Novel Review: Blood Harvest

We’re back! And finally caught up! Today we’re looking at the twenty-eighth entry in the New Adventures series: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks. Published in July, 1994, this entry features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny (I know I say that a lot, but eventually companions will be swapped out, so bear with me), and serves as one of several sequels to the Fourth Doctor serial State of Decay. Not at all coincidentally, it’s also a prequel (of sorts) to the Fifth Doctor novel Goth Opera (because this is Doctor Who, and who said sequels have to come in order?). That novel is the first in the then-newly-launched Past Doctor Adventures line, and though I have read it, I haven’t covered it; but I may try to do so soon, just for continuity’s sake. (I don’t plan to start regular coverage of that line just yet; I’d like to finish the VNAs and the EDAs first.)

At any rate, Terrance Dicks never truly disappoints, and this is no exception—so, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.

Chicago, 1929. Old-school gangland at its finest, and maybe worst. Infamous (but oh so polite) mobster Al Capone runs most of the city, and wages occasional war on rival gang leaders, all under the shadow of Prohibition. Tom Dekker is a private eye, but he may be in over his head when Capone himself hires him to investigate a new speakeasy and its owner, a strange little man called “Doc”…

For “Doc”, Chicago isn’t a playground—but it is deadly. Doc would like nothing more than to see the mobs stop killing each other, and with the help of a gun-toting woman named Ace, he plans to do exactly that—even if it means helping Capone. But something is wrong: every time Doc and Capone get a handle on the situation, something sends it off the rails. It’s as though someone is sabotaging their work—and that someone may not be human.

Far from Chicago, Earth, and even the known universe, Professor Bernice Summerfield is investigating a quiet backwater planet. Its feudal society seems peaceful enough, beyond the parochial struggles between the peasants and the nobility—but the locals tell stories of long-slain Lords with a taste for blood. It doesn’t take Bernice long to find out just how true the stories are. She’ll soon learn that events here in E-space have an unexpected connection to 1920s Chicago—and that someone is pulling all the strings on two worlds, laying a trap for the Doctor. And that’s not even counting the problem of the vampires themselves!


I mentioned in passing a few days ago that this novel was a real page-turner for me, and it was; I finished it in two nights, most of it in one. It’s not that it’s the best novel in the series so far—I’m not sure which that would be, but I’d make a vote for Timewyrm: Revelation–it’s just that it’s like good comfort food. For one thing, I’ve been a fan of Terrance Dicks’s work very nearly my entire life. I grew up reading novelisations of Doctor Who even more than I watched the series, and Dicks wrote most of them (or rather, most of the ones I had access to—he wrote about a third of the novelisations of the classic series). He is almost certainly the only DW author whose name I knew prior to the modern era. Recently I saw a video review of Timewyrm: Exodus, Dicks’s first contribution to the VNAs, and the reviewer commented that, although Dicks was more than willing to write the book, he wasn’t very familiar with the Seventh Doctor at this point. Consequently he defaulted to the Doctor’s core characteristics as he understood them, rather than the personality specific to the Seventh Doctor. I think that’s a fair argument; but I mention it to say that things have changed by now! Blood Harvest’s Seven is much more himself—you can almost hear his accent in his dialogue.

For a second point in favor, this book follows closely on the heels of State of Decay, which is one of my favorite stories. Of course, for the Doctor, it’s been three regenerations and who knows how many years; but for the residents of the vampire planet, it’s been no more than perhaps a decade (characters who were elderly in State of Decay are still alive and active). Romana makes her first of half a dozen appearances in the VNAs; she’s still in E-space at this point, not exactly trapped, but here by choice. This book marks a turning point for her; she makes her return to Gallifrey. (K-9 is conspicuously absent; Romana mentions that he is serving as Lord High Administrator to Biroc, the Tharil leader, as the Tharils become a spacefaring species again. He will, however, rejoin Romana on Gallifrey at some point, possibly offscreen.)

If I have any complaint about this novel at all, it’s that its two storylines seem forced together. Either story could have stood alone, and there’s no good reason for them to be connected. The insertion of the villain that ties them together feels like exactly that—an insertion. I’m willing to overlook it, because both stories are good; the Chicago story ends a bit abruptly, but that has more to do with the historical events described (the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the other killings surrounding it) than the Doctor’s involvement.

You can probably imagine that this is a particularly bloody story. There’s a great deal of killing in the Chicago sequences, consistent with real world history (and maybe a bit more—that’s the point of the story). But there’s also events on the vampire planet, from exsanguinated bodies to large tanks of collected blood to a rather savage battle between humans and vampires. Doctor Who is known for the deaths of incidental characters, but it’s taken up a notch here; besides the large number of deaths, the deaths are graphic and visceral. I can’t see it having ever getting made for television in the classic series, which is a pity, because it’s a decent coda to State of Decay.

Continuity references: In addition to the obvious callbacks to State of Decay, the Fourth Doctor and K-9 make an appearance in a flashback to the end of Warrior’s Gate; the Doctor mentions Adric as well. The PI Dekker will reappear in Players, meeting a younger Doctor (the Sixth) and Peri. The Doctor has both a Reichinspektor General’s badge and Castellan Spandrell’s Gallifreyan Army Knife (Timewyrm: Exodus). Borusa is freed from imprisonment in the Tomb of Rasillon (The Five Doctors); this account will later be contradicted by another release in The Eight Doctors. (That event occurs earlier; it’s possible, given the way he behaves in this story, that he felt he hadn’t served his time yet, and returned voluntarily, to be released again here.) The character of the Time Lady Ruathadvorophrenaltid (Ruatha or Ruath for short) appears briefly at the end; she is a pivotal character in Goth Opera. The Doctor quotes himself from Timewyrm: Exodus (“In an authoritarian society, people obey the voice of authority”). Agonal may be an Eternal (this is suggested in Goth Opera, but that novel is tied tightly to this one), as seen in Enlightenment. Flavia is president of Gallifrey (The Five Doctors), and Spandrell is Castellan (The Deadly Assassin). The Doctor receives a dose of the Elixir of Life (The Brain of MorbiusNight of the Doctor). One of the Gallifreyan Committee of Three is the younger brother (or possibly cousin) of Goth (The Deadly Assassin). Benny mentions Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Ellerycorp Foundation (Love and War), Draconians (Frontier in Space, et al.), and Dulkis (The Dominators). Omega (The Three DoctorsArc of Infinity), the Shobogans (The Invasion of Time), and a Drashig (Carnival of Monsters) all get a mention. It’s also worth mentioning that State of Decay stated that there was only the one village on the planet, whereas this novel states there are many others (not established in the interim, but always present).

