Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Gifts for Good, by M.H. Norris

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of the post. Today we begin the fifth and final portion of the anthology, titled “Family”, with entry number eleven: Gifts for Good, by anthology editor M.H. Norris. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute. Sales of the anthology come to a close TODAY, 2 April 2019, so if you would still like to purchase a copy, act soon! (I will be finishing this series even after the sale period closes—we’re near the end now!)

Defending Earth (Cover)

Sarah Jane Smith loves a good show as much as anyone else; but she has no patience for charlatans, especially of the “psychic” variety. It’s no surprise, then, that she is grumpy as she takes her seat near the back of the grimy, worn theater; but her old friend the Brigadier is the one who invited her—as well as her son Luke and his friends Rani and Clyde—and so she bears it for his sake. The act, consisting of four young people who bill themselves under the name Mimir, from the old Norse mythology, aren’t bad as these things go; but Sarah is convinced their predictions for various audience members are just a product of cold reading, or perhaps—in this Internet-savvy age—careful research rather than any kind of power. She is less than enthused when one of their members, Lynx, stops and promises her that she will meet an old friend from a time of adventure in her past. After all, Sarah has had many adventures—but only one old friend comes to mind, and she’s already seen him again in recent years…

The Brigadier, for his part, is not disturbed by Sarah’s ranting. He patiently explains that a contact at UNIT has expressed some interest in the group: not enough yet for UNIT to take an active role, but enough to prompt some off-the-books investigation. Who better than Sarah Jane to handle such a job? After all, he muses, better her than those people down in Cardiff…and it’s not like Sarah is alone, even if her allies are children.

They are interrupted on the way back to Bannerman Road by a call from her living computer, Mr. Smith, who advises her to hurry—because a spacecraft has landed in her attic. Sarah Jane races home with her friends in toe and vainly warns the children to wait downstairs. She heads up to the attic, her senses on high alert…and drops her guard when, to her utter surprise, she sees a familiar, white-haired man.

The Doctor—her Doctor, the Third Doctor—has, after so many years, returned.

Over the course of the evening, catching-up ensues. The Doctor’s TARDIS has been pulled out of the vortex by a strange confluence of temporal influences. His Sarah—the much younger version—is away at the moment, visiting the 1970s version of Aunt Lavinia while the older woman is on a brief visit home. Sarah and the Brigadier introduce the children, who have of course heard all about the Doctor; and they catch him up on some of the things that have happened (but certainly not all—Sarah carefully avoids mention of any later incarnations, including the recent visit by the Tenth Doctor). Finally, as Clyde and Rani return home, and the Brigadier does likewise, the Doctor falls to discussing the situation with Mimir, mostly with the precocious Luke. He assists Mr. Smith with running and refining a program that will help them track any temporal disturbances associated with the group—which, it increasingly appears, is also what is holding him here. He recruits Luke to help.

Later, during the night, Luke approaches the Doctor and talks about a more personal matter. He describes his own situation, and the lessons he has learned in his time with Sarah Jane—and those he still needs to learn. The Doctor perceives that one thing Luke lacks is confidence; and so, to build the boy’s confidence, he gives him an impromptu fencing lesson. As the morning approaches, Clyde joins them.

In the morning, Mr. Smith’s efforts come to fruition: there are temporal anomalies surrounding Mimir. It all began when they mysteriously won a lottery jackpot more than a year before, which they have used since to fund their tours. However, in addition to the good coincidences surrounding them, others close to them are suffering unusually bad luck. The Doctor theorizes that one of the group may be a member of a temporally sensitive race—the Vainkrons, the Tiqai, the Cadels, or perhaps the Bulvins. Such races can manipulate probability by viewing a person’s potential futures, then nudging them toward a preferred outcome. But, whoever is doing so here, isn’t doing a good job of it.

They are interrupted by Mr. Smith. Another kind of anomaly has become apparent: a Sontaran has been spotted in downtown London! The children have met these aliens before, and know what they can do; and so Sarah warns them to stay behind while she and the Doctor tackle the threat. Of course, no one listens; but at least the children give her the courtesy of a head start before following her.

The Doctor and Sarah interrupt the lost and confused Sontaran, who is causing chaos and holding a female hostage—perhaps not coincidentally, another audience from the Mimir show, Sarah notes. She challenges the Sontaran, while the Doctor moves in to physically attack; but they seem to be outmatched. The situation is only resolved when Luke, armed with his fencing foil, charges out behind the Sontaran and lands a blow on its probic vent, knocking it out. It’s a great lesson for the boy…but of course, that won’t stop him from being in trouble with his mother for disobeying. A kid is still a kid, after all.

With UNIT handling the return of the Sontaran to its people, and the crisis averted, attention returns to the matter of Mimir. Sarah has arranged an interview with the group, and will be taking Luke with her. Meanwhile, the Doctor gives her a detector that will let him pinpoint the source of the temporal anomalies. He is almost certain now that the culprit is secretly a Tiqai, a humanoid race with temporal sensitivity. They can be identified by their golden eyes, though this one is probably wearing colored contacts.

While Sarah interviews the group, Luke notices that Lynx has wandered off. He finds him sitting on the theater stage—and realizes that the young man appears to be wearing contacts. He takes the plunge, and asks Lynx directly if he is a Tiqai. In the process, he confides the truth about his own alien origins. Lynx admits it, and reveals that he is an orphan, adopted by humans after his own world was caught in the crossfire of two warring races. He knows what he is doing—he only wants his friends to be happy—but he knows it isn’t working out right. He admits that he can’t fully control his powers. He also admits to knowing of Sarah Jane before coming to Earth; it seems she and the Doctor once, many years ago, visited a world near his own, and dealt well with a situation there. Tales of their exploits ultimately made their way to Lynx, though he never expected to meet Sarah Jane! But none of that helps with his problem.

Someone can help, though—and the Doctor joins them on the stage. He graciously offers to teach Lynx how to use his power without harm, and without getting on Time’s bad side.

