bomb, created by the Daleks—which left the box where it has always been and blew away the world around it. If Dave moves the box—or his TARDIS, now that it’s here—this final link with Earth’s existence will be broken, and it can never be restored. It seems the Daleks left the box—in this and every timeline—as a trap, knowing the Doctor couldn’t resist checking it out; and now he is caught. He is unable to leave this spot, but he can rearrange the TARDIS interior; and so he relocates the police box to the Amber Room, then takes Leo there. This rather Victorian room has the ability to track the box’s path through time—the wound it left behind—and locate the moment the time bomb detonated. The room transforms into a still image of a London street—a double-decker bus, a child with a balloon, children running to the theatre, a man giving a tramp a new pair of boots. Together, Leo and Dave realize that there are clues in the scene, numbers which, assembled, will give them the precise temporal co-ordinates of this moment. In finding them, Leo also comes to the startling realization that the tramp in the tableau…is Dave. The boots he is receiving provide the final number in the co-ordinates. Piecing it all together, Dave checks the upper rim of the police box, and finds a sonic screwdriver, the exact twin of his own. Dave takes them to that moment in history, and finds the Earth present there—12 January 1971, 3:02 PM. Dave leaves his screwdriver atop the box, emitting a signal which the Daleks will certainly track—leading to the ICE—but which his TARDIS can later follow to this moment. He explains that he has also switched the police box for the one found floating in space. When the Daleks strike, this will create a paradox, canceling out the effects of their attack, and saving the Earth. Dave sits down to wait for the correction of time to catch up…and Leo notices a hole in Dave’s worn-out boots. Fortunately, he’s bought him a new pair—just as the Amber Room showed him.

Usually when we think of paradoxes in Doctor Who, they’re a bad thing. The Doctor spends his time correcting them, or preventing them from happening in the first place—it’s all the same, really. It’s easy to forget that both sides used them during the Time War, sometimes to destructive effect, but often to counteract destruction. We get a great example of that in this story, The Amber Room. It’s fascinating, because here, the Doctor actually sees his own personal future, without causing a destructive paradox. That rarely happens; usually encounters with his future happen in multi-Doctor stories, and the universe covers for it by causing him to forget. (In the Amber Room’s vision, his face and Leo’s face are blurred out, but the rest of their bodies and clothing are not, so it had to be obvious to him what he was seeing. Leo may perhaps be forgiven for not noticing at first; he was under a lot of strain.) Writing a cohesive paradox story can’t be simple—I sometimes catch myself wondering how in the world the writers kept it straight during the writing process—and I applaud the authors for managing the trick here; it’s cleverly executed, and neatly tied up at the end. This story also revisits the Chronosmiths, in that the Doctor muses on how the Daleks have broken through his protection of Earth; it doesn’t yet address how he will go about restoring that protection. (I’m beginning to think that shield spends more time down than up.) Overall: A good story. It’s perhaps small in scope when you consider that everything is restored to its initial state at the end. I don’t have a problem with that; we’ll get stories with greater impact in this collection, as well. One might argue of Doctor Who in general that the Doctor spends too much time on Earth—that has been a topic of debate for years—and if you feel that way, you will feel a little disgruntled to see that this is another Earth-based story; but again, we’ll see some offworld events very soon. (Personally, I’m fine with the in-universe explanation: the Doctor quite simply likes Earth, and in addition, it’s a bit of a causal nexus, and so attracts trouble.) Although Leo Dunning is noted to be a British soldier, his involvement in combat in Iraq makes this story especially relatable to fans like me, in America, given that America’s involvement in the various Iraq wars has been extensive and public. He’s a relatable character, and it’s an enjoyable story.

The Amber Room was written by Simon A. Brett and John Davies, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next: The Celephas Gift, by Andrew Smith. 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: Dead London

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we begin series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. We’ll open with Dead London, written by Pat Mills and starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller, and Rupert Vansittart as Sepulchre. Let’s get started!

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

Dead London 1

The Eighth Doctor is in court, charged with “Leaving a blue box on a double yellow line” while Lucie is shopping.  While waiting, he discovered a localized temporal shift in the area; but this explanation is not enough to acquit him, and he is sentenced—to death, for a parking offense.

The localized temporal shift is more local than he thought, it seems.  He has suddenly, in the middle of the trial, been transported to the 17th century, to the dock of the Old Bailey court.  Here he is being confused with someone else, but there’s no convincing the judge of that.  The judge—“Hanging” judge Jeffreys—admits he may have met the Doctor before, but will not meet him again.  Before he has the Doctor removed, the Doctor insists that the judge is not really Jeffreys, based on inconsistencies in his statements.  While the Doctor is still present, the next prisoner is brought into the dock: a flamboyant young woman called “Spring-Heeled Sophie”, Sophia Shepherd, a tightrope walker who boasts about her skills while slipping her shackles.

Lucie has become lost while shopping, and stranger still, the city has gone dark.  She is nearly run down in the streets by a tram, before encountering an oddly yellow-skinned woman calling herself “Yellow Beryl”.  Beryl explains that the strange color is from the TNT that she works with in a munitions factory, and that England is fighting the Germans and Austrians.  To Lucie’s surprise, it is the year 1917.  They are forced to take shelter as zeppelins fly over and begin dropping bombs.