Overall: Eh, I’ve already said I liked it. If you want a good, comfortable Doctor Who story—with a little more violence thrown in for spice—this is your book. Things will no doubt pick up again soon, so enjoy the break while you have it.

Next time (if I can manage to finish it): Simon Messingham’s Strange England! See you there.

A prelude to this novel can be found here.

The New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from Ebay and other resellers.

Previous

Next

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Regenerations book cover

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

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

With all that said, let’s dive in!


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

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

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

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


Let’s take a look at the stories.

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

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

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

And ultimately, he does exactly that.

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

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

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

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


Most spoilers end here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

The trailer for the anthology may be viewed here.

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

Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: The Interstellar and the Improbable, by Scarlett Ward

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 entries via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing with the “Investigations” portion of Sarah Jane’s life, with the ninth entry of the anthology: The Interstellar and the Improbable, by Scarlett Ward. 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.

Defending Earth (Cover)

An empty tube station is never not scary.

If anything, it’s worse when the station is unfinished—never used for passengers, its only occupations have been the movie crews that use it occasionally for filming…and oh yes, the rats. But they don’t figure into our story.

Someone does. That someone is an investigative journalist named Sarah Jane Smith: A journalist with a penchant for not just the sensational, but also the impossible, the supernatural, the—dare it be said?–alien. And Sarah Jane has heard rumors about this tube station. It started simply enough; the station is currently being used as the entrance point for an underground ghost tour, of the type that boasts the spirits of the dead, but ultimately relies on cheap jump scares. And yet, two things stand out: For one, this one is unusually successful; and for another, its guests come back different, somehow. They come back raving about the tour, and dedicating themselves to marketing its tickets; but also, somehow, not quite themselves. That is a bait that Sarah Jane—who is no stranger to weird phenomena—cannot ignore.

Now, she stands in the tunnel during the daylight hours, before the tour opens—and she hears a noise. She quickly tracks down and confronts the perpetrator: a young blond-haired woman, accompanied by…a very familiar canine robot?! She quickly learns, though, that this isn’t her robot—rather, it’s another of the same type, perhaps slightly more advanced. The woman introduces herself as Romana, and the oddity of their meeting quickly leads them both to put their cards on the table: Romana, like Sarah Jane, is a former companion of the Doctor, and is also a Time Lord herself (or Time Lady, if you prefer). She and her robot are traveling on their own for the time being, if in limited fashion; Romana is working on a ship of her own, but hasn’t completed it yet, leaving her to rely on a homemade time ring to get around for the moment. In the meantime, she is here investigating the same phenomenon as Sarah Jane. The two quickly—if not quite wholeheartedly—join forces.

As the tour opens for the evening, they join the line of customers. While waiting they talk about the possibilities, and conclude it must be some kind of mind control; thus Romana, who has some telepathic ability, insists on going in first—noting that customers are being admitted only one at a time, ostensibly due to cramped quarters in the unfinished tunnels. Sarah Jane unhappily agrees.

Romana allows herself to be escorted inside. Once down the tunnel, she is seized by two large men, and brought before a large, glowing crystal. They force her to place her hands on it—and instantly she finds herself in telepathic battle for control of her mind and body. She holds out briefly, but the force arrayed against her is strong and angry, and she begins to lose. Desperately she pulls herself and the enemy into a mental construct—a virtual castle, if you will—where she can see her enemy face to face. It manifests as a young woman, who calls herself Ellery Westwall.

Despite Ellery’s attempts to break free, Romana forces her to talk. She reveals that she and her people were destroyed many centuries ago by Rassilon, the near-mythical founder of Time Lord society; and their minds were trapped in this crystal, which has now found its way to Earth. They don’t care about right or wrong or morals; they only want to live again, and if possible, to take revenge on Rassilon’s children. Slowly, however, Romana wears her down, and gives her something she never had before: hope. If Ellery will let Romana fight along with her, they will challenge the leader of the group, Visser, and Ellery will replace him. Then Romana will, somehow, arrange for new bodies for them, bodies that won’t require theft from other beings—perhaps by Looming them, if she can steal a minor Loom from Gallifrey. The details may be a bit unformed, but Romana’s sincerity and determination are unmistakable—and so Ellery agrees.

Ellery takes control of Romana’s body long enough to get back to Sarah Jane, who is next in line. Romana resurfaces, and quickly fills Sarah in on the plan. She escorts Sarah Jane inside; but before Sarah can be exposed to the crystal, Romana challenges Visser to telepathic combat, and battle is joined. She lets Ellery lead the fight—but something is frighteningly amiss in Romana’s brain. The two of them are overcome, and Romana falls unconscious.

Sarah rushes to check on her—and sees a wisp of gold escape from her. But it isn’t regeneration energy—rather, it’s Ellery. With no time for any other plan, she allows Ellery into her mind. She suggests that they challenge Visser, but Ellery is panicking—if Romana couldn’t do it, how can a human?

Sarah Jane Smith, however, is never one to back down. She has faced Davros, the Daleks, the Sontarans, the Cybermen, and many others, and she is not afraid. As Visser sneers over her challenge, she touches the crystal, and urges Ellery to share her vision with her people…and it works. As hope spreads through her people, Ellery herself is strengthened—and returns to the fight, alongside Sarah Jane. Visser is strong, but Sarah has a flash of inspiration: She asks Ellery to urge the human whom Visser controls to fight back. And the man complies. Suddenly Visser is besieged on two fronts, giving Ellery the edge she needs. At last Visser is broken.

It’s not a clean victory though; for at the last moment, he declares that he will at least die with a body, and pulls out a knife to slash his host’s throat.

Sarah persuades Ellery to temporarily return to the crystal so that she can help Romana. She manages to get the unconscious woman—along with her robot—out of the tunnel and back to her own home, and waits for her to awaken. Romana awakens, and claims she was in a healing coma, and the two compare notes.

