Audio Drama Review: The Oseidon Adventure

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

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

Oseidon Adventure 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oseidon Adventure 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oseidon Adventure 3

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

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

The Oseidon Adventure

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Audio Drama Review: Trail of the White Worm

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

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

Trail of the White Worm 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail of the White Worm 2

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail of the White Worm 3

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

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

Trail of the White Worm

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

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

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

Wrath of the Iceni 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrath of the Iceni 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrath of the Iceni 3

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

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

The Wrath of the Iceni

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Audio Drama Review: Destination: Nerva

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

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

Destination Nerva 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination Nerva 2

Cast and crew of Destination: Nerva

 

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

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

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

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

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

Destination Nerva 3

Next time: The Renaissance Man! See you there.

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

Destination: Nerva

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The War Is Over: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series One, Part One.

Welcome back to my Doctor Who rewatch! Recently we completed the classic television series, and it was great. Twenty-six years of television yields a show with a wealth of lore and background. But, what happens when that show is cancelled, only to be revived sixteen years later? Let’s find out!

Series 1 logo

To that end, I’ve decided to continue on into the revived, 2005-era series of Doctor Who. This series, while connecting nicely to its predecessor, is really a different animal, and those differences are going to count in this review. For one, I’ll be using the preferred modern term “Series” instead of “Season” as I did in the classic series—“Series One”, “Series Two”, etc. Obviously that gets a bit confusing with regard to the television series as a whole; for that I’ll probably switch over and just say “show”. It’s necessary, though, as the numbering system resets; we wouldn’t want to confuse Series One of the revived series with Season One of the classic series. For another change, the format is different now; where the classic show utilized a serialized format, with multiple short episodes per story, the revived show tends to limit stories to one forty-five-minute episode, with occasional two- or three-parters. With that said, we get more stories per series than we did with the latter two-thirds of the classic show. In light of that, I won’t be able to do an entire series per post; they would be far too long, and I’m already verbose enough. I expect to do about three episodes per post; at about thirteen episodes per series, that’s a comfortable rate that should let me post once a week. As I’m also reviewing audio dramas, I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.

Series 1

This week, we’re looking at Series One, from 2005, and covering the first three episodes: Rose, The End of the World, and The Unquiet Dead. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes! (I should have been saying that all along.)

After a long hiatus (nine or sixteen years, depending on your point of view), Doctor Who returns with the simply-titled Rose. It’s not a deep story, but it moves fast! Nineteen-year-old Rose Tyler works in a shop, hangs out with her boyfriend Mickey Smith, and argues with her mother, Jackie…until the shop dummies start menacing her in the basement at her job. Everything changes, though, when a strange and compelling man grabs her hand and says, “Run!” It’s non-stop from there, as her encounter with the Doctor and the menacing Autons takes her further from life as she’s known it. In the end, she leads the Doctor to a confrontation with the Nestene Consciousness that controls the Autons, and saves his life…and flies away with him.

"RUN!"

“RUN!”

We get some new characters here, including Rose, her mother Jackie, and her skeptical and protective boyfriend Mickey…but none more fascinating than the Doctor. This Doctor is a brand new man, possibly literally; there’s a scene where he looks at his reflection as though he’s seeing it for the first time, though that’s been debated hotly ever since. The BBC and showrunner Russell Davies made the decision not to bring back Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor—first seen in the 1996 movie, and popularized since by the audios, novels, and comics—instead choosing a clean start with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. It really is a clean break, as well, as we immediately get the startling revelation that he is all alone—his people, the Time Lords (not named here) are gone. Longtime fans would have been stunned at that revelation. Eccleston’s Doctor is clean-cut and spare compared to McGann’s; no more Victorian costumes, no more long hair, instead he prefers simple clothing, a black leather jacket, and a buzzed head. He’s spare in personality, as well; he’s blunt and forthright (“Is it always like this?” “Yeah.”), and honestly, offensive sometimes. He can be rude, but not in the flamboyant manner of the Sixth Doctor; he’s more of an immovable object, hard and unforgiving.

"Is it always like this?" "Yeah."

“Is it always like this?” “Yeah.”

Of course, there’s a good reason for it, though we don’t know it yet: He’s just survived a war. The massive and far-flung Last Great Time War—not named here, but we’ll get there soon—has been time-locked and therefore wiped from the memory of much of the universe; but the Doctor remembers. He can never forget. In a very real sense, he has post-traumatic stress disorder; he doesn’t scream or lash out, but he keeps himself buttoned up tight, because he knows the man he could be if he let it out. Opinions of Eccleston may vary, but there’s absolutely no question that he was the Doctor for the hour, here, and he is—to borrow his favorite word—fantastic.