Later, with the anomalies resolved, the TARDIS is back to normal, and the Doctor is free to leave. He says his goodbyes again to Sarah Jane, and the Brigadier, and the children. Over Sarah Jane’s nostalgic tears at the memories of their times together—both good and bad—he acknowledges what they both know to be true: That it’s the good times and the bad that made each of them what they are; and that, after it all, the world needs Sarah Jane Smith.

Norris Title Card 1

We’re nearing the end of our adventures with Sarah Jane! This story, the eleventh of fifteen, takes place during the events of The Sarah Jane Adventures–specifically, during Series Three, as it is stated to take place in 2009. This places it after the Tenth Doctor’s appearance in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, as she mentions early in the story.

Unlike some of the other spinoff materials referenced in this collection, I have watched some of The Sarah Jane Adventures, though I have yet to complete the series. I can say that this story is very much in keeping with the tone of the series; it’s lighter, more child-friendly, but still quick and action-oriented. It’s a bit of a reunion episode, bringing together not only Sarah Jane, the children, and the Brigadier—but also the Third Doctor, in what is most likely Sarah’s last meeting with him. If I have counted correctly, it makes for six encounters between the Doctor and Sarah in the era of the revived series of Doctor WhoSchool Reunion, Tenth Doctor; the Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Tenth; The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, Tenth; an unseen encounter connected to The End of Time, Tenth (still in the future); this story, Third Doctor; and Death of the Doctor, with the Eleventh Doctor, also still to come as of this story. (If I’ve overlooked any, please comment below!)

I’ve always been a great fan of the Third Doctor; I think he may be a bit underrated in the face of such characters as the Fourth, the Eighth, and the revived series Doctors. It’s wonderful to see him again here, though it’s certainly bittersweet, knowing that there isn’t much room left in Sarah Jane’s life to have any more such encounters. There’s a poignant scene at the end where the Doctor, about to depart, wipes a tear from Sarah’s cheek, harking back to his regeneration scene—which, though history for her, is still to come for him. It’s haunting in its effect.

With all that said, this is still a fairly lighthearted, low-stakes story. It’s a bit contrived; it’s not really explained how the time-sensitive Lynx’s powers conspire to drag the TARDIS from the vortex, when it seems his powers are of a low-impact nature; and it’s never really explained how the Sontaran gets to downtown London. But if you get hung up on those details, you’ll miss out, because the story isn’t about those details. It’s a story about family, and memories, and hope, and—especially for Luke and Clyde—confidence.

There isn’t much in the way of continuity references here; while there are a few references to old adventures, they are to adventures that were created specifically for this story. However, there is an interesting bit, almost small enough to miss, where Luke tells the Doctor how he was created. The Doctor speaks with familiarity on the subject, and one gets the impression this may be a nod to the idea of Gallifreyan Looms—minor, but a nice touch, if that’s how it was intended.

Overall: A good segue into the “Family” portion of the collection. It’s both fun and sentimental, nostalgic and fast-paced. One would think those qualities wouldn’t go well together; but one would be wrong. Check it out!

Next time: The Circles of Drel, by Harry King! See you there.

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M. H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is available until TODAY only in ebook formats and a print edition (preorder only on print edition).

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

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End of an Era: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Six

At long last, we’ve done it! We’ve reached the end (or almost, anyway) of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! I say “almost”, because my plan is to include the 1996 television movie with this rewatch, and also to make a “final thoughts” post (or possibly two, if it gets too long). Today, however, we’re looking at the twenty-sixth and final season, with Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. Let’s get started!

Let this be our last battlefield!

Let this be our last battlefield!

It’s goodbyes all around, as we open with Battlefield, and say goodbye to UNIT. It’s Carbury, England, in the year 1997 (coincidentally, the year I graduated high school), and strange happenings are afoot. It’s Doctor Who’s take on the King Arthur legends, but oddly, it doesn’t deal much with Arthur at all; he’s seen to be in stasis, and then at the end, it’s revealed that he was dead all along, and his prophesied return was just hype. Instead, we deal with Morgaine and Mordred, plus a number of knights in their services, and a summoned demon called the Destroyer. Helping the Doctor and Ace is the loyal knight Ancelyn (I really hope I’m spelling these correctly…); and the Doctor, as it turns out, is Merlin. Of course there’s a catch: He himself doesn’t remember being Merlin, as—it’s suggested—those events are still in his future, and even in a different regeneration.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

There are some great moments: Ace pulling Excalibur and playing Lady of the Lake; Bessie making a reappearance; and Morgaine meeting Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart for the first time, at the business end of his gun. Oh, did I mention him? Yes, the Brigadier makes his final classic appearance here! He’s retired now, from both UNIT and his teaching career, and happily married to his second wife, Doris (not Kate’s mother); but he is recalled by the new head of UNIT in Britain, Brigadier Winifred Bambera, who is NOT prepared to deal with the Doctor. (Nicholas Courtney will reprise the role in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode Enemy of the Bane; and after Courtney’s—and the character’s—death, he’ll be revived in Cyberman form in Death in Heaven, for one final salute.)

Season 26 3

The Doctor’s darker side begins to show here, as he is quite ruthless regarding Morgaine and her troops. He makes frequent references to his past, and even to his future. The serial contains the final scene in the TARDIS interior; the console room is darkened during the scene. Behind the scenes, this was because the wall flats had been accidentally junked after last season; the walls seen here were hasty, cheap replacements, and the lights were dimmed to hide the reality. This scene gives us the “across the boundaries separating one universe from another” line, which was used in the “freezing Gallifrey” scene in The Day of the Doctor. On Earth, the Doctor uses his and Liz Shaw’s now-outdated UNIT ID cards to get himself and Ace inside the perimeter; but it doesn’t work as planned, leading to the Brigadier’s recall.