Unable to avoid Sarah’s questions, Romana explains what happened. She admits that, ever since regenerating into the form of one Princess Astra—who happens to have been a segment of the Key to Time—her lifespan has been affected. She may be only three hundred and three—a pittance in Time Lord years—but she is dying, slowly but surely. And since healing seems to require unbalancing the Key to Time—and the universe with it—it seems selfish to worry over her one solitary life. She’s been spending her remaining days seeking out places to do good, much like the Doctor before her. Still, it’s the robot who comes up with a suggestion for enhancing her remaining years, and it’s one that applies to Sarah Jane as well: Seek allies, or put another way, make friends. It’s just as well for Sarah Jane to hear it, for she is musing over her past—her travels with the Doctor, and how it changed her. But Romana points out that it’s possible that the Doctor doesn’t makewanderers; he only finds them. Sarah Jane can be that person, regardless of whether she is on Earth or among the stars.

Likewise, as Sarah says, Romana can do the same at home on Gallifrey—and perhaps that is where she should go. After all, why should she face her disease lying down? Gallifreyans are brilliant, but also stubborn: a combination that, for once, may do some good. And in the end, perhaps Romana might make her own people a little better. And in the meantime, there’s still Ellery to deal with, and Romana will need Gallifrey’s help for that. She bids Sarah Jane goodbye, and “thank you”; and Sarah wishes her well, musing that she is at long last beginning to understand why the Doctor loves this world so much.

Ward Title Card

Although we’re still in the “Investigations” section of Sarah Jane’s life, we’ve taken a step forward again. Goodbye, K9 and Company; hello, Big Finish! Or almost, at any rate. In 2002, Big Finish Productions brought Sarah Jane back to the (figurative) screen with a series of Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas (which you can still purchase at the link at the bottom). This story takes place immediately before the first entry in that series, Sarah Jane Smith: Comeback, and brings her character up to a point that listeners of the series will recognize. I, unfortunately, am not yet one of those listeners; I’ve listened to quite a bit of Big Finish’s Doctor Who-related lineup, but haven’t made it to the Sarah Jane audios yet. However, as this story serves as a sort of introduction to that period, it doesn’t make much difference to have not listened to the audios.

I love stories where companions from different eras meet (as we saw in the last entry with Victoria Waterfield, although she and Sarah Jane and the Brigadier had already met in Downtime). Here, one of my favorite companions, Romana, meets Sarah Jane for the first time. (Both appear in The Five Doctors, but do not meet.) Romana and her K9—again not named, at the request of the owners of the character, but identifiable by description—have at some point escaped from E-Space, but Romana has not yet made her way to Gallifrey. At the end of this story, she is poised to do so, thus setting up for the beginning of not one spinoff series, but two (the Sarah Jane Smith audios and the Gallifrey series). Meanwhile, Sarah’s K9 doesn’t make an appearance, but Romana’s K9 has detected his presence on Earth; Sarah muses that her K9 is functioning increasingly poorly, leading up toward his eventual malfunction sometime prior to School Reunion.

Halfway through this story, I was convinced it was more Romana’s story than Sarah Jane’s, much as Little Girl Lost was more about the Brigadier. Sarah Jane does seem to be the kind of character that can facilitate the rise of other people. However, as it turns out, it’s Sarah’s moment to shine; she is the one who—again, by promoting another character—brings about the victory at the end of the story. It’s a confidence boost for Sarah as well, which she will need for the adventures that lie ahead in her near future. It’s a testament to how far-reaching this character’s influence is within the universe of Doctor Who; she touches everyone eventually, and most come away better for it.

At the same time, Romana is the most fascinating character here, because of what’s happening behind the scenes. She indicates that she is dying of a disease that pertains to her form; ever since regenerating into the form of Princess Astra—who, The Armageddon Factor tells us, was secretly a segment of the Key to Time—she has been somehow affected by the Key segment, and is dying as a result. As far as I can tell from research, this is a result of the events of The Chaos Pool, an installment in the Fifth Doctor “Key 2 Time” audio arc, in which Romana temporarily absorbs the Key to Time—but again, this is a story I haven’t heard yet. If anyone knows more, feel free to comment! More interesting yet is Romana’s reference to the often-debated Looms; she considers the possibility of stealing a Loom from Gallifrey to give bodies to Ellery’s people.

Overall: This was a very enjoyable story. It’s classic Doctor Who format, even without the Doctor: a mundane, if creepy, setting, suddenly revealed to be the work of something far beyond Earth. Sarah Jane is quickly revealing herself not just to be a warrior for good and justice, but also a healer of sorts—a restorer of those who are broken. She stands for those who cannot stand on their own. We’ve seen it in several stories so far, and I think it sets her up well for what lies ahead. It’s a good role for her. It was good, as well, to see Romana and K9 again, if only briefly.

Next time: We have one more story in the “Investigations” era: When the Stars Come to Man, by William J. Martin! 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 currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.

The Sarah Jane Smith audio drama series may be purchased here.

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

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

Zagreus 1

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

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

Zagreus 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zagreus

Previous

Next

Audio Drama Review: Omega

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Whoaudio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with Omega, the forty-seventh entry, and the first in a short tetralogy leading up to the fiftieth entry, Zagreus. Written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell, this story was published in August 2003, and features the Fifth Doctor, traveling briefly without companions. Let’s get started!

Omega 1

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

Part One: The Fifth Doctor appears aboard a Jolly Chronolidays time-travel tour, which visits the Sector of Forgotten Souls, an area of space prone to strong distortions…and mental disturbances for its visitors. It is also the place where the legendary Time Lord Omega used his stellar manipulator to create the Eye of Harmony…and where he vanished into a black hole, leading to an antimatter universe. His ship, the Eurydice, is rumored to appear here every 100 years. Indeed, the ship does appear, prompting the Doctor to spring into action—only to learn that it’s a sham, a play put on for the tourists. The ship is, in fact, the heritage center ship of Jolly Chronolidays. However, things take a turn for the worse when actor Tarpov, reenacting the role of Omega’s associate Vandekirian, plays his role a little too well, and attempts to assassinate Daland, the actor playing Omega. Later, he fulfills another bit of the legend, and burns off one of his own hands in the ship’s waste disposal system. The Doctor and tour guide Sentia, accompanied by an odd old historian named Ertikus, save Tarpov’s life…but then the real Omega comes to kill him.

