Audio Drama Review: I, Davros: Corruption

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at the early life of the creator of the Daleks, in I, Davros: Corruption. Let’s get started!

Corruption 1

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

Davros continues his analysis of his own past, musing on his progress through the Kaled Science Elite, and his growing political skill, all in pursuit of power.

A squad of Thal paratroopers come under Kaled fire as their plane is destroyed. As they land and commence their mission, they know they will not return home. Meanwhile, Councillor Matross summons Davros to the Council of Twelve, which now includes his mother Calcula, to answer for the expenses of the Scientific Elite. As the meeting devolves into argument, they are attacked by the surviving Thal paratrooper, who shockingly reveals that she has come to kill, not the Supremo, but Davros! He outwits her by ordering Calcula to reactivate the magnetic field of the assassin’s parachute; the planet’s magnetic field is strong here, and crushes the assassin to the floor, killing her.

Davros takes advantage of the situation to analyze the Thal female’s DNA. He finds it to be completely different from Kaled DNA, implying the two races have no common ancestor—they simply fill the same ecological niche, though with certain differences in internal organs. Davros notes that Thal men outnumber the women seven to one, but laments that the mass extinctions of other life forms in the war make it impossible to draw good comparisons. If any living creatures remain, they are in Drammakin Lake—now the Lake of Mutations—and the tunnels beneath the city. His associate Shan suggests capturing some samples in order to preserve as much of the genetic record as possible before it is too late. Davros disagrees, looking to the future instead of the past; but at any rate, non-military research has been banned, and so Davros directs another associate, Ral, to develop a quick test for Thal DNA. Perhaps a biological plague weapon can be developed. As Ral leaves, Davros asks Shan to stay behind.

Calcula meets with Section Leader Fenn of the Military Youth. Davros joins them, introducing Calcula to Shan, who was formerly in the Military Youth herself. Davros speaks highly of Shan, gaining Calcula’s notice. Calcula introduces Davros to Fenn, and says that she is planning a movement for the Youth; Davros interprets this as seeking a power base. He excuses himself and leaves with Shan. Fenn misspeaks and angers Calcula, but gets back in her graces by agreeing to a job before he knows what it is—a kind of loyalty she approves.

Davros jokes with Shan that, as Calcula is now technically her leader, she might be a spy; but Shan reminds him that Youth membership is compulsory, and that things have gotten worse with Calcula’s involvement, with any questioning resulting in punishment and even death, even for the very young. Davros expresses some frustration with the private army of loyalists that Calcula seems to be constructing. They are distracted by the DNA analysis; Shan assumes there is a fault, as the damaged DNA is changing—evolving, possibly? It makes no sense, as evolution within an individual is unheard of. Nevertheless, Davros thinks they can shape their own genetic destiny; Shan isn’t so sure, as they are killing Skaro, and have found no other life-supporting worlds. She mentions her own home in Darrien, which is now lifeless; Davros counters even this, pointing out the mutated worms and monsters that survive there and elsewhere. He reminds her that she herself proposed a solution in a paper a year prior; and now it’s time to make her dream reality.

Fenn provides Calcula with Shan’s personnel file. He admits that he has known Shan for years, but doesn’t like her; she is too clever. Calcula suspects that Davros is becoming romantically involved with Shan, and she wants to make the most of it; hence, the file. Fenn leaves, and Davros arrives; Calcula reads parts of the file to him. Shan’s family, while poor, is well-connected. Davros shows her blueprints for a radiation machine—not a weapon, but a variation on a cancer-curing device he invented. She dismisses the achievement. He inquires about her interest in Shan, and reacts badly at the suggestion that the Council may be interested in her. She changes the subject, and tells him that Councilor Matross has died in an accident, removing an obstacle to Davros’s work…and she hints that she may have had something to do with it.

Davros makes up with Shan over his earlier, disparaging remarks about Darrien. The conversation turns to their work, and he excitedly reveals that his machine can definitely shape the direction of mutations. He suggests that they may engineer an organism that can survive any environmental changes on Skaro. It need not be attractive, but must be intelligent, and have strong survival instincts.

At dinner, Calcula is pleased to see Davros reading a paper on obstetrics. She interprets his distraction as sulking over the obstacles from the Council, and reminds him that Matross is out of the picture. He is more determined than ever not to get politically entangled, but she suggests that he at least attend the unveiling of a new weapon he invented—and why not bring Shan along?

Shan joins Calcula in the War Room for the unveiling and the attendant military push. Shan’s father, in the military, is leading the campaign, but they are unable to speak to him from here…but perhaps he will survive and be able to speak afterward. They watch as the weapon, a massively overpowered beam generator, breaches the wall of a Thal command bunker; as survivors pour out, they are slaughtered by the Kaled ground forces. To the Council, it is much like a sporting event; Calcula complains that things of this nature aren’t shown to children more often. Another Councilor, Valron, is surprised by her reaction, and argues briefly with her. As the weapon’s power requirements burn it out after one shot, the Supremo asks Davros to build more of them. He asks Davros to stay as he addresses the people; Calcula offers the disgusted Shan a ride home, but she refuses, and walks.

As Shan tries to leave, Fenn accosts her, and refuses to leave her alone. Valron intervenes, and Fenn apologizes and departs. Valron is more sympathetic to her view on the carnage of the evening, and offers to walk her home. She accepts.

Davros is starting to see the Council’s view on things—more efforts like this might win the war, and wipe out the Thals completely. He advises the Supremo to pursue such a genocidal course; after all, logically, only one life form can triumph. The Supremo changes the subject and reveals that Thal spies are known to be in the city; one such is Fenn, who will soon be arrested. Davros wants to warn Calcula, but communications are down; he goes to do it in person.

Calcula finds Fenn waiting for her at home. He tells her that Davros is waiting for her in his lab, and leads her there as she exults over the massacre. When she unlocks and enters the lab, Davros isn’t there; Fenn immediately begins destroying Davros’s equipment. He says that the Supremo sent him to destroy Davros’s work in exchange for a promotion; and that he is also to injure Calcula, ensuring that she will fade into obscurity. She declares him a spy, and tells him she will do anything to protect her son and his work. She switches on the radiation machine, and Fenn cries out in pain; but she has already doomed them both with a high dose of radiation. As Fenn dies, she tells him that these actions will also bring down the Supremo, and put Davros on the throne, just as she always wanted. Before Fenn dies, they both begin to mutate.

Davros arrives at the lab, finding Shan already there. Fenn is dead, and Calcula is dying; but Davros only has eyes for the mutations they have experienced, and how it proves his theories. His clinical reaction to his mother’s impending death shocks Shan; she asks him to reverse the process, but he says that he cannot. Calcula tells him that their enemies killed her because they fear Davros, and that he must ascend and destroy their enemies. She expresses her pride in him, and then dies. He sends Shan away and tells her he is not to be disturbed while he works.

Shan finds Valron and tells him Calcula is dead. She also realizes, and explains, that Fenn’s mutations matched Calcula’s, implying that he was not a Thal, but a Kaled. She and Valron deduce that he was not a spy, but that his questionable actions were under orders from someone very senior, more so than Calcula herself, and possibly a Councilor. Valron dismisses her concern that Davros might be next, and tells her to leave Davros to his grief—though she is sure he isn’t grieving.

A pregnant woman named Renna finds that her regular doctor has been replaced by Davros, whom she does not know. He accidentally reveals that she is having a boy, but covers by telling her that she will be offered an injection of a new drug to counter certain negative environmental factors. She agrees.

Shan realizes that Valron is taken with her, and he admits his attraction to her. Shan thinks word of Calcula’s death is being suppressed. Valron worries that the Military Youth may be turned on any Council member who is implicated. Shan suggests making peace with the Thals; the idea is illegal, and Valron is shocked, causing her to backpedal a bit. However, she insists that Davros, at least, should know the truth of who killed his mother.

Shan joins Davros at the hospital, and is surprised to find him working the maternity ward. They argue over their respective emotional involvements in the circumstances. Meanwhile an expectant mother unexpectedly dies of complications, the fourth such death today. He rushes to incubate the baby, but it latches on to Shan and tries to hurt her. He gets it into the incubator, and Shan inquires about their chances of survival, but he does not know. He reveals that each new baby, on which he has experimented, is genetically identical to his post-mutative mother—a new species! Shan tells him that the Supremo ordered Calcula’s death, possibly in league with the Council. Davros acknowledges it, but doesn’t care; Calcula lives on in the new species. He believes no revenge is necessary, as the murderers’ deaths are inevitable—only his new species will ultimately survive. Shan asks what he has taken out of them, and he says he has only removed that which affects their ability to think rationally. She thinks this is horrible, prompting him to disdain her.

Shan returns to Valron and reports Davros’s words. Meanwhile the Military Youth begin to riot, word of Calcula’s death having gotten out. Davros meets with the Supremo, who asks about an anti-radiation drug that was in development; it has been completed and distributed. Davros confronts the Supremo about Calcula’s murder, which the Supremo denies ordering. Davros declines to use his influence with Calcula’s followers to stop the riots, as it was a Kaled, not a Thal, that killed her. The Supremo suggests that the attack was to restrain Calcula, not kill her; but clearly it has backfired. The Supremo agrees to give Davros whatever he wants. Davros turns down a Council position. Instead, he wants complete autonomy and unlimited resources for his science division, starting with new labs underground. He backs up his demand by threatening to prove who killed Calcula, ensuring death for the killer. He suggests that it is more advantageous to leave the Supremo in power, and suggests naming Valron as the murderer in order to stop the riots. To that end, he provides a faked file of documents proving Valron’s guilt.