Sophie denies involvement in the robberies of which she is accused; the Doctor comes to her defense, trying to prevent her from being hanged, but is shouted down.  As the guards subdue him, he is knocked out.  Sophie is sentenced to death, and the judge orders the court’s Turnkey to take the Doctor and Sophie to Newgate to await their hanging.  They are temporarily placed in the condemned cell at the Old Bailey, where they introduce themselves to each other, with Sophie flirting with the Doctor.  She offers to help him find Lucie if they can escape, and they pool their resources to try to bribe the guard.  However, the Doctor is surprised to see Sophie’s contribution—a box made of telmonium, a non-terrestrial metal.  The box is filled with flashing control lights, which Sophie calls fairies.  He tells her it comes from a world called Quagreeg, which is inhabited by reptilian creatures; it seems they are dealing with a more serious problem now.  She admits that she has pressed the buttons on the box, which concerns the Doctor greatly; he explains that it controls a system of tractor beams, which may have brought him here through time.  He is sure the owner of the box will want it back, and may be dangerous.

Beryl and Lucie make their way to the Underground station at St. Paul’s, for safety.  Beryl explains that it’s not just the bombings; there’s a killer on the loose, the Blackout Killer, who takes advantage of the air raids to kill his victims—respectable women in every case—during the blackouts.  No one sees him; they only hear the tapping of the stick he carries.  At the underground station, the gates at the bottom are locked; and a massive explosion nearby knocks them to the ground.  Heading back to ground level, they find the building next door leveled by the bombs.  They separate, as Beryl needs to get to the factory, but Lucie wants to find the Doctor; Beryl gives her directions to the Holborn Viaduct, where she last saw him.  Lucie almost immediately sees a river appear in front of her; Beryl doubles back and tells her that the river appears and disappears at random, and usually has Fleet Street on the other side, dependent on what “he” wants.  She refuses to elaborate, and warns Lucie not to ask too many questions—if you do, things become “fuzzy” and fade away.

The Doctor questions Sophie further, searching for anything strange.  She says that she escaped from a workhouse, and in the process she saw a flash and heard a loud noise.  She found herself in a Roman temple inside a cave, where she found the box.  The description of the temple tells the Doctor it is a temple to the god Mithras; the flash of light is characteristic of the tractor beams, but this one seems to be for space only, not time, as Sophie is from this time period.  The temple is at the end of the river; she agrees to take them there, if they can escape.  The Doctor considers, and concludes that the 17th-century and Roman versions of London are now adjacent—an impressive piece of temporal engineering.  As they wait, they hear the Bellman, the town crier, making announcements outside; the Doctor thinks he has heard the man’s voice before.

Lucie asks Beryl where to find the mysterious “he”, but Beryl is no help; she says that “he” is everywhere.  Beryl is strangely at ease with encountering people from other times.  Lucie intends to cross the river, but Beryl wishes her luck and moves on.  Lucie searches for a bridge, and sees modern buildings on the other side; she concludes that the varying times are now geographically related, and she is getting close to one.  Nearby, a figure sniffs the air, and a stick can be heard tapping as he follows Lucie.

The Turnkey delivers the Doctor and Sophie to Newgate, and hands them over to the chief warder, Jack Ketch.  Ketch makes Sophie uncomfortable, and says he intends to take the Doctor’s coat after the execution; he doubles as the hangman.  The Doctor is unimpressed, and tells him to drop his disguise; he recognizes Ketch as the same man who was posing as the Judge, the Magistrate (in the modern court before the time shift) and the Bellman.  He is sure the man is really a shape-shifting alien, probably from Quagreeg, given the source of the box.  He deduces that the alien transferred him here to avoid disrupting his 2008 version of London when he deals with the Doctor.  The Doctor assures him he won’t get the TARDIS if that is what he wants; in reply, Ketch says he will make sure the Doctor takes a long time to die.  He puts them in a carriage to take them to the gallows at Tyburn.  The Doctor tries again, this time speaking in the Quagreeg language; Ketch obliges him and changes into a reptilian creature from Quagreeg.  The creature says that he and his other avatars are called Sepulchre here, after St. Sepulchre’s church.

Lucie realizes she’s being followed.  She finds herself near a modern pub, clearly in 2008; she asks some people outside if there is a bridge she can use to cross to their side.  One young man offers to help, but is called away, and asks her to join him if she gets across.  She is then accosted by the Blackout Killer.  She runs from him, but finds herself at a dead end; the killer taunts her, and tells her he is also a lookout for the Zeppelins, and hearing her in her hiding spot is no trouble for him.  He confronts her, and says that “they” need new blood, then transforms into a reptilian creature, similar to the one confronting the Doctor.  She manages to push it into the river and escape.  She makes her way to a bridge, but upon crossing, she finds she is not in 2008—she is in the 17th century.