Part Two: Omega is interrupted by a medibot, which is then destroyed by another, unknown assailant. Meanwhile the Doctor, now unconscious, meets Omega in a sort of dreamscape, where Omega rehearses their recent encounter in Amsterdam. The old Time Lord asks the Doctor’s help in returning to the antimatter universe, where he feels much more at home, having given up his ambitions against the Time Lords (though not his fear of them). After some argument, the Doctor agrees. During this time, Sentia locks the remaining elderly tourists in the heritage center’s cafeteria. Daland summons her to Tarpov’s unconscious body, surrounded by the wreckage of the medibot. Sentia knocks him out. Soon the Doctor awakens and joins her, saving Tarpov from bleeding out; Ertikus soon joins them, and says that the real Eurydice has appeared, surrounded by a dimensional anomaly (which, unfortunately, is fatal to humans—though a Time Lord can survive it). Ertikus wants to explore it; the Doctor calls him out, demonstrating that Ertikus is a Time Lord, with a hidden TARDIS. He admits it, though he is on his last life. But, where is the Doctor’s own TARDIS? With it not present, the Doctor joins Ertikus and travels over to the Eurydice. As Ertikus goes to explore, Omega—now proven to be a non-corporeal entity after his battle with the Doctor in Amsterdam (Arc of Infinity)—contacts the Doctor and directs him to repair the engines, which have been affected by the dimensional instability. He suggests using Ertikus’ TARDIS to stabilize the area, which the Doctor does; however, the engines still won’t start, as they require the handprints of the original—and now dead—crew. The Doctor works on a remote bypass. As he does so, he debates with Omega about Omega’s legacy on Gallifrey. Meanwhile, Sentia brings the heritage center to meet the Euridyce. Ertikus, meanwhile, finds a mass of psionic energy…which appears to be a race of thought-based beings, who call themselves the Scintillans. The creatures attack him.

The Doctor finishes the remote, and plans to activate it once he and Ertikus leave the Eurydice, sending Omega back through the black hole as requested. However, they are interrupted by Ertikus, who insists that the Scintillans represent some great hidden crime of Omega—it is this knowledge, he alleges, that led Tarpov to madness and harm. The Doctor convinces him to leave the modifications to his TARDIS in place, at Omega’s urging—but why? He soon realizes that Omega’s plan is to allow Sentia to enter the Eurydice. She brings the heritage center to dock, and says she has brought Daland as well…to officiate her marriage to Omega! However, Tarpov bursts into her control room with a gun, and fires.

Part Three:  Tarpov has destroyed the comm system. Now, with Omega not listening, he tells Sentia about the Scintillans, trying to turn her against Omega. He then gives her the gun, and flees the control room. Sentia joins Omega on the Eurydice, but the Doctor refuses to allow the marriage; he knows that Sentia will only survive joining Omega in the antimatter universe if Ertikus’ TARDIS remains here, but that means that he, Ertikus, and the tourists will die. Omega and Sentia storm out, and the Doctor connects with Daland to gather information. He then encounters two old ladies from the tour group, and leaves Daland to wait as he returns them to the heritage center. Meanwhile Tarpov is accosted by Scintillans—and then murdered by Omega. Daland and Ertikus hear him scream, and separately come running; the Doctor is examining the body when they arrive. But, how is the incorporeal Omega carrying out these acts? As the mystery deepens, the Doctor leaves Daland and Ertikus—who now suspect each other—to watch each other as he goes to question Sentia. Omega gives Sentia the engine remote, which he has somehow taken from the Doctor, and tells her that this now means the Doctor has no choice but to help them. The Docttor tries to reason with her regarding Omega’s obvious madness and lack of concern for everyone else, but she is not swayed. However, he broadcasts their conversation through the PA system, warning Daland and Ertikus to get all the tourists into Ertikus’ TARDIS. Omega arrives and kills Ertikus. The Doctor reveals a plan to trap Omega in a piece of Ertikus’ TARDIS’ telepathic circuit, but now he doubts it will work. Instead he uses it to send a telepathic distress call to the Time Lords, much to Sentia’s horror. However, with Daland and Sentia at hand, he sets up a mock wedding, hoping to lure Omega in. During this time, Daland sees video footage of Ertikus’ murder—and he turns on the Doctor, pulling a gun on him. He plays the footage, revealing that it was the Doctor who murdered Tarpov and Ertikus! Moreover, the Doctor in the footage speaks in two different voices—and one of them is Omega’s. It seems there are two minds in the Doctor’s body. They are both stunned when a TARDIS—the Doctor’s TARDIS—materializes, and the real Doctor steps out.

Part Four:  The real Doctor explains that, when Omega copied his bioprint, he also got a copy of the Doctor’s mind print. Surviving their battle in Amsterdam cost him his sanity, and now the two personalities vie for control. Omega passes out, missing this explanation, though that personality is aware of it; the pseudo-Doctor personality is not. As he revives, the Doctor agrees to send him home as quickly as possible, and with his TARDIS here, he can leave Ertikus’ TARDIS behind to secure the dimensions, taking the tourists with him in his own TARDIS. Sentia, it seems, can join Omega after all. However, they hear a ship docking, which Omega believes to be the Time Lords. The Doctor talks him down—after all, wouldn’t the Time Lords arrive in TARDISes? However, his argument is sabotaged by the sound of a TARDIS. It proves to be Ertikus’ TARDIS, which in its grief is trying to flee into the vortex. The Doctor tries to calm it, but to no avail. It vanishes, and the anomaly begins to return, causing Sentia to phase in and out. Meanwhile Omega is attacked by the Scintillans, who cause him to recall his childhood and the Academy, and the story of how he got his name. The story ends with him launching the stellar manipulator—and wiping out the Scintillans. The Doctor uses his own TARDIS to stabilize the anomaly, and then learns that the docking sound was the heritage center docking with the Eurydice. Daland comments on the Doctor’s uncanny knowledge of the situation; the Doctor explains that he was given the transcript of the distress signal sent by his doppelganger. He scans for psionic energy, and finds Omega under attack; but the Scintillans, it seems, are not real—they are extensions of Omega’s own mind, fueled by the psionic energy loose in the region. This also explains all the other psychic phenomena, including Tarpov’s madness. Worse, the Doctor recognizes the name “Scintillans”…he leaves the engine remote with Daland and runs to deal with Omega. Sentia reveals that she already knows that Omega killed the Scintillans, for which he can’t forgive himself—but she forgives him. He cannot accept her forgiveness, considering that also to be a crime, and he attacks her. The Doctor finds her battered form, and she explains that Omega—still in his Doctor form—stowed away in Ertikus’ TARDIS while the historian was visiting Amsterdam for research, and came here. She says that she nursed him back to health, and joined him, thinking that once in the antimatter universe she can help him be free of the Doctor persona. He gets her help to free the tourists and get them aboard his TARDIS, but they are all affected by the psionic energy and channel the Vandekirian persona. The Doctor pretends to be Omega to get them to the TARDIS, where they will be safe. Omega then arrives, raging in his guilt; the real Vandekirian’s long-ago betrayal caused his ship to malfunction, killing the Scintillans, and he cannot forgive himself.