Davros tells Shan that Valron has pro-Thal views, but she doesn’t believe it. He is angered to learn that she has been discussing their work with Valron, and orders her to end her relationship with the Councilor. Shan argues for pursuing peace with the Thals. The Supremo, having been eavesdropping, enters, and has her taken away to be hung. Later, he makes an announcement that the traitors have been unceremoniously hung; Shan’s father was killed in battle hours earlier, before he could hear of her fate. Davros watches this in bemusement; but he is interrupted by a call from Ral about an incoming Thal warhead. The lab is twelve stories below ground, and Davros is sure he’ll be fine—but an explosion occurs, and he blacks out.

Over the next month, Davros lingers near death, and sees his life flash before his eyes, with visions of his mother urging him to live—even at the sacrifice of his flesh.

Kaled medical technology saves Davros’s life—in fact, it can make him outlive his compatriots, surviving to the end of his natural lifespan, as no one has done in ten generations. And yet, with his terrible condition, do the doctors have the right to inflict this life on him? As he awakens, he learns that the Council and Scientific Elite have decided that if he will die, it will be by his choice. Ral provides him with a poison injector with which he can end his pained existence if he chooses. The Supremo thinks it is over…

However, Davros chooses to live. A week later, he emerges, and meets with Ral; he rejects any thought of weakness and recovery. He lives by machines now, in a life support vehicle. He will improve on the designs, but in the meantime, he feels a great clarity, with the world no longer filtered by his flesh. He feels no more affinity for the Kaleds, but also feels no fear—and he has a destiny to fulfill.

Corruption 2

Things are picking up! Or down, as the case may be; there’s nothing good to be found in Davros here. The title of this installment, Corruption, is a bit misleading, as are the titles for all the installments; collectively they imply that Davros started out good, and slowly became evil. In fact, he was deeply warped from the beginning, and this story only serves to reinforce that fact. We see him become increasingly more calloused, as those around him—those about whom he should care—die in succession. Or perhaps he isn’t becoming more calloused; perhaps he was always that way, and only gains successively more terrible opportunities to show it. In this regard, the series is hindered a bit by a lack of vital characters to kill off; Davros’s family and circle were small at the beginning, and thus, each chapter is forced to insert new characters and establish why Davros should care about them. Results may vary. Here, we are introduced to a possible love interest, Shan, a fellow scientist and former member of the Military Youth. She certainly has some potential; but we’ve already long since established that Davros is not interested in romance, and so the story never really commits to that subplot. Instead, Shan becomes a clone of his long-dead sister Yarvell, having a very similar story arc, sympathies, and fate. She’s a likeable character, but misused here almost by necessity.

The peak of this episode is the transition to the crippled, machine-dependent Davros we know from the television series. (I’m not going to conceal this as a spoiler, for two reasons: It was obvious from the beginning that this would happen eventually; and the upcoming episode is going to assume his condition from the beginning.) With this transition comes a complete alienation from his people. When I first watched Genesis of the Daleks, I wondered at how Davros could be so calloused and hostile to his own people; he effectively initiates the genocide of the Kaled race by transforming the last of them into Daleks, and is quite gleeful about it. Here we begin to get an understanding of why (and I will let that be a spoiler). (On a related note: the population numbers for both the Kaleds and the Thals can’t be very high at any point. It’s never implied that they have more than a few cities each, and by the time of Genesis, they are essentially reduced to one each. We’re very nearly at that point already; mention is made of other cities which are no longer habitable. Curiously, this low population density doesn’t seem to bother anyone, even though it means the race may not be viable much longer; they continue to maintain a recklessly warlike stance, with continued notions of honorable suicide.)

We are treated to quite a bit of backstory on the Kaleds, the Thals, and Skaro, most of which is new to this story. It is noted that there are seven Thal males for every female; that the biology of the Kaleds and Thals differs significantly beneath the surface; that the wartime life expectancy of a Kaled is 52 years, and no one in ten generations has died of old age; that most lifeforms on Skaro are extinct; that Drammankin Lake has now become known as the Lake of Mutations; and that wartime pollution and radioactivity has blocked out views of the sun (though apparently not to the point of causing a nuclear winter). There’s no aspect of life on Skaro that isn’t tragic; it’s a wonder anything good or beautiful ever arose.

Continuity references: This story draws upon the audio drama Davros for early mentions of its events, including the use of rodents for research, and the research paper by Shan which indicates re-engineering of the race would be necessary. The Lake of Mutations was previously called such in The Daleks, as well as in the preceding chapter of this story, Innocence. Davros mentions the Varga plants and their effects (Mission to the Unknown, I, Davros: Purity). He mentions the Mutos (Genesis of the Daleks; also mentioned in Purity). The notion of the genetic divergence between the Kaleds and Thals is also mentioned in We are the Daleks!, though that story gives a different account of their origin (according to the wiki, at least; I have not yet read that story).

Overall: This is certainly the most interesting episode so far. The first episode, Innocence, is certainly good; but I couldn’t help being impatient for what was to come. The second, Purity, wanders a bit too much. This episode puts us back on track, and moves Davros into territory that is familiar, but not yet exhausted of its potential. He truly becomes the villain he is meant to be. I’m interested to see how the story ends.

Next time: I’ve been set back a bit by responsibilities at work, but I still hope to post about the next Main Range entry, Jubilee, this week; and then we’ll wrap up I, Davros with the final chapter, Guilt! 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.

I, Davros: Corruption

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Audio Drama Review: I, Davros: Purity

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re continuing our look at the spin-off miniseries, I, Davros. We’ll be picking up with part two, Purity, released in October 2006. Let’s get started!

I Davros Purity

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

Still a captive among his creations, the Daleks, Davros continues his recounting of his past.

Young Davros, now nearing thirty years of age, has joined the Military Elite as a Tech-Officer. With his friend and fellow officer Reston, he works on refining and testing new weapons developed by the Scientific Corps—a posting that Davros greatly desires for himself. He grows frustrated at their repeated failures with the new weapons, and believes he can do better for his people—and then he is summoned to the office of the highest leader of the Kaleds, the Supremo.

His meeting with the Supremo is tense, with Davros displaying his arrogance, until the Supremo makes an offer. Davros, he explains, will be sent on a mission to infiltrate the city of the Thals; and using his prodigious scientific skills, he will disable and destroy a new weapon under development. If he agrees, and succeeds, he will be promoted—perhaps even to the Scientific Corps. Although Davros tries to agree at once, the Supremo sends him home to think about it, swearing him to secrecy.

At home, he encounters his sister Yarvell, whose sympathies have increasingly come to lie with the peace activist factions. Their mother, Calcula, is out buying art, a lifestyle which both Davros and Yarvell agree she cannot afford any longer. It sparks an argument; their father left the family’s money in trust in Davros’s name, on condition that he marry; as he refuses to find a wife, it cannot be released. The argument turns to the war; Davros is scornful of their enemies, the Thals, but Yarvell tells him that recently-discovered ruins indicate they were once a single society with the Kaleds. As Davros repudiates Yarvell’s claims, Calcula arrives at home with a new work of art: a portrait of Davros. Her doting on him disgusts Yarvell, who only reluctantly stays for dinner.

Later, the three relax in the family’s pool; but soon the discussion turns into another argument about the war—Calcula supports it, as always, while Yarvell argues against it. Davros sides with Calcula. Yarvell again brings up the money, but Calcula defends Davros’s decision. As the argument peaks, Davros accidentally reveals his upcoming mission. As Yarvell storms out in anger, Calcula determines to use her own contacts to learn more of the mission. However, she then returns to the topic of wealth; Davros decries her words, and tells her the only way she will obtain the trust fund is when he dies.

Davros recommends that Reston join him on the mission; the request is approved, to Reston’s surprise. In the Covert Operations section, they are introduced to their team leader, Major Brint, who gives them the details. They are to infiltrate a recently-discovered and heavily-guarded weapons facility, steal what they can, and destroy the rest. Accompanying them will be six commandos; Davros will be second-in-command after Brint. A diversionary attack will take place at the same time, giving them some form of cover. The group departs.

Later, at midnight, the team reaches a minefield, and watch as the diversionary attack begins. Davros suspects they may be beyond the mines already, though they lost at least one commando en route. The mission is running behind and falling apart; suddenly it is beset by a Thal patrol, which manages to kill another commando. Escaping, Davros determines that Brint is not leading well, and takes command.

By the following nightfall, they reach the mountains. Davros begins to suspect that the unusually numerous Thal patrols have somehow been waiting for them—but only the Supremo should know they are here. Another patrol approaches; Davros seizes control from Brint again, and lures the Thals into a trap. They overwhelm the Thals and take their uniforms.

Brint catches Davros making notes about Brint’s conduct, for later use in requesting an inquiry, but he is unable to do anything about it for now. Meanwhile, Reston notes that they can see the stars and the two moons, which is impossible inside the cities due to the war’s pollution; he wants to build a home here after the war, but Davros scoffs at that dream.

Viewing the Thal base, they learn that the Thals are constructing numerous long launch ramps. Brint intends to blow up the base, but Davros stops him; he and Reston will infiltrate it instead. If it is as he believes, he will be able to obtain the much-needed intelligence and still destroy the base. Brint allows it, but promises to destroy the base and them with it if the mission is compromised.

Davros and Reston have little trouble getting inside, and they find the base nearly deserted; its production line is automated. In fact, the entire base is one large, robotic factory, run by advanced computers—an accomplishment currently beyond the Kaleds, and admirable. Davros confirms that the factory is making sustained-flight rockets—hence the ramps. Moreover, the rockets have advanced, adaptable guidance systems allowing for great maneuverability; the intelligent systems mean that no pilot is needed. This system could win the war in a single stroke. Davros and Reston take notes and images.