Goodbye, Brigadier! And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

Goodbye, Brigadier! And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

For reasons unknown to me, this serial is the lowest rated (in original run) of the entire classic series. It’s quite a shame; I thought it was a great story, and a lot of fun to watch. It was a little sad to watch the Brigadier’s final appearance; but it was good to see that UNIT is in good hands.

What an odd house.

What an odd house.

An oddity of this season, and something not seen since the Third Doctor, is that nearly the entire season occurs on Earth. For Ghost Light, we travel back to 1883, to Ace’s hometown of Perivale, and specifically to the large house called Gabriel Chase. We learn that, in her own time, Ace burned this house to the ground, due to an evil presence she felt there. That presence proves to be an incorporeal alien called Light, who, when defeated by the Doctor, dissipates into the house. It’s the story of three aliens from the same mission, each of which has very different plans for the Earth and its inhabitants. It’s a bit of a protest against the idea of evolution, as all three aliens react to the concept in different ways. In the end, Ace must face down some of the literal ghosts of her past.

Even the ghost wonders what he's doing in this story.

Even the ghost wonders what he’s doing in this story.

This serial was the low point of the season for me, and I found it a little hard to maintain my interest. To be fair, it’s the only serial I didn’t care for this season. In tone and subject matter, it’s very reminiscent of the NuWho episode The Unquiet Dead. Interestingly, it’s the final serial to be produced; the order of the season was reshuffled during production. As a result, the following serial has Ace mentioning “an old house in Perivale”; this was supposed to be foreshadowing, but was negated by the switch.

Wow, you guys don't look so good.

Wow, you guys don’t look so good.

We’ve been building up to it for three years, and now we get some answers in The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor and Ace arrive at Maiden’s Point, a secret military base in Northumberland, in May 1943. It’s hard to believe now, but this is the first (and only classic) serial to be set in World War II; it will be followed by several NuWho stories, including The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Victory of the Daleks, and Let’s Kill Hitler! The enemy is Fenric, an ancient evil who is established in spinoff media to be a Great Old One, one of several beings from a previous universe (similar to the Animus from The Web Planet and, possibly, the Celestial Toymaker). The Doctor fought Fenric in the third century, and using a chess gambit, imprisoned him in the Shadow Dimensions (interfacing with our world via an oriental flask). Here, at long last, he escapes and challenges the Doctor again; and he doesn’t come alone. He brings with him the Haemovores, vampires from a terrible alternate future of humanity, who are led by the Ancient One, a hideously mutated and powerful Haemovore from the future.

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Fenric, as it turns out, has been manipulating the Doctor’s path via the people around him. It was Fenric who caused Ace to be transported to Iceworld, and who enabled Lady Peinforte to time-travel in Silver Nemesis. (The chessboard in that episode was also intended as foreshadowing.) Those individuals, plus several others present in this story, are “Wolves of Fenric”—descendants of an individual who was touched by Fenric’s curse, and thus they can now be manipulated by him. Ace, in fact, establishes her own timeline here by saving the life of a woman named Kathleen and her baby, Audrey…who turn out to be Ace’s grandmother and mother, respectively. Fenric’s manipulation is matched by the Doctor, however; the Doctor let’s his darker side show when he insults Ace to break her faith in him, allowing the conflict to come to a resolution. Though he makes it up to her later, it was a cold trick to play on her, especially given that he couldn’t have known it would work out as it did, with the Ancient One turning on Fenric and destroying them both.

Uhh...anyone want to help us out here?

Uhh…anyone want to help us out here?

The backdrop for all of this is the creation of the ULTIMA machine, a codebreaking machine loosely based on the real-life Enigma machine, the German enciphering device broken in large part by Alan Turing. It’s a decent idea; however, a part of the plot is that the Soviets intend to steal the machine from the British. That makes little sense to me, as the British and the Soviets were allies during the war. Still, we can handwave it, given that this is a fictional universe. In the end, there’s much more that could be said—it’s a complex plot and a convoluted serial—but we’ll move on. I will say that I greatly enjoyed this story, and was sorry to see it end.

Season 26 10

Finally, we come to Survival, the last and final serial of classic Doctor Who. It’s an apt name, I’ve always thought, as the series went into “survival mode” after this, living on in novels and comics and—later—audio dramas. It’s the final appearance of the last of the three great perennial enemies of the Doctor: The Master. (We’ve already said goodbye to the Daleks and the Cybermen in season twenty-five.) For this serial, we return to Perivale, but in the present day (1989, that is); I think it’s fitting that the series should end with a contemporary story, as that’s how it began. (Or I should say, almost contemporary; it was broadcast in November and December of that year, but the visible setting appears to be late summer/early fall.) Interestingly, the serial itself doesn’t state that it’s 1989, though context makes it likely; confirmation of the date is found in the New Adventures novel, First Frontier.

A colder, more deadly Master.

A colder, more deadly Master.

The Master, it seems, is trapped on an unnamed planet; his TARDIS is nowhere to be seen, so presumably it has been lost. It’s a unique world; it has the power to transform its inhabitants into feral, catlike Cheetah people, and in very short order. The Master himself is infected with this transformation, visible in his now-catlike eyes and fangs. He is able to send Cheetah individuals to Earth, but can’t leave himself. Once there, they hunt and abduct humans as prey, teleporting them back to the Cheetah world. He seeks the Doctor for assistance in escaping; if successful, he will carry the planet’s contagion everywhere he goes. The planet is tied to its people; their violence is reflected in the planet’s geological violence. The situation is complicated when Ace, too, is infected. She is freed when the Doctor returns her to Earth, along with some of her kidnapped friends. The Master, too, escapes, but is intercepted by the Doctor and transported back to the planet, where they fight their final battle. In the end, the planet breaks apart, and the Doctor escapes, leaving the Master ostensibly to die.