Rose 3

It…may have taken Rose a while to realize he was fantastic.

The Autons and the Nestene Consciousness are the villains here, for the first time since The Auton Invasion. They’re interesting to me; this is only their third appearance onscreen, but every appearance has been a season/series premiere, and twice it’s been the premiere for a new Doctor. They’re similar to their previous appearances; you can’t do much with shop dummies, I suppose. However, we do see them in other forms here; anything plastic they can control, so we see them control a garbage bin, and even produce a speaking duplicate of Mickey. They’re defeated with anti-plastic, a corrosive chemical, but it won’t be the last we see of them. There’s an interesting reference to their worlds having been destroyed; it’s not spelled out, but understood later that they were destroyed in the Time War.

Autons! Autons everywhere! But seriously, people died here.

Autons! Autons everywhere! But seriously, people died here.

Other noteworthy things: The new sonic screwdriver appears, and it’s beautiful. If this is, as the theory goes, the Ninth Doctor’s first adventure, then it really is a brand-new screwdriver; it differs from the one the War Doctor will eventually be seen to carry at the time of his regeneration. The Shadow Proclamation is first mentioned, and the terminology makes it sound more like a treaty or declaration than an organization; I suppose this could be metonymy, the idiomatic practice where a thing becomes identified by one of its features. The Doctor first uses his “I AM TALKING!” line which will be more common under Matt Smith. Rose makes the first in a long line of “bigger on the inside” comments about the TARDIS (she actually says “The inside’s bigger than the outside”). The Doctor calls humans “stupid apes”—something he will do often in moments of anger—and then makes his famous “Lots of planets have a north!” line. The TARDIS interior can be seen through the open doors, something the classic series could not do convincingly, and mostly never tried.

"It's a scientific instrument, not a water pistol!"

“It’s a scientific instrument, not a water pistol!”

I wanted to say a bit more about the question of whether this is the first adventure of the Ninth Doctor. I like to think it is; the scene with his reflection seems very clear to me, though some staff for the show have said otherwise. I feel that the existence of photos of the Ninth Doctor at past events, does not mean they happened earlier in his lifetime; they could easily be offscreen adventures in the future. To that end, it’s worth mentioning that he briefly dematerializes the TARDIS without Rose before taking her with him; it’s been suggested that some offscreen adventures take place without her during that gap. Certainly there’s precedent for it; the Fourth Doctor most likely visited Leela’s homeworld for the first time while Harry Sullivan was knocked out in Robot (we see him returning in the TARDIS). Nevertheless, if anyone disagrees, that’s fine as well.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Rose’s first real adventure in the TARDIS takes her to The End of the World, literally. After brief stops in the years 2105 and 12,005 (which the Doctor states to be the New Roman Empire; note that this is after the time frame of the Earth Empire seen often in the classic show), they land in the year 5.5/apple/26, five billion years in Rose’s future. It’s the day the Earth is to be destroyed by the expanding Sun, which technically should already have happened. (The Sun has been held back by gravity-controlling satellites.) It’s not the furthest in time we will ever go—multiple adventures will take the Doctor to the end of time itself—but it’s still impressive, and not often beaten. We land on Platform One, a hospitality and viewing station which will be used to view the death of the planet.

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel...well, honestly, like I might be sick, but whatever.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel…well, honestly, like I might be sick, but whatever.

At this point in history, pure humans are considered to be mostly extinct; or rather, they’ve interbred and/or genetically engineered themselves into related but dissimilar races—it’s played for comedic effect when the Doctor gets hit on by a human tree (no, really). The Lady Cassandra O’Brien dot Delta Seventeen (I’ll dispense with the symbols for convenience’s sake) is considered to be the last pure human, and even she has surgically altered herself to the point of being unrecognizable—she’s essentially a tank of organs attached to a face of stretched skin (or as Rose puts it, a “bitchy trampoline”; they will have a short rivalry hereafter, which is arguably Rose’s fault, as she starts the fight). Of course, later episodes—especially Utopia–will establish that pure humans exist nearly all the way to the end of time. I see no contradiction; the universe is a big place, and it’s not impossible that other pure humans exist elsewhere, but are unknown to the bulk of the populace.