In a nearby office, Reston learns that half the Thal economy has gone into this project—a crippling financial blow, should it be lost. They are caught by a Thal patrol, who promise that they will be tried and shot as spies—but, more strangely, their commander calls Davros by name. The Thals are eliminated by Brint, who has come to find them. Reluctantly, they set the charges to destroy the base, and evacuate, meeting up with their remaining team members. Shortly thereafter, the base explodes. Knowing the remaining Thal soldiers will be after them, Davros recommends that they flee through the wastelands to the north rather than back over the mountains. Brint objects, believing rumors of cannibalistic, mutated survivors in that area, but Davros insists.

In the fog of the wasteland, the group is separated; before they can regroup, another commando, Vander, is lost. They encounter a terrible, plantlike creature, which attacks them, forcing them to kill it. However, Davros is horrified—and fascinated—to see that the plant was, until recently, Vander! Davros collects some samples, including the spines which the plants use to infect their victims; however, this results in a final argument between Davros and the now-terrified Brint. Davros accuses Brint of betraying them and leading them to their deaths; Brint denies it, but turns over command to Davros, and walks into the fog.

Davros, Reston, and the final two commandos make their way through the wastes, until—with the thinning of the fog—they find they are surrounded by the carnivorous plant creatures. Some nearby ruins provide the only sanctuary; as they run to them, Davros remembers Yarvell’s words about ruins to the north. This must be the ruin of that decadent society, but it will do for shelter if they get there before dark; after all, the plants have no eyes, meaning that in the dark, the plants will have the advantage.

Inside the ruined city, the atmosphere feels wrong. Davros splits the team in two to search the place, sending Reston in charge of the second pair. The group is forced back together by a pack of armed scavengers; they open fire, but the attackers have the advantage of numbers. At last the scavengers are killed, but so are the two remaining commandos, and Davros’s gun is depleted. One survivor remains; Davros finds that it is his old tutor, Magrantine.

Magrantine is dying despite his hate for Davros, but first, Davros questions him about the plants, as he remembers something from a book that seems familiar. Magrantine calls the “Varga”, from an old Dal word for “Devourer”; they consumer flesh, and inject their seeds into their victims so as to spawn. The plants have evolved mobility due to the toxins in the air and water; now they hunt their victims. Davros is intrigued, and wants to develop them into weapons. Meanwhile Magrantine explains what happened to him; after his ordeal in the radiation chamber, Calcula had him dumped outside the city. He survived his mutations, and was picked up by the deserters and other refugees in the wastes—everyone the Kaleds and Thals have put out. He has survived on his desire for revenge against Davros. He cannot attack Davros now, as he lacks the strength; but he curses Davros, wishing a similar fate on him. He dies moments later. Reston has fallen asleep, but awakens; Davros assures him he hasn’t missed anything.

They watch the Varga plants feeding on the slain scavengers. One plant pleads with them for help; they realize it is Brint, now a victim. Davros denies his wish, and they depart while the rest of the plants are distracted.

Nearing the Kaled lines, Reston demands to rest, as he is exhausted. Davros spurs him on; but in his exhaustion and recklessness, he climbs the nearby ridge—while still wearing his stolen Thal uniform. The Kaled automated defenses cut him down. He is alive, but cannot walk. Davros offers to carry him, but Reston knows it will slow them down and allow snipers to catch up; he demands to die with honor, as per military protocol. Davros remembers his father’s denied wish to do the same, and says he cannot understand wanting to die; he becomes angry, and tells Reston that people like him are holding the Kaleds back. He then shoots and kills Reston with Reston’s own pistol.

Later, Davros awakens in a hospital, with Calcula at hand. She explains that he was picked up, exhausted and dehydrated; but she is proud of him. He tells her that someone must have known about the mission and betrayed him; she realizes that he suspects her. She forcefully objects, insisting that she would never rob Davros of the greatness he was born for; to Davros, that only leaves Yarvell. Calcula agrees, and insists she will take care of it.

Yarvell swims alone at home, listening to a radio broadcast of a message she herself recorded on behalf of the new Peace Confederation. Calcula enters, and tells her that Davros is dead. Yarvell is shocked, but quickly moves on to practical details of the funeral to be planned; Calcula explains that he was killed on the mission behind the Thal lines, as the Thals knew he was coming—knew his name, in fact, as well as his face. At last, Yarvell admits to having warned the Thals by way of the Peace Confederation; she admits that she had grown concerned about what Davros might do if he was placed in the Scientific Corps. However, she didn’t want Davros dead, just stopped. Calcula reveals that Davros is not dead, and declares that Yarvell is a danger to Davros, just like her father Nasgard and aunt Tashek—whose deaths, she admits, she arranged. She attacks Yarvell, and drowns her in the pool.

Calcula tells Davros that she found Yarvell drowning and tried to revive her, but was unsuccessful. After all, there was Davros to think about. Davros suggests spinning Yarvell’s death as a murder by a Thal infiltrator within the Peace Confederation. He promises to protect his mother; Calcula, meanwhile, intends to get Nasgard’s will overturned, releasing the money to support them both…after Yarvell’s cremation.

Later, Davros begins to experiment on Yarvell’s body; he intends to keep this a secret, as his mother expects a cremation. In what he considers poetic justice, he combines her DNA with that of a Thal and a Varga plant, intending to make weapons to win the war…by the power of science.

cover

This audio drama can be summed up in a single phrase: “The plot thickens!” While there’s not a lot of genuinely new information, there’s a bit of depth added to many aspects of the story as we know it. I’ll incorporate my usual continuity references here, for the sake of discussion: The Varga plants, first introduced in Mission to the Unknown, get more explanation here, and we see them in various stages of consuming their victims. We learn, as well, that they were not mobile at first, but gained that ability through mutation, possibly helped along by Magrantine, who makes a final appearance here. (Side note: I’ve always wanted to see a story that pits the Varga plants against the Krynoid, another aggressive plant species which consumes and adapts humanoid life. Who would win?) The Thal military base as described here is reminiscent of the facility seen in Genesis of the Daleks, though as it is destroyed here, we can assume it is not the same location. Davros mentions a weaponized mollusc; these are seen in the cave sequence in Genesis of the Daleks. Davros and Reston mention the wasteland’s population of (reportedly cannibalistic) Mutos, also first seen in Genesis of the Daleks; their cannibalism is also mentioned in the audio Davros. Yarvell makes reference to the Dals; this now-extinct race is implied here to be a lost, decadent society that included both Kaleds and Thals, though their real nature and history is not clear. The Dals were first mentioned in The Escape, and then in other stories, with varying and conflicting accounts given. Also, several references are made to the previous audio in this series, Innocence.

Davros is, of course, at the center of this story. He’s making strides toward becoming the arrogant, conceited, evil genius we all know and love to hate, but he isn’t there yet. While his character is mostly formed, he has yet to find a true direction for his life. However, his researches into Varga plants, which begin at the end of this story, will help shape the path he will follow. Young Davros is played by Rory Jennings, and his voice acting is progressively more un-Davros-like; it’s a bit disconcerting to hear this high-pitched, reedy voice on a character as iconic as Davros. For the first time, I found myself wishing for cover art that depicted the young Davros, if only to have a face on which to hang that voice. It was even more disconcerting to discover that the same actor played Tommy Connolly in the Series 2 episode The Idiot’s Lantern; he seems to be too young for his stated birth year of 1983, in my opinion, and at any rate I have a hard time imagining him as Davros.

TommyConnoly

This guy? As Davros? Nah, I can’t picture it.

 

Nevertheless, the story is more than adequate. Davros is sent on a mission behind Thal lines, with an inevitable betrayal coming from an unexpected source. Another major character is killed; and with that death, more of Davros’s morality and ethics are stripped away. By the end of the story, Davros’s relationship with his mother, Calcula, is more than a little reminiscent of Norman Bates; I wasn’t expecting Psycho here, though perhaps I should have.

I haven’t talked much about the framework of this story, but it’s relevant here—or rather, it isn’t, as the case may be. Davros, in his later years, has been recaptured by the Daleks, who want him to put an end to their civil war. In the course of determining his plans, he reviews events of his past. It was a good premise for the series overall, but at this point it seems to be meandering; it’s not clear exactly what he’s getting at by rehearsing these ancient events, and I wonder where he’s going with it. One can only imagine the Daleks are wondering as well.

One final note of interest: Davros’s Tech Officer partner, Reston, is played by Andrew Wisher, whose father, Michael Wisher, played Davros in Genesis of the Daleks. It’s a small world, Skaro!

Bottom line: While it’s a decent story, Purity feels very much like the middle chapter. It’s engaging enough to merit a full listen, but I’m anxious to move on and see where we’re heading.

Next time: Still planning to post Bang-Bang-A-Boom! as soon as I get a few spare minutes to finish it up. Otherwise, we’ll continue I, Davros with the third entry, Corruption! 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.

I, Davros: Purity

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Audio Review: I, Davros: Innocence

A few months ago, I decided to take a break from this review project. I’d only been working for a little over a year; but in that time, I completed reviews on all of classic Doctor Who (admittedly, at a rate of one season per entry rather than individual stories), Series One through Four of the revived series, the audio Main Range through #38, two series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, one series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, one set of the War Doctor, all of Destiny of the Doctor, and a scattering of other audios, as well as a number of novels and all the stories in the Seasons of War anthology. That’s about two hundred posts in a little over a year; and so a little burnout was inevitable.  In the interim I’ve been working on a few fiction projects, including some submissions for Doctor Who material (one of which, my Paul Spragg Memorial 2017 audio drama entry, Chasing Humanity, you can read here).