Season 26 13

Of course, we know that he doesn’t die; he’ll be seen again as early as the television movie. That film uses the cat-eye motif as a symbolic connection to the end of the series, as the Master himself is free of the contagion by then. (In fact, he frees himself of it, and gains a new body, in the aforementioned First Frontier.) However, this is Anthony Ainley’s last on-screen appearance in the role, as he does not appear in the movie.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

There are some great moments in this episode. Ace, commenting on the Master’s connection to the Doctor, asks the Doctor, “Do you know any nice people? You know, ordinary people, not power-crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy?!” (Which, in my opinion, pretty much sums up all of the Doctor’s old relationships…) All the Doctor can say is “I don’t think he’s trying to take over the galaxy this time…” There’s a great moment where the Doctor asks Ace where she wants to go, and she simply says “Home”…then, seeing his crestfallen face, she adds “You know, the TARDIS!” And of course, there’s the famous final monologue, which I’ve included below. It was written by Andrew Cartmel, and dubbed over the final scene; notably, it was recorded on November 23rd, 1989, 26 years to the day after the premiere of Doctor Who. I can’t think of a better way to go out.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!”

"That's my fetish!"

“That’s my fetish!”

This story, naturally, has some “lasts”, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned. It’s the final of only three serials to be filmed entirely on Outside Broadcast Video (the others being The Sontaran Experiment and The Curse of Fenric) and the final of five to be filmed entirely on location (the two previously mentioned, and Spearhead from Space and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). It’s the last to use the most recent opening and theme; the last to use the TARDIS prop that had been in use most recently; and the last to feature the Doctor’s face in the opening until NuWho’s The Snowmen, with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Notably, one of the supporting cast Lisa Bowerman (playing the Cheetah person Karra) will go on to voice Bernice Summerfield, a popular companion and spinoff character in the audios. Overall, it’s a great story, with a great and menacing take on the Master; despite being the televised equivalent of a furry convention, it’s a great way to end the classic run.

Next time: The Wilderness Years, and the 1996 television movie, in which we meet Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor! See you there.

Dimensions in Time 1

Bonus: I took a few minutes and watched the 1993 Children In Need special, Dimensions in Time. It’s twelve minutes of glorious nonsense, and I won’t dwell long on it, since it’s almost universally deemed to be non-canon. Taken in that vein, it’s a nice little coda to the series; it features all of the Doctors (with Hartnell and Troughton appearing only in still cameos, as they were both deceased by this time) and a laundry list of companions: Susan Foreman, Victoria Waterfield, Liz Shaw, Mike Yates, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Nyssa, Peri Brown, Mel Bush, K9 Mark I, Romana II, and the Brigadier. It’s rather short; its two parts run five and seven minutes respectively, with about five minutes of framing broadcast that featured John Pertwee. Its villain is the Rani, who brings her own companion, named Cyrian. Her plan involves pulling the various Doctors and companions from their timelines; as a result, the Doctors and companions keep randomly switching places, creating some odd pairings. The Rani’s “menagerie” includes a Cyberman and a Time Lord; the Daleks would have appeared, but the scenes were deleted due to a dispute with Terry Nation’s estate. There are some references back, including the “Doctor Who?” and “When I say run, RUN!” running jokes, and an appearance by Bessie. The special was a crossover with the show EastEnders, which I have often heard of but have never seen, therefore those jokes were lost on me. (Interestingly, it’s that show that most strongly makes this special non-canon, as Army of Ghosts makes it clear that EastEnders is a television show in the DW universe.) There was a phone-in voting element to determine the outcome of the story; scenes were filmed for the losing option as well, but never used. Overall, however, it must have been a success, as it raised 101,000 pounds in one night.

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

Battlefield (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Ghost Light

The Curse of Fenric (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Survival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Dimensions in Time

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At Sixes and Sevens: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Four

We’re back, with another season of Classic Doctor Who! We’re approaching the end today as we meet the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. Only three seasons (and a television movie) left! Let’s get started!

Sorry, Colin. Wish you could have been there.

Sorry, Colin. Wish you could have been there.

Seasons from this point forward—or actually, from last season—will be the shortest they’ve ever been, with only four serials each. Unlike last seasons, Season 24 is not a single cohesive story, although we will see the beginning of a loose arc that will take us all the way to the end of the classic series. We open with Time and the Rani. Right away, it’s different from any previous regeneration story; Colin Baker declined to return and film the regeneration after being treated rather badly by the BBC. We open on the TARDIS under attack from an unknown source; after taking a few hits, we find the Sixth Doctor (played by McCoy in a wig with his face turned away) and Mel lying on the floor of the console room. The Rani, with a henchman, enters, and takes the Doctor away; when he is rolled over, his face has already begun to change. (The reason for the regeneration—the radiation from the attacking weapons, which is toxic to Time Lords but not to humans—isn’t stated here, but has since been revealed in a Big Finish audio.) Mel is left behind in the TARDIS, which has crashed to the surface of the planet Lakertya. The date is completely unknown.

A classic outfit.

A classic outfit.

It’s a better regeneration than most for the Doctor; although he does have some amnesia, it’s not nearly as total as it usually is—he remembers himself and Mel, the Rani, and Gallifrey, and he has more energy this time. He’s not pleased with himself at first; he comments to Mel (or to the Rani in disguise as Mel), “You don’t understand regeneration, Mel. It’s a lottery! …and I’ve drawn the short plank.” (Later, in The Day of the Doctor, the Tenth Doctor will make a similar, and snide, remark to the Eleventh Doctor.) He tries the outfits of all but the First Doctor, before settling on his trademark jacket, pants, suspenders, pullover, and hat. He claims at one point that he and the Rani are both 953 years old; and given that it’s a precise number that is sort-of backed up by the Rani, I think this is probably accurate. It’s also probably the last accurate count of the Doctor’s age that we will ever get.

Yep, that's a giant brain.

Yep, that’s a giant brain.