Sepulchre explains that his race is a hive mind.    He has transported many of the poor—who won’t be missed—from various eras into re-enactment chambers, where they are killed over time.  He insists it’s not for pleasure, but is necessary for their race’s well-being.  The Doctor intends to put a stop to it; Sepulchre, for his part, is thrilled to have captured a Time Lord, as his death will greatly enhance the Quagreegs.  He resumes the image of Ketch, and says he doesn’t understand the Doctor’s care for the humans.  At the gallows, a crowd waits.  Ketch prepares them for execution, and Sophie spits in his face.  The Doctor gives a speech, but it’s not the rant Sepulchre expects; the Doctor’s lack of fear confuses him, and the Doctor reminds him that this is not real, just a re-enactment.  Sophie realizes that the area is breaking down; Sepulchre seems to be losing control of this re-enactment.  The Doctor makes a rather overblown speech, irritating Sepulchre, but he continues, allowing Sophie to slip her chains and undo the Doctor’s chains as well.  She pulls the trapdoor, on which Ketch happens to be standing, and he falls through, allowing the Doctor and Sophie to escape.

They escape to the River Fleet, where Sophie had previously hidden a boat.  The Doctor realizes the river connects the various re-enactment chambers, and asks Sophie to take him via boat to the temple where she obtained the control box.  If he is right, it will be Sepulchre’s base of operations; and the real being may be present, instead of his avatars… Sophie at first refuses, but the Doctor talks her into it; while they talk, she discovers someone watching from the shadows, and so they give the illusion of continued arguing.  Sophie lassoes the figure, and finds that it is Lucie, who is overjoyed to be reunited with the Doctor; she admits to waiting to approach so that she could be sure of his identity, having already met one shapeshifter.  As a group of rough-looking men approach, the trio flees in the boat.

Judge Jeffreys—another avatar—finds and awakens Ketch.  Their meeting is a break in protocol, but it’s allowed for now, as Ketch failed to kill the Doctor.  They go in pursuit of the Doctor and his companions.

The river takes the group underground, and Sophie lights a lantern.  The Doctor explains how the river connects the zones, serving not just for transport, but for information transmission, like a neural pathway.  He expects to find the real Sepulchre at the temple, and can use the box on him—but only on the real being.  In the temple, Sepulchre is watching their progress with several avatars.  He intends to see the Doctor killed before he can arrive here, and decides to route them to another time; Ketch suggests the attack on London by Boudicca during the Roman era.  However, Sepulchre realizes the box is missing, and can’t send the Doctor without it.  Though this represents a danger, there is another way to send the Doctor…

A lock gate opens, sending a flood of water into the river, and pulling the boat away from the Temple.  It carries them over a waterfall.  The boat is smashed, and they find themselves above Roman London, trapped with a hundred others inside a giant Wicker Man.  Sepulchre intends to burn them, then recover the box from the Doctor’s ashes.  The Doctor wants Sophie to use the rope she brought from the boat to set a line for them to walk from the Wicker Man, but she refuses, as the Doctor and Lucie are amateurs with no tightrope-walking experience.  Lucie sees a man with a torch, who ritually sets the Wicker Man aflame; the Doctor recognizes him as Boudicca’s arch-druid, and also an avatar.  Sepulchre, satisfied with this fate, sends Ketch and Jeffreys back to their own eras, and goes to watch the burning personally.  As the smoke begins to choke them, the Doctor has Sophie lasso part of the city gate instead, creating not a tightrope but a zipline, which they can navigate with their belts.  He uses the sonic screwdriver to weaken the wicker, allowing them to break out.  The Doctor insists the other captives aren’t actually in danger, and they slide down the line; and the Wicker Man vanishes.  The Doctor reminds them that the re-enactments are contingent on Sepulchre’s authority; if something unexpected happens, they break down.  Sepulchre appears and congratulates the Doctor on deducing the situation—but the Doctor has missed one critical piece.  The river isn’t just like a neural pathway, it is a neural pathway; and they are all inside Sepulchre’s brain!  The box’s tractor beams, like the TARDIS, are dimensionally transcendental—Sepulchre’s mind is bigger in the inside.

Sepulchre demands the box, and Lucie tells the Doctor to use it on Sepulchre instead.  He refuses, knowing it would kill not only Sepulchre, but everyone inside his mind.  Instead, he berates Sepulchre for treating humans like cattle; and he uses his sonic screwdriver to shut off various neural connections.  The re-enactments will still function, but they are now disconnected from each other.  The group finds themselves back in the 17th-century re-enactment.  Sepulchre can no longer hide behind his avatars; and the crowd sees him as a demon.  Militia officers arrive and take custody of him, placing him with Ketch and Jeffreys.  He swears revenge on the Doctor.  The Doctor is optimistic; he can’t remove the people from the re-enactments, but as long as Sepulchre lives, they will as well, and will be free of his tyranny.  Sophie, of course, has to stay, but intends to learn to write and become a novelist—with her first book based on herself, of course.  The Doctor and Lucie find their way back to the 2008 re-enactment, and find the TARDIS, which is covered in parking tickets.  As they leave, Lucie listens to the city, which now sounds very much alive.

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For all that this story feels very broad, it actually has a very small number of voiced characters. Only six voice actors are credited, owing in part to the fact that all of the avatars of the villain, Sepulchre, are voiced by the same person, Rupert Vansittart. He does a very creditable job at playing multiple parts, giving similar but distinct voices to all of them; in my opinion, none of them sound like his standard, non-acting voice as heard in the story’s CD extras. He comments in the extras on the difficulty of the task, but makes it clear that he greatly enjoyed the roles as well. (It’s not the actor’s first Doctor Who experience; he also played General Asquith and his Slitheen duplicate in Aliens of London/World War Three.) As for the breadth of the story: While I had come to terms with the idea that the setting isn’t real (possible spoiler), I was not prepared for the twist near the end, which places it in an even more restrictive and unexpected environment. I won’t spoil it; but I will say that it’s a plot device that we usually see with the Doctor, not the villains.