Now, recharged and ready, I think it’s time to return to the review project. I’ll probably be taking it a little slower this year; my goal last year was to have an entry almost every weekday (Main Range on Mondays, novels on Tuesdays, other audios on Thursdays, and television on Fridays). That rate was fun while it lasted, but I’ve known for some time that it’s unsustainable; I still have to work my day job, and my family likes seeing me once in a while. As well, I still have fiction projects ongoing, and I hope to publish some of them at some point.  Consequently, reviews will be as I finish the material.  For audio dramas, that’s one or two per week; television usually takes a few weeks, as I cover multiple episodes in each entry. Novels will be mostly be at random, as I’m not finishing them particularly quickly.  I appreciate everyone who reads these reviews and interacts with them; and most of all, I appreciate your patience.

While I’m in the process of collecting the various audio ranges, I want to branch out a bit and cover some of the spinoffs that have been recorded. Today, we’ll take a look at 2006’s I, Davros: Innocence, starring Terry Molloy as one of the Doctor’s greatest foes: the Dalek creator, Davros! Let’s get started.

I Davros Innocence

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

Davros finds himself on trial, placed there by his own creations, the Daleks. He learns that the Daleks want his assistance dealing with a schism among them; but they are not sure of his utility. He agrees to help, but scorns them for how far they have fallen as they cower on Skaro. He determines to review the past in order to plan their future. He thinks back to his own teenage years, and the everlasting war between the Kaleds and the Thals on Skaro…

Colonel Nasgard, Davros’s father, is a high-ranking Kaled military commander. He oversees the execution of a squad of troops who panicked and briefly abandoned their post; he has no mercy on them. He is witnessed by Captain Brogan, who objects to the waste of life; he then begins to cough, for he is not well.  In the city, his wife, Lady Calcula, who is an assistant to Councillor Quested, debates the war; she is in favor of it for its social benefits. Quested tells her to cover for him, as he has been summoned to an emergency Council meeting; he promises to explain later, in his quarters.  When he leaves, Calcula is met by Magrantine, who is to be a tutor for her son, Davros; he asks her to finalize Davros’s course of study. She sends him to meet with the boy, as only Davros knows where his intellectual preferences lie.

Elsewhere, Nasgard’s sister, Tashek, encounters her niece Yarvell, Davros’s sister, who is two years older and on the cusp of adulthood—and the attendant mandatory military service. It becomes clear in their conversation that both Calcula and Nasgard favor Davros, largely disregarding Yarvell. Tashek sends Yarvell to summon Davros, who is loitering by nearby Drammakin Lake. Yarvell finds him swimming in the lake, much to her shock, as they have been told never to swim there; he scorns her concern, and shows her a rock which is actually the shell of a water creature. She is disgusted, but he muses that the Kaleds must have evolved from such creatures, and may one day evolve back into them.

Calcula meets with Quested, and looks over the city. She muses on her political position and her strained relationship with Tashek, who owns the family’s lakeside villa.  Quested states that the war is at a stalemate; Calcula thinks it has been going nowhere for many years. There may be a spy in their midst, as the Thals seem to know their moves before they make them. Quested suggests that even if no spy exists, it may be useful to invent one.

Nasgard summons Brogan to his tent, and reveals that Brogan is now in charge. Nasgard has been relieved of duty and is being summoned home. He reveals that he knows it was because of secret reports sent in by Brogan regarding Nasgard’s health. Brogan admits it, and claims he is working in the interest of their people, and also of Nasgard himself; Nasgard claims to love his family, and now he can spend his remaining time with them. Nasgard challenges Brogan to shoot him here, giving him an honorable death as per military protocol, but Brogan refuses.

Davros does not like Magrantine, and voices his displeasure at being sent to study under the tutor. Calcula overrules him, but this results in an argument between herself and Tashek, with Yarvell and Davros watching. They are interrupted by the arrival of Nasgard, with Brogan assisting him inside. Tashek sees at once that he is very ill, and asks him to sit down. Davros demands to know when Nasgard will die; Nasgard welcomes the honesty, and insists he still has some fight left, though this seems to be a front. Brogan joins the argument; he thinks the war will be ended by political means, but Calcula disagrees, and insists that they must gain tactical advantage over the Thals. Brogan stays for the night due to the late hour.  Later, alone with Davros, Nasgard asks why the boy is so quiet; Davros says that he expected his father to be killed in battle. Davros wants to be a scientist and end the war that way; Nasgard insists he must be a soldier instead, but at the same time, he tells Davros to follow his own goals.  Meanwhile, Yarvell speaks with Brogan, and finds him to be a peaceful man…

Nasgard argues with Calcula over Davros, accusing her of poisoning the boy’s mind. She is disdainful toward him, especially when learning that Brogan refused to shoot him. However, she refuses to let Davros be sacrificed to the military to end the war; she insists that the Kaleds need the war to give them meaning. Tashek catches Davros eavesdropping on the argument; he says that they never argue so over Yarvell. Tashek observes that Yarvell may be her father’s daughter, but Davros is not his father’s son; and she sends him to bed. Meanwhile, Calcular receives a message from Quested; the Council has been called into emergency session again, most likely to plan peace negotiations with the Thals. He begs her to come to the city with her family for safety, but she refuses, based on Nasgard’s poor health. Quested orders Brogan to join him in the morning.

In the morning, Nasgard compliments Yarvell on her uniform, and gives her his medals to wear, noting that Davros would not appreciate them. Calcula finds Davros by the lake with a dead bird; he realizes that nothing dies of old age on Skaro, due to the encroaching poisons from the war.

Quested meets with Brogan, and concurs that Brogan did the right thing in reporting Nasgard’s health issues.

Calcula takes Davros and Yarvell to Magrantine; Davros rejoins his studies, but Yarvell leaves with Calcula to attend a meeting at the House of Congress. Calcula demands a daily report of Davros’s progress. Davros is hostile toward Magrantine, but agrees to a tour of the educational complex.

At the villa, Nasgard tells Tashek that he hears a strange noise in the house, but she dismisses the concern. She reasserts his illness, and tells him he has been ill since before Davros’s birth…in fact, he is sterile, and Davros is not his biological child. Both she and Calcula are aware of it; it is the reason Calcula favors Davros over Yarvell. Nasgard does not want to accept it; but they are interrupted by the strange noise, which Tashek now hears as well. Before Tashek can reveal the identity of Davros’s real father, they locate a bomb in the communicator room…and are killed in its blast.

Magrantine shows Davros to his laboratory, which contains a radiation chamber; Davros overcomes his animosity toward Magrantine enough to become intrigued by the chamber. Magrantine intends to use it to analyze the effects of radiation on different creatures; indeed, he already uses live animals for tests. He intends to use sentient test subjects, and compartmentalizes his emotions accordingly. He asks Davros if he is ready to make sacrifices for the truth.

Yarvell mourns Nasgard’s death. Brogan tries to comfort her, but is unsuccessful. As she swears vengeance, he comments on the cycle of violence; she deduces that he is a pacifist, or as he calls it, a “peace activist”.

Calcula informs Davros of the murders. With nothing left at the villa, she relocates to the city, near the school and the Council complex. Davros returns to the lab for the opening of the radiation chamber. Quested joins Calcula and discusses the murders, and theorizes that the bomb was aimed not at Nasgard, but at Calcula.

Davros confers with Magrantine about his past experiments on dangerous plants, which were ordered destroyed by the Council. However, he knows that Magrantime disobeyed. They open the radiation chamber, and are greeted by the smell of burned flesh; Magrantine explains that the radiation can cause mutations in the subjects, but that the subjects rarely survive. He realizes that Davros views such mutation as evolution. They enter the chamber.

Calcula finds Yarvell at home, excused from duty for the day in light of the murders. Calcula grows angry, and claims that any display of emotion will be taken as a sign of weakness by her opponents. Calcula suggests that Brogan was responsible for the bomb, and Yarvell lets it slip that Brogan is a pacifist; Calcula is horrified, and believes he is manipulating Yarvell. She concludes the plot was against their entire family.

An air raid siren sounds, and the Council building is evacuated; Brogan tells Quested that a Kaled missile has been launched into a Thal population center. It seems to be an automated launch…meaning a missile from the Thals was en route first! The incoming missile is not nuclear, at least, but still, evacuation is warranted. Quested refuses to go. Brogan reveals it is headed for the educational complex…where Davros happens to be.

The missile strikes, heavily damaging the complex. Magrantine is trapped under some masonry, until Davros pulls him free. Magrantine leads the boy out of the complex.

Brogan reports to Quested that the damage was minimal; he believes a greater attack is coming. Quested reveals that the Council is planning a protective dome over the city. Calcula arrives and demands to know where Davros is; Quested reveals that he was seen leaving the complex with Magrantine. She turns on Brogan and accuses him, and reveals that he is a peace activist—a conflict of interests with his duties.

Davros and Magrantine rest on a hilltop outside the city. On the other side is a vast desert, with mountains beyond. Magrantine reveals that his son was murdered in that desert…by Nasgard. He draws a weapon and points it at Davros, intending to take revenge by killing him. Davros manages to talk him down, and tempts him with the promise of his prodigious scientific mind. Magrantine gives in, and Davros takes the gun; they start back toward the city.

Quested suggests merging resources with Calcula for her safety, as the spy is still at large. She insists that Brogan is the spy, though Quested argues against it. Calcula insists that this is the reason why Brogan defied protocol and refused to shoot Nasgard—so that he would gain access to their home to plant the bomb and remove the entire family.

Magrantine and Davros find the lab somehow intact. Davros insists the incident on the hill is forgotten; he suggests using those who are close to death for their experiments. Magrantine agrees, and says that the hospitals will supply test subjects. Some time later, after the first round of experiments on such “volunteers”, Magrantine performs an autopsy on one mutated victim, which has some unrecognizable structures, as Davros points out. However, they will need volunteers from elsewhere, as they have already exhausted the supply from the hospital.