The Rani is seeking intelligent minds throughout history—including Einstein and the Doctor—to capture and use an asteroid composed of “strange matter” (a real-world concept, despite the hokey name). Properly obtained and used, it would allow her control of history. She uses the violent Tetraps and the subjugated Lakertyans to carry out her plans, and disguises herself as Mel to manipulate the regeneration-addled Doctor. (The Lakertyans remind me a lot of the Nox from Stargate SG-1.) Her ambitions seem to have grown quite a bit since her last appearance; at the same time, her methods have gotten a bit more ridiculous. Surprisingly, it very nearly works. This is her final appearance in the series so far, although a possible return is often speculated by fans.

Is that a lightsaber?!

Is that a lightsaber?!

Several things stand out about this serial. We return to 25-minute episodes here; the rest of the classic series will be an even split between three- and four-part stories. There’s a new title theme and sequence, the final of each for the classic series; the title sequence represents the series’ first foray into CGI. It’s a bit hokey, but cutting edge for its time. There’s a prop on the table at one point that I could swear is a lightsaber—maybe a nod to Star Wars? Andrew Cartmel joins the series here as script editor; next season, he will initiate the now-infamous “Cartmel Masterplan” for revising the creative direction of the series. I won’t go into the details here—that topic has been beaten to death elsewhere—but it would have represented a significant new chapter in the show’s lore, especially regarding the origin of the Doctor. The plan ultimately failed, not for creative reasons, but because the series will soon be cancelled. My thought on the matter is this: Had it been carried out, I would have accepted it as canon with no issues, as would most fans. It’s only in the face of contradictory canon that the debate arises. I’m happy with how things turned out, but I like to think I’d have been happy with the Cartmel plan too. Of course it lives on today in some novels, mostly, especially Lungbarrow, which I haven’t read but want to. Only slightly related: Does Andrew Cartmel ever age?! Photos of him in the 1980s and 2007 are practically identical. Maybe he’s a Time Lord!

Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s (left) and 2007 (right). The man is immortal!

Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s (left) and 2007 (right). The man is immortal!

We meet up with the Doctor and Mel again in Paradise Towers. The date is assumed to be about 2157, though evidence for this is thin. There’s also confusion about the world on which the titular Towers exist; it may possibly be Earth, but may instead be on another world called, alternately, Kroagnon (for the designer of the Towers) or Griphos. I’m guessing it’s the latter possibility, and that the planet is a human colony world, not too isolated, as the Towers were originally seen as a sort of resort town. Here, they are in disorder and disrepair, with minor gang warfare among its younger inhabitants. The gangs refer to themselves as “kangs”, and divide based on color, specifically Red, Blue, and Yellow. There are also Caretakers, the police force in nominal control of the Towers; “Old Ones”, the elderly inhabitants of the Towers; and some very murderous cleaning robots which are at least nominally under the control of the Chief Caretaker. The Towers hide a secret: all its middle-aged inhabitants, some time earlier, were taken away to fight in an off-planet war, leaving only the very young (who became the Kangs) and the elderly, as well as a few Caretakers. But there’s a greater secret yet: Kroagnon, the designer of the Towers, is still alive, and ruling from the literal shadows with an iron grip. It is him that the Doctor must find and depose for the sake of everyone in the Towers.

We all know Red Kangs are best Kangs.

We all know Red Kangs are best Kangs.

It’s a good time to mention, I think, that we never actually get an origin story for Mel. After her first onscreen appearance in The Trial of a Time Lord, she should have been returned home by the Doctor and allowed to meet him in order; and offscreen, she most likely was. Unfortunately, the firing of Colin Baker and the subsequent, abbreviated regeneration scene eliminated the possibility of seeing that first meeting onscreen. I haven’t confirmed it, but I imagine that the event has been covered in novel or audio form. Mel doesn’t seem to rank high in popularity of companions among viewers, but I like her; she’s far more capable than poor Peri ever was. Nothing seems to faze her, though she can scream with the best.

Welcome to 1959!

Welcome to 1959!

We return to Earth for the only confirmed time this season in Delta and the Bannermen. ( I understand that the title is a play on the name of a band, but it wasn’t one that I was familiar with.) The story takes place in South Wales in 1959; surprisingly, it’s the only story of the classic series to be set in Wales, whereas Cardiff is a frequent location in NuWho and Torchwood. Short scenes also take place on the embattled planet Chumeria and at Toll Gate G715. It’s not known where (or when!) the toll gate is located, but “Nostalgia Trips”—which utilizes time travel—leaves from there, so I would place it in the far future. This is not the last time Doctor Who will play with the idea of aliens touring Earth in anachronistic vehicles; NuWho does something similar with the starship Titanic in Voyage of the Damned, and with the Orient Express in Mummy on the Orient Express, though that one doesn’t travel to Earth.

The Chimerons take off.

The Chimerons take off.

Delta is the last of the Chimerons, the native inhabitants of Chumeria. They are the victims of genocide by the militia-like Bannermen. She escapes in a stolen Bannermen ship, moments after her partner is killed, and flees to Toll Gate G715. From there—and coinciding with a visit by the Doctor and Mel—she hides among a group of alien tourists on their way to Earth, 1959. She’s carrying a secret: an egg which will soon hatch into a fast-growing Chimeron princess. On Earth, the Bannermen arrive and attack, forcing the Doctor and Mel—along with several human allies—to defend Delta and the baby. In the end, the Bannermen are defeated, and Delta and the princess flee to plead their case in court for the preservation of their race. She takes with her a human named Billy, who has begun to transform into a Chimeron.

The Bannermen, looking stupid, if you ask me.

The Bannermen, looking stupid, if you ask me.