However, the Doctor stops him, and tells him the real story. The Scintillan matter is not Omega’s crime; it is the Doctor’s. He once accidentally caused the Scintillan genocide while helping another species, and Omega has absorbed and adapted that memory. The Doctor, it seems, is much more guilty than Omega—if not by choice. However, Sentia announces over the intercom that she has stolen the engine remote; and she activates the engines. The Eurydice plunges toward the black hole. The Doctor realizes that Sentia has made her choice, and cannot be saved; but now he faces a dilemma: stay and risk the lives of the tourists and Daland (not to mention himself), or leave and risk Sentia’s life (plus the two old ladies, who are once again missing from the group)? Daland chooses for him, activating the TARDIS. As it disappears, the anomaly reasserts itself again, and Sentia is torn apart; and Omega, still screaming, is pulled into the black hole.

The Doctor tries to work through it all in his mind; but suddenly, one of the old ladies materializes in the console room—much like a TARDIS! In fact, she is a TARDIS, and her companion is the pilot, who emerges into the room. They claim to be from the Doctor’s future, representatives of the Gallifreyan Celestial Preservation Agency, which exists to keep history under control. They have come to maintain the story of the Time Lord who made a mistake…but it is not Omega they seek, but the Doctor. They state that they can’t have the story of the Scintillan genocide getting out, and to that end, they pick up the only surviving witness: Daland. They offer him a role in a future Gallifreyan museum; it will be his greatest role yet, playing the part of the Doctor himself. The Doctor, it seems, is a hero in their time, and they want it to stay that way. But before they go, the offer the Doctor a story—the story of his encounter with Omega as it will be remembered in the future.

Omega 2

Nyssa: Is Omega dead?

Doctor: Well, he seemed to die before, yet he returned to confound us all.

–Arc of Infinity

I’ve been hearing about this audio drama for quite some time, so I was excited to finally get here (even if I ended up delaying it by several weeks or months—apologies!). Since reading Lungbarrow a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated with the founding era of Time Lord history, a much-debated bit of history to which our antagonist, Omega, belongs. We’ll revisit and expand on that history here, if not in the direct way that Lungbarrow and some of the other New Adventures did.

Chronologically, we last saw Omega on television in Arc of Infinity, in which he copied the Fifth Doctor’s bioprint and took on the Doctor’s form before being defeated in Amsterdam. Here, we discover that the ancient Time Lord didn’t meet his end there, but continued on in a…we’ll say “fractured” form. I should pause here and say that, though this is Omega’s next adventure, it’s a little unclear where this story fits in the Doctor’s timeline. Going by production codes and the lack of companions, the Doctor Who Reference Guide authors suggest that it occurs during the brief local holiday referenced in the closing minutes of Arc of Infinity. (I’m a little rusty on that serial myself, and I don’t remember it being set out that way, but I just report this stuff, I don’t make it up.) Allegedly during that time, Tegan and Nyssa remained on Earth while the Doctor responded to the situation laid out in this story. Take that as you will; my thought on the issue is that it doesn’t really matter, as the Doctor could experience these events during any solo period after Arc of Infinity.

There’s a major twist in this story that I really don’t want to spoil here, and I expect it will be hard to dance around it if I begin to get into the plot—so, pardon me if the review seems sparse on that point. We open with the Doctor on a spaceship, touring the Sector of Forgotten Souls with Jolly Chronolidays time-travel tours (though “time-travel” is a misnomer; real time travel has fallen out of fashion, and the tour line is given to recreating historic events these days). Jolly Chronolidays is highly reminiscent of Nostalgia Trips, the travel firm from Delta and the Bannermen, though on a larger scale—but, as it turns out, just as shady. The tour is visiting the area where, legend has it, the Time Lord Omega detonated a star to gift his people with the power of time travel—and where he was subsequently lost to a black hole. It is said that his ship, the Eurydice, reappears here every hundred years. No one expects the story to be true—but it is. Likewise, no one expects the real Omega to attend the event.

The only real negative about this story is that it can be a bit hard to follow. I post these reviews on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, as well as here on the Time Lord Archives; the version here on the blog includes a (skippable if necessary) plot summary that doesn’t fit on the subreddit. For that reason, I often consult the wiki and the reference guide to ensure I’m not missing important details. In doing so, I was able to follow this story much more closely; I don’t think I’d have been as successful if I was only listening. I think that that is probably intentional; Nev Fountain clearly had to jump through some hoops to obscure the aforementioned plot twist. Still, it’s nothing so immersion-breaking as, say, the dual renditions of Flip-Flop, so I can live with it.

Strongly on the positive side: This story does a great deal to humanize Omega. His appearances in The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity leave one with the impression that he’s just another one-dimensional villain. He wants revenge, and he doesn’t care who he hurts in the process. That impression doesn’t fit with the fact that the Doctor has cited Omega as one of his heroes, though. This story brings forward the often-overlooked fact that Omega’s experiences have driven him insane—even more so after his battle with the Doctor in Amsterdam. The Omega we see here, while still possessed of a violent side, is broken, and he just wants to go home and be healed. We get glimpses of his past, including the story of how he got his name (based on terrible marks at the Academy); and we learn that not all of his crimes are as straightforward as they may seem. He ends up both tragic and pathetic; but you find respect for the good man that he once was. I think the Fifth Doctor is especially well chosen for this story, not only because he was the last to battle Omega, but also because he tends to see the good in people perhaps more than the Fourth or Sixth of Seventh; and here we get to see Omega through his eyes.