Quested and Calcula go to watch an execution, where Yarvell is on the firing squad. The “traitor” being executed is also allegedly involved in the murder of her father and aunt, much to her surprise. Yarvell is further shocked when it is revealed that Brogan is the traitor. She argues with her mother, but is ultimately overruled, and takes her place in the firing squad; the squad opens fire.

Later, Davros meets Yarvell, and argues with her over their mother and the execution. When she speaks in defense of Brogan, Davros brushes her concerns aside, and asks for Brogan’s body for experimentation. She calls him a monster, and screams that she no longer considers him her brother.

Quested thinks that with Brogan gone, they will be able to break the stalemate and end the war. In the meantime, he proposes marriage to Calcula…and proposes that Davros should be told that Quested is his real father. Calcula refuses, saying that she will only do so when the time is right.

Davros tells Magrantine he could not obtain the body; but the tutor is not dissuaded, as he prefers a living sample. Davros follows him into the radiation chamber…and then locks him in, and turns on the power. As Magrantine bangs on the door and threatens to tell Calcula, Davros leaves to tell her himself…that is, to tell her how Magrantine committed suicide in grief for his son.

As the argument between Quested and Calcula picks up, she suddenly realizes that Quested himself may be the real spy, as he has made a number of missions to the Thal capital in recent years. She realizes she sentenced an innocent man to death—and whether or not there really is a spy, Quested is responsible; after all, he did say that it may be useful to invent a spy if one is not forthcoming. Quested turns the situation on her; he grabs her and demands to know how many other innocents have died because of her. Davros arrives at that moment and orders him to let her go; Davros pulls out the gun he took from Magrantine. Quested reveals that he is Davros’s real father. Davros denies it, and shoots him.

Davros escorts Calcula to the lab, and reveals the now-mutated Magrantine, who is alive, but horribly changed. He begs to die, but Davros refuses; he can be used for more experiments. The air raid siren sounds, but Calcula assures Davros that this is only the beginning.

cover

I’ve been looking forward to this series for some time. Davros has always been a fascinating character to me, all the way back to my childhood viewing of Genesis of the Daleks. Since his first appearance, his evil has been singular in Doctor Who; he’s not sympathetic, there’s nothing redeeming about him—he’s simply, straightforwardly, ruthless and power-hungry. The Daleks are evil because it is hardwired into them; Davros is evil because he chooses to be. He has no goal other than proving himself; he has no means other than destruction. The Doctor is prone to reasoning with his enemies, and has even on occasion talked down the Daleks; Davros, however, cannot be talked down. If he submits to discourse, it’s a ruse, as we’ve seen time and again. Who wouldn’t want to understand his origin?!

Prior to Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice, this was the youngest Davros we’d yet encountered, at the tender age of sixteen. The story gives him a family, and then promptly begins taking them away: his father Nasgard (Richard Franklin), his aunt Tashek (Nasgard’s sister, played by Rita Davies), his sister Yarvell (Lizzie Hopley), and his mother Calcula (Carolyn Jones)…and one more, which I’ll conceal, in case you’re avoiding spoilers. Calcula, as her name would suggest, is quite the schemer; she is a political figure in the Kaled hierarchy, and married to a decorated war hero. Her husband, Nasgard, is presented at first as being quite ruthless, but this is a bit of a red herring; Calcula makes him look like an amateur at that game, and Nasgard is revealed to be a bit more sympathetic as the story proceeds. Calcula holds the unique belief that the Kaleds need the war to continue in order to give them meaning and purpose in life. The real victim here is Yarvell; she has spent her life in Davros’s shadow, even though he is younger—a shadow that he does not deserve to cast. Her parents—Calcula especially—favor Davros over her, even though she is much more like her father; she is following in his military footsteps, a path which Nasgard would prefer to see Davros take. Although she’s known it for years, here she is forced to confront the true dark side of each of her family members—not least of all, her brother.

This is a Skaro that has not yet reached its bitter end. The Thousand Year War (which is not called by name here, but is described) has been raging for centuries between the Kaleds and Thals, but some civilized territory remains, and each side maintains open-air cities. Nuclear weapons are in existence, but have yet to experience widespread use, and their effects are poorly understood. There is still native life to be found in abundance, but—as Davros comments—nothing dies of old age, due to the poisons already present in the air and water. The next few decades will see most animals become extinct, and most of the surface polluted; Drammankin Lake, beside which Davros’s family lives, will one day become the Lake of Mutations seen in The Daleks. Outside the war, civilization appears to be both modernized and polite, though we never get a view of the Thal civilization here. We will see the beginning of the downfall of both Kaled society and Davros himself, as he conducts early experiments into radioactivity and mutations.

Some continuity references: Of course this story takes place long before the Doctor becomes a persistent factor in Davros’s life, although we know they have met at least once (The Magician’s Apprentice). Therefore references to standard Doctor Who stories are thin here; still, some persist. Yarvell’s name was taken from the Dalek scientist Yarvelling in the comic story Genesis of Evil, which I have not read. Skaro is referenced as having two moons; elsewhere they are named as Falkus (an artificial moon, Daleks Among Us–this is actually a contradiction in continuity, as reference materials establish that Falkus was built by the Daleks from Davros’s designs) and Omega Mysterium, which only appears in this series. Calcula refers to a dead bird as a “flying pest”, a phrase used by the Daleks in The Evil of the Daleks. The Daleks in the introduction refer to the Dalek civil war (Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks); the war appears to have only just begun. With that said, I would place this story not long after Resurrection of the Daleks, which involved the liberation of Davros from his imprisonment in 5039. Other references here are to events to come in this series, which I will discuss at that time.

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this story. While it’s certainly good, I had hoped that the early portrayal of Davros would be more in line with his childhood appearance in The Magician’s Apprentice (although of course this story was recorded first). The titles of this series–Innocence, Purity, Corruption, and Guilt–suggests that Davros started out well, but then fell into evil. That arc would go a long way to making him a more interesting and perhaps sympathetic villain; but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Davros is cold, arrogant, and ruthless from the first moment we see him here. As an adult, his singleminded evil is what makes him so fascinating; as a child, it’s bizarre, and I was hoping to see how he becomes that way. It seems the answer is that he was born that way (or perhaps was raised that way; we don’t see enough childhood to know). The story has some basic but interesting political intrigue, and a good early glimpse into what war does to the Kaled society; but at this point, it feels a little shallow. I’m holding out hope for the upcoming installments, however.

Next time: I, Davros: Purity! As well, we’ll try to get back into the Main Range of audios; when last we visited that range, we looked at The Church and the Crown, and so we’ll pick up with Bang-Bang-a-Boom! 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 entries may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

I, Davros: Innocence

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 12: Your Move

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

Six Thal warriors rendezvous with the War Doctor on a Dalek-held planet for an urgent mission. There, they meet not just with the Time Lord, but with a far stranger character: a humanoid robot called a Movellan. The planet is the Movellan homeworld, and they are here to destroy an important artifact: the Movellan War Computer, the heart of their strategic systems. If it falls into Dalek hands—or the hands of any warlike race—it will only compound the chaos in the universe, even if it does not let the Daleks win the Time War—and thus it must be destroyed. Dodging Dalek and Ogron patrols and traps, the Movellan leads them across the ruined city to the bunker containing the War Computer. The squad leader, Dyoni, confronts the War Doctor when she catches him leaving clear signs for the Daleks to follow—but he explains that the Daleks will destroy the computer, and he is helping them to find it. The trick will be in not letting the Daleks find them first. One of the squad, Kemba, is lost en route. The Ogrons overtake them as they reach the bunker, and they narrowly escape by getting inside the shielded computer room. Inside the War Room, the Movellan betrays the group and captures them, holding them at gunpoint while it reactivates the war computer. It explains that there is one remaining Movellan fleet hidden in interstitial space; and with the War Computer active and soon to be reprogrammed, it will alert the fleet. They will then find and conquer a new world, and rebuild their race; and when the Time Lords and Daleks have destroyed each other, the Movellans will emerge and build a new empire in the ashes. The Movellan is suddenly shot and destroyed—Kemba, it seems, has survived. At the Doctor’s direction he faked his ostensibly fatal injury, then snuck in behind the group, exterminating the last Ogrons before the doors were sealed. The Doctor, it seems, anticipated betrayal. As the group places mines around the room, the Doctor explains that now he is forced to send the Time Lords to destroy the Movellan fleet. He can’t have them causing havoc by invading some innocent world, and they can’t be trusted if left alone. War, unfortunately, drives people to do things they may never choose otherwise. As the group flees the bunker, they see three Dalek saucers hovering over it; all three are destroyed in the blast that wipes out the War Computer. Later, back at the group’s headquarters, the Doctor doesn’t say goodbye, choosing to simply wander away; but, as Dyoni writes to her grandmother—a Thal who also once met the Doctor, at cost to herself—she will never forget him.

A particularly nostalgic story, this entry contains several notable references to past stories. The Movellans appeared in Destiny of the Daleks, where their war with the Daleks was first explained. (Notably, they also recently reappeared, albeit briefly, in the first episode of Series Ten, The Pilot.) Ogrons and Robomen appear here, and first appeared in Day of the Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth, respectively. Most importantly, the Thals appear here (The Daleks and many other stories since). The point of view character is a Thal squad commander named Dyoni. This seems to be a common name in Thal society, as this is the third Dyoni we’ve seen; the first appeared all the way back in The Daleks. This one, however, is stated to be named after a deceased friend of her grandmother, who also met the Doctor; that would appear to be a reference to the Dyoni found in the Eighth Doctor novel War of the Daleks. It’s interesting to me that this story would refer to that novel, because that novel is noted to have retconned—or at least augmented—details of every televised Dalek adventure up to that point, including Destiny of the Daleks and Resurrection of the Daleks, which featured the Movellan war. Notably, that novel established that the Daleks created the Movellans as part of a long-ranging plan to save Skaro from the destruction seen in Remembrance of the Daleks. There’s no hint, however, that this story agrees with that plot point.