It’s never made clear what court body Delta appeals to, but as it seems to have jurisdiction over multiple races and worlds, it’s possible that this could be construed as an early reference to NuWho’s Shadow Proclamation. As well, I couldn’t help wondering if the transformation arch used by the alien tourists is somehow related to the Time Lord chameleon arch, another NuWho concept; it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that this version may have inspired that one. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the aliens, as they are blown up by the Bannermen. In fact, a lot of people die needlessly in this serial; I haven’t seen all of the Seventh Doctor’s episodes yet, but this story may well have the highest body count of his term. Interestingly, it’s been a LONG time indeed since we had a three-part story in the 25-minute format; the last one was 1964’s Planet of Giants, with the First Doctor.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

We close with Dragonfire. The setting is the planet Svartos, circa 2,000,000; the date is not stated, but it is seen to be Sabalom Glitz’s home time period, and we know from The Mysterious Planet that he hails from that era. Specifically, the events here occur at Iceworld, a trading colony (and secret starship) on the cold side of the tidally-locked planet. Mel departs in this serial, choosing to stay with Glitz and keep him in line; it’s a fine departure for her, and probably makes both of their lives much more interesting. She’s replaced by Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane; Ace’s full name isn’t given onscreen, but has been well established in spinoff media. We do confirm here that her first name is Dorothy. She comes from 1980s Earth, and was transported seemingly randomly to Iceworld by a timestorm. (In a couple of seasons, we’ll find that this was not random at all.) It’s interesting to see Mel and Ace “hand off” the companionship, especially given that they are the final companions of the classic series; this is something that rarely happens in NuWho. The story is also Glitz’s final appearance, and I wish him well.

LITERAL handoff. Goodbye, Melanie; hello, Ace!

LITERAL handoff. Goodbye, Melanie; hello, Ace!

The villainous Kane is using Iceworld—along with a mercenary force composed of mind-altered captives—to seek vengeance on the homeworld that exiled him. To that end, he needs the “dragonfire”, a jewel found in the body of the dragon that imprisons him, which serves as the power source for Iceworld’s engines. He doesn’t realize, however, that in his long imprisonment he has outlived the world he seeks to destroy. Without spoilers, I’ll say it doesn’t end well for him; and Sabalom Glitz takes control of Iceworld.

Okay, maybe ONE spoiler.

Okay, maybe ONE spoiler.

The dragon looks much like a Xenomorph from the Alien series. Iceworld itself, on the inside, strongly resembles the Lunatic Pandora location in the videogame Final Fantasy VIII, with its crystalline hallways and open spaces. There’s a scene with the Doctor dangling from a railing by his umbrella; this scene was recycled for one of Clara Oswald’s fractured lives in The Time of the Doctor, though of course we don’t see her here. I can’t help feeling that Ace is what Clara should have become; she’s lively and ambitious with regard to the extraordinary life she lives, but it doesn’t seem to corrupt her or bring out her worst qualities, as it did with Clara. (Apologies to anyone who is a fan of Clara.) She does have the habit of calling the Doctor “Professor”, which seems to annoy him. Although the BBC once promoted this serial as the 150th television story, it’s only that if you count The Trial of a Time Lord as four stories instead of one. In my post I listed the parts separately, but for the purpose of counting I am listing them as one story, which seems to be consistent with most other counts. By that reckoning, this is the 147th story (or 148th if you count Shada).

Nice of you to drop in, Doctor. Feel like hanging around awhile?

Nice of you to drop in, Doctor. Feel like hanging around awhile?

Thoughts on this season as a whole: The contrast between Six and Seven is startling. While it took me an entire season to begin to see Six as the Doctor, Seven was the Doctor from his very first line. Sylvester McCoy owns the role right out of the gate, as few before him have done; there’s no adjustment period. I enjoyed Mel’s performance, but I really like Ace; she’s the ideal companion for the Seventh Doctor, and their performances complement each other perfectly. (Being a season ahead in my viewing, I can say that it continues to get better.) After years of a feeling of tension throughout the seasons, these episodes seem very easy to watch; I’m going through them almost too quickly. Seeing Sabalom Glitz one more time was nice, and I’m glad he gets a bit of the redemption that the Sixth Doctor said he deserved. As far as dislikes: I didn’t care for the way the regeneration was handled, of course, but I do feel that the production team did the best they could with what they had to work with. The Rani was goofier in this serial than in her previous appearance, tree mines notwithstanding. Other than that, I really didn’t have much to say in the way of negatives. It’s a good season, and almost felt like a vacation.

Next time: Saying goodbye to some old enemies! See you there.

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

Time and the Rani

Paradise Towers

Delta and the Bannermen

Dragonfire

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Sixth Sense: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Two

We’re back, with a brand new Doctor! Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is on the scene in season twenty-two of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch. Let’s get started!

The Doctor gets violent.

The Doctor gets violent.

We’ve reached the point of maximum controversy in classic Doctor Who history. Season twenty-two was heavily criticized for a number of reasons, which I think contributed heavily to the general low opinion of the Sixth Doctor’s era. A few important changes occurred this season; and though they were later rolled back, the damage was done. First, this season changed from the standard “4 episodes/25 minutes” format (or at least, most commonly four episodes) to “2 episodes/45 minutes”. The series experimented with this format once in the previous season, but now made it the standard; it was not well received at the time, although of course in the modern series 45-minute episodes have always been standard. Second, this season ramped up the violence, which was badly received given the longstanding nature of the series as a family show. The first serial in particular, Attack of the Cybermen, was held up by executives as an example, and used in their arguments for cancellation of the series.

Season 22 2

Peri and the Cryons.

Attack is set on Telos, sometime after Tomb of the Cybermen, and on Earth, contemporary with the broadcast. The Telos portions aren’t precisely dated, but estimated to be around 2530, about 65 years after Tomb. From the Doctor and Peri’s perspective, it’s shortly after their previous adventure on Jaconda (The Twin Dilemma), probably within a day or so. In the course of (shoddily) repairing the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor returns to 76 Totter’s Lane for the first time onscreen since An Unearthly Child; this will happen again with the Seventh Doctor, and several times in the revived series (and of course the new spinoff, Class, is set at Coal Hill School, in the vicinity of Totter’s Lane). The circuit will, in fact, change the TARDIS’s appearance a few times, but it will be broken again by the next series (the actual breaking occurs offscreen). Here he encounters the Cybermen of the future, who have stolen a timeship; they want to go back and destroy the Earth in 1985, one year prior to Mondas’s destruction waaaaay back in The Tenth Planet, but they can’t control their ship very well. With the Doctor in range, they want the TARDIS instead. Covertly aiding them in this venture are the Cryons, the original inhabitants of Telos; if they succeed, the Cybermen will never have come to Telos, and the Cryons can keep their world. The Cryons are not true villains; they’ll take any solution to the Cyberman problem, and so they readily switch sides and work with the Doctor. They bring with them an unstable mineral that spontaneously explodes in warm temperatures.