There is, surprisingly, nothing to connect this story with the previous series, other than the presence of Lucie. Usually there’s some dialogue, some exposition, which brings the listener up to speed, but not this time. It’s a good choice here; if this series is not going to continue the Headhunter storyline from last series, then it’s better to let it go completely for now. I do hope that at some point, we encounter that character and her new protégé again, but if it’s not this series, I’m content with that.

On the negative side, the Doctor and Lucie spend most of this story apart, having already been separated when it begins. The problem is that we miss out on the fantastic banter that they usually have; halfway through the story I caught myself thinking “Hmm, this doesn’t feel like an Eight/Lucie story at all”. That’s not to say it’s a bad story, but it’s unlike their usual work, and I hope this doesn’t become a trend. (An occasional separation is fine, of course, and even necessary, but it becomes awkward if it takes over the story.) For the time being, the companion role is filled, in a sense, by the character of Spring-Heeled Sophie, a minor thief who falls in with the Doctor, played by Clare Buckfield (who played Trisha Tomorrow in last series’ Horror of Glam Rock, and also played in The One Doctor, which I have not covered yet). It doesn’t show here, but gets a mention in the extras, that Clare also is excellent at multiple accents (Irish in Horror, Cockney here); it’s almost a pity she didn’t get to showcase that skill here.

Lucie’s role, in fact, is oddly lacking in dialogue, or so it feels. She does interact with everyone she meets, but less than usual, I think; for her, it’s almost taciturn. Regardless, the story is a great beginning to the series, with plenty of action and a good temporal twist, as well as a physical twist of sorts. The first series felt like an ongoing mystery, with the entire series proceeding at a run; this series seems to have none of that, with a more relaxed atmosphere (which is, oddly, no contrast with the level of action). I’m looking forward to the rest.

Continuity References: Sepulchre at one point sends the Doctor and his companions to a version of Roman-era London, which is under attack by the warrior queen Boudicca; the Fourth Doctor met Boudicca with Leela in Wrath of the Iceni. Without too much in the way of spoilers, I will say that the various versions of London have a good deal in common with the events of The War Games. The Doctor mentions the Cult of Mithras, which appeared in Seasons of Fear. He mentions the Sea Devils (The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep). He also mentions the Sixth Doctor’s fashion sense (The Twin Dilemma, et al) as well as that of other incarnations (giving us a fantastic line: “In the course of my lives I have much to apologise for. I sincerely regret sundry heinous offences against fashion. In my defence I plead the regrettable taste of previous incarnations; it wasn’t me, it was me!”). He makes general reference to injustices he has perpetrated against various female companions, but doesn’t name names. The “Sepulchre” here is not to be confused with the title or location of the BBC Fourth Doctor audio drama Sepulchre, though it is an interesting coincidence, as that location was also subject to change at the whim of its creator.

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Next time: We rejoin the Doctor and Lucie (and poke fun at the television series Top Gear) in Max Warp! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this audio drama’s purchase page is linked below.

Dead London

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Audio Drama Review: Enemy Aliens

I apologize for bombarding everyone with posts today; that was not my intention.  I discovered that some of my posts didn’t make the transition from my other blog, or possibly from Reddit, and therefore I’m adding them back in today.  Bear with me, please. ~Time Lord Archives

 

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Enemy Aliens, the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Fiftieth Anniversary collection, Destiny of the Doctor. Written by Alan Barnes, the story is read by India Fisher and Michael Maloney. Let’s get started!

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

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The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard, fresh off a series of adventures, try to relax in the TARDIS—but the Doctor is interrupted by a message from himself. More to the point, it’s a future incarnation, leaving a badly-recorded message on a tape deck in the console. Part of the message is missing, but it warns them about some enemy aliens—and…William Tell?

The TARDIS leads them to London in 1935—pointedly NOT the fourteenth century, the home of William Tell—where a strange electronic fuzz blankets the area and blinds the TARDIS sensors. Charley irritates him by humming the William Tell Overture repeatedly, leading the Doctor to think of Rossini, the author of the overture. (As they depart, a group of local boys take up the overture, but are menaced by an unseen creature.) The Doctor locates a music hall, where a man named William Tell is performing feats of memory. The Doctor puts him to the test, and catches him in some numerical inaccuracies; he then challenges him about “enemy aliens”. Tell, acting strangely compelled, says that the “key is in the house of the straggly witch”—and then he is shot dead. Charley finds the murder weapon, but is immediately accused of the murder. The police arrive and take on the Doctor, while a man named Hillary Hammond rushes Charley out of the building.