I’ve talked in other posts about how the War Doctor is deeply affected by the choices he has made. This story takes it a step further: here, it’s all become routine for him. The horrors of war still affect him, but he’s built up impressive psychological callouses to them. Here’s a particularly terrifying quote:

He sighed again. “Look, Dyoni, I like you, but we have a job to do, and if you die doing it… well, I’ll get over it. I always do. I liked your Grandmother, but I got her into quite a lot of hot water. People who hang around me tend to get into serious trouble. Sometimes it’s not my fault. Sometimes it is. It’s the nature of war that people get hurt, or even die. I don’t like it, but I’ve had to accept it. The harsh truth is that you’re here because you and your squad are considered expendable. Oh, I’m sure that Thal High Command would be happy if you got back alive and healthy, but if you don’t – well, fortunes of war. Your Grandmother will get a very apologetic letter and, if she’s lucky, a few of your remains. You might get awarded a posthumous medal, and that will be it. If I die here… well, that’s happened before, and I’ve gotten better.” He gave me another of his wan smiles. “I’m both more and less fortunate than you in that respect. But that’s enough philosophy for now – if you’re going to shoot me, then shoot me. Otherwise, let’s get on with the mission, shall we?”

It’s very grim, and it will take a lot more pain for the Doctor to break out of this shell. Of course, that will happen just before the end of the War—and when it does, beware.

Your Move was written by longtime Who author John Peel, who also wrote the aforementioned War of the Daleks, as well as the novelizations of several Dalek stories from the Classic Series. Next: Sonnet, by Jenny Colgan. See you there!

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

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Eighth In Line: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Movie Edition!

Welcome back to our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! Although technically we’ve finished the classic series, we’re not quite out of the woods yet. This week, we look at the first major attempt to revive Doctor Who onscreen, the 1996 made-for-television movie. Intended as a pilot for an American revival of the series, it’s an interesting look at what Doctor Who might have become on this side of the ocean…and a case study in what doesn’t work, as the series wasn’t picked up. Let’s get started!

"Sylvester, remember the first law of time! We're not supposed to meet!"

“Sylvester, remember the first law of time! We’re not supposed to meet!”

We open with the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, now at the end of his life cycle. He’s a changed man since his last appearance in Survival; he seems to have left his scheming days behind, as well as his companions (no Ace to be seen here). He’s quiet and calm, and clearly a bit weary; he’s also carrying a sonic screwdriver again (Lungbarrow states that it’s Romana’s, though it doesn’t look like hers). His TARDIS has changed too, in the most drastic redesign we’ve ever seen; it’s dark and comfortable in a very Victorian way, with its parlor and its wood-grain console and its vaulted ceilings and arches. (I’d describe it as “steampunk” if there was any evidence of steam-driven technology; there isn’t, but it certainly has that feeling). Ace’s final lines in Survival described the TARDIS as “home”, and this TARDIS is clearly the Doctor’s home; he’s at ease here as we’ve never seen. He’s on a mission; the Master, having at some point escaped the Cheetah world, has been captured, tried, and executed by the Daleks, and the Doctor—at the Master’s request—is bringing his remains home to Gallifrey.

Goodbye, Master! ...wait, that never works.

Goodbye, Master! …wait, that never works.

(For fun and some additional insight, at about the same time as watching this film, I read Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow, the well-known and controversial novel dealing with the Doctor’s family and origins, which is set immediately preceding the film, and in fact leads up to its events. I won’t discuss that lead-in here, but I may put up a separate review post for the novel.)

"Snake" is not a good look for you, Master.

“Snake” is not a good look for you, Master.

As in any dealing with the Master, things aren’t that simple. A Time Lord’s remains carry his or her mind until it can be uploaded to the Matrix; and the Master is far from finished with this world. He causes a disturbance in the TARDIS, which disrupts its flight and allows his now-disembodied form to escape the urn; the TARDIS makes an emergency stop in San Francisco, Earth, New Year’s Eve, 1999 (or actually, judging from the time span we see, late night on Dec. 30th). Just in time for Y2K! But, no. At any rate, the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS…and into a gang battle. He’s immediately shot several times, and appears to be dying. Gang member Chang Lee gets him to the hospital…and the Master hitches along with the EMTs.

The Doctor, Chang Lee, and Grace Holloway in the TARDIS.

The Doctor, Chang Lee, and Grace Holloway in the TARDIS.

At the hospital, cardiac surgeon Grace Holloway operates on the Doctor; but due to his alien circulatory system, she unintentionally kills him. While she’s dealing with the fallout of his death, he’s in the morgue…and regenerating: Paul McGann takes the stage as the Eighth Doctor. He’s unusually strong—he batters the morgue door off its hinges—but his regenerative fog is worse than usual; the anesthesia has affected him, not only delaying his regeneration and making it more difficult, but giving him pretty severe amnesia as well. Pondering his identity, he steals some clothes from a locker (in the finest tradition, as established by the Third Doctor) and slips out of the hospital…only to run into Grace again.

The Master gets a companion?!

The Master gets a companion?!

From this time on, it’s a battle to recover his memory, outwit the Master, and get his TARDIS flying again, all with Grace in tow. Meanwhile, the Master hasn’t been sitting still. He’s taken the body of Bruce, one of the EMTs (and killed Bruce’s wife, who really didn’t deserve this); and he’s returned to the TARDIS and coerced Chang Lee into helping him capture the Doctor. He’s a consummate liar, even in this form; he convinces Chang that the Doctor is the villain here, who has stolen HIS body and TARDIS. It comes out that what he really wants are the Doctor’s remaining lives. He uses Chang to open the TARDIS’s Eye of Harmony, which has the power to transfer his consciousness into the Doctor’s body; only a non-Gallifreyan can open the Eye. In the course of this he makes the shocking discovery that the Doctor is half-human; later the Doctor confirms this, and states that it’s on his mother’s side (though that detail may have been facetious). Finally, at the stroke of midnight, Grace restores power to the TARDIS and overcomes the Master, and frees the Doctor, who sees the Master pulled into the open Eye of Harmony…and the battle is over.

"I'm not wearing any pants...I mean, I'm half human. Yeah, that's it."

“I’m not wearing any pants…I mean, I’m half human. Yeah, that’s it.”

There’s a lot on which to comment in this movie. Perhaps most notably, there’s the controversial idea that the Doctor is half human. Who knew that a few little lines would spark so much argument over the years? I’m unsure what the writers were thinking, but it WOULD go a long way toward explaining the Doctor’s love for Earth and humanity, so there’s that. Still, it runs counter to everything else we’ve ever seen about the Doctor (and if you’re a fan of the Cartmel plan and Lungbarrow, it’s an outright impossibility, as the Doctor would have been Loomed without parents instead of born). Later episodes in the revived series would play with this idea, especially in Series Nine with the idea of the Hybrid—a product of two warrior races, sometimes suspected to be humans and Time Lords. The Series Nine finale, Hell Bent, would even come right out and say that this is one of the suspected possibilities for the Hybrid; when Ashildr makes that allegation to the Doctor, he doesn’t deny it, but waves it away as irrelevant. Personally, I think that (as much as we can say that Doctor Who has a canon at all) the concept isn’t canon; like other hints of the Cartmel plan from the last few seasons, it’s a possible direction for the show that failed and was soft-retconned out. I do acknowledge that a regeneration doesn’t have to produce a Gallifreyan body, and also that the Time Lords can change the anatomy to match another species (as seen in Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Utopia/The Sound of Drums), therefore a single regeneration could make a Time Lord half human; but not by birth, and not “on his mother’s side” in this case. However, I choose to think of it like the Cartmel plan: While I’m happy with the direction things ultimately went, I like to think I would have been okay with this had it been made canon for the series. It’s not worth getting angry.

Grace, you should probably see a doctor about those eyes.

Grace, you should probably see a doctor about those eyes.  (By the way, the tool she’s carrying, and the briefly-glimpsed tool kit it came from, are identical to the one briefly seen way back in the Fourth Doctor’s era, and depicted in the Tardis Technical Manual.  Score one for continuity!)

The Master is able to take over a mind (Grace’s, in this case) more thoroughly than ever before, and without any direct interaction; Chang refers to it as possession, and it’s seen to even affect her physiology, most notably her eyes. His stolen body is degrading, as we see when he pulls his fingernails off; this is inconsistent with his theft of Tremas’s body in The Keeper of Traken, as he kept that body for years, possibly even longer than its normal lifespan. He clearly still has the cat eyes from Survival, and they persist into his new body as well; I had previously stated that this is mostly symbolic, as the novels establish that he was already free of the Cheetah contagion, but the movie makes it clear that he actually has them, as seen by onlookers. Clearly the movie, at least, disregards the novel continuity. People have often criticized Eric Roberts’ portrayal of the Master, but I didn’t mind it. He’s pretty wooden at first, but he loosens up throughout the film; this makes perfect sense when you consider that he’s in a new body and growing slowly more acclimated to it. His ruthlessness is also a bit out of character for the Master, whose schemes usually have a bit more finesse; but I think we can chalk that up to desperation on his part, as he’s trying to avoid death. While his portrayal may not make sense for a long-term role, it’s perfect for a Master in extremis. (One unanswered question: How did he get into the TARDIS without a key? The key was in Chang’s possession at the time, and it seems unlikely that he found the spare, used it, and put it back.)