I find it interesting that the Time Lords are quite well known here. Not only is the species known, but their history seems to be common knowledge. That fact alone leads me to think that this is quite far forward in history (although of course we don’t know if the tourists we see here are human! They could be simply humanoid). It’s a situation that really could only happen before the Time War, as the war seems to have fractured or removed knowledge of the Time Lords all up and down the corridors of time.

This story is, as I mentioned, part of the tetralogy that ends with Zagreus; and I gather that each of the three stories prior to Zagreus have a bit of foreshadowing of that story. Here, it comes in the form of a hologram of Zagreus (or what he is believed to look like anyway) on the Jolly Chronolidays ship. It will be interesting to see where it shows up in the next two entries.

Continuity: Not a lot of references, but enough to firmly establish this story. I’ve already mentioned Omega’s last appearance. The Doctor makes reference to the Sontaran invasion in The Invasion of Time. The Shabogans are mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). The Eye of Orion is mentioned, several stories before the Doctor finally makes it there in The Five Doctors. Praxiteles, first mentioned on television in Planet of Fire, is mentioned here (though chronologically earlier for the Doctor). The Hand of Omega is referenced (Remembrance of the DaleksLungbarrow, et al.). The creation of the Eye of Harmony is mentioned (Remembrance of the DaleksThe Deadly AssassinJourney to the Center of the TARDIS). The Doctor sits in seat 6E on the tour ship, which is a subtle reference to Arc of Infinity–that serial’s production code was 6E. The Doctor first discovers the far-future Celestial Preservation Agency here; I am a little surprised to discover that this seems to be its only appearance so far. However, I mention it because its representative travels in a human-form TARDIS, which—although not declaratively stated as such—appears to be a Type 103 TARDIS (The Shadows of Avalon, many other books in both the Doctor Who and Faction Paradox libraries). The Doctor here claims to be almost nine hundred years old. The Doctor mentions that TARDISes sometimes hurl themselves into the vortex out of grief; this is mentioned in the charity anthology Seasons of War in the short story Corsair. The Doctor comments that they must end up at some sort of graveyard at the end of time; he will later visit that location in The Axis of Insanity. The Doctor at one point mentions helping a group of Lurmans; this species was first seen in Carnival of Monsters, though he is not referring to the events of that story here.

Omega 3

Overall: A very enjoyable story, with a twist that I honestly should have seen coming, but didn’t. I expect it will be that way for most people—right from the beginning, and especially if you have seen Arc of Infinity (which you really should), you have everything you need to figure it out. The story does a good job of hiding the fact that there will BE a twist, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I hope that the other upcoming entries—before the reputed trainwreck that is Zagreus–are this good.

Next time: We visit the Sixth Doctor and an old enemy in Davros! 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.

Omega

Previous

Next

Novel Review: The Eight Doctors

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! It’s been awhile since we looked into the world of Doctor Who novels, but here we go again. I set out to review Vampire Science, the second of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, but then discovered to my embarrassment that I never covered the first. It’s been several months since I read it, so my observations may be less thorough than usual; but, without further ado, let’s get started on The Eight Doctors (1997), by Terrance Dicks!

Eight Doctors 1

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

Immediately after the events of Doctor Who (the 1996 television movie, which gave us the regeneration of the Seventh Doctor into the Eighth), the Doctor returns to his TARDIS. He finishes reading The Time Machine (begun during the movie), then checks the Eye of Harmony—where he falls victim to the Master’s final trip. It erases his memory, leaving him in possession of his name—“the Doctor”—and orders to trust the TARDIS…but nothing else.

The TARDIS lands on its own at 76 Totter’s Lane in London in 1997. He intercepts a teenager named Samantha “Sam” Jones, who is running from some drug dealers led by one Baz Bailey; Baz correctly thinks that Sam told the police about his activities. Baz intends to force Sam to take cocaine, causing an addiction that will both punish her and ensure her silence. The Doctor rescues her, but is then caught himself by the police, who believe he is the one dealing the cocaine (as he had it in hand when they arrived). Meanwhile, Sam escapes to school, but tells two of her teachers the story while explaining her tardiness; she takes them to the junkyard to prove her story. At the same time, Bailey and his gang attack the police station to attempt to recover the drugs (as their own suppliers will not be pleased with the loss). The Doctor escapes during the attack, and takes the cocaine back to the TARDIS for disposal…but as the ship dematerializes, Sam is left on her own to deal with Bailey.

Flying more or less on its own, the TARDIS lands on Earth in 100,000 BC. The Eighth Doctor meets the First, just as the First Doctor is about to kill a caveman. He stops his past self from this heinous act, and the two psychically link, restoring the Eighth Doctor’s memories up to this point in the First Doctor’s life. These events have occurred in a time bubble, which allows them to converse without being noticed by anyone; but the First Doctor tells the Eighth to go before the bubble bursts and damages the timeline. The Eighth Doctor takes off again in his TARDIS.

His next stop takes him to the events of The War Games. Here he lands in the vicinity of the survivors of the Roman Legions, and is captured and sent to the headquarters location at the center of the war zones. He meets the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, and Zoe Heriot. Another time bubble forms, allowing him to make psychic contact with his past self, and restores the next segment of his memories; then he advises the Second Doctor to contact the Time Lords for intervention in the War Lords’ plans. He departs again.

Returning to Earth in 1972, the TARDIS lands at UNIT HQ. The Third Doctor and Jo Grant, meanwhile, having just defeated the Sea-Devils, have tracked the Master back to his previous haunt of Devil’s End, where his TARDIS awaits. After a brief standoff with white witch Olive Hawthorne, the Master escapes in his TARDIS. The Third Doctor and Jo return to UNIT HQ, where they discover the Eighth Doctor. The Third Doctor shares a psychic link with his Eighth self, but not willingly; he blames his previous encounter with the Eighth Doctor, during his second incarnation, for the circumstances that led to his exile. The Eighth Doctor—whose memories are starting fill in the gaps as more segments are added—assures the Third Doctor that he will be released from exile, and will even end his life with a noble sacrifice one day. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Master, who attempts to kill the Third Doctor; but the two of them are able to overpower him and drive him off. In the process, the Third Doctor captures the Master’s tissue compression eliminator, and threatens his other self with it, stating he could demand the Eighth Doctor’s working TARDIS…but he relents and gives his other self the weapon, choosing to stay.