Charley awakens to find herself in an unknown flat with Hammond, who is humming the overture. She insists on finding the Doctor, but Hammond refuses to let her leave; he says that she is in the newspaper regarding the murder. However, the article indicates the Doctor also escaped. They are interrupted by a window breaking downstairs. They flee the apartment, and head to Scotland by train; Hammond explains that “the straggly witch” is a colloquial name for a bay in Scotland, and believes the Doctor would have worked it out and gone there. Along the way, Charley dons a sailor uniform as a disguise; she also mentions having survived the crash of the R101, and mentions the TARDIS as well. Nevertheless, the police invade the train at a stop anyway, with a military escort. Charley tries to hide, and finds a coffin in the baggage compartment…with the Doctor inside! He admits to avoiding not only the police, but also the mysterious aliens, which he believes attempted to attack him at one point. The Doctor is forced to jump off the train and into a river, narrowly avoiding being shot by the soldiers; Charley is able to evade them and return to Hammond; but he is not alone. He is accompanied by two elderly women, who claim they want to help.

The four disembark at a small village, and Hammond says that the two old ladies believe that he and Charley are eloping. They are escorted to the church; Charley is outraged at the thought, but Hammond appears to be seriously suggesting it, on the basis that it would get them out of trouble with the police by changing their identities (as Hammond is using the name “John Smith”). Charley momentarily considers it, given that she herself is presumed dead after the R101 disaster, but she declines. Shortly thereafter, the Doctor arrives on horseback; Charley is amazed to see that he is alive. He is being pursued, however; and so they hide in the church. Charley takes advantage of the situation to suggest that they go through with the wedding, for the same logic that Hammond had used; but the Doctor realizes that the two old ladies were also in the audience at the music hall. The women produce pistols; and the Doctor and Charley are forced to run. They come upon a group of individuals, whom they recognize as Germans—a different kind of “enemy aliens”.

The Germans leave them in a cell in a ruined castle overlooking the “straggly witch” bay. Hammond arrives and takes them out of the cell, and down to a hidden jetty in a cave—not a “secret KEY”, but a “secret QUAY” leading to a hidden “LOCH”, not “LOCK”. Hammond reveals he is working for the Germans, and that he killed Tell because the Doctor got too close; Tell’s incorrect statements were actually coded communications in use by the Germans. As Tell exposed the straggly witch location, where the Germans came ashore, they are obligated now to pull out of that location. He admits he would have killed Charley as well, had she married him, which would have allowed him a new identity as a widower. He has also brought the TARDIS here, based on the things Charley let slip. He also mentions a strange radio transmission that had led him to believe the TARDIS was real; he plays a tape of the message from the future Doctor, including the part. The future Doctor makes it clear that the electronic fuzz is preventing him from contacting his other incarnations [as seen in previous entries in the series]; he wanted the Eighth Doctor to clear the interference. The aliens in question—actual aliens, not the Germans—are using the overture via radio broadcast to coordinate their plans, much as Tell was doing for the Germans. Hammond wants the Doctor to give him the secrets of the TARDIS; but they are interrupted by mortar fire. The Doctor reveals that the two old ladies were actually agents for the British, who have now initiated an attack on the German position. In the chaos, the Doctor and Charley escape in the TARDIS.

Thirteen hours later, the TARDIS materializes in London. Charley checks the Radio Times, and learns that a pianist will be broadcasting Rossini’s overture shortly—the signal to begin the invasion. The Doctor says that they waited til the last minute so that the pianist could not be replaced in time; he is horrified to realize that the broadcast will be worldwide. Before they can move on the radio station, a large alien brute arrives from the direction of Hammond’s vacated apartment—and purrs at Charley. She realizes it must have been the creature that broke into the downstairs flat; and it has been waiting for her. The Doctor realizes that it is an advance sentry—and Charley had activated it by humming the overture. Now it is at her command.

The Doctor, Charley, and the creature rush to the broadcast studio, and interrupt the broadcast just before the overture. However, it’s too late—the alien mothership over London is appearing. However, the electronic fuzz is now gone; and the Doctor is free to send a radio signal. He sends a 20,000-terrahertz signal to the ship; the resulting wave disturbance is enough to give the aliens pause. They go to the roof to watch the ship respond. But, the Doctor realizes, his future self is also coming to their aid; the future Doctor sends a second signal, warning the aliens that Earth is protected by a race with higher technology than theirs. The ship—and all its companions around the world—depart.

Hammond meets them as they start to leave the roof, and threatens to kill them. Charley hums the overture, summoning the alien sentry, which grabs Hammond, but falls over the roof with him, eight stories up. The alien hits the ground and dies, but Hammond is left clinging to the minute hand of the clock on the face of the building; and he has four minutes until it is vertical, dropping him to his death. We are left not knowing if they let him fall.

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As is common with Eighth Doctor stories, this entry races along at breakneck speed, seldom stopping to explain itself or flesh out its details. As a result, it’s a little hard to believe if you take a moment and think through it. Its aliens—the extraterrestrial kind, that is—are never really identified; the final encounter with them is reminiscent of the encounter with the Atraxi at the end of The Eleventh Hour, but they are clearly not the same, and physically they are more reminiscent of the Ogrons. The Doctor makes a number of mental leaps here, for which he lacks the required evidence; most notably, he assumes the Eleventh Doctor will interfere with the aliens, when he can’t really know that, given that his personality changes with every incarnation. He’s not alone in such leaps, however; Hammond correctly does the same when he assumes that the Doctor will go to Scotland. Charley, for her part, never really stops to question how Hammond can be so sure of the decisions he is making; a little skepticism might have saved her a lot of trouble.