Not-so-shiny new TARDIS!!

Not-so-shiny new TARDIS!!

The TARDIS is impressive. I like the new console room, and I feel like we would never have gotten all the wonderful “desktop themes” of the revived series without this one to inspire them. When sitting there, the Doctor is reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine; this is a throwback to several jokes in the classic series: The Master reads that very book in one of his earliest appearances; Wells appears in Timelash; and every book the Seventh Doctor reads onscreen has “time” in the title somewhere. The Eye of Harmony is, for the first time, seen to be aboard the TARDIS. I don’t know what the intention of the writers was—did they intend for this to be the actual Eye, as in, the black hole that constitutes the Eye? At any rate, they set a precedent of establishing that TARDISes contain a subset of the actual Eye (the “Prime Eye”, if you will) which links to the Prime Eye and draws out power from it. The loss of Gallifrey allegedly broke this connection, which is why the TARDIS in the revived series can run out of power and must be recharged at the Cardiff rift; it’s that subset of the Eye that must be recharged, and that we see in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS.

The kiss that stunned a million fans.

The kiss that stunned a million fans.

The Doctor himself has an unusual relationship with time here. He is able to see things from Grace’s past and future despite having never met her before. He’s a far cry from the Eighth Doctor we’ll see in the audios and in the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, but we can probably attribute this to his recent regeneration. He’s flighty and excitable, where later he will be confident and strong. In addition to the controversy over the “half-human” statements, there’s controversy from another quarter: he has his first onscreen kiss, or kisses, to be precise, when he kisses Grace. It came as a disturbance to many fans who felt that the Doctor should be asexual and non-romantic, as he had always been portrayed; but as a result, we get his later romance with Rose Tyler. As well, we know he had a family in the past, so it’s more likely that he does have a romantic side, which he has just suppressed for the duration of the classic series.

"Amazing Grace", as her coworkers call her. No, really.

“Amazing Grace”, as her coworkers call her. No, really.

Grace is usually considered a companion of the Doctor, although she doesn’t do much traveling in the TARDIS (just a day back in time, really). She chooses not to travel with him at the end, and of course he won’t stay with her. There have been conflicting statements that, had the series been picked up, Grace would or would not have returned as a regular companion; she does persist in some comic strip stories. Unfortunately, due to licensing complications, she is not available for use by Big Finish in their audio dramas; nor is Chang Lee, who is more of a companion to the Master than the Doctor. Chang is not a bad guy; he’s just misled by the Master. He too leaves at the end; the Doctor just casually hands him half a billion dollars in gold dust! And we wonder where the Doctor gets his money.

For lack of another place to put it, I’ll say it here: Gallifrey is stated by the Doctor to be 250 million light years away from Earth. It’s the closest to an actual, real-world location we’ve ever had.

movie 11

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. (I admit that I don’t often find great fault with any episode, so take that as you like—it’s entertainment, and I enjoy it.) It’s certainly different from the series; it feels very Americanized, but I can’t easily define what that means in context. The filming techniques, the pacing, the dialogue—it’s all subtly different. Still, “different” doesn’t have to mean “bad”; and any differences in the behavior of the Doctor and the Master can be attributed to the extremity of their circumstances here. While it’s certainly not the most complex plot in Doctor Who history, it helps to remember that this was a pilot for a series; it’s meant to showcase the acting, the design, and the potential of the series, not necessarily the complexity of the plot. Had it persisted, it certainly would have deepened at some point. It’s interesting to think about what might have been, had the series continued in America; but I’m happy with the outcome we got. I can’t help feeling that it wouldn’t have persisted as long as NuWho has, or added so much to the lore of the show. Still, it’s a great little story, and it gave us some valuable screen time for the truly excellent Paul McGann, which led to his long history in the audio dramas. For that, if nothing else, we owe the movie a debt of gratitude.

"I'm a Doctor...but probably not the one you were expecting."

“I’m a Doctor…but probably not the one you were expecting.”

Bonus: I know it’s not part of the classic series, but I also wanted to include a brief review of The Night of the Doctor, McGann’s other onscreen appearance. This mini-episode came as a very welcome surprise during the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary Special in 2013, and gave us the other end of the Eighth Doctor’s life: His entry into the Last Great Time War, and his regeneration into the War Doctor. As this is the last bit of screen time the Doctor gets before the new series opens (at least, until the special came and showed us Gallifrey’s last moments), it’s worth a quick look.

Not Karn!!! Anything but that!!!

Not Karn!!! Anything but that!!!

The Doctor has been avoiding the war, and helping out where he can, which is perfectly in keeping with his character. He tries to rescue a young woman named Cass from a crashing gunship; but when she discovers that he is a Time Lord, she refuses to deal with him, choosing to die instead. Die she does, as does the Doctor, when the ship crashes…on Karn.

"It's very nearly over."

“It’s very nearly over.”

We haven’t seen this planet, or its Sisterhood, since The Brain of Morbius. Here the Sisterhood is less rigid in their rituals, but they take their purpose very seriously: they are the keepers of the Flame of Eternal Life, or as the Doctor puts it, “the Flame of Utter Boredom”. They revive him, but only briefly; they can save his life, but they won’t force it on him. We meet the high priestess Ohila (her name is a tribute to Ohica, the high priestess from Morbius); and watching her trade barbs with McGann is pure gold. McGann is at the top of his game here; no more the flighty, chaotic Eighth Doctor of the movie, he’s now seasoned and in control of himself and his wit. My opinion is that this short, seven-minute episode has the highest concentration of great dialogue to be found anywhere in the series, both classic and new.

Regenerating at long last.

Regenerating at long last.

This episode does much to represent the utter terror of the war in just a few lines—“You haven’t finished yet, some of the universe is still standing.” “Who can tell the difference anymore?” “She didn’t miss much [of the universe]; it’s very nearly over.” Further, the war does something new: it gives the Doctor the only true death he’s ever experienced—the death of the man he chooses to be. Giving in to Ohila’s request—that he join the war, and end it—he takes the elixir, and regenerates; the Doctor dies, the Warrior is born. It’s his apology, not just to Cass, but to the universe, and to himself. Dying, he acknowledges his companions from the Big Finish audios (but oddly, not Grace Holloway), thus giving his adventures there an added degree of canonicity. At the end, he serves as body double for John Hurt’s War Doctor, with a manipulated bit of stock footage giving us the young War Doctor’s face; this makes him one of only two actors, with Sylvester McCoy, to play two different Doctors. In all, I find this episode to be a great and vital piece of Doctor Who history, and one of the best overall in terms of acting, dialogue, and emotion. It’s simply fantastic.

Next time: Final thoughts, and future plans! See you there.

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

Television Movie, part 1

Television Movie, part 2

The Night of the Doctor

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The Long Goodbye: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Five

We’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! It won’t be long now, as we approach the end of the classic series. Only one more season to go after this! (Three more posts, however; I intend to do a post for the 1996 TV movie, and also a wrap-up post.) This week in Season Twenty-Five, we begin to say our goodbyes to some old friends—or rather, some old enemies. Let’s get started!

The Doctor, Ace, and a Special Weapons Dalek

The Doctor, Ace, and a Special Weapons Dalek

We get right to it with Remembrance of the Daleks. It’s the final appearance of the Daleks in the classic series, and also the final installment of the “Davros arc” of Dalek stories which began with Destiny of the Daleks way back in Season Seventeen. It does something unusual for the classic series: It begins with a cold open, showing us the Dalek ship approaching Earth. The story immediately takes us full circle, all the way back to the beginning, by landing the Doctor in late November 1963 at Coal Hill School and Totter’s Lane, right back where it all began. Specifically, it’s November 29th and 30th, 1963, just six days after the First Doctor kidnapped Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright—and six days after the real-world premier of Doctor Who. Interestingly, there’s a bit of meta-reference there; at one point we hear a radio announcer mention a new episode of the “science-fiction series Doc-“ only to be cut off by a scene change. In fact, this episode is full of references to the show’s history, making it a “remembrance” not just of the Daleks, but of the entire series:

  • Ace sees a French Revolution text in Coal Hill School, like the one Susan read in An Unearthly Child;
  • The Doctor references his time as Lord President;
  • The Daleks (Imperials, to be precise) have control again of Skaro; the Daleks use a transmat;
  • The Doctor builds a jamming device and refers to having done so on Spiridon;
  • The Doctor makes veiled references to the as-yet-nonexistent UNIT;
  • The renegade Daleks use a human child in their battle computer, a trick they learned in the Movellan War;
  • Several people make references to, and describe, the First Doctor;
  • The Doctor refers to the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which is still almost 200 years in the future.

For fun, there’s even a reference—from our perspective—to NuWho, as the headmaster of Coal Hill thinks the Doctor is there to apply for a job as the Caretaker.

Get 'em, Ace!

Get ’em, Ace!

This is the earliest occurrence, to my knowledge, of the Daleks making incursion on Earth, or at least until time travel shenanigans get rolling in the Time War. They do possess time travel at this point, however, as both factions clearly used it to get to 1963 (and in fact it figures into the plot—both factions want to take the Hand of Omega back to their own time). The Hand of Omega—the stellar manipulator used by Omega to create the Eye of Harmony—is the macguffin, or rather (as TVTropes puts it) the magnetic plot device of this story. It’s intelligent to some degree, able to parse and obey voice commands; that’s not unreasonable, as we’ll see that feature again in other Time Lord technology this very season, and we already know it’s true of TARDISes and of the Moment. The First Doctor took it with him—stole it, really—when he fled Gallifrey, and after carrying it for awhile, he intended to bury it on Earth before Ian and Barbara changed his plans. Here, he returns and actually completes his burial, but it’s short-lived. (The cemetery looks to be the same as the one seen in Death in Heaven, but I have no way to verify.) The Daleks want it for various purposes: the Renegades want it to defeat the Imperials, and Davros’s Imperial faction wants it to destroy the Time Lords and supplant them. In the end, the Doctor lets Davros get away with it, but with a deception: he has programmed it to destroy Skaro’s sun, then return to Gallifrey. Skaro is destroyed, and the Daleks are—for now—defeated. (Of course it will be rebuilt, as referenced in both the TV movie and several places in NuWho.)