The TARDIS next takes the Eighth Doctor back to a time prior to the destruction of the Logopolitan CVEs, and into E-Space, where he meets his Fourth self on the planet of the Three Who Rule. The Doctor has just killed the great vampire, but a few lesser vampires remain…notably one Lord Zarn. He captures Romana and uses her to lure in the Fourth Doctor, intending to transform them into a new king and queen of the vampires. The Fourth Doctor rescues her, but is caught himself, and nearly drained of blood before the Eighth Doctor can find him. He provides an emergency blood transfusion as the local peasants arrive and finish off the vampires. With more memories intact, he departs.

Interlude: On Gallifrey, the Doctor’s timeline-crossing has not gone unnoticed. Flavia, who is currently president after the Sixth Doctor’s sham trial some years ago, refuses to execute the Doctor for this crime, but keeps him under observation. A political rival, Ryoth, grows angry at this decision, and surreptitiously contacts the Celestial Intervention Agency. They refuse to get involved, but offer to secretly support him; they give him access to the Time Scoop. He uses it to send the Raston Warrior Robot (still in the Death Zone after The Five Doctors) to the Eye of Orion, where the Fifth Doctor is trying to take a vacation with Tegan Jovanka and Vislor Turlough. However, the Eighth Doctor arrives, and the presence of identical brain patterns in two places confuses the robot, leaving it immobile. Ryoth then sends a Sontaran patrol to the planet. The patrol apprehends the Doctors, but they convince the leader, Vrag, to reactivate the robot. It immediately begins slaughtering the Sontarans. Quickly the Doctors put together a device to generate temporal feedback; Ryoth’s next target, a Drashig, is redirected into the Time Scoop chamber. It promptly eats both Ryoth and the Time Scoop, before being destroyed by the guards.

The Eighth Doctor then lands on the space station where the Sixth Doctor’s trial is just ending…in his execution. The resultant time bubble allows both Eight and Six to escape, but they realize something is wrong. This timeline, in which the Sixth Doctor was found guilty, is not the real one; it has been forced into existence by the Valeyard. Somewhere, the actual trial goes on. As that false timeline has been interrupted, this version of the Sixth Doctor will soon also vanish. They rush to Gallifrey, and speak with then-president Niroc. [I have to step out of character for a second here. Gallifreyan presidency rarely makes sense. Flavia became president at the end of Trial of a Time Lord, and then was forced to step down for political reasons; she was replaced by Niroc, and then later re-elected, bringing us to the point at which we met her earlier while monitoring the Doctor’s progress. Whew!] They force an inquiry into the legitimacy of the trial, and enlist former president Flavia to help. In so doing, they step into a brewing rebellion among the Shobogans in and around the capital. The Sixth Doctor finally vanishes during the inquiry. The inquiry exposes a conspiracy among the Valeyard, Niroc, and the Celestial Intervention Agency—with the Master thrown in just for chaos’ sake. As the rebellion erupts, the Sixth Doctor’s real timeline reasserts itself, and it is seen that he has defeated the Valeyard inside the Matrix. The Eighth Doctor visits Rassilon’s tomb and persuades Rassilon’s ghost to release Borusa from his imprisonment; he takes Borusa, who is now very much absolved of his previous crimes, to the Panopticon, where he quickly asserts control of the situation and leads the Time Lords and Shobogans to a peaceful solution.

With Gallifrey sorted for the moment, the Eighth Doctor heads off to locate his Seventh self. The Seventh Doctor has become depressed in the knowledge that his life will soon end (thanks to his experiences in Lungbarrow), and has retreated to Metebelis 3 for contemplation. There he is captured by one of the giant spiders, who remembers the Third Doctor’s destruction of the spider colony. He is rescued by the Eighth Doctor, and a final psychic link fully restores the Eighth Doctor’s memories. The Eighth Doctor’s sympathy overrides his good sense, and he warns his past self not to answer a call that will soon come from an old enemy (that is, the Master, who wants the Doctor to carry his remains home—failing to do so would change the Eighth Doctor’s timeline). However, the Seventh Doctor, having become encouraged, decides to go anyway.

Meanwhile, the Master, ever one to lay a trap, visits a tribe called the Morgs. He obtains from them a deathworm, which allows them to survive death, but at the cost of their bodies and forms. He uses the deathworm on himself, then travels to Skaro, where he will be executed.

The Eighth Doctor returns to Rassilon’s tomb, and implies that Rassilon guided his journey. Rassilon congratulates him, and confirms it; this adventure allowed some loose ends to be tied up, most notably the infamous Ravolox incident (as Ravolox, aka Earth, has now been put back in place). But one loose end remains…

The Doctor returns to the scrapyard in 1997, and quickly rescues Sam from Baz Bailey, handing both Bax and the cocaine over to the police. Just as he prepares to leave, Sam leaps into the TARDIS. He doesn’t want to take her at first, but she insists on at least one trip to see the Universe. He tells her his name is Doctor John Smith; she points out that with names like Smith and Jones, they are perfect pair.

Eight Doctors 2

There’s a distinct difference between a good novel and an entertaining one, and few Doctor Who stories illustrate that as well as this one. The novel is almost one hundred percent fan service (and not in the sexual sense; in the sense of things that fans routinely want, such as past-doctor appearances). I love that kind of thing as much as the next person (and probably considerably more); but even I have to admit that this story serves as a cautionary tale about why such things are only good in moderation. I’ll say ahead of time that the book was a lot of fun to read; it has that going for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that—if you’re not reading for enjoyment, why are you reading? Now, with that said, let’s tear it apart.

Since this book is almost completely composed of continuity references, I won’t be able to list them all in a neat paragraph as I usually do. We’ll look at them from the perspective of the problems they cause, and other references will be scattered throughout. The book tries to serve as a bridge between the television movie (which left the Doctor with a blank slate and no companions) and the rest of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels—which, let’s not forget, were the only major Eighth Doctor stories for a long time. (I know there have been comics, but I’m not sure how they fit into the publication timeline.)