This story takes place sometime after Storm Warning; but that’s as far as we can go. No references are made to any other known stories in Charley’s time with the Doctor, and the handful that she mentions don’t seem to be recorded anywhere. She has been with the Doctor long enough to begin to understand the very basics of the TARDIS, and to develop some habits with regard to the Doctor; there’s a comical line where she refers to having come up with a naming convention for the Doctor’s gadgets—his “thingummies, doodahs, and whatsits”. (She has a number of comical lines of that type throughout the story.)

The Eleventh Doctor cameo is very obvious here; as we’ve progressed through the series, they have become increasingly more so. Here, it’s in the form of a taped message at the very beginning, but we don’t get the full message until the end. Once again, he is not stated to be the Eleventh Doctor, just a future incarnation, but the mannerisms are very clear.

India Fisher’s portrayal of the Eighth Doctor is lacking with regard to her voice; not everyone can be Carole Ann Ford or Frazer Hines, I suppose. On the other hand, she captures his speech patterns very well. Michael Maloney’s portrayal of Hillary Hammond is not bad, either, though he seems to change accents periodically; it’s never really made clear if he is a German himself (under an assumed name) or a collaborator, and his accent could go either way.

Overall, I didn’t care for this story. While it ambitiously tries to misdirect the audience in several ways—for example, the local version of William Tell rather than the historic version, the coded reference to the bay, and the double meaning of “enemy aliens”—it mostly fails to carry it out properly, simply because it rushes so much. I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of material was cut for time, and the story suffers for it. Still, it’s the hinge between the classic and new eras as portrayed in this series, and it’s useful for that purpose.

Next time: On to the Ninth Doctor in Night of the Whisper! See you there.

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

Enemy Aliens

Destiny of the Doctor

 

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Novel Review: Timewyrm: Exodus

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Continuing with the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs), we’re looking today at Timewyrm: Exodus,  book two in the Timewyrm quartet, written by longstanding Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

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Picking up where we left off in Timewyrm: Genesys, the TARDIS takes the Seventh Doctor and Ace to London, 1951. It’s the Festival of Britain, set to celebrate recovery from World War II, but something is amiss: It becomes immediately clear that history has changed, and the Nazis won the war. Britain is now a German protectorate.

The Doctor saves a shopkeeper from a brawl with members of the Freikorps, a sanctioned group of local thugs under the loose control of the SS. He and Ace then witness a murder, and the dying man slips the Doctor an odd item: the identification of a high-ranking Nazi official, the Reichsinspektor General. Shortly thereafter, they are arrested on the word of an informant, and imprisoned by a Lieutenant Hemmings, local commander of the Freikorps. They escape quite easily, and return to the Festival, where a local named Popplewell–secretly a resistance member–hints at how to contact the resistance movement. He also reveals that the TARDIS was taken by a patrol. They return to the local headquarters, and the Doctor uses the ID badge to bluff his way into the confidence of the local general, General Strasser. Hemmings breaks in and accuses them, and the Doctor has Hemmings seconded to his command, so as to keep him in view.

The Doctor tells Hemmings that Ace is a relative of a resistance member, and has contacts; she must be “interrogated” (for the sake of appearances) and then released, and will then willingly lead them to the resistance. Meanwhile, the Doctor goes to the former British Museum to examine the military records stored there, hoping to find the point at which history diverged. He learns that the turning point was at Dunkirk during the war; unlike real history, the Germans annihilated the retreating British army at Dunkirk. He is contacted psychically by the Timewyrm, who rages and tears up the room, much like a poltergeist–but he gets the impression she is trapped somehow. Hemmings, meanwhile, “interrogates” Ace; he beats her more than necessary for effect, as he doesn’t believe they are not enemies of some sort. He then releases her, and she goes to act on the tip from Popplewell, meeting resistance members at Ma Barker’s Cafe. Hemmings has her followed, and plans to raid the cafe; but he is interrupted by the timely intervention of the Doctor, who manages to vouch for the resistance members as double agent, and have Hemmings arrested. Back at HQ, he sends Ace to the TARDIS, and goes to release Hemmings secretly, knowing he put the man in a dangerous position; but Hemmings attacks him and bolts. Hemmings sees the TARDIS materialize, and a voice calls him inside; then the TARDIS vanishes. However, something isn’t right; the Doctor’s TARDIS is still where he left it. The Doctor joins Ace there, and they depart.

Working with a plan that he has not yet revealed, the Doctor travels to Munich, 1923, on the date of Hitler’s failed coup that led to his imprisonment (during which he would write Mein Kampf). Against Ace’s urging, he lets the events play out…and resets Hitler’s dislocated shoulder, ingratiating himself to the future dictator. Later he tells Ace that the Nazi regime failed in part because of Hitler’s incompetence…and he cannot allow Hitler to be replaced with a competent dictator. Hence, his involvement now.