Terror is a bad look for Peri.

Terror is a bad look for Peri.

Peri is very scared of the Doctor here, and continues to behave as such for a long time to come. It’s very sad; she never really seems to recover from her assault at his hands in the previous story. She states that the Doctor’s memory isn’t right; and indeed it isn’t, as he calls her by various companion names. We also get a return of the treacherous Lytton from Resurrection of the Daleks, who has since been living as a petty criminal on Earth; he takes advantage of the Cyberman incursion to get himself offworld and back to the future, but in the end gets himself cyber-converted and killed. He’s not a shallow villain at all, and the serial treats him well; he’s opportunistic, but secretly also undermines the Cybermen. In this story we also see—for what I think is the first time; if I’m wrong, please let me know—partially converted humans. This will be more common in NuWho and Torchwood.

Sil, the Governor, and the Doctor.

Sil, the Governor, and the Doctor.

I had seen Vengeance on Varos before, and somehow had it in my head that it was a Fifth Doctor story. It’s one of the better Sixth Doctor serials, though, and I enjoyed it the second time around. After a series of breakdowns (mostly attributable to the Doctor’s clumsy incompentence), the TARDIS is forced to land on Varos, a world that is the only source of Zeiton-7, a valuable mineral required to repair the TARDIS. Peri says that she’s from 300 years before the time of the Varosians, placing it probably in the 23rd century; a straight 300 years would be 2285. The Doctor and Peri stumble into a political/commercial struggle, as the alien Mentor Sil, a representative of the Galaton Mining Corporation, seeks to take control of Varos and obtain the Zeiton-7 for vastly under-market prices. (“Mentor” is the name of Sil’s species.) The planet’s Governor opposes him, but not without consequence; the world’s barbaric government-as-entertainment system brings punishment to him for every unpopular decision. We get an early glimpse of such punishment with the torture of the rebel Jondar at the beginning; it’s very reminiscent of the torture of the Ninth Doctor in Dalek.

Can't you just picture these two laughing on a balcony?!

Can’t you just picture these two laughing on a balcony?!

This serial contains a couple of interesting characters in the private citizens Arak and Etta. They serve as a sort of Greek chorus for the story, never interacting with anyone but each other, and providing commentary. I jokingly called them the Statler and Waldorf (of Muppet Show fame) of this story.

Gallifreyan Class Reunion?

Gallifreyan Class Reunion?

The Mark of the Rani introduces another controversial character: the Time Lady called the Rani. She’s a classmate of the Doctor and the Master, and in fact her second appearance in a few seasons will reveal that she’s the same age as the Doctor. (Given her mostly-evil personality and her status as a renegade, it makes one wonder what the Academy was teaching those years!) She rules a world, making her in one fell swoop more successful than the Master; and indeed, he comes to ask her for assistance. The Rani is a bit campy, and there’s been much argument among fans over the years as to whether she should ever come back; in fact, every Time Lady of any significance in NuWho has had some early debate as to whether she would prove to be the Rani.

The Rani's very cool TARDIS.

The Rani’s very cool TARDIS.

This story, set in Killingsworth, England, in the early 1820s, is the first since The Gunfighters to feature an actual historical figure, in this case Lord Ravensworth and George Stephenson. (The King’s Demons came close, with King John, but it wasn’t actually him being portrayed; rather it was Kamelion impersonating him.) All other historicals since then have been historical in settings and events only. It’s a fairly straightforward story; the Master wants revenge on the Doctor through changing Earth’s history, and the Rani wants to further her own projects on her planet. To do this she requires a chemical that is produced in human brains; the process of procuring it causes the titular mark, and also disastrous side effects of personality. The Doctor thwarts them both, as he usually does. It’s not a bad story, but it has its silly moments; as a fellow fan pointed out, the mines that turn people into trees are pretty ridiculous. A couple of TARDIS oddities: The Doctor’s TARDIS key fits the Rani’s TARDIS, which is odd; however, it seems that her TARDIS may be the same model as his (with a heretofore-unseen desktop theme), so it’s not totally impossible. As well, she has a remote control for recall of her TARDIS, of which the Doctor is jealous. (More on that in the next serial.)

Doctor, meet Doctor.

Doctor, meet Doctor.

Just two seasons after The Five Doctors, we get another ratings boost, I mean, multi-Doctor story, with The Two Doctors. The Doctors in questions are the Sixth and the Second; in fact there’s a nice tribute to the Second Doctor’s era in the opening scene, as it begins in black-and-white and fades to color. Jamie is the companion present with the Second Doctor; Victoria gets a mention, but she has temporarily left the TARDIS to pursue a learning opportunity. As the original TARDIS console room is long gone, the prop used here is the most recently-replaced prop, from the Fifth Doctor’s first two seasons; the budget would not allow a rebuilding of the original prop. Still, it’s different enough for a bit of a retro look.

Now here's a fashion statement for you!

Now here’s a fashion statement for you!

This story is set on Earth and the alien space station Camera in 1985; the villains lack time travel, therefore the two locations must be at the same point in time. This helps explain why it’s the Sixth Doctor who feels the effect of the Second Doctor’s torture and potential death; he’s the only Doctor who—by chance—is present in the same time period when it happens. Given an actual death and enough time, the others would have felt the effects and ceased to exist, as well. This is similar to how the Eleventh Doctor onsite at the moment is the one who feels pain when the Great Intelligence enters his time stream in The Name of the Doctor. Also, there’s an interesting bit early on where the Doctor talks about not having synchronized yet. It seems this is a rare glimpse of what it’s like when he has had a multi-doctor encounter, with unsynchronized time streams, and therefore lost memories, but now the memories begin to sync up for his later self. Although we know this happens, we’ve never really seen it happen.