Davros, you make for a goofy emperor.

Davros, you make for a goofy emperor.

There’s a famous scene of Ace damaging an Imperial Dalek with a bat that has been charged up by the Hand of Omega. The bat is used thereafter to kill the mutant inside, and to destroy the transmat device. In the course of all this, it becomes clear that the Imperial Daleks have been cybernetically augmented. Davros himself is not revealed until late in the story, when it becomes evident that he is, in fact, the Dalek Emperor, with a unique casing for his degraded body. We also get a brief appearance by an Imperial Special Weapons Dalek. This season is also the actual beginning of the previously-mentioned Cartmel Masterplan, and to that end, the Doctor lets slip at the end that he may have been involved in the creation of the Hand of Omega. Overall, it’s a great send-off for the Daleks.

The Kandy Man.

The Kandy Man.

The Happiness Patrol takes us back into the future—specifically, the 24th century, on the human-colonized planet of Terra Alpha. The premise is simple, but farfetched: unhappiness is illegal and enforceable by death. Still, we’ve seen a lot of untenable dystopias, so we’ll let it slide. Allegedly the story is an allegory for the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but I don’t know enough about her term to comment on that. I do see that it’s essentially a rebellion story, with the overthrow of a corrupt and hyper-legalistic government, which is something that Doctor Who does well. It’s somewhat rare in that, usually, the Doctor supports the removal of a tyrant, but not the overthrow of the entire form of government; here he does exactly that. Someone commented recently that this story and Paradise Towers are essentially the same, and there are definitely similarities: the closed environment, the maniacal dictator, the killer robot(s), the rebellion movement, and so on. Personally, I think The Happiness Patrol wore it better.

Helen A and the Stigorax. Hard to tell, I know, but Helen is the one on the right.

Helen A and the Stigorax. Hard to tell, I know, but Helen is the one on the right.

The tyrant in question, Helen A, uses the sadistic Kandy Man robot to enforce her will and carry out executions. (I use the term “robot” loosely, as he appears to be actually made of confections.) It’s a goofy villain, but very malicious. She also has and uses a vicious pet, the Stigorax, to hunt down escapees; the Doctor refers to having encountered one on 25th-century Earth, though we have not seen this onscreen. He also refers back to Invasion of the Dinosaurs, saying that the Brigadier had encountered a Tyrannosaurus and Pterodactyls.

I've seen that girl in the poster somewhere...

I’ve seen that girl in the poster somewhere…

Earth itself is a bit of a backwater at this point, and not a nice place to live, as stated by the census taker Trevor Sigma. That’s to be expected in a time of rapid expansion; one would expect power centers to shift extensively throughout the galaxy. Trevor Sigma himself is a bit silly, a very Douglas Adams-like parody of a civil servant (unfortunately not actually written by Adams). Oh yes, and the TARDIS gets painted pink. ‘Nuff said.

Season 25 7

It’s back to Earth for Silver Nemesis, specifically to Windsor, England, 1988. (There are also some scenes in the year 1638, and in South America.) Having said goodbye to the Daleks, we now say goodbye to the Cybermen, with their final classic appearance. We also introduce a secondary villain: The time-travelling Lady Peinforte, who comes forward in time using black magic (and, unbeknownst to everyone at this point, a bit of a nudge from a more ancient evil—but that’s next season!). Peinforte, the Cybermen, a group of Nazis—this story has everything!—and the Doctor and Ace all converge on Windsor in search of something rare: a crashed comet and its cargo of the living, deadly, Time-Lord-created metal known as Validium. The Doctor and Peinforte have some history with it; she found it in her own time and made it into a statue of great power, and the Doctor put that statue on the comet and sent it away. The Cybermen want it for how it can augment their own power; they intend to use it eliminate humanity and turn Earth into a new Mondas (unsurprising, as this story takes place just two years after the destruction of Mondas at the hands of the First Doctor). In the end, the Cybermen are defeated by the Validium due to the Doctor’s cunning; Lady Peinforte dies when she merges with the statue.

Well, this is awkward.

Well, this is awkward.

There are several random but noteworthy things about this serial. It’s the 25th anniversary special, and the only anniversary special thus far to NOT be a multi-doctor story; hence the “silver” in the title has a double meaning. Also as a result, it was set on November 22 and following days, 1988, and also began its initial broadcast on November 23, 1988, the literal 25th anniversary of the series. It’s the first introduction of the phrase “Doctor Who?” as a question; the question is given some importance (and of course not answered), but that thread will not come to fruition until NuWho under the Eleventh Doctor. There’s a painting of Ace in Windsor Castle, but the Doctor says the events that spawned it have not yet happened (and as far as I know, never happen onscreen). The Doctor claims to know the queen, but doesn’t actually recognize her. He carries a fob watch, with some apparent link to the TARDIS, as it notifies him of moments of peril; however it doesn’t seem to be the same as the fob watch that works with a chameleon arch. I have mentioned before that a later version of the Cybermen should have had the Seventh Doctor in their footage of past encounters; that is due to this serial. Of course they couldn’t, in a real-world sense, as this story had not yet been filmed. Still, at this point they recognize the Doctor, and understand that his face has changed, even though this is a very early encounter for them. Stranger still: These cybermen are definitely a more modern variant, despite being refugees from the destruction of Mondas. And last, there’s a funny moment when the Doctor and Ace encounter two thugs tied up in a tree (courtesy of Lady Peinforte); he asks who did this to them, and they retort “Social workers!” Or maybe it’s only funny to me, as I’m a social worker for my day job. I guess you had to be there.

The Gods of Ragnarok in their true forms.

The Gods of Ragnarok in their true forms.

We close up with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, the serial which held the record for longest title (six words) until NuWho’s The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (seven). It’s set on the planet Segonax, at the Psychic Circus. The date is unknown to us, but not to the Doctor, as he comments that the robot he sees at the outset is common to that part (and by extension, time) of the galaxy. We are introduced to a new villain (villains?), the Gods of Ragnarok. The Doctor states he has fought them all through time, but again, it’s not something we’ve witnessed. Here, they masquerade as the audience of the circus, and secretly control the performers to increase both the spectacle and the number of deaths—for secretly, they feed on entertainment.Season 25 10

Sylvester McCoy, already an accomplished performer, learned a number of new performance tricks for this serial, as it gave him a chance to showcase his skills. He had a close call in Part Four, as well; during the scene of the arena explosion, the crew over-rigged the explosives, causing his clothes to actually catch fire. However, he walked away calmly despite the risk, as he knew there would only be one take—proving Sylvester McCoy is cooler than I will ever be. The character called Mags is secretly a werewolf; like Lady Peinforte in the previous serial, this is another link in the slowly-building arc that will be resolved with next season’s The Curse of Fenric. As well, the character of Whizz Kid was written as a parody of Doctor Who fans, much like Osgood in The Day of the Doctor (but much less kindly).

Back to the beginning.

Back to the beginning.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad season. It was clear that the lion’s share of the effort went into the Dalek and Cyberman serials; the other two aren’t as interesting, in my opinion. Still, they’re not bad, and I couldn’t find much fault with them. I found The Happiness Patrol to be the weakest serial of the season, partly because its premise was difficult to believe, and partly because of all the candy. Both the Daleks and the Cybermen got a decent send-off, and I really enjoyed the return to Totter’s Lane and Coal Hill. Only one of the three major recurring villains—Daleks, Cybermen, and the Master—remains to be seen off, and we’ll get to him next season in the very last serial of the classic series. Ace continues to be a great companion, and the Doctor continues to be intriguing even as his character darkens a bit (though not as dark as I had been led to believe). There is some melancholy to be had, as we know we’re nearing the end; I don’t know how much the production team knew at the time, but of course they were constantly living in the shadow of cancellation, and it shows. Still, overall, it’s an enjoyable season.

Next time: We say goodbye to UNIT, the Master, and that mysterious villain we’ve been building up to: the ancient evil of Fenric! And, oh yeah, we wrap up the classic series. Just little things, you know. See you there.

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

Remembrance of the Daleks (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Happiness Patrol

Silver Nemesis

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy

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

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

The Doctor gets violent.

The Doctor gets violent.

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

Season 22 2

Peri and the Cryons.

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

Terror is a bad look for Peri.

Terror is a bad look for Peri.

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

Sil, the Governor, and the Doctor.

Sil, the Governor, and the Doctor.

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

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

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

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

Gallifreyan Class Reunion?

Gallifreyan Class Reunion?

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

The Rani's very cool TARDIS.

The Rani’s very cool TARDIS.

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

Doctor, meet Doctor.

Doctor, meet Doctor.

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

Now here's a fashion statement for you!

Now here’s a fashion statement for you!

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

Companion, meet companion.

Companion, meet companion.

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

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

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

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

An old familiar face on the wall...

An old familiar face on the wall…

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

Fake Davros, real Dalek.

Fake Davros, real Dalek.

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

Davros can fly?!

Davros can fly?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attack of the Cybermen

Vengeance on Varos

The Mark of the Rani

The Two Doctors

Timelash

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

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