They then travel to Nuremberg, 1939, and hide the TARDIS in a parking location in the Time Vortex. They attend a Nazi party rally, and the Doctor demonstrates that Hitler’s speeches are not very good, but are using some highly advanced psychological tricks, tricks which don’t belong to this time period; someone has been interfering, but it doesn’t seem to be the Timewyrm–it’s not her style. He meets Goering and Himmler, Hitler’s highest-ranking associates, and also Bormann, Hitler’s personal attendant. He also meets an old and deformed doctor named Kriegslieter, who seems familiar somehow. He then meets Hitler, and, playing on the memory of their first meeting, he incorporates himself into Hitler’s inner circle, obtaining resources and freedom to operate in the process. At a private audience with Hitler, he learns that the man has been possessed by the Timewyrm, who sets off a telekinetic storm like that seen in the museum. However, he learns something else: The Timewyrm is trapped in Hitler’s powerful mind, and can’t escape. He teachers Hitler some basic techniques to resist its influence. And still, someone else’s hand is at work.

Hitler kicks off the invasion of Poland. He believes that Britain will not counterattack, but will appease him, as they have done before–but he is wrong. Britain declares war, sending Hitler into a rage, but he is able to calm himself and not accede control to the Timewyrm, thanks to the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor is content, knowing the war will proceed on schedule–history has not yet been derailed.

The Doctor is summoned by Goering, who admits that if necessary, he would replace Hitler for the good of the Reich. He is then arrested and taken to Himmler, but ingratiates himself by claiming to be a sorcerer–he knows that Himmler is obsessed with the occult. Himmler invites him to Drachensberg, the castle of the SS, where Himmler’s other alleged sorcerers–the Black Coven–meet. However, upon returning to his rooms, the Doctor finds an invitation from Kriegslieter, which Ace has accepted in his place. By the time he gets to Kriegslieter’s office, Ace is missing–and a crystal ball on the table shows her being prepared to be used as a sacrifice at Drachensberg.

The Doctor calls in a favor from Goering, setting him on the road to Drachensberg with an armored column. He then finds a transmat booth in Kriegslieter’s office, which leads to Drachensberg. He tampers with it before using it, sending himself onto the roof of the castle instead of to the receiving transmat, and the receiving transmat explodes. However, to save Ace, he surrenders–and he recognizes the equipment in use. It is the property of the War Lords, whom he last encountered at the end of his second life. Kriegslieter proves to be the renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief, now victim of a failed regeneration that left him deformed.

Escaping their past defeat by the Time Lords, the War Lords had come to Earth to again form an unstoppable army; but this time, unlike their previous plan to collect soldiers from throughout history, they will craft their own army via Nazi Germany. To that end, they have been controlling, manipulating, and assisting Hitler; it is this involvement that leads to the change in history at Dunkirk. The War Lords will win the war, accelerate humanity’s technological development, and conquer the galaxy. Ace will be sacrificed to motivate the SS, and the Doctor…Kriegslieter will take his body and his regenerations.

When Himmler arrives for the sacrifice, the Doctor tells him he is being groomed to replace Hitler. He turns on Kriegslieter, who is stunned, having underestimated Himmler’s loyalty to Hitler. The Doctor frees Ace and uses her new Nitro-9-A variation to create a distraction, escaping to the top of the tower. Goering’s armored column arrives, and a battle begins. Goering’s men overcome the Black Coven, but are interrupted by Hitler; the Doctor senses something wrong, and realizes that he has made a mistake–he has not only enabled Hitler to resist the Timewyrm, but to control it. Hitler leaves with Himmler and Goering and the troops. However, the dying Kriegslieter briefly reanimates his dead troops to attack the Doctor. The Doctor sets the castle’s reactors to explode, and they escape in the TARDIS–summoned back from the Vortex–just before it blows, eliminating the War Lords and their technology.

But there is still the Timewyrm to deal with, and Dunkirk. The Doctor jumps ahead to 1940. At Hitler’s command bunker, he confronts Hitler, who is about to order the destruction of the British Army at Dunkirk. The Doctor provokes the Timewyrm into showing itself–and with the aid of the TARDIS, he breaks it free of Hitler’s mind, sending it unfocused into the void. Hitler, now a broken man at the mercy of his own madness, is left impressionable; and the Doctor gets him to order a withdrawal rather than an attack. Thus the true timeline is restored.

The Doctor is unhappy; though he saved time, he still allowed the war to rage, and the Timewyrm is free again. Ace has him return to the festival in 1951, where he sees that all is restored; this cheers him up. However, elsewhere, the Timewyrm is still plotting–and preparing one Lieutenant Hemmings for the future…

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This story taxed my knowledge of World War II and attendant history; but fortunately, it’s written in a manner that explains its events fairly well, so that no research into that history was required. As to that writing: Terrance Dicks has long been my favorite Who writer, at least in terms of prose; I grew up reading his Target novelisations, which were for me the main form of Doctor Who in my childhood. (I did see a number of classic episodes in reruns, but the novelisations made a far greater impact on me, teaching me basic techniques of fiction writing which have stuck with me to this day.) This novel is true to form; as far as structure and execution, it’s better than the first in the quartet. (I hear that the next novel–which I’ve only just begun as of this writing–is the worst of the four, but we’ll see.) My only real complaint–and I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way now–is that the entire first section of the novel feels largely irrelevant to the rest of the plot. The events that happen in 1951 have no bearing on what happens earlier, other than revealing to the Doctor that something is amiss; I suppose he does nail down Dunkirk as the point of divergence, but he could have done that at other times as well. While the first part is well-written, it left me with a feeling of “well, what did I bother reading that for?”