Companion, meet companion.

Companion, meet companion.

The Doctor makes an actual kill in this story, which is very rare; often people die during his involvement, but he kills with his own hands in this story. He gives cyanide to the Androgum Shockeye. In fact there’s a high body count in general in this serial, as only the two Doctors, Peri, Jamie, and one civilian survive. It was for that violence that the serial was criticized, but there’s an actual plot hole as well; the Sontarans want the Doctor’s Time Lord symbiotic nuclei because it gives the Time Lords enough molecular stability to travel through time, but that ignores the fact that many others of various species have been seen to travel safely through time. In fact, NuWho will give the lie to this idea completely by having Strax, a Sontaran, travel through time (or at least it’s implied that he does so on multiple occasions). Oh, and that TARDIS remote of the Rani’s, of which the Doctor was jealous? The Second Doctor has one. Why the Sixth Doctor would not remember this—or even still own the device!—is a mystery.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Wells. It's always like this, I promise.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Wells. It’s always like this, I promise.

Timelash gives us an homage to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in that Wells is a character in the story, and clearly is posited to have drawn inspiration from this adventure. It’s set on the planet Karfel in the far future; the date is totally unknown, but, continuing the homage, A History of the Universe places it in 802,701, the same year as the Morlock scenes in Wells’ novel. There are also scenes in Scotland, 1885; this is the other end of the titular Timelash, a sort of spacetime tunnel. It’s the exceedingly rare case of a historical figure in a non-historical story; something similar will happen with Queen Nefertiti in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

An old familiar face on the wall...

An old familiar face on the wall…

This story is a strange thing: it’s a sequel to a story that never happened. That is, it makes frequent reference back to a visit to Karfel by the Third Doctor and Jo Grant, but that story was never recorded. Therefore it relies heavily on info-dumps and references. It’s not a good plot device; this story ranks consistently very low, often just above the universally-reviled The Twin Dilemma. It’s another take on the Loch Ness Monster story, as the Borad is banished back in time; it doesn’t actually conflict with the series’ previous take on the legend, as the Borad (in a spinoff story) dies prior to the arrival on earth of the Skarasen. On the plus side, the Sixth Doctor, in his better moments here, is much like the Tenth; and the TARDIS has safety belts! Detachable ones, at any rate. We’ll only ever see these again with the junk TARDIS in The Doctor’s Wife.

Fake Davros, real Dalek.

Fake Davros, real Dalek.

We end with what will prove to be the penultimate Dalek story of the original series. Revelation of the Daleks picks up sometime after Resurrection of the Daleks, therefore after the 38th century at least; the actual date is unknown, though some conflicting estimates have been made for the entire “Davros cycle” of stories. We do know that Davros, having survived the Movellan virus, has had time to build a new army of Daleks, the so-called “Imperial” Daleks, using the population of nearly-dead individuals housed in the Tranquil Repose cryogenic facility. Also we know that the mainstream Daleks—hereafter called “Renegade” Daleks by Davros—have reoccupied Skaro, as I proposed waaaaaaay back in their very first appearance in The Daleks, most likely reabsorbing or destroying the remnant of more primitive Daleks that had long occupied the Dalek city there. (Remember that the scenes on Skaro in Destiny of the Daleks didn’t represent an invasion force, but rather, an expedition to find Davros; they likely never approached the city, which is separate from the Kaled bunker where Davros was buried.)

Davros can fly?!

Davros can fly?!

For the first time, we see a Dalek—and Davros as well, with his chair—levitate unassisted. From this point on, it will be a standard feature for the Imperial Daleks, and for all Daleks in the new series. Another reference for the future: we see Daleks in the sewers under Tranquil Repose, which I suspect may have inspired the Dalek sewer scenes in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. We see as well that Davros somehow knows the Sixth Doctor’s face, although he’s never met him before; oddly, the renegade Daleks don’t. It works in the Doctor’s favor though, as the renegades arrest Davros, but let the Doctor go free.

Glass Dalek? It's a bold strategy, Cotton.

Glass Dalek? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton.

The Doctor sees his face on a statue here, implying that he is buried there at some future point in his own life. It’s the Sixth Doctor’s face, and he takes it to mean that he will never regenerate; given that his regenerations are at stake all throughout the next season, it makes for a neat bit of foreshadowing. Of more interest to me is his reaction; he’s clearly very afraid to die, and doesn’t handle it well. There’s a clear contrast with the way he reacts to his tomb as the Eleventh Doctor; I think the difference is simply one of age, maturity, and resignation. As Eleven, he knows he’s on his last life and therefore death is, to some degree, imminent; as Six, he knows he has a lot of life ahead of him, and he rebels against dying.Season 22 16

I’ll speak more about this in my wrapup post at the end of my rewatch; but overall I’m not thrilled with this season for the Sixth Doctor. It’s clear that the character and the actor are fighting an uphill battle with the writing staff. I understand that each Doctor must be different, but choosing to make this one effectively spoiled and self-centered essentially handicaps the character. In addition, I think I could have overlooked some of that if there had been a good companion; but Peri is just incredibly whiny. Even as she does, at last, start to warm up to the Doctor again, she seems able to do nothing for herself. Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker play their roles impeccably; but the characters leave a lot to be desired. This is disheartening, to me; I WANT to like the Sixth Doctor. There is some hope on the horizon, however, with my viewing being a bit ahead of my posts, I can say that he does get better next season. We’ll be back then, with the Doctor’s latest trial…see you there.

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

Attack of the Cybermen

Vengeance on Varos

The Mark of the Rani

The Two Doctors

Timelash

Revelation of the Daleks (note:  this video is missing about seven minutes in part 1)

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