The book plays havoc with Gallifreyan presidential succession. It tries to salvage the notable character of Flavia from the end of The Five Doctors; that’s admirable enough, as Flavia is an interesting character with potential. However, it casts her as president, then promptly throws the succession into confusion with President Niroc, who is stated to be president during Trial of a Time Lord. It explains the proper succession, but the explanation is elaborate enough for its own bout of confusion. None of this, of course, deals with the fact that Lungbarrow–to which this book clearly refers—establishes that Romana should be president at this point in the Eighth Doctor’s life. (There’s a very short time between the end of Lungbarrow and the television movie, and this novel proceeds immediately thereafter; it’s unlikely that Romana was deposed and Flavia elected during that time. The events of Flavia’s term seen here could take place before the Eighth Doctor’s timeline; but then why, when monitoring him, does Flavia treat his Eighth incarnation as the current one? It’s never addressed.) This also contradicts a previous novel, Blood Harvest, which was also written by Terrance Dicks. It’s partially explained away by Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum in Unnatural History, where they explain that Rassilon has made improvements to the patterns of history…but it’s Lungbarrow that gets undone, not The Eight Doctors. (And what a pity! Lungbarrow is a much better novel.) Yet more layers of contradiction take place in The Shadows of Avalon and The Ancestor Cell (which I haven’t read yet, so bear with me).

There are lesser contradictions to other stories as well. Sam Jones mentions “silver monsters” having been seen once in Foreman’s Yard; this is a reference to Remembrance of the Daleks, but the Cybermen didn’t actually appear there in that story. The Eighth Doctor, when meeting the Brigadier with the Third Doctor, doesn’t realize he’s been promoted up from Colonel (post-The Web of Fear). However, even the Second Doctor should have known that, as he met him at the rank of Brigadier in The Invasion; therefore the Eighth Doctor should know, having already acquired the Second’s memories. The VNA Blood Harvest states that Borusa was still imprisoned in the Seventh Doctor’s time; to be fair, it also implies he may return to imprisonment voluntarily after a short freedom. The method of “vampirization” (for lack of a better word) seen during the Fourth Doctor’s scenes here contradicts other versions, including Blood Harvest, Goth Opera, and the soon-to-arrive Vampire Science; however, most of those stories are careful to observe that different versions of vampires may reproduce in different ways.

The largest issue I have with this story is that it is the novel equivalent of a clip show. A clip show (and I don’t know if the term is common in the UK as it is in America) is a late-series episode composed mostly of flashbacks and clips from past stories. It’s meant to provide a cheap, easy, filler episode, while bringing later viewers up to date. I understand why the EDA line would begin with such a story; Doctor Who was at a fragile point, having just finished up the VNA line, and just coming off a failed television movie. I imagine there was a perception of not having much to work with, and therefore any effort to tie this new series to the Classic Series in its heyday would have seemed like a no-brainer. One must establish that yes, this is the Doctor, and we will be going forward with him in this incarnation; but he is the same Doctor he’s always been. The problem is, clip shows don’t make good stories; and this one meanders from place to place. It dabbles in the First Doctor’s story, while diving deep into the Sixth; this kind of variation is everywhere throughout the book, and so it feels very uneven and unpredictable. It may have been the only way to begin the novel line, but it was not a good way.

With far too many continuity references to list, I’ll stop there, and just refer you to the TARDIS wiki for more information. Instead, let’s take a glance at our newest companion: Samantha “Sam” Jones. I am aware that there’s far more to Sam than meets the eye, with some interference in her history and timeline yet to be revealed; but none of that is apparent yet. She’s very much a television version of a 1990s teenager: bright, almost manic, witty, high-energy, and highly involved. I was reminded instantly of Lucie Miller from the Eighth Doctor Adventures audios, and having already read the next book, I’m convinced that Lucie’s character is directly inspired by Sam’s; the two could practically be twins. Sam is very much a character, though; she’s not very realistic, but she’s very well written. She’s exactly how I imagine an older adult writing the character of a teenager in the 1990s—and of course, that’s exactly what she is. Terrance Dicks is a fine author, but he’s no teenager, and there’s a little bit of “uncanny valley” when looking at Sam…she’s almost, but not quite, normal. Add in the scenes with the cocaine and drug dealers, and the sense of being a little disconnected with the 90s—but still familiar with its pop culture—deepens.

As for the Doctor, we don’t yet know what kind of man he will be. He’s certainly high-energy, but beyond that, he’s still a blank slate. He spends most of this book playing off of the characterization of his other incarnations, which is something that Terrance Dicks nails (and he should, by now, with the stacks of books he’s written). It’s been mentioned that you have to ask which Eighth Doctor you’re dealing with in any given story; the answer here is, “we don’t know”. I’ll report back as I finish more of the series.

None of this makes the book a bad read, and it’s worthwhile at least for introducing Sam’s character, although one should keep in mind that Sam’s involvement is only the frame to the rest of the story. When we meet her again, she will have been traveling with the Doctor for an undisclosed time, and he will also have had some independent travel in the middle of her time with him. While I can’t completely recommend the book, the completionist in me says that you should read it; but feel free to skip it if your tolerance for weak storytelling is low.

Next time: We’ll continue our Short Trips audios, and we’ll look at the next book in the Eighth Doctor Adventures: Vampire Science! See you there.

The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print; however you may find them at various used booksellers.

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 31: Always Face the Curtain with a Bow

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

Seasons of War cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, it ends.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

John Hurt Tribute photo

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

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 29: Reflections

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

Seasons of War cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Hurt Tribute photo

Reflections was written by Christine Grit. Next time: We’ll revisit a beloved old friend in Fall, by Matt Barber. See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 19: Life During Wartime

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

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

Seasons of War cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story ends with a curious suggestion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Hurt Tribute photo

Life During Wartime was written by Gary Russell, a man of many Doctor Who credits—author, audio actor, director, and editor. Next time (Tuesday, due to the Memorial Day holiday in my area): Sleepwalking to Paradise, by Dan Barratt. See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 16: The Holdover

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

Seasons of War cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holdover 1

The Holdover was written by Daniel Wealands, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: Climbing the Mountain, by longtime Who writer Lance Parkin. See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next