The Timewyrm herself is very much downplayed here. Certainly she’s at work behind the scenes, but we don’t see much involvement from here, as she spends the entire story trapped in Hitler’s mind. However, it’s very clear that we’re setting up for future events, and I expect more from her at least in the fourth book, if not the third.

The Doctor is at his manipulative best here, playing everyone against everyone else. It’s unfortunate to see how he uses Ace; although she takes it in stride (at least, as compared to the last book), he had to know she would suffer because of his actions. While I don’t yet know the details, I do know that Ace ultimately leaves him do to a serious disagreement, not many books hence; and I feel that we’re starting to see the roots of that future conflict. Ace, meanwhile, is her usual self, capable and charming and witty and enthusiastic; she only breaks character once, under great stress, when faced with possible sacrifice (she does the traditional screaming-female-companion bit, briefly). I don’t have enough historical background to evaluate the portrayals of Hitler, Himmler, and Goering; but they are certainly convincing and believable here. While I’d never want to humanize Hitler to the point of excusing his actions, we do see enough of his human side here that we can begin to understand how he must have thought at the time–he has doubts and worries, and makes mistakes. I do think that understanding how a man becomes a monster–as with Hitler–can be useful in helping us avoid such a similar path for ourselves, whether we’re in a position of power or not.

As much as this story is a sequel to Timewyrm: Genesys, it is much more a sequel to The War Games. That serial needed a sequel, and this book delivers. At the time of the serial’s broadcast, not much was yet known about the Time Lords or Gallifrey–in fact, they made their first substantial appearance in that story–and this story benefits from the years of canon that have passed since. Kriegslieter–aka the War Chief–much like the Valeyard before him and the Master after, wants the Doctor’s remaining regenerations. Unlike those others, he intends to take them in a much more direct manner–by transplanting his brain into the Doctor’s body. This story introduces the idea that a failed regeneration can terminate a Time Lord’s entire regeneration cycle, locking them into a deformed or otherwise twisted body; this concept will reappear again in the audio The Trial of the Valeyard. As he clearly dies here, it does seem to undermine the occasionally-popular theory that the War Chief is the Master in disguise, though anything is possible, I suppose. At any rate, it appears that the War Lords meet their final end; however, we don’t know much about them in the background, and we don’t know if there may be more of them on their homeworld, so perhaps we’ll see them again.

Some references: The Doctor calls himself “Johann Schmidt”, the Germanic form of “John Smith”; he will use this name again in Storm Warning, Colditz, and Klein’s Story. Ace references events of The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor refers to the death of his third incarnation by radiation (Planet of the Spiders). He uses the line “Sleep is for tortoises”, which he previously said in The Talons of Weng-Chiang). He claims to have never met Hitler before, but this will eventually be contradicted by the Past Doctor Adventures (Sixth Doctor, in this case) novel The Shadow in the Glass; as well, the Eleventh Doctor will meet him in Let’s Kill Hitler!. As far back as the First Doctor, he witnessed the events at Dunkirk (Just War, Byzantium!), and will visit again in Fugitives. As well, the Eighth Doctor will nearly run into the Seventh and Ace at the festival in the novel Endgame. In an example of contradiction, the TARDIS can’t be painted–it resists the paint–unlike scenes in Aliens of London, The Happiness Patrol, and Hell Bent. The Doctor refers to his sonic screwdriver, and acts as though he doesn’t know what happened to it; never mind that he hasn’t carried one since The Visitation (although I can’t vouch for what may have happened in the comics). There’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the TARDIS’s ability to translate; Ace mentions that she doesn’t speak German, and the Doctor countered that she never studied Cheetah language either (Survival), but she will be fine. There’s a rather silly and undignified reference to the Sisterhood of Karn, who last appeared in The Brain of Morbius (and again in several NuWho episodes); the Doctor has a pot of “Dr. Solon’s Special Morbius Lotion, Guaranteed to Contain Genuine Elixir of Life, Manufactured Under License by the Sisterhood of Karn”. The reference is a joke, but the salve really does work as advertised, curing any superficial injury instantly, and rejuvenating the affected area.

It’s worth discussing for a moment Doctor Who’s relationship with World War II. I have to tread lightly on that topic; I’m not British, and don’t have a British perspective, and the war is probably viewed very differently here in America. But it seems to me that the series has always had a very cautious take on World War II. Direct references to the war in the Classic Series were nonexistent; not a single story was set there. Instead, there are more obscure references in the form of villains modeled after WWII personalities, invasions that echo the war in spirit, and so on. I haven’t made much attempt to track real-world references in these reviews; the various Discontinuity Guides available do a good job of that. But I like to think that the series’ general silence on World War II was in part out of respect for the horror and death of the war, and for the memory of the dead. Now, of course, things have changed; not only the VNAs and other novels, but also the revived series, have many times touched on this topic. I think that’s appropriate; after so many decades, one starts to run the risk of forgetting things that should not be forgotten. You reach a point where respectful silence has to give way to telling the stories of the past, even with all its horrors. Doctor Who is no exception, despite being fictionalized.

Overall, a well-written novel. It doesn’t have the same level of gratuitous fanservice as its predecessor, and manages to pull off mature themes without being lurid. Terrance Dicks continues to be a fine writer, and is on top of his game here.

Next time: Timewyrm: Apocalypse! See you there.

 

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