Human trees. Yes, really.

Human trees. Yes, really.

Cassandra proves to be the villain here, as she attempts to extort the guests for money to fund her continued body modification. She is thwarted by the Doctor at the last second, and appears to die; but she’ll be back.

Cassandra and Rose.

Cassandra and Rose.

We’re introduced to the Face of Boe, who will figure significantly into the Tenth Doctor’s life (and might be Jack Harkness!). The architecture of Platform One is very reminiscent of the Imperator’s ship in Nightmare in Silver, which is still several years in our future. There’s no clear indication of when that story takes place, but I’ve always felt—based on the advanced state of the Cybermen and other technology—that it must be far in the future. It’s stated to be a thousand years after the Cyber-Wars, but I don’t believe they are the same Cyber-wars as have previously been noted to be in the 26th century; in that century, the Earth’s populated range of worlds was small, but these wars are said to involve many galaxies. Therefore I would submit that Nightmare in Silver is contemporary with The End of the World, or close to it.

The Face of Boe!

The Face of Boe!

The Doctor shows an intimate grasp of time, possibly even slowing it by force of will so that he can step through the final fan even with his eyes closed; perfect timing or not, that fan was moving too fast to allow passage otherwise. (Never mind that it visibly doesn’t reach the floor, and he could have crawled under.) The Time War is first mentioned here, but not by name; it’s evident that some people remember it, but many do not. We first see psychic paper here. The Doctor cries for the first time in either television series. Also, the phrase “Bad Wolf” makes its first appearance, in an offhand remark by a background character; we’ll see it often this series. I like this episode a lot; it’s one of the earliest NuWho episodes I watched (although in reruns), and I’m fond of it.

Pictures of the Doctor stepping through the fan were surprisingly hard to find. This is the closest I could get.

Pictures of the Doctor stepping through the fan were surprisingly hard to find. This is the closest I could get.

The Unquiet Dead takes us on Rose’s first trip into the past. It’s Cardiff at Christmas, 1869; the Doctor was aiming for 1860 Naples, Italy, but missed—hardly an uncommon occurrence. Though set at Christmas, it’s not a Christmas special; the wiki states—and I am inclined to agree—that it’s the closest thing Eccleston has to a Christmas special, as he left before the 2005 Christmas season. We get our first mention of the time-space rift at Cardiff, which will become a major plot point for the Torchwood spinoff. By coincidence, Eve Myles, who plays the housemaid Gwyneth here, will later play co-lead Gwen Cooper in Torchwood; in-universe, Gwen, who grew up near the rift, was sort of imprinted with Gwyneth’s features as a side effect, though they are not actually related.

unquiet dead 1

Charles Dickens appears as a character here; his experiences here are a reference to his short novel, A Christmas Carol, but not the inspiration for the book, as he has already written it. His experience here is eerily parallel to that of Vincent Van Gogh in Vincent and the Doctor, even to the point that both characters will die within a year of their experience with the Doctor. I’ve also compared this episode previously with several others, including Hide and Ghost Light.

The man himself.

The man himself.

The plot begins with the dead reviving, causing problems in town, and especially at a local funeral parlor. The dead are being possessed by the disembodied Gelth, aliens from a doomed world who have come through the rift; their world was destroyed in the Time War, here named for the first time. However, most of their survivors are trapped on the other side of the rift; they need it opened to come through, and the serving girl Gwyneth—who has a form of telepathy—can open it. As soon as she does so, however, the Gelth reveal their true colors—literally—and their greater numbers, and attempt to wipe out humanity so as to claim the Earth. Gwyneth sacrifices herself to close the rift and destroy them.

Not as nice as they seem, those Gelth.

Not as nice as they seem, those Gelth.

Gwyneth gives us our second “Bad Wolf” reference, in regard to Rose’s thoughts. The Doctor makes a groaner of a pun, stating that “I love a happy medium!” in reference to Gwyneth. Dickens makes a funny line when he shouts “What the Shakespeare?!” in an obvious play on the phrase “What the dickens?”—which, incidentally, predates him and has nothing to do with his name. This foray into the past arguably puts the idea into Rose’s head to visit her deceased father (Father’s Day). And finally, Dickens concludes with “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Even for you, Doctor.” Which just about sums up everything you need to know about Doctor Who and why we all watch it.

Unquiet Dead 4

Next time: Aliens of London, World War Three, and Dalek! See you there.

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

Rose

The End of the World

The Unquiet Dead

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